So it was with great interest that I read her recent piece on what it takes to be a writer. I’m also a mom and writer. I know what it’s like to barely squeeze out an article or chapter during naptime, or in the early hours of the morning. I know what it’s like to quickly write ideas for articles in my phone, while fixing chicken nuggets or bathing my kids.
She Lost Me
Throughout much of her post, I was nodding my head in agreement, while also making mental notes about how to improve my craft. But I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed when I got to one section of Hatmaker’s post. After talking about how choosing to write means making sacrifices of time and other activities, she tells a story of her own mother, who decided to go back to school when Hatmaker was still at home.
I remember crying a river when my mom went back to college when we were in elementary, middle, and high school because she was less available to cater to our every whim, but it very soon became a source of great pride for me, because I watched my mom do meaningful, hard work that mattered. She went for it, right in the middle of living life. As it turned out, I needed a mom who mothered, dreamed, worked, and achieved. We all did. (emphasis original)
And that’s where she lost me. I wasn’t bothered that her mom went back to school. I commend her. It wasn’t even that Hatmaker used the story to illustrate how writing work sometimes takes you away from your kids. I know it does. My problem with her illustration, in the midst of an otherwise helpful post, is that she seems to pit one kind of work against the other. By saying that she needed to see her mom doing meaningful work she implies that the work she was doing previously (which I assume was at-home work) was less meaningful.
Whetner or not Hatmaker intended this contrast, we know it’s common in talk about at-home work. While we would agree that all work matters, we tend to more highly praise others for doing great things on their own outside the home. I’ve even seen it in my own life when, in some circles, I define myself first as a writer in order to prove that I do something meaningful with my life during the day.
But it’s not either/or. The mom who writes, preps IVs for patients, or goes back to school is doing meaningful work. But so is the mom who is doing at-home work. Our work has meaning because of the one who is doing it. My work as a mom is meaningful in the same way that my work as a writer is. It’s meaningful because it’s born out of my role as an image bearer and, when I work, I bring him glory. Regardless of what type of work I am doing—whether it is doing another load of laundry or crafting a phrase—it’s valuable and meaningful because it is for the good of the world.
Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf capture the meaningfulness of all work well:
The headwaters of Lutheran theology put special stress on the dignity of all work, observing that God created for, cared for, fed, clothed, sheltered, and supported the human race through our human labor. When we work, we are, as those in the Lutheran tradition often put it, the “fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others. This understanding elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor and at the same time releases us from the crushing burden of working primarily to prove ourselves.
I think many who primarily do at-home work would resonate with Hatmaker’s story about her mother. The daily monotony of toys that never stay in their proper bins, spilled apple juice, and endless school events and practices makes a mom wonder if there really could be life beyond the pile of laundry she can barely see over. It’s grueling work most days. But it’s not of little consequence.
I’m not advocating that we elevate motherhood to saint status. That doesn’t serve anyone, nor does it view our work through the right lens. Being a mom matters immensely, yes, but it’s not ultimate. Let’s be careful that we not pit one type of work against the other. The mommy wars have done enough damage to women over the years, and recovering a robust understanding of the value of all work would go a long way in tempering some of the attitudes surrounding women and work.
We elevate at-home motherhood because we want to show the watching world that we matter, too, in the same way that Hatmaker makes the argument that her kids need to see her doing meaningful work elsewhere. Both are coming from the idea that this work is mundane, needing validating or escape. But God provides us with another way. It’s all meaningful, from wiping bottoms to writing sentences. We can all work, mothers and non-mothers, and find great meaning in what we do on any given day—not because the world tells us it is meaningful work, but because the God who created work tells us so.
So write on, fellow writers, there is meaning in your work. But let’s not forget there is meaning in doing the dishes, too.