Once upon a time, all I wanted was to be a mom. From the time I was a little girl playing with dolls, through Jr. High when I started to babysit and High School when I gave up my “real job” to go back to babysitting (even through there was always, always at least one poop disaster every single time I sat for my favorite family), through college when I was a nanny for a family, I knew, more than anything I wanted to be a mother.
I had other dreams, too. First, I thought I’d be a teacher. Then, a ballerina, then, when I had a boyfriend who I was way too serious about, I thought I’d be a nurse (so I could study in town and be close to him). Then, I experienced my call to ministry while I was still in high school. So I wanted to be a mom and a minister and I wasn’t sure I could be both at the same time.
My mother was a stay at home mom. I walked home from school for lunch every day in elementary school. In Jr. High Mom was there when I got home, or she had come to school to pick me up to get me to my ballet or piano lessons. When she picked me up she always had a bag of raisins and peanuts for me to snack on to tide me over until dinner time. Mom was an assistant troop leader for my Girl Scout troop even though she really didn’t like working with kids. Mom was my room mother when I was in first and second grade. When I was in High School, she was my younger brother’s Cub-Scout den leader, and hated it, “Becky, please come straight home from school today to help me. The boys will be here. You know I need help, especially with Kevin.” Why was she the Den Mother? Because the den needed a leader and Mom was one of the only stay at home mothers around. And she believed my brother Tom and his friends should have the experience of being Cub Scouts.
Early in High School I brought in the mail and it included a letter to Mom from the State of Nebraska. It looked official and I was curious. Mom explained it was her application for renewal of her nursing license. Mom was an RN who quit working outside the home when they adopted my older brother. “Why do you keep your nursing license?” I asked. “You haven’t worked as a nurse for years.” It was in the mid 1970’s. Mother told me, “Becky, every woman who has children has an obligation to be able to earn a living for her family. I keep my nursing license up-to-date so that were anything to happen to your father, I could support you.”
Daddy was a pediatrician. He knew a lot about what was good for children. Once, after I was ordained, after I was a mother to young children, sometime in the early 1990’s we were home for a visit. Daddy read something in the paper that troubled him and he said, “The problem is all the women working outside the home these days.” And, I asked him, “Dad, do you mean by saying that, that I shouldn’t be a minister?” Taken aback, Dad demurred. “Well, no. But you’re different.” And I was, sort of. My husband and I were. We were both ministers and when our boys were little we shared one position. It was a choice we made. We chose to live on less income, to have fewer things than many of our friends in order to be able to be more fully present with our boys.
Dad had seen too many kids whose parents were too busy to pay them the attention children require and deserve. He allowed that maybe the problem wasn’t women working, but couples who wanted it all and in a big hurry. When my brother and I came home as babies it was to a 900 square foot home. When my parents built their dream home, it was a 1200 square foot brick ranch which they owned for thirty years. My parents built a life they could afford to live on Dad’s income alone. A life Mother could have continued to afford had something happened to Dad and she needed to return to her profession.
When it was clear my husband wasn’t happy as a minister, and we had three young children and we couldn’t count on him being able to do his part to earn a living for us in ministry I went back to school to get my Doctoral degree. I needed to be the best equipped I could be to support our family when he went back to school to learn another profession. By then, the boys were in school and preschool and my husband and I shared a 1.5 position in a church. To earn my degree I woke up at 4:00 am to do my school work before the boys woke up, and I went to bed when they did. I studied during my days off from the church while the boys were in school and when they were home, I was attentive to them. I didn’t want their childhood to be filled with me saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t right now, I have to study.”
Once, around that same time, a friend from home called to tell me of her new lover, and the new lover’s children, and her own teenaged children’s struggles with her divorce and her re-marriage and divorce from that husband and how happy she was now she’d met this new love and how happy her daughter had been that she and her mom were finally stable. And she told me her son was really messed up, and struggling, but she knew her daughter and he’d be happier knowing she was, at last, happy. And I wanted to ask her “can’t you just wait a couple years until your kids are grown? Can’t you give them a couple years of stability before you bring another person into their home and your life? Can’t you just provide for them what they need, and think a little less about what you need for now?” My friend’s relationship with the new lover faded quickly, and her kids went through yet another transition and loss. It seemed so unfair to them. They didn’t ask for all that drama in their lives.
Then my own marriage ended. Instead of going back to school to prepare for a career other than ministry, my husband’s mental health crumbled and eventually, our family’s whole well-being rested on my shoulders.
When I had a boyfriend for a time shortly after my divorce, my thoughts about my friend with the new lover came back to me. Didn’t my sons deserve a mother whose attention wasn’t diverted by new romances and relationships throughout their teens? I became more cautious. It was eight years after I was divorced before Mike and I met. We married a year later when my youngest was a senior in High School and the other boys were grown and gone from home. My kids suffered enough trauma going through their parent’s divorce. It seemed only right to let the rest of their growing up be a lot less eventful.
I’m thinking about all of this because I just heard about a young woman I know who wants more than anything to be a mom. She’s always wanted to be a mom. More than anything else she’s ever wanted to do with her life, she’s wanted to have children. She wants to be a stay-at-home mother, too. She thinks it’s important for children to have their mother’s attention when they’re young. I applaud all of those impulses, having felt each of them myself when I was her age.
She worries me though. She worries me because she isn’t prepared to support the children she hopes to have. Right now, she imagines the man she loves will support their family. But what happens if their love fails? What happens if, like it happened to a friend of mine when we both had little babies, her husband complains of a stomach ache one week and is dead from stomach cancer the next, leaving a two year old and a six week old to rely solely on their mother?
When my sons were younger men, I said to at least one of them, “Don’t be making any babies until you’re fully prepared to take care of them, because any grandbabies of mine are going to be spectacular, and they deserve to have two parents who love them and each other and are each fully capable of being good parents for them.”
That isn’t always what come to pass. The best isn’t always what we’re able to dish up in life, but is it too much to ask that we try? Is it too much to ask that people who choose to become parents be as ready as possible to take care of their children, and ready to give up some of their own desires and pleasures in order to give their children the time and attention they need to grow up whole and healthy? Is it too much to ask that people bringing other people into the world make some contingency plans, and recognize life doesn’t always unfold the way we hope it will?
Being a mother has been the very best part of my life. It’s been filled with poop disasters (little round balls of poop falling out of one toddler boy’s diaper and the crawler right behind him, picking them up…Ugh!), sweet kisses, loads of laughter, loads and loads of laundry, some degree of heartache, creative chaos, button popping pride, and now, deep satisfaction and joy observing the good, kind men my sons have become despite all the ups and downs of their childhood.
I missed the mark in many ways raising my sons. But, I thank God every day for my mother teaching me every parent needs to be ready to take care of his or her children. I thank God every day for my pediatrician father’s example of keeping the main thing the main thing in raising children. Pay attention. Be there. Be a parent. If you’re a dad, you’re the only dad your children have. If you’re a mom, you’re your child’s only mother.
I thank God every day for the whole village that helped my sons become the men they are today. And, I don’t for a moment regret the years I invested in getting them grown and launched into life.
To my young friend and everyone like her who wants more than anything to be a mother, a father, I hope one day your dreams come true. Only, please, be sure you’re as ready as you can be. Otherwise, you could be selling yourself short, and your children, too.
And that would be so sad.