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When Mom Goes Back to Work

  • Jennifer Slattery JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com
  • 2014 3 Mar
  • COMMENTS
When Mom Goes Back to Work

For many, it’s a new type of midlife crisis, the kind that makes your fingers sweat and your stomach tighten. It’s that moment when, after decades of toilet bowl scrubbing and meatball rolling, you decide to toss your apron for a career.

If they’ll hire you.

And won’t fire you.

And your not-so-well adjusting family doesn’t drive you completely insane.

Um… Will this new job have mental health insurance?

Whether you’ve been out of the work-force for a few years or twenty, making this adjustment can lead to a great deal of insecurity and stress, but with prayer, forethought, flexibility, and increased communication, mothers can experience a fulfilling, guilt-free career.

But before you trade your vacuum for a word processor, make sure you…

Count the Costs

Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 14:28-30 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish’” (NLT).

Although this passage specifically speaks to our salvation, the premise is valid for every area of our lives. When we begin a new venture, we must do so with forethought, prayer, and planning.

I’m notorious for acting before thinking, and it’s gotten me in trouble more than a few times. When bills rise, stock markets crash, or kids return to school, leaving Mom with a sudden increase of free time, it’s easy to opt for a quick solution: returning to work. But sometimes such a drastic change can actually create more problems. Childcare is expensive, as is convenience food, and contrary to popular belief, those dust fairies don’t exist.

That doesn’t mean a housewife shouldn’t return to work. Rather, it means she and her spouse need to discuss this fully, weighing all the options. How much will childcare cost? Will we opt to eat out more? Is the financial gain worth the familial stress? Are family members willing to help out with housework once mom begins a career? Would it be best to hire a housekeeper? Who will put the kids to bed, get up with them in the middle of the night, and stay home when they become ill?

Do not try to be superwoman! You cannot maintain a full-time job and manage everything you did as at home. Therefore, it is important to recognize this, communicate this, and have a game plan in place before chaos hits.

Consider Starting Small

Going from housewife to career woman overnight might be too drastic of a change for you and your family. Instead, investigate part-time and job-sharing positions, even if they aren’t in your field of choice. This will allow you to build up the stamina necessary to manage a career and family and will give you and your loved ones opportunity to adjust. It will also allow you to evaluate your decision to work in an informed matter. After you’ve worked a part-time or temporary position for a while, once again discuss your career options and the costs and benefits of pursuing it with your husband before making any longterm decisions.

Recognize the Change will Affect the Entire Family

When Amy Pfortmiller, Second Grade Teacher at Cornerstone Christian decided to seek a career in education, she soon realized her decision impacted everyone. “My time had been my own for many years, and the adjustment was hard on everyone. There were some late night classes which meant I wasn’t the one putting the kids to bed, and that was really hard on all of us. I found they were jealous of the time I had to spend working on homework, and this led to feelings of guilt for me.”

Guilt appears to be inherent to motherhood. Even on a good day, many of us worry we’re making irrevocable mistakes that will leave our children forever dependent on psychotherapy. When those catastrophic feelings arise, we need to take a step back and spend time in prayer so we can view the situation through God’s eyes. Chances are, he’s bringing something beautiful out of the momentary chaos.

When we lived in Louisiana, my husband went through a period of unemployment. He applied for work with numerous companies, but the doors appeared to be deadbolted. While he searched career websites, I took on a short-term position with a local daycare center. This was very difficult! I was tired, missed our daughter, and wondered if my meager earnings were worth the stress and loss. Until one evening when God allowed me to see the bigger picture—the healing and growth he was doing while I was away.

You see, prior to this, as a shop director who covered a large territory, my husband traveled a lot. This made it difficult for him to develop and maintain a close relationship with our daughter. When he was gone, I slipped into single-mother role. When he returned, I hovered, ready to step in at the first sign of a struggle. I put our daughter to bed, cooked all her meals, and managed all her daily care. Although I wouldn’t have admitted this, I behaved as if I alone were responsible for our daughter’s well-being.

