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Mother’s Work and the Holidays

In more ways than one, my work this season is causing me to take a fresh look at my time and priorities, at the meaning of the holidays, at what I want my children to experience this season. These changes are not easy, but I sense that for me they are good.

Now in a demanding professional role, I expect to soon be wishing that I had a stay-at-home wife of my own to help me out with a vast list of holiday tasks, including shopping, wrapping, shipping, card-writing, cleaning, decorating, cooking, entertaining—all the seasonal chores that I used to have time to do. What’s more, I can plan on feeling guilty about not having enough December time to spend with and enjoy my immediate family, consisting of husband and children ages 14 and 10. I’ll no doubt soon have moments—maybe even days—when I will question whether I should be working outside the home at all.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Such questioning seems to be a cost of a mother’s working, which inevitably translates into less discretionary time and more stress. But over these last nine months, I have also discovered some of the benefits of employment. Among the plusses I have experienced are these:
·         Newfound personal challenge and satisfaction;
·         Amazing appreciation for evenings, weekends, holidays and vacation;
·         Greater pleasure in the family and friendship time that is available;
·         Opportunity (being in a two-parent home) to share with my spouse more household and parenting chores;
·         My children knowing me as a person with value outside my home—and having a family example showing that women make important contributions to society;
·         Greater independence and personal responsibility on the part of my children;
·         Given time constraints, a more defined personal focus on activities that are important and meaningful.
Over my 14 years of motherhood, I have stayed at home, worked from home, been employed part time and, now for the first time since having children, I am working full time. I don’t think there is any right or wrong way for a mother to work—or not. Each choice, for those who can financially afford a choice, has its advantages and disadvantages.
Every woman, every mother, every family is unique, with varying capacity and tolerance for managing the stresses that accompany parenting mixed with employment. What is universal, no matter our choices, is that we each need God’s grace to make it all come together, during the holidays and year-round. Mother or father, employed or not, we can’t do it all—nor should we. And we can’t successfully do any of it alone, without God’s merciful help.
This year I will be forced more than ever before to figure out what investments of my limited holiday time are of greatest value. How much shopping or decorating or baking will be enough? How many parties should I attend—or host? With whom do I most want to celebrate the joys of this season? Who, besides those in my family, should I be helping? What activities will be most inspirational or relaxing for the family to share together?
The work I am doing these days—outside my home—is with children who are homeless. While my first priority must be to my own family, I am grateful to be able to work on behalf of needy children and their families. Through my work, I am reminded every day of how fortunate I am to be able to work, to not suffer from addictions or mental illness or illiteracy or “the sins of the fathers” and mothers, or perpetual bad luck that might keep me from being able to hold a job.
I am also reminded that, whether God calls me today to work for a paycheck, or to work in my own home, or to volunteer in my community, or some combination of all of these, I have so much for which to be thankful.
In more ways than one, my work this season is causing me to take a fresh look at my time and priorities, at the meaning of the holidays, at what I want my children to experience this season. These changes are not easy, but I sense that for me they are good.
Rather than bringing you and me undue stress, may our ongoing responsibilities, both in the home and outside it, enliven and enlighten us as we face the holidays. May we find opportunities for joy and service, as we choose how to invest ourselves in the weeks ahead.
Karen Zurheide is executive director of Positive Tomorrows, a center providing support services for children and youth facing family life challenges.