“Mom—at Home,” Ensign, Oct. 1989, 13
The transition from career woman to stay-at-home mother often requires a leap of faith.
President Ezra Taft Benson has reminded us that the Lord’s way to rear our children is “different from the world’s way. … In the beginning, Adam—not Eve—was instructed to earn the bread by the sweat of his brow. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a mother’s calling is in the home, not in the marketplace.” (To the Mothers in Zion, pamphlet, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987, p. 5.)
He is not the first prophet to urge mothers to stay at home; for years, others have stressed the importance of a mother’s influence—an influence too vital to be left to others.
President David O. McKay promised, “She who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose influence will be felt through generations to come, … deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God.” (Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 453–54.)
On numerous occasions, President Spencer W. Kimball urged mothers to “come home … to your children, born and unborn. Wrap the motherly cloak about you and, unembarrassed, help in a major role to create the bodies for the immortal souls who anxiously wait.
“When you have fully complemented your husband in home life and borne the children, growing up full of faith, integrity, responsibility, and goodness, then you have achieved your accomplishment supreme, without peer, and you will be the envy of all through time and eternity.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 327; italics added.)
Of course, some mothers with children at home must work outside the home as a matter of necessity. Such need our understanding and help and appreciation for all that they do in behalf of their families.
Following are several accounts of mothers who did have a choice to be at home—and how they made the decision to be with their children.
Lynette: “Quality Time” for Her Children
Those who know Lynette, a 35-year-old mother of three, considered her a “career woman” whose job as an office manager for a large real estate company was very important to her. Whenever the topic of working mothers would arise, she spoke up defensively, citing her need for intellectual stimulation, association with other educated adults, and the daily reassurance and satisfaction of a job well done.
Besides, she would add, her two boys loved their sitter—she’d had the same one since her first son had been born—and Lynette always made sure she gave her sons “quality time.” Told in her late teens that because of a physical condition she would never be able to have children, Lynette planned to have a career instead. But when marriage and children came, her job was a big part of her life—a part she didn’t want to give up.
“The night Mark told me it had always been one of his goals for me to quit working and be home full-time, I was furious,” recalls Lynette.” ‘Fine,’ I yelled, ‘but what about my goals?’”
But gradually she began to change her mind. Although eight-year-old Greg was behind in his reading, she had little time to help him; TV and the sitter were bigger influences in her children’s lives than she was; and trying to keep up with everybody’s schedules made their lives hectic. “I didn’t feel we really had a home—it was more like a launching pad where Mark, the kids, and I stopped off on the way to somewhere else,” Lynette says.
Still, the decision to quit her job was one of the most difficult she had ever made. Lynette had developed close personal relationships with her colleagues at work, and the many job “perks” she had were hard to give up. Financial matters were also a worry. Mark owned his own business, and his income was erratic.
In spite of her misgivings, Lynette was surprised how easy the adjustment to being at home full-time was. “There is a feeling of absolute relief—in being there for my family and away from the stress, competition, and traffic. I do miss getting dressed up, going out to lunch, and being good at my job, but I don’t miss them enough to go back. Now we have a more organized home.
“Before, I would cry every time I’d hear a Church leader say I should be home with my children. On February 22, 1987, when President Ezra Taft Benson spoke at a fireside for parents and told mothers to stay home, I felt so guilty and miserable that all I could do was cry.
“‘He doesn’t understand,’ I thought. ‘Things were different when he raised his children.’
“But when I stayed home, I found out that he does know. I used to feel I was making my kids independent, but now I am making them feel loved. Five-year-old Jared will stop his play and holler through the door, ‘Mom, I love you.’ ‘I love you, too, Jared,’ I respond, and he’ll be off again. When the kids are sick, I can be with them. Greg tested it a few times when he called from school to see if I would really come and take him home. Now he knows I’m here whenever he needs me.
“The ‘quality time’ I thought my children were getting was just a rationalization to make me feel better. Kids don’t care about ‘quality time’ as much as they do about having a lot of it. My relationship with Mark has also improved. I’m a nicer person and more of a calming influence; I have greater peace of mind.”
Similar convictions are echoed by many families in vastly differing circumstances. A mother’s choice to quit a job is difficult at best. Often the decision to work has been prompted by many motivations—financial necessity, emotional fulfillment, intellectual stimulation, the desire to provide advantages and opportunities for her family, and the need to help others. Fathers as well as mothers become torn between conflicting forces.
