“I don’t even know who I am anymore,” I said through tears as my infant twins screamed down the hall of our cramped apartment.
Just a few months earlier, I couldn’t imagine anything other than being their mother. I waited a long time to get pregnant with them, going to the office every day as a marketing and communications associate, doing seminary off and on, and spending whatever extra time I could find working on my own writing projects.
After they arrived, I gave all that up, believing that concentrated time with them in their early years was important. I was perfectly content to table my career and my writing prospects so I could be fully devoted at home because, after all, wasn’t it the most fulfilling thing I could do with my life?
A few months into motherhood, all of those expectations were met with real life. I didn’t necessarily want to get dressed and go to the office every day (that sounded overwhelming), but I did wonder if all of the expectations I had about staying at home really were going to come true.
I don’t think I am the only one. We tell soon-to-be mothers that the work is hard but rewarding. We tell them that it’s the best work they will ever do. We tell them that in the sacrifice they will find their true purpose.
But what if they don’t see or feel that? More women are now educated beyond high school and spend years building a career before they have children. There are unprecedented opportunities for advancement and adventure.
After all that, it can be hard for stay-at-home motherhood to live up to our hopes and dreams.
Part of the trouble may be expectations that are too high. We see beautiful quiet babies on commercials and sweet pumpkin-patch photos of our friends’ toddlers on Instagram. We picture ourselves with plenty of time and energy to clean the house and stay on top of the laundry and read to the baby. We have been told many times that motherhood is the most rewarding thing you can do with your life, and when reality doesn’t match up, we can grow disillusioned and frustrated.
On any given day, I do a lot of ordinary, mundane things. I drive carpool at the same time. I make the same lunch—for my kids and myself, because why not be efficient, right? I wash, fold, and put away clothes for four little boys. Sometimes they thank me for the near constant feeding, cleaning, and shuttling to and from activities, but most of the time they don’t even know I’m doing anything for them. This can sometimes make me feel like it’s not worth the effort.
It can be hard for stay-at-home motherhood to live up to our hopes and dreams.
On top of that, staying at home drains the bank balance in many ways, even as it saves us money in others. Many mothers at home sacrifice a hobby or a regular routine at the gym. For me, it was my educational dreams. When my husband and I first got married, we were both enrolled in seminary. But once we looked at our long-term goals (having children sooner rather than later) and our tiny bank account (as well as growing student loan debt), we saw that continuing with school was untenable for me. I was crushed. I felt like I was giving up everything, while my husband lost virtually no traction in reaching his goals. Watching a pursuit I loved be pushed to the side was harder than I imagined. It also led to an identity crisis.
If you’d met me 10 years ago, I would’ve said, “Hi. I’m Courtney. I’m a marketing and communications associate, and I take seminary classes on the weekend. I also try to write when I get a chance.”
I would’ve been fairly confident, because I felt competent in my work, and I was accustomed to others depending on my knowledge and skill. I spent my days in interesting ways—thinking of how to tell a good story for an organization or processing deep thoughts in the context of a writer/editor relationship.
But if you’d met me shortly after I stopped working to stay home full-time with my babies, I would’ve struggled to introduce myself. I might’ve said, “Hi. I’m Courtney. I’m a mom.” Or “I’m a mom of twins.”
The solution to our motherhood problem is the solution to our other problems with work in a fallen world—the gospel.
I was unable to find a better definition of myself. I went from a full life with many different interests, to a full life with one sole interest—keeping two humans alive. This narrowing of purpose can be hard for someone who once flourished in other pursuits.
Worse yet, I felt lost in this new role. I had endless questions about the tasks before me, and few answers. Suddenly these little people depended on me for all things, and I wasn’t equipped or prepared. Motherhood consumed all my time and energy, but I felt like a failure.
Nor were there clear ways to get better. Before I came home, I had measurable markers for how well I was doing in my work. I could get feedback on an article. I could track dollars raised by my written campaign materials. I could get a grade on an assignment. At home, I lacked measurable results and job performance reviews. My life felt incomplete without clear feedback that I was on the right track.
I wasn’t prepared for the true nature of stay-at-home work. I idealized motherhood, without realizing that stay-at-home work, like all other work, is filled with tension, indifference, and “thorns and thistles.”
All work, even motherhood, is going to disappoint us.
And no work, including motherhood, is enough to save us or satisfy us. Every mother is also a daughter, a worker, and an image-bearer of God with unique talents both at home and also in the wider workplace. The solution to our motherhood problem is the solution to our other problems with work in a fallen world—the gospel.
Motherhood is a blessing, but it isn’t our core identity. Our identity is anchored in Christ—who loves us, redeems us and renews us daily.
God created us to work in the world he has made. For some women, in some seasons, that work is primarily done in the home. But when we promise women that at-home motherhood is the only type of work that will ever truly satisfy them, we set them up for disappointment.
I felt like I was losing myself in that cramped apartment all those years ago. I was torn between two worlds, unsure of how to make them both work. What I’ve learned since is that I’m not defined by my vocation as a mother any more than I’m defined by my vocation as a writer.
Motherhood is a blessing, but it isn’t our core identity. Our identity is anchored in Christ—who loves us, redeems us, and renews us daily. The work he gives us isn’t meant to define us. It’s meant to point to and glorify God (Matt. 5:16).
When we ask of motherhood what only God can give, it crumples under the weight. But when we view it rightly—as a gift of love, a way to serve God and others, beautiful and broken—then we’ll look to God for our joy and meaning.
And that is good news when I feel like I’m losing myself in the work—my identity is hidden with Christ, who doesn’t change with the seasons of a woman’s life.