Our culture today values productivity, education, and money. I was usually at, or near, the top of my classes in everything from Econometrics to Biology to History and graduated with High Honors from college and went on to earn two Master's degrees. I enjoy being challenged and having my mind busy. My happiest and easiest times of life were when I was in school, and busy with friends, study, and work. While I enjoy many 'homey' past times like baking and cooking and gardening, it is not easy for me, mentally, to be home all the time. I could easily be out doubling our household income and, most likely, thoroughly enjoying my work. So why do I not?
I have a strong conviction that my place as a mother is in my home. It is not the most popular conviction in the world, or even in the church. Family is honored in words (sometimes), but not necessarily in practice. Many, many children spend the majority of their little lives in some kind of institutional setting. Daycares and schools cycle little ones through the infant room, to the 1 year old room, and so on, until the move off to kindergarten, where they continue the pattern of age segregation and continue to be part of a larger group. Obviously, when a child spends early morning to late afternoon in such a setting, and just a few hours a day ( and usually most of those hours are very busy) with their families, the child will inevitably be largely shaped by the values, attitudes, and other aspects of the environment that they spend most of their time in.
Is this such a bad thing? Some daycares have several very good workers. There are many good teachers out there. But, can even the best intentioned parent know who is handling their budding little person's blossoming thoughts, attitudes, and interactions? When the little one is upset about some childhood woe, will be be laughed at by a well-intentioned, but foolish adult who thinks his little concerns are silly? Worse still, will he be laughed at or made fun of by a foolish and selfish adult? When he gets in a squabble over a toy with another child, who will carefully guide his little heart to purity, love, and forgiveness? Can even the best teacher do this consistently to every one of the 10 or 20 or 30 kids in her care all day? Do the class rules of sharing, etc... really guide the child's heart toward her Saviour?
I had a job for a year in which I worked in several daycares per week teaching enrichment classes. One of these day cares was quite good. The kids seemed very happy and taken care of. The teachers, for the most part, seemed to enjoy the kids. The environment was positive and orderly. Another center, right down the road, was awful. Chaos reigned. The teachers yelled at the kids almost constantly. There were far too many children in the room. Sarcasm and fights were the order of the day. I remember one sweet little girl who was in my class, quietly asking several times if she could go to the bathroom. In the chaos, no one heard her, and when she finally went over to the teacher to ask, she was impatiently snapped at. The sweet little thing flinched a little, but it barely phased her. Apparently, she was used to it. As a well-behaved and easy child, she was quickly lost in the rabble of yelling 4 year olds and snapped at for asking a simple question to follow the rules!
Most of the other centers I worked in were somewhere in between these two. There were many workers who loved working with the kids. There were many more who were doing it because it is a fairly easy job to get and they needed the money. There were some who liked the work well enough but were stressed with the cares of their own lives. Of course, they had their own families, money problems, and children. These kids were still just a job to them.
With great care and enough money, a careful parent can pass on many values to their children in the time they have with them and can put them in the care of others who (like those at the good daycare I worked in) are fairly competent in the care of children. Such children may well turn out just fine.
However, my observation has been that, in the majority of families, this kind of care and discipline is much easier said than done. Busy parents and tired kids, hasty meals and early bedtimes leave little time for long conversations, discussions, and the careful training really required to pass on Godly values and thought patterns to little hearts and minds. Even if they are passed on, it takes vast effort- or compromise -to find support for these values and this training in the rapidly changing succession of other adults caring for the children during most of their days.
I really believe that God designed family as the place for children to be trained, loved, and led to God. Infants are born needing constant and total care. A mother is the perfect person for the job. A harried day care worker with 7 other babies to take care of is not. A two year old needs time and attention to explore their world and learn basic lessons about relationships and self control. A careful mother is the best person to do this, not an employee trying to maintain some degree of sanity in a room full of little ones.
What about mothers who aren't good at this? What about mothers who are impatient or bored at home with their kids? Aren't kids sometimes better off with someone else? Ah, how far from God's plan this question is! Is not the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, patience, self-control, and kindness? The mother who trusts God and is growing in her own sanctification will find no better tool than that of giving of her moments and days to the constant demands of her children! When we struggle with the monotony of menial tasks at home and say we are suffocated in our four walls, let us honestly assess where the problem lies. I can fully sympathize with this struggle, but is the answer to give up and do something else? Is the problem our circumstance... or our attitude?
I speak here to the heart attitude of moms that are struggling with staying home with their kids or working because of their own desires. Money is another topic I will not discuss here except to say that most American families would do well to trade there car payments, instant foods, and multiple cell phones and computers, for some time with their families! I am not giving a hard and fast rule meant to apply to unique situations in which there is a serious and genuine lack of enough money to put food on the table or pay the bills. I am not talking to situations where the father can not care for his family (although I will say that in the majority of single parent families, the problems that caused the broken marriage in the first place were certainly a result of sin. And this sin visits itself on the next generation!). I am not even talking to the mom who works a few hours a week for the extra money and enjoyment of it and leaves her kids with their father or a trusted family member or friend. I am talking, instead, to the mom who feels suffocated at home and whose kids drive her crazy half the time. Ask yourself if the issue is your sanctification or your circumstances.
I know that, for me, I don't need to go find a job to stay sane. Instead, I need to be more like Christ to do this job of 'training my child in the way she should go'!