The message I conveyed to my spouse and child: No one, including my husband, could read a story, soothe a boo-boo, or scramble eggs quite like I could!

In essence, I hindered my husband and daughter’s relationship. God needed to get me out of the picture for a while, so to speak, so the two of them could bond. Now, some eight years later as I watch the two of them, who are now extremely close, interact, I am don’t regret a moment.

Lower Your Expectations

When your home is your job, it’s relatively easy to prepare fresh, balanced meals, have a dust free home, and maintain empty laundry baskets. Add in a twenty or forty-hour work week, and something will have to give—your sanity or your expectations.

Transitioning from four course meals to quick-fixes was perhaps the hardest adjustment Mrs. Pfortmiller had to make. “I had to realize that mac and cheese and grilled cheese and canned soup are okay,” she says. She reached a similar conclusion regarding housework. Previously, she had very high standards when it came to the state of her home. Because of this, she did everything herself. But a few weeks into her full-time teaching position, she realized she needed help. “[I learned] I should expect [my husband and kids] to pitch in, and that it’s okay not to be perfect. I also needed to realize I didn’t have to the perfect teacher and that I don’t have to be so hard on myself.”

Keep Things in Perspective

True, feeding your children candy bars for three meals a day, seven days a week will lead to major health concerns. But that doesn’t mean your child will suffer because you grab a box of instant rice once in a while. When you’re feeling like you can’t measure up, pause to consider the positives. Will your working allow your family to pay off debt faster? Save for college? Will the instant rice give you extra time to tuck your children in? No mother, working or not, is perfect, and each day, we must cut corners somewhere. We will feel better about those corners when they come as the result of forethought, proper perspective, and planning.

If your family is resistant to the changes, you may need to help them see things in perspective as well. Discuss the changes, how those changes affect them, and what they will gain from them. When you are too busy to read a story at a particular time, remind them of other times you’ve spent with them. If you are having a particularly busy week or month, plan times when you can do something special together, then communicate this to them in a way that lets them know they are your priority.

For example, when Johnny asks you to play with him, you could say: “Mommy really wants to spend time with you right now, but unfortunately, I have to go grocery shopping. Can we play later this evening?” This lets them know you value your relationship and aren’t abandoning them. It also gives them something to look forward to. However, when you make a plan, stick to it!

Take Time For You

Perhaps it’s our nurturing nature, mistaken ideas of grandeur, or an unhealthy dose of insecurity, but for whatever reason, women tend to put everyone else’s needs above their own. This can be doubly true for Christian women. After all, the Bible tells us to honor others above ourselves (Romans 12:10), to die to ourselves (Luke 9:23), and to consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). And yet we know even Jesus took time to himself, to connect with the Father, and to refresh (Matthew 14:22-23Luke 6:12-13), and he encouraged his disciples to do the same (Matthew 6:30-32).

This can be very hard for moms to do, especially if they’re feeling guilty for their change of schedule. But we can only run on empty for so long before we crash and do or say things we’ll regret. More importantly, if we don’t take time to regroup and refuel, how will our children learn to do this? What if, in trying to be everything to everyone, we inadvertently model work-a-holism to our children?

Take Time For God

It seems contradictory, but if we spend time with God first, he has a way of making everything else fall into place. Jesus stressed this in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (NIV).

To “remain in” Jesus means staying connected with him. We connect with God through Bible reading, prayer, and singing praise songs. This regular connection keeps us sensitive to God’s guidance. We have no idea what lies ahead, but God does. He longs to strengthen us for the hurdles and reroute us when a pitfall looms, if we would but listen for his direction. The more time we spend connecting with God, the greater our ability to hear his voice. The more we respond obediently to his leading, the greater our effectiveness and peace.  

Any time we make a life change, there’s bound to be added stress, insecurities, and physical and emotional adjustments. But when we take time to prayerfully evaluate all the options, comparing the costs and benefits; lower our expectations; refocus our priorities, communicate openly as a family, and add necessary relationship-building and refueling time into our schedule, we can find peace and fulfillment in the change.

Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects.

Publication date: March 20, 2014