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September 21, 2011

Reflection on my Role as a WOTHM

Today, I begin.  

Today, I got up in the morning, got my kids going for school (with their father's help, of course) in addition to getting myself ready to go to work.  I kissed my 12-week old baby, his older brother and sisters goodbye and headed downtown for a full day's work.

This time is a little different than the last four times.  This time I am not ashamed.  This time, I fully embrace that this is the path set out for me and I am walking on it with Christ.

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For years, I had a complex about being a work-outside-the-home mom (WOTHM).  Due to our traditional leanings as we reverted deeper into our Catholic faith, many families we looked up to and prayed with were families where the mom was a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) and the families often home-schooled.  For a couple of years, I thought we would try to go that route.  I even thought we were called to it.  But we learned through discernment that home-schooling was most likely not in the bigger plan for our family

I used to feel shame that our family was in this situation where I was forced to be employed outside the home.  I felt ashamed because I borrowed so much money in student loans when I went to college.  I was ashamed because we hadn't managed our finances in such a way that we could make it work on my husband's income.  

When Craig and I learned NFP, we learned within context of the Church's teachings on marriage and family life.  The method encouraged ecological breastfeeding (not the same as exclusive breastfeeding) and attachment parenting - two things, incidentally, I support wholeheartedly - but made no bones about the fact that the mothers belonged at home with the child.  I don't think it was the fault of any particular individual, couple or organization that I felt the shame in our circumstances.  I only felt that way because I wanted to raise our family the way it was presented to us as we learned NFP, but had difficulty seeing how it could ever work, mostly in the financial realm.

I dipped into a pit of depression, maybe even despair, because I could not be home with my children.  God called me to be a wife and mother, why would He still expect me to have a role outside of that in the business world?  But no matter what we cut from the budget, no matter how many activities we eliminated, there was not enough money unless I was working.  Our debts were too large and my income (as a business woman with a MBA) was too much to sacrifice.

We heard lots of well-meaning suggestions for how we could do it.  We heard lots of reassurance that the sacrifices would be worth it and would return to us tenfold with holy, upright, well-behaved, trusting children.  I began to feel like a failure.  I contemplated confessing my "sin" of going to work and leaving my children each day.  I don't remember that I ever actually did that, but I do remember wondering if I should.  That tells you the depths to which I had fallen.

Many of the blogs I read through our reversion were fairly traditional and conservative in nature, often written by SAHMs.  I loved reading them (still do!!)...except when they wrote  comments supporting their reasons for being at home.  My fragile state took their words all too personally.

I don't think they meant the words to sound the way they did in my head/ears and most likely, my state of mind caused me to hear the words much more harshly than intended.  But when people wrote about "having their priorities straight" and referred lovingly to their children as "worth more than 8 hours a day at any workplace could ever be" it stung.  As a WOTHM, I wondered if other women who were SAHM's thought I viewed my 40 hour/week job as a priority higher than my children.  I would like to reiterate, this is more a reflection of where I was emotionally and mentally to be thinking that way.  We can all benefit, however, from viewing the words we say, read and write with lenses that can show us how they look and sound to other people in all walks of life.

I think whatever circumstances people are in, they need support and to be lifted up.  I definitely don't begrudge a SAHM the opportunity to hear that she's doing "the most important work there is".  I don't.  Raising children IS most important work.  Absolutely.  That doesn't mean that a WOTHM doesn't see the same words and wonder just where she's gone wrong in life that she must spend 40 hours/week away from her "most important work".

Because many families we know and love are families with SAHM's and/or home-schoolers, I am wary of ever calling myself a "working mother" because I am just as big a fan of saying that ALL mothers are "working mothers."  Being at home raising children IS work just as it is work for me to drive downtown every day and ensure lots of money and lots of pieces of paper end up in the right spot all over the world.

So, that is why I use the WOTHM acronym. 
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I remember when the tide started to turn and I began to accept my role as a WOTHM.  I read Pope John Paul II's letter to women from 1995.  Read the whole thing here.  

