From the May, 2000 issue of Touchstone

The Largest Career of All by Bethany Patchin

The Largest Career of All

Bethany Patchin on Motherhood

"How many of you want to be at-home moms?” The question, from my tenth-grade English teacher, was directed at the females in the room. We made up over half of the class of 25 sophomores. I proudly raised my hand, then waited for at least a few others to join me. The room was completely still. Everyone stared at me.

Four years later not much has changed. Marriage is closer than ever for my peers, yet only a few of the young women I come into contact with admit they would postpone a career for children. Those who do, confide in me only after I’ve told them of my own feelings. They seem relieved to find a contemporary who doesn’t mock their desire.

When I finally got the nerve up to tell my advisor that I want to get married and be a mom after I graduate, I watched his expression go from surprise to dismay to disapproval. “I wouldn’t have expected you to be that type,” he said, shaking his head and looking at me with great disappointment. “You just seem so . . . involved.”

He paused, then asked in a hushed, sad voice, “Is it pressure from your boyfriend?” A laugh escaped me before I could stop it—his tone was the same as if he had asked me if my boyfriend was abusive.

“No,” I informed him, “I don’t have a boyfriend.” Despite my desire to get married, I’m not at college to hunt down a husband. Marriage and raising a family will not be the epitome of my existence—I enjoy looking forward to them, but I’m not living in the future.

I do hope to serve someday as a wife and mother. If and when God determines it is time for me to marry a man and bear his children, I will do so with a willing heart.

Just a Mom

Most people wonder why I am bothering to get a degree if all I want is to be a wife and mom. That question irks me.

I love to learn and want to have a wealth of knowledge to impart to my children. Why shouldn’t a housewife be educated? I want to equip myself and hone my skills to the point of craft.

My mother earned her degree in elementary education 20 years ago, and promptly became a housemom after graduating. Since then my brother, sisters, and I have been her highest priority, but during the tight times she helped out by using her degree for substitute teaching. Though we didn’t like having her gone, she was able to carry some of the burden my father carried. I want to be able to do this for my own husband if the need ever arises.

I am at college because I realize there are seasons to life, and mothering will only be my summer. My mom, now 40, is the co-owner of my dad’s window dealership. In the last five years, as my siblings and I have grown up and her mothering duties have lightened, she has become intricately involved in every aspect of the company, though very few people are aware of it.

Depending on God’s plan for me, I could be done rearing my children in 20 years like her. By age 30 I might even have enough time to do part-time illustration and writing during the day. I am thankful that technology has opened up even more ways to work at home than my mother had available to her.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that try to build it.” If God gives you children, rear them with your whole mind, soul, and strength. If he has given you the talents to be an engineer, the same thing applies. But I am dubious that he would ever ask us to be fully both at one time. Women my age seem to think that we will have enough time and energy to do and be everything—be full-time wife, mother, and career woman all rolled into one.

I agree that God wants us to use and enjoy the talents he’s given us, but he never promised us inexhaustible resources. He created us with limitations and only placed 24 hours in a day. We cannot expect to juggle all the hats and be the best we can be at all of them. The reality is that if I choose to be full-time in a career, my husband and kids will only have me part-time.

Danielle Crittenden makes an excellent observation in What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: that quality time with kids can’t be scheduled into a day. Children want a mother’s presence, the knowledge that she will be there when they have a question or a story to tell—but quite often they simply want her to do her own work while they color and play with pals.

And those memorable times—their first steps and words, their profound utterances of child wisdom, the moments of belly laughing together—happen at the most unexpected times during day-in, day-out living. The chances are much higher that a mother will miss out on them if she is flying to California on a business trip—or even if she is five miles away in a classroom teaching everyone else’s children.

Money Can’t Buy Me Love

I can guess what most people think when they find out about my lack of career aspirations. They picture me in ten years: dressed in sweats doing laundry for my four kids; my degree collecting dust somewhere on a bookshelf; living in a one-income-sized home; driving a used minivan.

They imagine my peers, however, employing their education to the fullest. Unfettered by familial life, thanks to daycare, public schools, and extracurricular activities, they will naturally be rewarded with financial and material gain—but at what cost to their husbands and children?

The Christian life is about sacrifices, giving up certain things for the sake of greater long-term benefits. I know there could be times of financial strain in my marriage. I know I might encounter tension with the majority of my married female peers because I choose to stay at home. I know I will have to give up a lot of personal time—there will be nights I am itching to read a big fat novel in one sitting instead of reciting Hop on Pop for the fiftieth time to the kids.

It is only by sacrifice that we understand what true love, commitment, and maturity really mean. Jesus was the embodiment of this. Being a husband and father, or wife and mother, forces you to look outside yourself to the needs of others. I’m not saying that I’m going to relish changing diapers and cleaning up burpy blankets, but there is a certain amount of joy involved that transcends the self—an awareness that makes the smells and uncleanliness bearable. That joy is akin to the pleasure shared between two lovers, when you cannot determine where your happiness ends and the other’s begins. You are making this little person you love more comfortable, contented, and clean.

As soon as I become a mother, my children will become my job. What better way to use my time and talents? G. K. Chesterton would have agreed. “Babies need to be introduced to the world and, to put the matter shortly, a woman is generally shut up in a house with him at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that aren’t,” he wrote in What’s Wrong with the World. He could understand someone saying that this “duty of general enlightenment” was too much for anyone.

But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the Universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

I want my children to know that they are more important to me than a career. Because of the choices my mom made when she was little older than I, my three younger siblings are reaping the benefits of having a full-time mom, one who is available for conversation, hugs, and laughs (and a healthy number of arguments about chores) any time of day.

I want to give that gift to my own children. If it means I drive a beater car and shop at thrift stores for the rest of my life, so be it. Children don’t know the difference between Goodwill and GAP. I certainly didn’t. And if I have daughters, I will raise them with the knowledge that they have full abilities to be and do all that God wants, in their wholeness in Christ, in their education—and in the delightful duties that may come with being a woman, wife, and mother.

Worthwhile Wrinkles

There will always be women who scoff at me, who are disappointed because they think I let down our sex. There will always be the professors who sigh because I am not living up to their idea of potential. But I know what makes me happy, and I’m slowly learning not to feel guilty about sharing it with people.

I look forward to giving up my independence. The word “dependence” has come to mean something negative: “an unhealthy need for a person or substance, an addiction.” But I see it as a positive reliance on others for companionship and love.

A friend of mine once said his greatest desire is to create something beautiful and lasting. That stuck with me. I want to create a beautiful and lasting marriage with a man, and with that man I want to bear and rear children, which are the most exquisite and eternal creations we humans can take part in fashioning. Architects design buildings that will someday fall down, programmers construct computer software that will eventually be obsolete—but fathers and mothers create and cultivate souls that will never die. How wonderful to experience just an inkling of what God feels as our Father.

As a career choice, mothering is rarely respected. We should recognize and affirm women who opt to invest time in their children. The Bible is clear that sons and daughters are among the greatest blessings we will ever receive.

When I am old and I look at my wrinkled hands, I want to know that the creases came from—among many things—years of playing music, reading books, drawing pictures, and writing stories. But my greatest hope is that those lines will remind me most of hours spent washing my babies’ and grandbabies’ tummies, tucking them into bed, and teaching them what I have learned. 

An earlier version of this article, under the title “I Want to Be a Mom,” appeared on Boundless Webzine.

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