The Extraordinary Gift of a Stay-at-Home Mother
Raising eight children in a house that goes from clean to cluttered in a little under eight seconds is not exactly what most are clamoring for these days.
It is 12:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. Our 8-month-old, Kate, has just awoken early from her nap after being unintentionally roused by her 8-year-old brother, Will, who was determined to retrieve one of his toys from his bedroom nearby. As Amy heads down the steps with Kate, she passes our eighth-grade twins, Zach and Emma, who are dashing upstairs to a quiet location for a Zoom call with their teacher and classmates. Meanwhile, Matthew, our sixth-grader, is trying to ask her opinion about how two poems he is analyzing are connected as Sam, our 3-year-old, is yelling from the kitchen, still refusing to eat the vegetables on his plate (while unknowingly to Amy, scribbling on the island with a pen).
Suddenly, a familiar cry erupts from back by the garage, only to be followed by two sets of approaching footsteps and increasingly loud screams (one likely seeking comfort, the other likely explaining why he did nothing wrong) that hopefully are more drama than injury. As all of this is happening, the washer cycle is coming to a close with a buzz as the orthodontist’s office leaves a message about appointment changes. As Amy fastens Kate into her high chair, she notices that pesky springtime ants keep sneaking their way onto the island where crumbs of food remain.
At any given hour (or five-minute increment) at the Schroeder house, as Amy will tell you, there is a story being told. Although the plotline might look rather similar on most days, the details of the tale start anew each morning, when the first cry begins to awaken the house. On most springtime weekdays, this signifies the rush to get six of our eight kids (who are in kindergarten through eighth grade) out the door on their way to school. But these days, like millions of kids across the country, nobody is going anywhere fast except for myself, who heads off to work as part of the essential workforce going through our own set of adaptations.
For the past almost 14 years, this scene of various derivations has been recreated thousands of times over. Like any day, the demand on Amy and all stay-at-home mothers is remarkable, not just in the physical tasks that must be undertaken and balanced, but the psychological jujitsu that is required to change a diaper while answering a random question while making sure that the stovetop does not go up in flames. At times, those of us at work might envy the flexibility that a mom’s group or summer outing might allow to connect with friends — but if truth be told, managing eight developing personalities and a house that goes from clean to cluttered in a little under eight seconds is not exactly what most are clamoring for these days.
Yet beyond the obvious management of an ever-changing menagerie, an unrecognized offering ― certainly myself included ― is the remarkable gift that a stay-at-home mother provides not only for her kids throughout the different stages of their life, but also for the husband through his. For those of us blessed as I have been, there arises an acute reflection that we find ourselves in a unique, but wonderful, place. We do not have to worry about what is going on with new policies and personnel at the day care, or calls about illnesses. We do not have to be concerned whether those who are with our children for much of the day astutely understand their needs and care for them fully, as if they were their own. We do not have to worry that growth might mean new placements, and that challenges might spur unwanted phone calls. I have tremendous respect for all who dedicate part of themselves to other causes, including those, like my grandmother and aunt, who dedicated their lives to not just taking care of their kids alone. I just know that we are blessed to not have find a “mother” away from home because our kids already have their own.
Like many things, it has taken years to realize that this tremendous gift makes possible many other gifts. Sure, sometimes the house is a mess and dinner is nowhere to be found when I get home. But does that really compare to the hours given me to focus on what I am called to do as she takes care of all that is needed, too? Hours spent pouring herself into her kids’ holistic development, hours trying to keep herself healthy while she cares for them all. Hours spent still learning a trade that comes with no annual evaluation or built-in pay raise, but rather constant mandates of more jobs to complete in a calling that is never done.
For my wife, Amy, and for all of you stay-at-home mothers, I say thank you. In a profession that is as beautifully unquantifiable as the springtime bloom, in a calling that has no guarantees except the new demands that arise each day, it is your commitment to your children and your spouses that runs like a river through our needy world each day. As we find ourselves in unprecedented times, you remain the constant lifeblood midst the changes all around.
P.S. You stay-at-home dads are amazing, too.