A Beautiful Chaos


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March 1, 2016
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Lesson plans, grading, professional learning communities, writing tools, and motivating teenagers have been replaced by diapers and cries, laundry and children’s books, toy-littered floors and spilled milk, endless interruptions and calls for “Mommy” from energetic toddlers.

My 8-year career as an English teacher was busy and beautiful, filled with “ah-hah” moments, friendly banter, and teaching new skills. Other days were exhausting, overwhelming, and difficult. My job as a stay-at-home mom contains similar extremes. Some days seemingly fly by, filled with errands, appointments, outdoor adventures, and park play dates. Other days tick slowly, as whines, tears, scrapes, or sickness fill the minutes which create the hours until Daddy comes home.

The decision to stay home after our first child’s birth came relatively automatically. As an adolescent, I envisioned my future including a spouse and, when/if children arrived, spending years at home until they were in school. My vision didn’t alter. We had financially planned for this transition. However, when adjusting from the fast-paced work day of teaching high school English to the seemingly simplistic task of keeping a newborn (and myself) fed, clothed, and cleaned, I was uncertain if this transition would benefit my mental state. What if I suffered from post-partem depression? What if I struggled with a sense of purpose? What if I wasn’t very good at being a mother? I was confident in my teaching career, but I wasn’t certain about this new stage of stay-at-home motherhood.

Truth: the struggle was real. I journeyed through an identity crisis of sorts. I passionately wanted to be at home with my daughter. I loved being present for all the moments of her development. I embraced the beauties and intricacies of a child’s development, relishing the tender rhythm of life at home with my baby — emotionally and physically saturated, but mentally and socially isolated. I questioned my sphere of influence when it was me and baby in our home all day long. Was I under-utilizing my God-given skills and abilities? I craved adult interactions and meaningful conversations. I felt insecure. I dreaded the question, “What do you do for work?” “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” lacks glamour and interest.

Furthermore, conversations with mothers who returned to work after 6-8 weeks proved surprisingly difficult. I felt jealous of their careers. These mothers could point to concrete things they had achieved. They had intelligent conversations, and they could eat and use the restroom uninterrupted! I viewed them as more competent than I was – they could “do it all” – career, family, marriage, beautiful home (that stayed clean). I wondered, “Why can’t I do it all?”

I didn’t expect my journey into a stay-at-home mother to be fraught with the darkness of my own heart. I discovered a deep-seeded jealousy. Ugly. I fought an intimate battle with my own selfishness (akin to similar realizations after getting married). Ugly. I defined my worth by what I did (my teaching career or completing a “to-do” list) rather than who I am (a child of the King of creation). Ugly realization, beautiful truth. And the path continues today, as I am shocked by impulsive anger or controlling desires when my preschoolers express opinions of their own. Ugly. I need reminders of grace – extended to myself, to my children, and to others.

Do I miss teaching? Yes, at times. Why do I stay at home?

First, I find great pleasure in the gift of unhurried time, albeit often interrupted. My children (ages 2 and 4) regularly help in the kitchen or with household chores, and if it takes twice or thrice the average length to complete the task because they are “helping” (read: learning), it is okay. Otherwise, it would likely drive me crazy! I have time to see the world through my children’s eyes: a ladybug crawling on a leaf, the pleasant aroma of dirt, the intricacies of a snowflake, the splash of a rain puddle. I have time to find and create a rhythm that works best for our family, supports my spouse’s career, and reduces his stress-level. My flexible schedule enables our family to live more sustainably and communally: caring for our home, gardening, fixing healthier meals, getting to know my neighbors, inviting friends and preparing for dinner, completing errands during the weekdays, practicing hospitality, attending Bible studies, gathering with other parents and children, and being available for childcare or needs that arise within my community. Life is less hectic. And yes, some days are long and time doesn’t feel like a gift, but the years are short (my eldest’s preschool sign-up is next week!).

Second, I am a much happier and contented stay-at-home mom when I pursue opportunities available during this season of life. I’ve needed goals and responsibilities beyond my family: providing childcare a couple days a week, painting, taking a class, volunteering, serving on a city board, enjoying a hobby, or implementing an exercise routine.

Third, I can better participate in my community through conversation, experience, and availability. My job allows me to be more available in my community – assisting with needs, attending community events, serving on committees (I like to leave my house!), cooking and sharing meals with others, and shopping locally, to name a few. I value inter-generational interaction when we share morning visits with relatives who are retired. I can assume others are judging my parenting, but conversations with those in my community dispel this myth. When tantrums occur in the checkout lane at the grocery store, other parents remind me to laugh – then, they console me by sharing equally embarrassing stories. We are in this journey together.

Working outside the home and working inside the home come with benefits and drawbacks. Regardless of one’s income or decisions, parenting is hard work and a lot of work… lots of interrupted sleep… and many realizations of one’s own failures when kids demand attention. It is exhausting. Amidst the messiness, parenting is delightful… filled with moments of spontaneous laughter and unexpected joy, funny questions, precious snuggles, and little ones who desperately love and want to be near us. My journey into my job as a stay-at-home parent has been a beautiful chaos of emotions and self-realizations, toys and tantrums, giggles and miracles. I am certainly grateful for the journey.

About the Author
  • Ruth (Van Essen) Clark has called Minnesota, California, Nebraska, and Iowa "home." She enjoys good conversations around cups of coffee or plates of food, games, cooking, gardening, international cuisine, and great stories found in books and films. She currently resides in Sioux Center, Iowa, with her husband and three children, adjunct teaches in the Core program, and serves as the Andreas Center Coordinator at Dordt.  

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  1. Your essay was a delight to read. I too stayed home when my children were young. I am glad I had that opportunity to help them develop into the wise Christian men they are right now.

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