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When I was eleven years old,  I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor of my parents’ bedroom filling out “My School Days” memory book.  My mother sat next to me to help me fill out the same questions every year, adding my report card for that particular year and any additional exceptional or distinctive work.  The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was written on the bottom of every designated new school year.  Below the question, there were a few boxes where you could check off, policeman, teacher, astronaut, artist, and a few other professions.  That year I answered proudly and without hesitation, “I want to be an engineer.”  I would give the same answer, from then on, every year up till senior year of high school.  I wanted needed to follow in my father’s footsteps.  My mother added, “You know, there hasn’t been another woman in our family who has continued their education beyond their undergraduate college degree.” With that single utterance,  it gave me the extra pressure motivation and confirmed that yes, this is what I should be pursuing.  After that, I made it a priority to do well in all my courses in elementary, junior high and high school, but especially those in math and science, even if it killed me.  My philosophy on academics became, “There are twenty-four hours a day.  There should be enough time to do everything I need to perfect my work.”  I wanted my parents to be proud.  As time would tell, and as God intervened, it wasn’t meant to be.  I wasn’t going to be an engineer.

Now, I stay home with my daughters Minnie and Elle.  Minnie is two and a half now.  And Elle?  She’s just shy of one year by a few months.

For our family, deciding that I would be a SAHM wasn’t as much a conscious choice as it was something that sort of happened.   After college, I pursued a life of ministry in a foreign country for four years. Following that, I worked in college ministry here in the States.  In 2006, Dan and I attended Urbana, with our students.  It was a game-changer for us.  My husband believed the conference confirmed what the Lord’s work in his heart to pursue his passion for business. So we moved to another state so that he could go to business school.  I decided to stay home and take a sabbatical to rest  from the burnout I felt from working with college students for the past seven years.  During Dan’s second year of business school,  we talked about starting a family.  Soon after our talk, God blessed our desire for a baby and I was pregnant with Minnie.  So that was it. I became a SAHM when she arrived.

I’m now following in my mother’s footsteps and coincidentally, my mother-in-law’s footsteps as well.  I’m sure it’s probably not what my mother hoped for, especially thinking back to that conversation I had with her when I was eleven.  But dreams change.

I thought I knew what it would mean to be a Stay at Home Mother.  I’ve heard plenty of my husband’s stories of his mother when she was home with her kids.  Then there’s my experience when my mother was home with me that seems to still be quite vivid for me.  Not to mention, I’ve had plenty of friends who decided to become SAHMs as well, though it’s been some time since I’ve kept in touch with them.  In fact, it comes quite naturally to have an opinion or a picture of what a SAHM mother should be about.  All you have to do is turn on the television, read a magazine, go on the internet or talk with people you run into everyday. We all think we know what a stay at home mother’s responsibilities are, how they go about accomplishing them day to day, and what her day looks like.  That is, until YOU become one.  With all these expectations, it’s easy to feel guilty when I haven’t accomplished all the things that “I’m supposed to” each day.  It’s a terrible thing- this guilt- because the longer it stays, the uglier it becomes till it’s almost unrecognizable, transforming into despair.  For a perfectionist like me, I struggle with feeling like a failure almost every day.  Who wants to wake up in the morning to already feeling the weight of defeat?

This is not the way the Lord intended life to be.  In fact Jesus in his parable about the “Shepherd and the Sheep” in John 10 (KJV) says, “The thief comes not, but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  Children are meant to be gifts from God.  So why couldn’t I believe this in the middle of the blow outs, in the meltdowns, in the middle of the tantrums?  Part of it is, in fact, the terrible twos, which I’m hoping only lasts during that particular year.  (Minnie will be turning 3 in about a month or so.)  The smiles are few and far between.  She has grown out of most of the “firsts.” The “awww moments” are beginning to wear off along with the rose-tinted glasses.  They’ve been replaced with the rough and tumble of potty training, talking back, tantrum-throwing, her will attempting to stretch the limits and boundaries we give her, and an all out testing of Mama and Daddy.  I love my daughter very much, but in the moment to moment stickiness, rebuke, yelling, ignoring life just feels not easy at the moment.   That “infatuation with all things baby” is gone.  She’s no longer a baby.  She’s entered a new phase I haven’t quite figured out yet.  Each day feels a little bit like hugging a porcupine.  Minnie is often prickly with the occasional hug from the soft underside.  But this isn’t really about Minnie.  What it all comes down to is this lie I’ve been believing, the source of the guilt, the despair.  The lie is this: Your identity and worth is based on your abilities to be the perfect mother to your children.  There’s that word again.  That perfection that I was pursuing as a child in my academics has continued as I’ve become a mother.

I believe that there will always be difficult moments when you’re a mother.  I was reminded of this the other day when my mother as well as my mother-in-law shared this very truth.  You don’t know how much a comfort it was to hear that from these two women who I greatly admire.  It’s part of the job.  However, looking at the bigger picture, I believe that God’s intention was for children to their parents’ joy, their pleasure.

From C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters,  pg. 41-42 (From the perspective of the devil)

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures; all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable.

When I base my worth on my accomplishments as a stay at home mother, I take away the pleasure that God intended for me to have in being a mother.  In other words, when I start start placing greater importance in my identity as a stay at home mother than my identity as the daughter of the God who created the heavens and the earth, I give Satan the opportunity to warp the pleasure that God intended to give me through my children.  It breaks my heart to realize this.  Imagining for a moment being in God’s shoes, where it was me who gave a gift to one of my daughters that I believed would give them such insurmountable joy and pleasure, but instead watched how they received this gift and somehow misused it or it transformed into this terrible thing that caused her pain and grief, would indeed break my heart.  This is what I mean when I say I don’t believe this is what God intended-because the gifts God gives us are good.  It’s my sin and the the devil’s influence that warps these good gifts, transforms them, in this case, into a terrible weapon to hurt and destroy.

God, being who He is, however is able to even here redeem the pain that this warped gift may have caused.  For me, it is a constant battle to fight this terrible lie and remember who I am in God’s sight, remembering my true identity in Jesus. Nevertheless, it’s a battle worth fighting.  Yesterday, I was reminded that during the times I feel the weakest, when I feel the battle is surging the wrong way, the Lord is there beside me helping me to take just one more step in choosing joy and enjoying the God-given pleasure of my children.  He is helping me take one more step towards Him.