Lying Fallow in the Middle Years

The other day I read a lovely blog post one of my friends posted on Facebook. It was about how a mom should just… be. Live fully in mom-hood, love it, bear it, and own it for all that it is, and even all that it isn’t.

This post made me feel really good. My family comes before all else, and I do want to own my motherhood. In fact, I think I do own my motherhood. I started to share the post on Facebook, knowing it would reach my mom friends who, like me, often need encouragement to slug through the haze and daze of these middle years.

But then I didn’t.

I certainly realize how beautiful the haze and daze really are if we just allow them to be, but I can’t get rid of the nagging thought behind that realization: even if one loves and adores the 24/7 reality of staying home, paycheck free, that doesn’t negate the internal desire to create. It doesn’t take away the gifts we’ve been given. The God-given desire to “stop evil,” that my friend Bronwyn has felt for 20 years, or the desire to teach that my friend Aleah has burning a hole in her heart, or the words that pour from my friend Lesley, even if she can’t stay awake long enough to put them to paper.

The choice of work-at-home vs. stay-at-home vs. pulling the double shift five (or more) days a week is not the whole picture of what women face. More often than not, what keeps many moms awake at night is figuring out how to fulfill a true passion for motherhood—stay-at-home or not—with the need for well-rounded personhood. And then, perhaps, feeling guilty and selfish for needing something else, or actually pursuing something else, when those activities mean dinner comes from a box, or there’s a bit too much screen time a few days a week. Or maybe that date night gets put off a few too many times.

Bible studies, moms’ groups, potlucks, and the like are fabulous and fulfilling. Volunteering at food banks, shelters, and low-income schools impact lives in incalculable ways. But sometimes there’s a need for something else. To not just do good, but to stop bad. To fulfill political aspirations, teach from a position of leadership, see one’s name shining, preferably on hardback, on the rack at Barnes and Noble.

Acting on these desires when the kids are little and the nights are sleepless, when daycare is expensive and families live hours apart, when friends are too overwhelmed with their own children to watch someone else’s, is a near impossibility.

I’ve thought and thought about what the solution is to this. Patience? Yes, that helps. But that doesn’t solve the nagging—and sometimes overwhelming—dissatisfaction that might negatively influence parenting, and at the very least makes life much less enjoyable. Is there a policy we can implement? Free, 10-hour a week in-home childcare for those with pre-school aged kids? A lovely idea, but it isn’t likely to happen.

I’ve also wondered if perhaps we shouldn’t find a solution. Negative things stem from selfishness. But is acting on the gifts God’s given us a selfish thing? If so, why do we have the gifts? Is it a lesson in patience?

Perhaps.

To be sure, this is a luxurious kind of problem to have. It isn’t about food scarcity, or having the gas shut off for non-payment, or homelessness, or the millions of other possible life issues millions face daily. But it is nonetheless a problem, and not just for those who feel like less of a person when gifts lie fallow. It’s a problem for those who could be touched, served, and changed by having another person in the world doing good or stopping bad.

Perhaps the best way to do good and stop bad is by throwing all we have into our families, making our crafts and changing thousands of diapers, or by earning our paychecks and then coming home and barely managing to keep our eyes open during tuck-in time. But I wonder if throwing all we have into our families doesn’t include feeling like a whole person and setting the example of going where we’re called, even if that means feeding our families frozen pizza yet again, or having the kids watch just one more episode of Dora.

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9 thoughts on “Lying Fallow in the Middle Years

  1. Jamie, the whole message of the life of Jesus is that each of us has a destiny, as did He, and that we can find the will of God and do it wholeheartedly. God wants us to be fulfilled in the very way you long to be fulfilled. We practice that search and find process daily. I walked in faith, or as I usually expressed that struggle: “blindly” doing the best I could moment by moment until I thought literally that I would drop dead in my tracks and someone else would have to take on the care of Daniel. I was 66 years old. The previous year I had surrendered my Green Card because I thought I was about to die. Within a month of Dan’s descent into the worst psychosis he had experienced, I was on the track to what God had been preparing me for all my life. I do not mean other things I did with and for others along the way were less important or only contributory to that big issue . But the special thing that only I could do, and that I suddenly realized I had been prepared to do, was happening. My life was renewed. It still feels as though not much has come of that; I am still walking blindly but with a different kind of confidence because I have glimpsed what God is doing over and above what we can see from moment to moment or even year to year. You were created for fulfillment in God’s great plan for Creation. As Jesus promised, as long as you are seeking, you will find. I will email you a poem about the pain of waiting for fulfillment.

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  2. This is a conversation that women need to have with each other! Usually it’s not an either/or, all/none choice. When a mom needs or wants to work, she shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, but so often there’s a fear of being judged for our choices. That’s sad because we could help each other figure it out.

    When I had babies and preschoolers, I did a lot of per diem and adjunct work so I could be mostly home. I worked nights, evenings, weekends, and holidays during that time. Now that my kids are in school, I’m teaching full time again. Granted I did choose nursing as a vocation…this is because I have a deep desire and calling to be a healing touch to the world. Nursing has a lot of flexibility in its choices and structure, and that is great for moms.

    Now I am helping others learn how to care for people through nursing. This work uses my gifts and lights my fire in a way that I deeply need. I love my role as a mother and that role takes priority in my life, but is it wrong to admit that there’s more to me than that? Can we really expect mothers to put aside huge parts of themselves when their children are small, and take the risk that their gifts and abilities will be obsolete by the time their children are grown? Where do dads come into this? Why is it a given that moms are the ones who have to exclusively devote themselves to childrearing?

    Lots of families have been grappling with this for a long time. It seems, though, that our middle-class faith communities are a little behind. Thanks for acknowledging that “going where you are called” does not always mean the same thing for all moms!

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    • It sounds like you have a lot to offer on this topic! And I love your question, “Can we really expect mothers to put aside huge parts of themselves when their children are small, and take the risk that their gifts and abilities will be obsolete by the time their children are grown?”

      It’s hard to believe that so many people expect not just that, but also that moms will be happy doing it!

      You’re so right that women need to talk to one another about this. There is so much we can learn from one another!

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  3. THat last paragraph is a great reminder that getting parenthood right isn’t a matter of checking things off a list (“I kept their TV time down to 30 minutes and made them a delicious kale sandwich for lunch”). Frozen pizza and a couple of Disney movies are sometimes exactly what the family needs, moms included.

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  4. Jamie, This is really good! I appreciate the affirmation in the last paragraph that sometimes being our best selves for our family means finding space for ourselves, too. I sometimes “feel guilty” about the 1-2 I spend exercising in the morning before the boys are awake (meaning I go to bed when they do), but I also recognize–sometimes!–that a happier me makes a happier family. We can’t be all things to all people all the time, and sometimes we have to be something to ourselves, too.

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    • Exercise is SO important. No need to feel guilty about that. You’ll live a longer, healthier life for it. And good for you for finding the time — I used to fit in exercise, but I’m struggling with that these days. I’m just too tired to get up early! (I know, I know…. that’s no excuse….)

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