"What do you do all day?" "You have a degree in music and you are not using it?" "It takes two incomes to live in today's society, how is it you have the luxury of staying home?" "What do you do with all your time?"

I've been home for almost fourteen years and I've heard all of the above questions plus some. I love being home with my children. For our family, it was a decision based upon the desire to train our children in character and to be their primary influence. It was a decision to be fully available to them as they grow to adulthood. It was a decision to not just raise our family, but to teach and train our children to be positive contributing members of society. And I wouldn't call it a luxury. Our experience contends that sacrifice may be a better description.

The decision to trade in my BME degree for that of MOM was one I didn't plan for in the beginning. When our firstborn was two years old my husband made the decision to change careers. His career change found us on a college campus as he pursued a four year degree to enter the ministry. We figured that I would find a teaching position to support our family. We weren't prepared, though, for the small town lifestyle we entered. It was a place where teaching jobs were scarce. I began doing daycare in our home to help support our family. Yes, it certainly helped us financially. But more than that, it caused me to reassess my position on daycare and working outside the home. I wasn't prepared for that, but took the challenge to evaluate my thought processes.

I found that although I provided a loving, warm atmosphere for the children, I wasn't who they longed for--it was mom. I found that although I could easily bandage up a wounded knee and rock a crying child, it wasn't me they wanted--it was mom. I found that when they arrived home after school and spilled all their excitement of the day I could listen very well, but it wasn't really me they wanted to talk to--it was mom. And shortly thereafter, we determined that I needed to be available to our children throughout their childhood and adolescent years.

It was a difficult decision to place a hard earned four year degree on the back burner for some twenty years. It was an even more difficult decision knowing that we would live many of those years completely on one small pastor's income. We had to decide to simplify our life and learn to live with less (yes, there is life without cable television!).

At the same time, there was an incredible peace knowing that we would never have to worry about who would care for the children during the summer months. There was a joy knowing that I wouldn't miss their first steps, their first special friend, or those first conversations each day when they came home from school. There was also a knowledge that even after my children left home, I still would have many years to embark upon my career should I choose to do so.

So what do I do all day? Well, my daytime hours are spent caring for the needs of the children: reading books, having tea parties, building forts. This year we have added homeschooling to our daily agenda for two of our three school-age children. I also take care of housekeeping duties such as laundry, cleaning, shopping, and mending during the day so our evenings and weekends are more available for family time. I serve as a room mother in my daughter's first grade class. I make sure that all children get to lessons, appointments, and meetings. I change lots of diapers, feed the baby, and clean up the kitchen a hundred times a day (OK, it's probably only about 6 times a day--it just feels like a hundred!).

I have found that with all of the benefits of being home, there are also some difficulties I've had to face. One of the drawbacks of being home full-time is the possibility of isolation. At-home moms are working at home alone and must search hard to connect with other women who are doing what we are doing. Because of this, I founded Hearts at Home, an organization designed to encourage, educate, and equip mothers at home.

Another struggle moms face is not having financial remuneration for our labor. The rewards come in hugs, kisses, ladybugs, and dandelion bouquets. These benefits outweigh any paycheck, but in today's world money is pretty important.

When I was in the paid workforce, breaks were a part of the workday. Even if there was no morning or afternoon break, at least I sat down for lunch. Not in this job. No one gives me a break. If I need one, I have to ask for it, make arrangements for it, and take it. Mothers at home must learn to take care of themselves and their needs.

Being at home was also an adjustment for my husband. Although he has always been wonderful to help out with household responsibilities, he has enjoyed being able to come home to a home that is quiet, peaceful, and running smoothly (most days, anyway). Neither one of us miss the chaotic days of juggling daycare pickup, late dinners, and rushed evenings. But Mark also had to learn to give me some of the positive reinforcement that I had received previously in my job. Because I wasn't getting regular paychecks, evaluations, or even feedback I needed to hear, "You're doing a great job, Jill!" every once in a while. While he doesn't usually think to compliment me on the laundry or how well the house was cleaned, he has learned how important it is to me and has adjusted to provide the feedback.

Was this the life I had envisioned for myself when we started our family? No, not at all. Am I happy with it? You bet. I know that my family is benefiting from my presence at home. I also know that I have grown from the experience. I may teach music again someday and I may not. Regardless, I will know that I have made a difference in the life of four children and one husband. I can't imagine a more satisfying career than that.

Jill Savage, author of Professionalizing Motherhood, is a mother of four children ranging in ages four to sixteen. Jill lives with her family in Normal, Illinois, where she serves as the Director of Hearts at Home, an organization designed to encourage women in the profession of motherhood. For more information about Hearts at Home call 309-888-MOMS or check out www.hearts-at-home.org.

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Copyright 2001 Hearts at Home. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.