I don’t know what made me say it. Blame it on nostalgia or hormones or something. But that evening at the dinner table just days before school began, I looked at my daughters and felt a sudden urge to hold them for ransom.
“Girls, how about if you don’t go back to school this year? Just stay home with me. Wouldn’t that be so much fun?”
They wrinkled their noses and rolled their eyes. Clearly they knew I wasn’t serious. We love our school; both girls were headed into wonderful classrooms with favorite Christian teachers. We’d been excited for this school year ever since summer began, and yet now as the day grew closer—as I do every year—I felt weepy at the idea of letting them go. It’s what I do. And my girls know this. So they felt free to share their true feelings.
“No way!” My fourth-grader shook her head. “I love school!”
And then. Out of the mouths of babes.
“Mommy,” my first-grader spoke. “You can’t be our teacher! You’re always working!”
Mommy is always working.
I don’t care who you are—a working parent, stay-at-home parent, work-from-home or otherwise. When the kids perceive your work as your top priority, something is messed up. Because the truth is God is my top priority, followed by my family and then my ministry work. And I aim to demonstrate that to my kids in word and deed. I’m betting you do, too.
Do I do it perfectly? Clearly not. But the last thing any of us parents need is more guilt. So when I start to feel condemned for my work, or for my perceived lack of accessibility to my family, the first thing I do is check my heart. I bring it to the Lord and ask him to “see if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:24). Then I bring it to my husband and ask him to hold me accountable. And if at the end of the day it’s simply a matter of personal struggle—of wishing I could be in two places at once, or possess an extra set of arms so I could type with one and hug with the other—and if my struggle is not rooted in correction from the Lord but rather good old mommy guilt, then I remind myself of three core truths.
1. My identity is first as a child of God. My role as Mom is a big one, yes. It’s a God-given job that requires the majority of my time and energy. But it’s not the only role God gave me. I’m also a wife and a writer and a hundred other things that all comprise the whole of my person. And that whole person was created by and for a loving God, who gives us each gifts that he wants us to use for the kingdom. My work—as a writer and a spiritual mentor—is one of the ways I bless the Lord. He is my boss. Not my kids.
2. There is a season for everything. “A time to plant and a time to harvest …a time to be quiet and a time to speak …” (Ecclesiastes 3, NLT). A time to work and a time to play. A time to hit deadlines and a time to bake cookies. A time to update spreadsheets and a time to kick soccer balls in the back yard. Family life is not all one or the other. God ordains and blesses both.
3. We not raising playmates, we’re raising disciples. I say this as a mother who loves to play with her kids. As parents we are called to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Jesus invited the disciples to come alongside him as he worked, as he healed and prayed and provided. We can follow this same model with our own children. When there’s laundry to be done, I invite my girls to sort colors. When I have a writing project to complete, my nine-year-old flips open her own laptop and types a story alongside me. And when it’s time to go swimming, we all wrap our worries in big fuzzy beach towels and head to the pool.
Understand my heart here. I’m a huge advocate for pouring time and energy into our children. I left the corporate world years ago to stay home with my kids. But since then God has also called me to a writing ministry that requires attention beyond the family needs. And that’s okay. When we’re confident our calling is from the Lord and we are laying it daily at his feet, guilt has no place. So next time your little one tempts you to believe you’re a terrible mother because you had to answer a phone call instead of playing Legos, remember these three important truths. And the truth will set you free.