What I've Learned from Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom
Letter from Samantha Stephenson
Dear Sister in Christ,
It was the middle of the night when I drove myself to the emergency room. My lungs were burning and I had coughed up a bit of blood. I tried to keep myself calm, to avoid panicking prematurely. If it was what I thought it was, there was a very good chance that I could die.
I don’t want to leave this all behind, I prayed, but if tonight is the end, please bring me home.
They say there is a profound connection between the body and the mind. In that respect, it’s fitting that I almost died of suffocation. I started suffocating long before I couldn’t breathe anymore.
I was in the first trimester of my second pregnancy, nauseous and exhausted. My husband was recovering from a series of surgeries, and the pain made him cranky. My daughter was two, and that made her cranky. I didn’t feel able to give my full attention to anything - not my family, not my students, not my work for the graduate school classes that I braved LA traffic to attend two nights a week. I let go of everything that was non-essential. I stopped socializing at work to meet deadlines. I stopped volunteering at church. Friendships suffered. And still, there was never enough of me to go around.
Proximity to death brings clarity to life. What had I been thinking when I chose to commit myself to so many things? I lived at a frenetic pace, never pausing to take a breath. And now, I couldn’t even if I wanted to.
As it turned out, the blood clots didn’t kill me. I lost only a small bit of my left lung. I didn’t die, but I wasn’t the same person, either. I was tired of giving myself to everything, but never having enough to give. I was done living life halfway. It was time to let go, and live for what matters.
It’s been a year. I graduated. I left my job. I gave birth to our son, and I have the profound pleasure of caring for him and our 3-year-old daughter every day. I can’t take credit for this opportunity I have to be at home with our children. My husband, the good man that he is, did the hard work of adjusting our finances so that this arrangement is possible for us. But if I hadn’t spoken up, if I had been timid about the call I felt, things might have continued the way that they were, and I would have been less than what I am called to become.
So now, I read stories, change diapers, and kiss boo-boos. I make our meals, fold mountains of laundry, and have the freedom to be fully present to the tiny humans who need me more than anyone else in the world. I am the CEO and the janitor. My days are spent in the simple and the mundane, and in a paradox only Jesus could dream up for me, these are the most profoundly meaningful moments of my life.
It isn’t easy to slow down. In a life that has been spent pursuing nothing but accomplishment, I almost have no language to express the meaning of how I now spend my days. I used to thrive on the thrill of checking boxes off a list; now I store up moments in my heart. My life is no longer about what I do; it is about being who I am. That is the gift I have to give: myself.
Some say it is a sacrifice I’m making, to step out of a career and be a stay-at-home mom, but what sacrifice am I making exactly? What price could the world pay to have me back? What would be worth exchanging what I now have, a million priceless moments? In what currency would they pay me? In money? Prestige? Those things come and go. Or they never come, and we pay with the currency of our lives trying to attain them.
Nothing I chased after before was frivolous. I had meaningful goals. I still do. Savoring these moments with my children doesn’t mean letting those goals go. It has meant that they take on a different character. The beauty of this is that, although the dreams I had for myself were big and exciting, they were still somehow less than what God is doing with my heart. What he is doing with me now is more wild and untamed than the conventional way I could have imagined my life unfolding. Is this strange to say about a life of domesticity?
I thought I knew what I was in for when I left my job to be home with our kids. From the outside, my life looks the way I imagined it would be. The content of my days, the routine, the tasks that make up my work in our home - all of this is as I anticipated. What I could never have anticipated is what living this life has given to me.
This time with my children has been a welcome retreat into the little, hidden monastery of our home. Away from the world, I practice ora et labora (prayer and work). The work that comprises my day is holy. The play that breaks through like beams of light shining through a cracked door is holy. The utter sense of failure and futility that descends upon seeing the mess has yet again replenished itself, when given to God, is holy.
The work of a mother is not really the tasks - the many tasks - that require daily or even hourly attention. The work of a mother is to be. To be with my little ones. To be warm arms to hold and comfort. To simply watch, again and again, and take delight in who these people are. To behold with wonder that God has created this child before you. To sit with Him in joy as you watch this child grow.
The moments of not doing are hard. To fast from a steady diet of distractions, of screens, of addiction to accomplishment - sometimes this feels like starving. But then, a little hand wraps around my finger. My daughter pulls my face close with both hands. These are the moments that my heart opens to the banquet.
I am glad that I had those moments where I couldn’t draw breath. More than glad, I am relieved. From the moment the line on the test turned pink, the deep desire of my heart has been to be with my children. Were it not for those moments of struggle, I do not know if I would have had the courage to honor that desire. Those moments gave me clarity, courage, and creativity. Almost losing my life brought into focus how I want to spend the rest of it. It made me bold enough to claim it, and empowered me to search for something better.
To any woman who has a longing in her heart, a longing for the good and the beautiful. Don’t let fear or doubt or anxiety or anything else loom so large that it obscures your vision. If you do have trouble seeing, if you need clarity, courage, or creativity, I hope that you will step back from the chaos of this life, and take some time to breathe. Breathe, and listen. Hear God’s whisper in the silence. Allow it to wash over you, and to change you. You can claim this call. Are you ready?
From my heart to yours,
About the Writer: Samantha Stephenson
Samantha Stephenson spends her days loving her husband, chasing after her children, and trying to find God in everything from diapers to dishes. A voracious consumer of books, blogs, and coffee, she holds degrees in theology and bioethics. You can find her musings on all of these things at spiritualityoftheordinary.com.