I have just finished reading two books on the same subject that are in such stark contrast with each other that I must share them here. One of them, In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, was given to me by my mother-in-law for Mother’s Day, and the other, Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner, I found in a second-hand bookshop and thought it worth buying considering its subtitle: Personal Discoveries of a Mother of Twelve. I figured that any mother of twelve who also managed to write a book should be rewarded by having people read it. The two books both delve into the idea of motherhood…what it means, why it’s important, and how we should approach it. But while the latter is relaxed and forgiving, the former is the most harsh and critical book I’ve read in a long time. It is so acidic and judgmental that I felt myself being sucked into her prideful negativity towards others as I read it. Being one who regularly struggles with pride issues, I had to put the book aside before I even finished it. Thankfully, I picked up the other book and my thoughts were restored to a much more fruitful place.
Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner is by no means an epic book. It is a quiet, slow little jaunt through the author’s childbearing decades, plucking wisdom and thoughts up like wildflowers gathered through the years. Her “windows of light” which end each short chapter aren’t mind-blowing, but they do remind us of the lessons she’s learned through her vast experiences. Dr. Laura, on the other hand, who writes In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms spends her whole book bashing women who choose to live their lives differently from Dr. Laura’s. Wow, that woman can be harsh! As a stay-at-home mom myself, I firmly believe that children need their mothers in a desperate way, but in recent years I’ve come to discover that I am not equipped to know each family’s struggles, issues, and how they make decisions. Each mom I know, whether working outside the home or inside, has thought about her decision and wants the best for her children. We all differ in what we believe is best and to what extent we can actually achieve that best in our families, but we all hope to raise up wonderful human beings. To illustrate the difference in approach between these two books, I offer you a pair of passages for your perusal:
From Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner: One day I sat on a small kindergarten-size chair, with my knees up to my chin, listening to the rhythm band of my twelfth child’s preschool group. It was really a dreadful performance, slow and out of tune. I had a dozen important things to do, and this little concert was not an important event, sort of a “come if you like” activity – a practice, actually. Only a handful of other parents had bothered to show up. I rubbed my aching back and thought that I could not even count the number of such concerts I had attended through the years. Who would remember? Not me, and probably not my children. Surely now, in my mature years, it wasn’t necessary to attend everything. As I squirmed impatiently in the little chair, I heard the question pop unbidden into my mind, What am I doing here? Just then, my little daughter looked over at me and smiled. My answer to the question came, as solid and satisfying as the rock on which the wise man placed his house. I’m building a child. Suddenly the chair became comfortable and the concert seemed rare, precious, and fleeting.
Actually, I can’t even bring myself to copy a passage from In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms because even I, as an at home mom, found most of the book offensive and rude and I don’t want to support her sentiments here in what I hope is a peaceful and supportive place. While I think there should be more influential women out there touting the positive effects of staying at home for your kids in this world that only champions achievement and productivity, I think Dr. Laura is woefully tactless. One interesting point she does make in the book is to think about what the kids would prefer during moments of pain, excitement, accomplishment, or sadness…to have their mother there to share with or a day care worker? I’d never really thought about it that way. But while Dr. Laura quotes woman after woman in her book trying to “prove” she’s right and others are wrong, Jaroldeen Edwards, the mother of twelve, simply offers up her experiences, showing the reader that it is possible to live a full and meaningful life from within the home. I think the contrast in their writing approaches comes from the eras in which the two authors are mothering. While Jaroldeen Edwards stayed at home when it was still considered a worthwhile and noble cause, Dr. Laura speaks to a generation that often scoffs at the stay-at-home mom as if she’s “wasting” her life. In that respect, I can at least appreciate what each author is trying to say, whether I agree with how they say it. But Dr. Laura shouts and parades around the benefits of stay-at-home mothering in a way that is less than loving, while without disparaging anyone else Jaroldeen Edwards reminds me in a gentle and encouraging way that my sacrifices are worth it. The days and moments of sometimes endless drudgery are actually rewarded with the precious conversations and connections I’m making. I like her statement in regards to all of our family choices, that “the best thing I have discovered in adult life is that I have the privilege to choose my own patterns – to put first the things that matter the most to me and my family.”
That quote illustrates exactly what I’ve learned over the past few years. Rather than stocking up on prideful words to defend my choices (which is my natural tendency), if I find the humility to open up to others I can discover that no matter what path they are on, no matter how different their choices are from mine, there are women of all walks of life who are choosing their own priorities for their families and trying their best to be the mothers, homemakers, wives, workers, and most importantly to be the women God wants them to be. God rewards those who earnestly seek and follow Him on whatever His path for them may be.