Presence in Mothering

Most days, when I was growing up, my mom was waiting for us in the kitchen when we got home from school. Occasionally, she wasn’t.

“Mom?” I would call from the front hall.

“Yes?” She would answer back from somewhere deep in the bowels of the house.

“Okay.”

My mom was more than just a presence somewhere in the house when I was growing up. Her “being there” meant so much more than just physical presence. It meant if we needed her, she was just a room away. It meant we had a full-time guardian who would patch up skinned knees and bake cookies and just talk if we needed it and pay close enough attention to keep us from even entertaining thoughts of getting into too much trouble. I cannot place a value on her constant presence in our lives.

A few weeks ago, we went out for FHE dinner to our little hotdog joint downtown. We sat outside at a picnic table to eat our yummy dawgs and fries and milkshakes. While we ate, I observed a little family a few tables away.

The family was composed of a mom and a dad and an 8 or 9 month old little boy. They all arrived in different cars. It was obvious that both parents had just left work. They met the babysitter at the restaurant, and she brought them their baby. The babysitter’s husband eventually came, and they all sat down to a wonderful meal of hotdogs.

And here is what I noticed. The babysitter played with the baby, and said things like, “Clap for Mama! Can you show Mama what you learned today?”

And, “Can you say, DA-DA-DA-DA-DA? Good boy!”

I looked at the mom . . . and I can hardly describe what I saw in her face. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see tears in her eyes. It was as if she wanted to say, “But he’s mine! I’m his mama!” And in that moment, she realized all she has already missed, and all the things he’ll do for the first time when she’s not around. My heart broke for her.

I make no assumptions about her situation. I pass no judgment about her decision to work instead of staying at home with her little one. But I have come to realize what a great luxury, a priceless privilege it is to just BE HERE.

I used to think that moms who “get” to work are lucky. They engage in adult conversations, and use their brains for things that actually seem challenging, plus they get paid for it. I’m not so sure now. They also have to entrust their children to someone else for most of their waking hours. They have to miss so much of their little ones’ lives. And they’re still responsible for all of the laundry.

Here’s what I know: My mom was spectacular then, and she still is now. She has never stopped BEING HERE, even when she’s not physically in the same place as me.

Here’s what else I know: No matter how hard it is, this job that I have now — this mothering gig that seems to be so incredibly demanding and never-ending and usually thankless — is the greatest, most rewarding job in the entire world. I tell myself that I should feel lucky, blessed, fortunate to be able to stay at home with my children. And I am all of those things. But I chose it. My husband and I carefully arranged our lives so that my choice to stay at home would be possible. And I feel for those mothers who don’t even have that choice to make.


InkMom is a musician, writer, and midnight bookkeeper for her husband’s business. She revels in the beauty of their Western North Carolina home and sincerely hopes heaven closely resembles the Blue Ridge Mountains. While she and her husband live out a great love story, they raise three crazy boys (4, 4 and 3) and one blessed brand new baby girl. To find out more about InkMom, visit her personal blog, I’m (not) Crazy Mommy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11533553304097688521 Liz

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I, also, am so grateful to have had a stay at home mother and to be a stay at home mom. I am grateful for everything you said. It’s now, I feel, even more important to have a mother stay home. Or even a dad if they can’t have a mom. I’m grateful that the prophets still say that there should be a mom at home and that the only time they should work is when it is economically necessary. That it is the husband’s job to provide for the family.

    I am so grateful again for this post. It has given me more strength as stay at home moms here are an almost extinct career. Thank you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00418089316257590961 Marcy

    I had to work for the first 13 months of my daughter’s life, and it just about killed me. I missed so much, and I realize now how much I missed as I watch my two baby boys grow up. I keep busy with my 19 month old & twin nearly 3 month olds, but I LOVE being a stay at home mom!

    Thank you so much for this post!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02739830983426330836 Gina

    Oh, gosh. This echoes the exact reasons I decided to stay home. I didn’t make the choice until my oldest was about 20 months old and I was already pregnant with the second, and I missed so much, even then.

    Beautifully written, and a good reminder to us all. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for writing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10796336654163337650 Lolli

    Beautiful post! I have been a SAHM for over 13 years….except for the last 6 months, when I’ve been a work at home mom. It kills me that I am not mentally there for my kids as much as I used to be. As much as I want to be. Even though I am physically here, it’s not the same. On the other hand, I was stressed to the point of illness when we didn’t have money to buy milk and bread….so working at home is a better alternative for us right now.

    Your post made me grateful for all of the years I did have to be waiting at the door!

  • megandjon

    i agree so strongly with this post. Quality time is not as important as quantity time. our children need us so much more than a few hours at night and a couple days a week. if at all possible, now, more than ever, we have to be there for our kids.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08979432507719233160 Pearl

    I agree that presence is important, but what about those of us who don’t have that choice? Does that mean my children will grow up trouble makers or that my influence won’t do any good just a couple hours every night?

    I have to work. But my kids seem to appreciate me more when I am home and we make the best of our time together.

    It’s a great post, and great for those who get the opportunity to stay home full time. But working moms and their children can have just as much closeness and quality time as those who stay at home. My babysitter is like a second mom to my kids, they adore her and I adore her and appreciate all she does in my behalf.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01653757517652257445 Kimberly

    So, so beautiful. I love the lack of judgment, the acknowledgment of our good fortune (and also the hard work). This post is all kinds of wonderful. Affirming and inspiring. I’m going to go hug my kids now and tell them how lucky I am.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13472342143854293192 Ana

    Working outside the home DOES come with a price, whether you want to do it or not. It doesn’t mean your kids are going to grow up troublemakers or whatever (why does this always come up even when it’s not said?), or they won’t love the babysitter. It DOES mean you’ll miss things, but you’ll probably gain other things in their place.

