She walks out of her office carrying a box filled with picture frames and coffee mugs, along with a final paycheque and a gift certificate for Babies "R" Us stuck in one side. Reaching her car, she slides the box onto the backseat next to a brand new infant car seat...

Though this scene is becoming increasingly common in America, not everyone is singing the praises of women who trade their careers for motherhood. Philosopher and author Linda Hirshman says, "Women who quit their jobs to stay home with children are making a mistake... The tasks of housekeeping and child rearing are not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings."

Corporate ladders don’t usually have rungs entitled "Push Pause; Become Stay-at-Home Mom." A morning spent patting my newborn’s back, rattling a lavender elephant and folding miniature jeans doesn’t exactly capitalize on the years and expense poured into my education and training. But Linda’s point couldn’t be more wrong. Could an occupation really be more fulfilling than caring for my children?

Opposite progression

I remember a particularly rewarding moment in my career when my boss said, "Shannon, I have more client requests for you than any other team member!" Though I modestly kept these words to myself, I’d be ashamed to know how many times I reviewed them. It felt so good to be affirmed and esteemed for my contributions.

But after 10 years, even if I could locate my former boss, I’d have a hard time retrieving any remnant of this comment from his memory. And my "requesters" are more likely to remember their Christmas lists from 10 years ago than to recall asking for me. This compliment has long expired, and any fulfillment it offered was cashed out way back when it mattered.

Quite an opposite progression happens with parenting. I recently happened upon a picture of me holding my newborn son. He was sleeping against my chest with his arms snuggled in tight and his head resting under my chin. I spent several minutes studying each curve of his face and the shape of his pudgy fists. The time that has passed since this photo was taken emphasizes the tender significance of that moment.

Relational rewards

Suggesting that I’m squandering my time and talents by caring for my children is accurate only if my objective is personal advancement. If I were pursuing clout and recognition, the business world would be my best trajectory. But where would that trajectory ultimately lead me? Would I come to the end of my life and find my most productive years largely represented by an engraved plaque, tarnishing in someone’s attic? Perhaps pushing pause on personal advancement makes more sense.

A friend recently asked my three-year-old for a hug. He smiled and squeezed her tightly but then abruptly stepped back with a frown.

She asked, "What’s wrong, buddy? What did I do?"

Scowling, he responded, "I love my mom," as if to settle any question of his loyalty. I know happiness can’t be quantified, but I’d challenge the thrill of any career advancement with the joy triggered by my curly-headed little boy.

Seeing ambition clearly

I don’t know Linda Hirshman, but I’ll bet if we had coffee, she would challenge me to bask in the glory of a great career. While some moms may need to work to support their families, Linda’s hopes for me are constrained to a title following my name and a bank account to back it up. But as nice as these rewards are, they can’t compare with my daughter’s delighted giggle after she plays a trick on me, or the intense look in my son’s eyes when he whispers, "Mommy, I have to tell you a secret."

And my aspiration isn’t confined to this life; I want more in the life to come.

Jesus, the One who will complete my life’s performance evaluation, offers but one habit of highly effective people: to become the servant of all. I know that smelly diapers, puddles of spit-up and chins dripping with drool aren’t high-profile assignments. But Jesus promises that if I emulate His life by giving up mine, my reward will not be forgotten after the retirement party. If He says to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant," the elation and fulfillment packed into that moment will make any relinquished accolades seem trivial.

Shannon Popkin is married with three children.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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