Last year, a new book argued that moms should stay home for the first three years of their children’s lives. Because I stay home with two of my children (two others are in school), I find encouragement in studies that prove my time with them is serving a purpose. When research argues for my existence at home, I feel validated. It might be hard, but it’s necessary for my kids, right?
But then, one day, I couldn’t be at home anymore.
Before the birth of our fourth son, I spent a month in the hospital away from our older three children. For four weeks, I wasn’t their primary caregiver. In fact, I wasn’t their caregiver at all. I didn’t know what they ate, when they slept, or if they’d been bathed in the recent past.
I’m not going to pretend it was easy on them to be away from Mom, but they survived. And so did I.
Right Amount of Time
As they get older, and as I spend more time away from them because of school or my own work schedule, I continue to wrestle with the same issues I faced in the hospital: How much time with my kids is enough?
Scripture doesn’t specifically answer this question, but it’s clear on some things. Moses told the people of Israel to teach their children to love God with all that’s in them (Deut. 6:7; Prov. 22:6). Parents (and fathers, specifically) are commanded to train their children in the Lord and not provoke them to anger (Eph. 6:4). The Bible is even clear on what happens when you don’t teach your children the ways of the Lord. Judges, Ezra, and Nehemiah show the consequences of failing to pass on these truths to the next generation. So the takeaway here is evident—parents have a spiritual obligation to their children. But while God has tasked parents with the responsibility of raising their children to know him, like so much in Scripture, he doesn’t give us a step-by-step plan. He leaves a lot to wisdom, not prescription. We need to apply the truths of Scripture to our time and place.
Part of that application is acknowledging that stay-at-home mom culture today looks different from the reality experienced by women throughout the world and throughout history. With our relative wealth and surplus leisure time, modern Americans are able to worry about things many moms haven’t been able to. We leave our kids for a date or for a job or for an afternoon alone, and think: Are they okay? Are they getting enough time with me? We send them to school, and wonder: How will I know if they’re having trouble? Will they get enough Christian input throughout the day?
I still worry about these questions, but I learned something in the month-long separation from our children that encourage me as I process whether to entrust my children to others.
Raising children isn’t meant to be an exclusively two-parent endeavor. It’s meant to be done in community. My forced separation taught me that I don’t have to be the center of my kids’ universe. During our time apart, I watched church family and blood family care for my kids with love. I saw that life went on even if I wasn’t there. I learned that my children will be well-adjusted, well-behaved, and loved even if I’m not the one doing most of the training all day every day.
Raising children isn’t meant to be an exclusively two-parent endeavor. It’s meant to be done in community.
And as our kids see that other people can meet their needs, they see the body of Christ in action. My kids love our church family who watched them round the clock while we were in the hospital. They learned that God’s people depend on each other, and even when their blood family isn’t there, God’s people can be. As Christian parents, we want our children to be fully functioning members of Christ’s body, and for that to happen they must experience serving and being served by the church.
This is especially evident in times of crisis, but our children need other people on a regular basis. My kids benefit greatly from their weekly babysitter, their teachers, their friends, and all the other people God has placed in our lives.
Still, our separation was difficult, and I worried about the effect on my kids. But I once heard Paul Tripp say that our parenting can’t be reduced to moments; rather, it’s a compilation of moments. This one month-long saga in our family is just that—one month. While the situation may affect my kids, it doesn’t have to define them forever. They’re shaped by the long game of parenting, not the short one, even if that short moment was hard on all of us. I love my children. Others love them. And even if at some point no one is there for them, I hope they will come to depend on the One we’re all pointing them toward—the God who doesn’t ever leave.