Some quotes:

Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.
Whether I stay at home with my children or I work outside the home...I AM A MOTHER!  I needed this affirmation at a very delicate time.  Even though I wasn't at home caring for my children all day and all night, I was still their mother...I carried them in my womb and bore them.  I experienced the joy and perhaps my trek into work every day is just one form of the "travail" I am blessed to experience.
Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of "mystery", to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.
This is a thank you to every woman!  Women who work at home raising our future generations full-time.  Women who work in offices or hospitals or any other place of gainful employment are important, too!  Work provides an opportunity for women to be Christian witness in the world.  We should never shy away from it and we should appreciate the blessed opportunity.
Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.
And here...it is reiterated by our Blessed John Paul II that every woman enriches the world's understanding...whether it is through the raising of children in the home or completing a job well done away from home, women are important.  Women bring to the table the ability to see with the heart.

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Today, as I make my way back into the full-time working world, I am ever aware of the necessity of my work for my children.  I thank God that I live in a country and a time when I am not "put out to pasture" simply because I am a woman with children, like many women of past generations.  I thank God for my work, even though I would much rather be home cuddling and caring for my newborn son.

I can see where I have had the opportunity to make a positive influence in the lives of others because I work outside the home.  I think of all the people who have asked me, "Are you done?" referring to whether I will have more children.  I thank God for the opportunity to share the joy of a large family with them.  Perhaps a large family isn't what God has planned for them.  But my presence in the working world while raising a large family can be a silent witness to the old adage that all things are possible, with God.

I think of the times I have shared information on Natural Family Planning with inquiring women in the workplace.  I don't often try to persuade anyone to do it "my way" but I have found that women are often curious about "my way" and why I am comfortable with it or how I came to it.  Ultimately, it's silly to call this path "my way." 

So, I accept this path the Lord has laid out for me.  I will attempt to be joyful in completing my meaningful work throughout the week.  I will also attempt to maintain that joy for my children in the evenings and on the weekends, to experience the fullness of motherhood for those hours that are there for the taking.  I will try to make every action of every day a joyful song of praise unto my Lord, who has blessed me far beyond measure with a good job, a loving and devoted husband, and five beautiful children.

21 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. As a fellow WOTHM, I needed to hear it!

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  2. Wonderful post, great quotes! Hope your return to work transition goes smoothly.

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  3. I'm so glad you have reached a point of peace about this, and it's awesome that you shared, because I'm sure that there are plenty of women that need to hear it!

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  4. This is truly awesome! It makes me sad that you felt shame over having to work for your family. You are a great mom, indeed, one of the moms I look up to the most.

    Though I am a SAHM, I too have felt shame from some of the same circles because breastfeeding did not work out for us. I don't actually feel all that sad that I stopped nursing, but I feel like other people in this NFP/Eco-breastfeeding bubble think I should. My baby has only been sick once in nine months of life, and she's had formula exclusively since she was 8 weeks. I'm over guilt. I'm glad you are too!

    Hope your transition back to work goes smoothly. :)

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  5. Great post Michelle! I hope your first day back was good. :)

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  6. One of the best posts I've EVER read. Ever.

    Even though I don't have children yet, I've spent much time worrying about what we will do when we do have them - right now, it is much the same for us, my income is too much a part of our budget to live without. I have already felt many of the feelings you described - and I don't even have an embryo to parent yet, I can only imagine how much more intense they will be when there is a baby smiling up at me.

    Prayers that you first day went well and that you always have this beautiful sense of balance.

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  7. From someone who used to be a SAHM snob of sorts, I absolutely love this post!! Thank you for putting it out there! You are an awesome mom and woman of God!

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  8. Words can not express how much I needed to read what you have written... I sit here crying because it has made my day (week, month, etc.) to read this.

    Not sure what else to say, except: THANK YOU!

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  9. Such a great post, Michelle! I've not been a SAHM for very long, so I identify very readily with moms who work outside the home. I'm so happy that you've found peace with what your family needs :)

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  10. Thank you for this, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I'm in your situation too - I would much rather be at home all day caring for my son, but I refuse to make my husband work 80 hours a week and never get to be a father just to pay off my (very,very modest) student loan and keep us off assistance and out of bad neighborhoods.

