She followed me out to the garage, my second shadow.
I walked fast, frantic, loading up the car for the next day’s trip to Dallas. No matter how quickly I moved my seven-year-old stayed only steps behind. By some miracle, I stopped moving long enough to look at her. That’s when I saw the pools collecting beneath her big round eyes.
“What’s up, little girl? Everything okay?”
The pools spilled.
This wasn’t her typical drama-making cry fest. This was the real deal. But I didn’t know the “why.” Until she gathered words enough to tell me the truth.
“I’m going to miss you when you go,” she whimpered. Then came the shaking shoulders and a full-out sob.
For the love of all mother-guilt, now I understood. It’s not that she’s unaccustomed to my occasional work-related trips. Travel has always been a small part of my calling. Not often, and not for long. But a handful of times every year, I’m gone for two or three days.
But we’d just come off a long stretch of days where we’d spent lots of time together. Playing games. Reading books. Going out for ice cream. Watching movies. And as she watched me hustle to fill a suitcase, she knew playtime was coming to an end. For now.
I held her as she cried, allowed her sadness to soak me through. As I did, the all-too-familiar questions twisted my insides:
What am I doing? Does a good mom work while raising her kids?
Maybe I should quit my job.
What if all this book-writing and public speaking is ruining their childhood?
Will they grow up to be bank robbers and murderers and horrible husbands and fathers and wretched wives and mothers because I put them in daycare?
Will I grow up to be a bank robber and murderer if I don’t?!?!
Good heavens, the safety of the universes hinges on me! Somebody tell me—what should I do?!?!
These are my questions, the ones I wrestle to death in my sweaty little palms every week. Sometimes every day. Right now, as I exit a long two-year stretch of health challenges, I wrestle with the angst even more. So much is at stake, and at times it feels as if this big weight rests on too-small me. I desperately want to do the right thing, but I don’t always know what “right” is.
I don’t have any black-and-white answers yet, nor do I have a fail-proof plan or formula to resolve the constant tension between our callings—to both our families and our work. But after nearly two decades of mothering, I have come to a few simple conclusions about this nagging conundrum:
- Motherhood isn’t one-size-fits-all. In my two decades of parenting, I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home mom, a forty-hour-a-week corporate-cubicle-working mom, a part-time piano-teaching mom, and an entrepreneurial home-office mom. Different seasons required different types of mothering. Different children required different types of mothering. I enjoyed each season, and learned lessons in each new adventure. And I can honestly say my children (and I) both struggled and succeeded during EVERY season. No one approach held the golden ticket to the perfect family. ASK YOURSELF: What’s truly driving my decision? Guilt? A desire for perfect children? A drive to be the perfect mom? A desperation for significance? A need for prove my worth? None of these are worthy motivations.
- Mothering must change according to the needs of the family. Notice that I said the needs of the “family” and not just the needs of the “children.” I know this will go against our child-centric culture, but we aren’t doing our children any favors my making them the constant center of the universe. Yes, they matter. Yes, they are priority. And yes, they deserve our tender and thoughtful investment. But our sons and daughters do not sit on thrones. They are members of a bigger family. Troy and I constantly assess the needs of our family. Sometimes, we need to pay our bills. That requires work. Other times, we need to pull back, spend more time at home. For us, that’s the beauty of self-employment. We adjust as needed. ASK YOURSELF: What are our family’s 3 greatest needs right now, in order of importance? How can we best meet them, as a team?
- A mom’s calling or career doesn’t wound a child. But a mom who doesn’t know how to manage it might. It usually isn’t the job itself that interferes with parenting or family time. It’s an individual’s inability to shut it down. To be honest, this is my biggest struggle. I can be “present but not present” too easily, my mind distracted with the hundreds of to-dos still to be done. But that has been true during my stay-at-home years as much as my working years. The problem isn’t my calling, it’s my priorities and ability to manage them. The aim is to honor one without dishonoring the other. ASK YOURSELF: Am I making the most of my current at-home moments with my loved ones? Working less doesn’t automatically mean being present more.
- The mothering journey allows for changes in direction. Read that again. Go ahead, it’s okay. Do you understand what this means? You can make a course correction. Yep, you sure can. I’ve had seasons when I traveled far too much. It only took a couple months to recognize a need for change. I cut back, said “no” more than I said “yes.” Other times, I knew I’d become near co-dependent with my children. They needed space to grow and thrive in their independence, as did I. So I reconnected with the Lover of my Soul, rediscovered His unique calling on my life. ASK YOURSELF: What isn’t working right now? Do we need a course correction?
How have YOU navigated the tension between career, calling and family?