There is a prevailing trend today among women to put off childbearing to the mid-late thirties in order to build a successful career. Behind this trend is the notion that motherhood and being a stay-at-home Mom is less fulfilling and valuable than women’s contribution through the workforce. This is a great deception.
I recently asked a friend who returned to part-time work after a year of maternity leave, how she liked going back. She said that staying at home with her son is a thousand times better than being at work: This from a popular teacher who is very good at what she does and enjoys her work. How can changing smelly diapers, being up multiple times at night and battling never ending piles of dishes and laundry be a thousand times better? With the first baby, the learning curve is so steep that you wonder whether you’ll ever come out on top. You are stretched beyond your limits as you forget your needs in order to take care of an infant who is totally dependent on you. But eventually you get into a routine, and your confidence grows as you get to know this little person better than anyone else in the world. And with that, your love for the child reaches a point where you wonder how you could ever love another as much as this. Motherhood brings with it a fulfillment that cannot be properly described in words. The reward isn’t only in the bright smiles and eager hugs or the comical ventures of your growing child. Nor is it in the quirks of your husband that you find duplicated there. The paradox is that fulfillment and joy springs from the many sacrifices you make painstakingly every day for the good of another. The greatness of motherhood lies in the fact that by giving herself, a woman becomes her best self. Indeed, in my experience, I have found that it is our selfishness that leads to the dead end of frustration, bitterness and small-mindedness. Motherhood has the capacity to liberate us from that. Motherhood and life-giving selflessness are synonymous. It can forge us into what we are truly created to be; innately beautiful, human, compassionate, and good. And we discover that our task has value unto eternity, as we help shape the souls entrusted to us.
While she was pregnant with her first child, another teacher-friend of mine told me that she would certainly return to work after her year of mat leave. She would surly go stir crazy and get bored at home. A year later, she was reluctant to leave her child with a caregiver and go back to work. We cannot truly grasp the treasure of being a Mother until we have experienced it ourselves. The deception works that way, because we do not know what we are missing until we have found it. Unfortunately for our society, what we do is what defines us. If our work has no value, we too feel ourselves to be without value. And when a woman is faced with the prospect of giving up an illustrious career for a child, it is not surprising that she may feel like her life is over. And it is true. That life is over. When a woman becomes a mother, she is forever changed. From that moment on, another person is intimately linked to her life for all eternity. That change and that commitment is daunting. Until you enter it.
Sadly, more and more women never venture that far. They pour their life’s energy into a career. This is not to say that women’s contribution in the workforce is not necessary. Some women’s life calling really is to build up and improve their field of expertise and society at large through their particular work. My contention is that the feminist mantra of equal opportunity – equal pay for women has led beyond what it should have: a disregard and devaluing of women in the home and family: a need for two-income households in a city where housing is otherwise nearly unaffordable. We have entangled ourselves in a situation where many women are ‘forced’ to work and return to work after a mat leave because of financial need. I bet that if the work of a stay-at-home Mom were equally supported as her role in the workforce, and promoted as the joy and fulfillment it really is, many women would choose to have children earlier. As it stands, by the time they decide they are ready for a child, it is often too late. I work part-time as a fertilitycare practitioner of the Creigthon Model System, a natural method of family planning. More than half of our clients are women in their mid- to late thirties who wish to achieve a pregnancy but have some form of infertility. As the optimal child-bearing age is during the twenties, age becomes a factor. Artificial contraceptives, particularly hormonal birth control pills, also affect fertility. These women are, to some extent, victims of social expectations and pressures that disregard their nature, and they are now paying the consequences. Being denied motherhood, they are denied the fulfillment of a woman’s most natural desire.
Perhaps your career is more fulfilling for you than anything else you can imagine. Or maybe the experience of staying home with your kids is more than what you were willing to bargain for. I discredit neither. But I do believe that there is an underlying, deceiving current of thought among young women, that we would miss out on something big if we stayed home to raise our children: that a fulfilling career must be more desirable than having children. By placing motherhood and children in second place, we are indeed missing out on something big: an experience of joy and an opportunity for human growth and fulfillment like no other. Really, we deprive ourselves of the chance to become fully alive.