    I work outside the home, but it's just that - a job - not a career, there are no ladders to climb. I work that job to assure stability for my family and to share (I work a hospital) my gifts with others whether it's in the form of a good days work or just a kind word to a worried mother in the elevator. I work so that my time with my kid(s) will be comfortable and stress free.

    I had forgotton BJP II's words about mother's and working mother, thank for reminding me that accepting my vocation as wife and mother can come in many form.

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  11. I have often read that same line, "have my priorities straight" when discussing staying at home versus working outside of it. As if working outside of it automatically qualifies you as a person choosing to do so BECAUSE you find more worth in it over motherhood at home during the daytime.

    WTF? Right?

    Sorry to be so brazen with the acronym, but you hit the nail on the head. By them writing that line, it implies a WOTHM prioritizes work over staying at home. WRONG.

    You wrote it perfectly here. Nice job. :)

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  12. I just wanted to let you know that I loved this post. You are one of my hero's, it was so encouraging for me to find you in the sea of christian SAHM bloggers out there.

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  13. From a fellow WOTM, thank you for this post!

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

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  14. I meant to respond earlier this week but it was difficult to do on my phone and I couldn't really open your webpage while at work!

    I am a fellow WOTHM. THANK YOU for this post. I am fortunate enough to work 3 days a week and be able to have a foot in both worlds. I can't tell you how many times I get the "Oh, you work, that's too bad" look from people at church. Not from my friends obviously, but other people in my church. Yes, I work. And you know what YES I ACTUALLY LOVE MY JOB! I work as a nurse practitioner, and that is a huge part of who I am and who God created me to be. And I don't want to apologize for it anymore!

    Ok, enough ranting. Thank you!

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  15. Thank you. How refreshing. We currently only have one baby and I can stay at home for the time being, but my husband will probably be going to seminary next year, which means I will most likely be put back into the workforce. I resonate so deeply with a lot of what you are saying -- the shame and the guilt, and the sense that I should be asking forgiveness for sins (such as going to school/accruing debt). Your voice is one that needs to be heard on the internet world of mommy blogging. Please keep writing; I will keep reading.

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  16. beautiful thoughts that are steeped in truth and honesty. I am encouraged and inspired by your perspective and story. Thanks for opening your heart up for us in this way.

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  17. Aww I can really relate to this post! Words like that definitely do sting and are very harsh - some people just can't afford it. We have massive student loan debts too!

    Thanks for posting

    Jamie

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  18. I am not too sure how I missed this amazing post, but I deeply appreciate it. I think God must have saved it for me until now because now is when I needed to read it. You always can articulate so eloquently what I feel - this is exactly what I am trying to come to terms with at this time (Must be the going back to work after having a baby syndrome, man does it suck), there is no way I could ever express it as beautifully as you did. I never knew jp2 said these things, nor that there were other people out there having the identical issues and feelings. I have learned so much from you. Thank you. I do really feel like you understand what I am going through, and that you are like the big sister I never had, ahead of me on the journey and there to make my path a safer and brighter one. (sorry if that sounds sappy, but I often feel that way after reading your posts.)

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  19. Thanks for sharing this beautiful reflection. It is so good to remember that there is not a "cookie-cutter" path to holiness and not only one way to live our feminine vocation. As an infertile couple, who know lots of beautiful, big Catholic families we also walk a different path. God bless you for your witness and example.

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  20. I think as a general rule of thumb, we women are much too invested in comparing ourselves to other women, and beating ourselves up if we don't measure up to some immeasurable standard. It happens all the time in our corner of blogosphere, too. I once got a lot of flack from a SAHM because of a line in one of my blog posts saying "I don't know how working moms do it!!"- it was, of course, ironic to me since the SAHM who took offense must have (??) realized how I'd give my left eye to be a SAHM... or any other letters, as long as they preceded the big "M!"

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  21. This post really resonated with me. Thank you so much for writing it!!!

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Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)