    I think that a lot about my choice to stay home with my kids. I gave up certain things, like intellectual stimulation and the personal and professional growth that comes with outside work, but gained other things in it’s place. I look forward to going back to work someday for those very reasons, but recognize it will be a challenge to find my place after such a long gap.

    I know this is sensitive, but I don’t think we need to read every post that talks about working or not working as a personal attack. Everyone makes their own choices for different reasons, and there is something to be gained either way. I think it’s valuable, though, to realize what you are missing either way. Knowing your choices weren’t perfect is one way to keep growing as people. This post is just someone’s personal experience, not a treatise on how working moms are terrible mothers.

    And, yes, it annoys me so much that this topic cannot be discussed without someone in either camp stomping off proclaiming themselves “judged”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10724959154514125980 Royalbird

    I don’t view my staying home as being lucky because it wasn’t good luck that brought me to this place. It was a deliberate choice of mine and I sacrifice a good lot of material things (and so does my family) by staying home with my children. I am blessed, but not lucky.

    It is true that mothers miss a lot when they aren’t there full time and children do miss out on certain things when they don’t get to be home with their mothers. Saying that doesn’t mean I think that children with mothers who work will turn out bad in any way. They just miss out on certain things. Doesn’t mean they are loved less.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13896293949728093187 iamwoman

    I think that this post was a grateful reflection on the fact that the author is able to stay at home. Not every mother does have a choice, like me, and I crave the day when I can stay at home once again.

    With that said, I am simply saddened by the fact that some mothers feel that every woman CAN do it as long as they sacrifice. Although that is the case for so many, it is not for all. I have written quite a few posts about it myself.

    The choice, or no choice, should never be judged…and I certainly do not believe the author was doing that at all.

    Even as a working mother, I appreciate such a happy reflection of her situation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02333985897002693622 Hilary

    I think you just have to be extra careful when you work.
    I actually only work once a week (or less) during the school year and in the summers (because my husband is home) I work 2-3 times/week.
    I know I have to make a plan to sit down with the kids and really love them. More then I do in the school year. In some ways they probably get more actual attention then when I’m with them all the time.
    Such a balance this mom thing.
    Dads don’t feel this. I hate that. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00645109686262614572 Jess

    My mom was one that was there physically.. but due to drugs and alcohol use.. was not really there… so I envy your growing up.. =) THat aside… my husband and I have made many sacrifices… to allow me to be able to be home with our kids.. I have always been there for them.. when I had to work.. I worked while they were in school… luckily it worked out…. but it has been my goal to make sure that when they are grown and look back… that they can not think of a time when I was not there for them when they needed me to be… that I was always present.

    Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and start thinking about how much “more” we would have if I worked out of the home… but then I think of a quote I read somewhere…”that my job as a mom.. is someone else’s dream job”…. and that helps me get over whatever bump Im struggling with….

    I love being a present mom.. and I am so thankful for the opportunity to do so!!

    Great post… thank you for sharing!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02993502569209583377 Nikki

    Wonderful wonderful post. I am too so grateful to be able to be a stay at home mom. My kids also call me from across the house (like when they come in from playing at the playground) just to check if I’m here. and I am.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17046247622825649638 Allison @ Alli ‘n Son

    The moment you described is the exact reason that I became a SAHM. I just couldn’t bare the idea of someone else getting all of the first while I was off working. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but I will never, ever regret the decision to stay at home.

  • Riddlez

    As I sit here with a screaming 7 week old who has colic and has been awake for the last 6 straight hours, I’m grateful for this post. A nice reminder of the privilege of being a full time mom. Even when it’s awful and hard and the tears seem endless. Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06814109921379333571 Deila

    It’s true some women have no choice. But I believe that God watches after them and their children. Some of us do have the choice. I did, but not with a big comfy income. We struggled with 4 boys in one bedroom and my daughter in the other. My husband and I shared a car and many days I walked with kids and strollers and backpacks. We each have situations that help us become better people and I am thankful that I continued to stay home–who else wants to wipe my kid’s bum? Only a mom can smile with that achievement.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01141789571471078139 HappyClimate

    So beautiful, and so true. It’s been so hard for me to always have to work from home. But at least I’ve been there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08215431222961203620 Michelle

    I often tell young adult women that it’s such a blessing to have a man who is willing to do all he can to provide so they can have the CHOICE about whether or not to stay home. In that sense, it is a luxury because that choice can be taken away through no fault of one’s own.

    But it’s also not always an easy choice to stay home and sometimes that choice IS made at great sacrifice, as someone said earlier. It IS a thankless job in so many ways. But it’s such a glorious one.

    And on the flip side, I really believe that God can and does compensate for women who don’t have that choice.

    But we have to be real about the reality that as Pres. Hinckley said, it’s impossible to be a full-time mom and a full-time worker. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. For all that I’m grateful for the blessing of having a choice, I also defend that reality — I grow tired of the notion ‘out there’ in our culture that women can have it all all at once. It’s really not true. Every choice has a cost. Staying at home means my résumé is not as impressive as it might have been otherwise. Choosing (or having) to work means that you won’t be there at times for your kids.

    And one more thing — I think the same cost that comes with working can come with hobbies or anything else that can and does pull us away from our kids.

    Anyway, thanks for this post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03288534853490787988 Amber Page Writes

    I am that mom…or at least, just like her. And I hate it. I would give anything to be able to stay at home with my daughter, but as the breadwinner in this family, there’s no way I will ever be able to.

    A little piece of me dies every day when I have to drop her off, and only comes alive again when she’s back in my arms.

    But, I tell myself that it’s better than not having had her at all. I can’t imagine my life without that magical little being.