Being There

Yesterday morning I spent 15 minutes washing the breakfast dishes. I spent 30 minutes matching socks, folding underwear, and returning these items to dresser drawers. I spent 12 minutes looking for my toddler’s sandals. I spent 25 minutes on the phone with the doctor’s office and insurance company making sure a recent office visit would be billed properly. 


For anyone who is still awake, I suppose I should admit this much up-front: Being a stay-at-home mom isn’t always a glamorous ride. But you probably knew that already. 


Those of us who value mothers at home, however, can find support in some unexpected places. Penelope Trunk, a Boston Globe columnist and author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, is a former software executive who makes a living telling other people how to get ahead in business. She is also a mom. 


It might surprise some to learn that a “brazen careerist” like Trunk is a fierce advocate of at-home parenting. Not for the sake of the children, naturally, but for the money. 


“I don’t think there is any way I can compete in my profession,” she explains, “if I have to do things like clean up gummy bears for an hour a night.” 


In a recent post on her popular blog, Trunk shares that she has hired a “house manager” whom she will be paying $50,000 a year to do things like make phone calls to doctor’s offices and look for lost toddler sandals. This, in addition to the nanny and house-cleaning services she already employs. Her shocking advice to working mothers who want to get ahead in their careers? 


“Marry a stay-at-home spouse or buy the equivalent.” 


Fair enough. Her advice makes sense from a financial perspective, I suppose, and if she can afford to shell out $50,000 a year for gummy-bear clean-up, she obviously knows more about the bottom line than I do. But does any of this conversation make sense from a parenting perspective? 


What particularly strikes me about Trunk’s book, blog, and other resources like them is that while plenty of ink is spilled in the interests of gender equality, making money, career advancement, and personal “fulfillment,” there is almost no mention of the children. It’s as though modern-day moms have become so consumed with finding a way to get out of having to clean up the gummy bears that many of us have forgotten to ask the most important question:
What’s best for our children? 


Every Mother’s Day, an annual study makes the rounds on the Internet that sums up the financial worth of a mother at home. This year, the estimated worth of an at-home mom was estimated at about $117,000 a year. I find it both amusing and sad that, as a culture, we fail to recognize the value of something until we can sum it up in dollar amounts. 


While we can pay someone to shop for groceries, make phone calls, or look for lost shoes, can we pay someone to care? Can we give someone a big enough paycheck to convince her to love our children as we do? And if we can’t, might not our children feel the difference? And shouldn’t that matter? 


People who hire out the daily care of their families like to talk about “quality time” with their children. It was my experience, though, when I worked full-time after the birth of my first child, that “quality time” is a tricky thing to schedule. 


You can’t schedule bonding with a baby who only sees you for a few hours each day. You can’t schedule the time when your pre-teen will approach you with questions about sex. You can’t quantify the security of having a loving parent simply “be there” throughout a young child’s day. 


Like it or not, in human relationships, quality happens through quantity. The good stuff — the important stuff — happens here and there throughout our days and over time while we are doing otherwise insignificant work with and for our families. You can’t schedule that. And neither can you buy it. 


Yesterday, after finally finding the lost toddler sandal, I scooped sweet, fat Daniel onto my lap to dress him. Does it matter to him who keeps track of his footwear, on whose lap he sits, or whose cheek is pressed against his own as he sits, waiting for the sandal to be fastened to his foot? 


The brazen mom in me dares to say that it does, and that I will not regret being here in all the small ways that add up to big ways. Not ever.


Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

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