Experiencing joy and purpose as a stay-at-home parentWritten by Jodi McIsaac Martens
What's inside this article
Wake up. Change diapers. Make breakfast. Make beds. Change diapers. Make lunch. Vacuum. Change diapers. Make dinner. Wash dishes.
Repeat for next several years.
When I made the decision not to return to work after my second child was born, I knew it would be an adjustment. After all, I was leaving an executive job I loved for quality time with "Elmo and friends." What I didn’t realize was that I was about to face more than just an adjustment – I was about to have a full-scale identity crisis.
Overnight, I felt like I had gone from being a successful career woman to a scullery maid. My days consisted of preparing food (and immediately watching it be consumed), desperately trying to keep up with the dishes and doing at least one load of spit-up-infused laundry a day. I vigorously worked from early-morning feedings to late-night story time, only to know I would have to do it all over again the next day . . . and the next day . . . and the next day.
This was my life for the foreseeable future. The thought terrified me.
A new quest
Not wanting to spend the next 18 years dreading every moment, I set out in search of answers.
Surprisingly, it was the work of a 17th-century monk that spoke to me most. Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen of a Carmelite monastery for over 40 years – and viewed every day as a precious gift from God. He experienced the mundane as the medium of God’s love, constantly fixing his mind on God’s presence as he cooked and cleaned and performed other "lowly" tasks for his order.
To him, every task, no matter how small, was of great spiritual significance. His work was his worship because he offered it in love to God. "We can do little things for God," he wrote. "I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."
Reading his work led me to ask myself, Does my household work play a significant role in my spiritual life? The answer, I had to admit, was a definite no. And that’s when I started my quest to find spiritual significance amidst the mundane activities of stay-at-home parenting.
Let’s face it – most of us stay-at-home-parents don’t have time to go on lengthy spiritual retreats or climb mountaintops to commune with God. But lofty ideas about the meaning of true spirituality can prevent us from seeing and experiencing the presence of God in the midst of where we are.
Simon Carey Holt, a theologian at the University of Melbourne, says, "Spirituality is about all of life and all of who we are. It has to do with moments of retreat and rush-hour traffic, with periods of silence and the noise of little children, with hushed Sunday worship and frantic family dinners. The promise of ‘God with us’ is not confined to the mountaintop."
Edith Schaeffer, the wife of well-known theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer, also became an inspiring role model to me. When she and her husband opened up their home in Switzerland as a spiritual retreat centre, Edith was responsible for all the cooking and housework for their constant stream of visitors. She also had her own four children to look after, two of whom had health problems.
She writes, "Martyrs being tortured or persecuted for their faith at least sounds dramatic. Having to cook, serve meals to two sittings at times without ever sitting down to eat in between yourself, having constantly to clean up spilled and broken things, to empty mounds of garbage, and to scrub a stove that things have boiled over on or an oven in which things have spilled over and baked to a black crust is neither dramatic nor glamorous!" And yet her simple acts of service helped launch a movement that has changed thousands of lives around the world.
The sacred and the secular
As hard as it might be to imagine, the seemingly inglorious tasks we turn our noses up at are an often overlooked form of worship. Many of us separate our lives into "secular" and "sacred." Because we tend to see the chores that accompany child-rearing and housekeeping as purely secular, we fail to consider God’s presence and purpose in them. Instead, we often grudgingly rush through them so we’ll have time to get to our "sacred" activities, like church, Bible study or our own personal devotions.
But the acts of making meals, sorting the recycling and wiping your child’s runny nose are just as spiritual as other "religious" activities when done with the right attitude. Jean Pierre de Caussade, a 16th-century monk, wrote about the "sacrament of the present moment" – how God’s activity and presence permeate all things, even the most trivial. He encourages us to never look "for the holiness of things but only the holiness in things."
David Collins, president of Paradigm Ministries in Abbotsford, BC, elevates this kind of work to a whole new level – an opportunity to be transformed into the image of God. "Service is always others-focused," he says. "This is your opportunity to minister to your family, to submit your longings and rights and freedoms to the sovereignty of God as an act of service – and then you move into very fertile ground for God to begin a transformation in your life and mould you into His image."
To be honest, there are still days when I think I might go mad from the sheer banality of it all. But I’m learning to take time to reflect on the big picture and on the importance of what I’m doing. I’m finding that it really does make a difference.
Nothing has changed except my attitude – the dishes are still there, the baby’s diaper still needs changing and the meal I slave over today will likely be forgotten by bedtime. But I’m a more contented and fulfilled person, and our home is infused with the joy and peace only a happy mother can bring.
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