But for many, the time often comes when, whatever the reasons for continued employment, the reasons for Mom to be home become even more compelling for the well-being of family members—including Mom.
If the transition between employment and full-time motherhood comes easy for some, for others it is painfully difficult. Debbie, thirty-two, was working full-time as a teacher specialist and serving in a Relief Society presidency when she decided to go back to school and get a master’s degree. She had always placed a high value on education and felt that a graduate degree would further her career goals.
“It was just craziness,” she admits. “Every minute was so full. I remember sitting on the edge of the tub bathing the kids with one hand and studying from a book held in the other.”
When health problems forced Debbie to slow down, she had the opportunity to evaluate her priorities. “Is this madness—spending the rest of my life like this?” she asked herself. “Enough already,” she and Bruce decided. The family needed someone to “keep the home fires burning,” and that someone would be Debbie.
So with great reluctance, Debbie, now pregnant, withdrew from the graduate program and quit her job.
“It was a real leap of faith for me,” she confesses. “I sure didn’t want to do it, but I felt it was the right thing for us.”
Debbie’s adjustment to being at home full-time was difficult. “Every morning for months I watched Bruce drive away for work, and then I cried with unhappiness and frustration,” she recalls. The role of stay-at-home mother was totally foreign to her. But she had always told the new schoolteachers she trained to give themselves a year to feel comfortable with the job; she decided to give herself that same year. Immersing herself in her new job, Debbie talked to women whose homemaking skills she admired, took related classes, and read books on the subject. Gradually things began to change.
Bruce’s support was invaluable during Debbie’s transition. One day baby Julia was sick and Debbie spent the whole day rocking her. When Bruce came home he found a frustrated wife and mother because of so much left undone. “He pointed out that that’s why I decided to stay home, to nurture our children,” says Debbie. “‘How would you feel if Julia had cried all day because you’d cleaned the house?’ he asked me. He really helped me put things in perspective.”
Although the family’s income was cut substantially when Debbie quit work, they have not noticed a major difference in their standard of living. With extra expenses—such as day care at $250 a month per child, a working wardrobe, lunches out, transportation, and fast-food dinners—dropped from the budget, the monthly income stretches further than they thought it would.
Debbie realizes she has had to make changes for her future. “It is unrealistic to expect to stay home for several years and then move right back onto the career fast-track. Many of those opportunities are gone,” she admits honestly. “But other opportunities will come. I will have plenty of years after my children are grown to do some of those things.”
Peggy: Finances and Faith
For many, financial matters are the real concern. Although Peggy and Cody knew their family income would be cut by more than half without Peggy’s paycheck, it was an easy decision for her to quit and stay at home with their three children, ages three, eight, and eleven. Peggy, thirty-four, had begun working as a secretary a year and a half before, when Cody had gone back to school.
“We felt going to work was the right decision at the time, even though it was hard on our family,” Peggy explained. During the summer they didn’t want to leave the children alone all day, but they couldn’t afford a sitter. So on Monday mornings Peggy took the children to her mother’s house about fifty miles away and often wouldn’t see them until she picked them up on Friday evening. Though it seemed the only solution, the separations caused a severe strain on parents and children.
When Cody finished school and found a job, although not as lucrative as they had hoped, Peggy knew the time had come for her to quit. What had already been a tight budget was cut drastically. “We didn’t know how we would make it, but we knew somehow things would work out.”
Once before when Cody was between jobs, they had been faced with a choice of paying their tithing or their bills. They knew that obedience to Heavenly Father’s commandment would take all the funds they had, but Peggy wrote out the check with trembling fingers, and the balance in the checkbook stood near zero. “Heavenly Father,” Peggy prayed, “you have told us that if we pay these obligations, you will take care of us. That’s what we’ve done, and the rest is up to you.”
Two days later, the family received a check that they had expected to be less than $10; the amount was $270. It was enough to carry them through until regular paychecks started coming in again.
Having relied on the Lord before, Peggy and Cody are willing to do so again. But to them, leaving their temporal welfare in the Lord’s hands doesn’t mean sitting on their own. Peggy has started babysitting and teaching piano lessons, and the family has taken on an early-morning paper route.
“We don’t have money for music lessons, Little League, soccer, and other interests such as horses and travel. We have had to sacrifice,” Peggy admits. “But we have gained so much more than we have lost.” The conviction in her voice underscores her quiet words. “We had such a difficult time before, and we felt like the windows of heaven were closed to us. Now they have been opened, and the blessings are pouring through.”
Although giving up a second income may seem almost impossible, those with an eye on the eternal perspective find that the extra paycheck sometimes can cost more than it’s worth. It is a decision that must be faced uniquely and prayerfully by each family. While one cannot model his course of action on someone else’s solution, neither can one judge what is right or wrong for anyone else.
Eileen: Should I Return to Work?
“President Benson’s counsel to ‘be at the crossroads when your children are either coming or going’ (To the Mothers in Zion, p. 5.) is especially important to me,” Eileen says. “When you send teenagers off in the morning, you never know how they’ll come home. You have to be there for them.”
When Eileen married Mike nine years ago, she had three children from a previous marriage. Although Mike was willing to support her children, Eileen felt it was asking too much of him, so she resigned herself to working outside the home. Besides, the independence and earning power she had enjoyed while she was single were hard to let go of completely. But four years later, when Eric was born, Eileen was ready to stay home.
After a few years, the financial pressures became almost unbearable, and Eileen and Mike decided that perhaps the time had come for Eileen to return to work. She found a position that seemed perfect for her and went for an interview, then was called back for another. Finally, at her third interview on a Friday afternoon, she felt the job was practically hers and was told she would be notified the following Monday.
On Sunday, Eileen and Mike heard President Benson’s fireside address urging mothers to stay at home. They listened with tears in their eyes, and it seemed that the prophet of the Lord was speaking just to them.
When the job offer came the next morning, turning it down was one of the hardest things Eileen ever did. But as she and Mike prayed together, the peace that engulfed them testified that they had made the right decision. Somehow, things would work out.
“I still get out that talk and read it periodically just for the affirmation that always comes,” says Eileen. When their oldest daughter started college, Eileen began working one day a week as a legal secretary to help meet added expenses, but she staunchly resists the temptation to increase those away-from-home hours.
“I explained to my employer that I couldn’t work more because I would miss too much ‘love time’ with my five-year-old. I described the half hour reserved for us every morning to just cuddle and be close. Now I know that sometime almost every day each of the older kids will need some ‘love time,’ too. Even my college freshman says, ‘Mom, when I’m home, I really need you to be there, too.’”
Giving up employment for full-time motherhood at home doesn’t preclude getting involved in other activities. In fact, it often frees a few hours here or there for a mother to spend in church work, community service, political causes, educational pursuits, or other interests or hobbies. Also, many women have income-producing activities—whether out of necessity or desire—that they can pursue at home or that take them away for only a limited number of hours.
Diana: No to “Parenting by Committee”
“I used to long to be out in the world working with adults, using my brains and my education,” says Diana, a 34-year-old mother of five. “But one day I realized the flip side of that argument—does that mean that only someone without any brains or education is suited to rearing a family? That wasn’t the kind of person I wanted to raise my children. I wanted them to have the smartest, most educated, most spiritual person I could find. That realization became an incentive for me. I stopped feeling that my skills were being wasted at home and started to make myself worthy of this important calling.
“Besides, I didn’t want my children to be raised by a committee of sitters, teachers, relatives, older siblings, and parents. Sure, I need help occasionally, but I wanted to be the principal player here.”
Making major life-style changes is not easy. The leap of faith required to alter established routines and familiar patterns is scary and uncertain. We rush about, frantically striving to purchase what cannot be bought from the many who claim to have it to sell—ignoring the Lord’s formula for eternal peace and joy.
But he has promised that he will not abandon us to make these choices alone and that the rewards will follow a display of our faith.
One afternoon Debbie, the former teacher specialist, was returning from a swimming outing with her children. She realized that if she were still working she would just be getting off work. Then she would have to stop at the grocery store, pick up the kids at the sitter, rush home and fix dinner, clean up the dishes, do the laundry, and try to finish some of the work she’d brought home. “I could feel my stress level rising just thinking about it,” she states.
As she glanced at the sunburned children asleep in the backseat of the car and remembered the day’s fun, a peaceful, contented feeling came over her. She realized—much to her own surprise—“This is the best job I’ve ever had.”