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Will Work for Food….I mean, Feedback

By Kristen Ridge

“I do not want to frighten you by telling you about the temptations life will bring. Anyone who is healthy in spirit will overcome them. But there is something I want you to realize.

It does not matter so much what you do. What matters is whether your soul is harmed by what you do. If your soul is harmed, something irreparable happens, the extent of which you won’t realize until it will be too late.” —Albert Schweitzer, Reverence for Life,1969

I’m still a new mom. I have a 20 month old, and a second one due in two months. Heck, most of the world would say I’m still a newlywed, since my husband and I will celebrate our third anniversary this summer. What this means is that I’m still adapting to the various roles I have, and figuring out how they all fit together, and where “Kristen” still is in the midst of them all.

Today is a post about the mother-identity in me, and in us. The honest truth is, being a mother does not fill all of my needs. There, I said it. It’s true. Being a mother is wonderful, praiseworthy, glorious, fills me with love, helps me develop more Christian/Christ-like attributes. But those aren’t all of my needs. That is why I edit. I work as a freelance editor for several companies, and while some of the motivation is definitely for the money, I can say without hesitating that even if I got paid absolutely nothing, I would still do it. This is why:

As a mother, no one tells me, “Gee, that was one WILD day you had—your daughter unlocked and opened the door of the lab restroom while you’re trying to give a urine sample, in full view of everyone else in the waiting room! Way to handle a difficult situation with poise and patience.”
Or, “Holy Cow, you have not slept in 3 weeks because your daughter woke up every 2 hours, all night long? You know, you really do sacrifice a lot for her.”

And the list could go on. Simply stated, it is impossible for anyone except the angels in heaven to give me feedback about my life as a mother, and, validate and encourage me to keep on with it. There are no witnesses. And so, I have realized with quite conflicting thoughts that working (in my case, as an editor), in many ways neutralizes the need I have for someone to pat me on the back at the end of the day and tell me what a great job I did with my daughter.

The conflict? How could my ego-stroking be anything but….selfish? And why do I feel so great about it when it seems to contradict many gospel principles? As an editor, I feel intellectually stimulated, I feel like I am exercising my mind, and I get feedback from someone!! It’s also a lot of fun!

The temporary conclusion I have come to is that because the “fruits of my labor” are good, then this must be a good thing. The gospel does teach us to judge things by their results. The results of me working? They far outweigh the negatives.

Because I get to edit, I am so much happier as a mother, I feel stronger, more capable, patient, and don’t look to my husband desperately every day to affirm that I’m doing okay, despite the many mistakes I may have made. I feel like I do a much better job as a mother, because I’m not getting burned out by having all of my mind and energy consumed with the tasks of one role. I look forward to each day with Shaelynn, and the attention and love she gets from me is more focused, directed, and sustained.

I think that on a subconscious level, the subculture of the Church (I’m not saying “gospel,” mind you!) has sent me the message that since motherhood is the most holy, divine role a woman can have as an eternal being, that it should be her sole role, that it should not be shared any other attentions or activities. And I’m not alone in thinking this. Very frequently, I hear LDS women apologize about what they do/like to do, or sheepishly confess that they would like to work part-time, for their sanity, or would like to do things with their time besides be a mother. Gasp!! Is that okay? Part of me screams, yes, of course it is!!! And another part of me conjurs up images of a few friends, married 10 years with no children, who love working all day, and have no desire for motherhood.

Fathers, on the other hand, are sent the message that they are to be providers of the family, and also fathers. Unless a man is self-employed, he is going to be getting affirmation, feedback, and intellectual stimulation from his work on a daily basis as he fills his divine role as provider. So what does that mean exactly, that these results of working are a necessary evil that fathers must “put up with,” and that mothers are to avoid? What are your thoughts?

Sigh. I have the feeling this will be a discussion with comments such as “It’s different for everybody,” and the like. I have to admit, I really feel there’s more to this question than that. But if we can start with at least that, that’s okay too. Where is the balance? How can you tell if your soul is being harmed?

About Kristen Ridge

27 thoughts on “Will Work for Food….I mean, Feedback”

  1. After almost 17 years if motherhood and marriage I got a "real job" about 6 months ago. I work from home so maybe it doesn't even count. But I have a boss and a couple of times a week I put on "real clothes" and make an appearance at the "real office". Before I started I wouldn't have said that I didn't feel valued, but I have been surprised at how much more noticibly confident I feel lately.

    I think it's the whole package, like you said, feeling validated. Having some one tell me I'm doing something well, having conversations about something besides homework and rules. For years I have been one of those women who thought it was silly for moms to "want" to work (as opposed to those who NEED to), now I am the one feeling silly. I am wondering if I could have been a happier person all these years if I hadn't been so busy being such a "good" mother. And thus, a better mother. Does that mean I'm selfish? At times I have prideful in being the only one who could soothe and care for my children, is pride better than being selfish? Isn't pride selfish?

    Ah, guilt, it finds me no matter where I work.

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  2. That was all well put, Kristen. I have thought a lot about that over the past few years. I don't have an answer. 🙂

    Before I became a Mom last year, I worked in the professional world for over ten years and was really tired of it by about the 7th year. Now I have no interest in doing anything professional, and am completely and happily wrapped up in my motherhood role–yet I do still need to do things not mother related. I belong to a book club, I blog (sometimes even about non-mommy subjects), I read more than I have read in years, I'm on the phone with girlfriends a lot during nap times, and I have plans to take mi bambino on a lot of canyon strolls this spring/summer. I am pretty sure I'll need soemthing else at some point. I hope I can find that balance you speak of, and really know what is good for my soul.

    I have had a lot of friends doing something work-related. Some felt guilty for not bringing in money. Some wanted or needed more money. Others really wanted the outside diversion and stimulation. Others were following a passion. Only one put their kids in daycare and did the latch-key thing. The others all did part-time work, either during school hours or in home, of one form or another.

    I found myself having a hard time with the daycare situation, particularly because there was not a financial need driving things–in fact, the passion caused more debt to the family. I had to remind myself to not condemn. I still don't understand the decision, but I like that she is so happy with her work and I hope it all works out okay.

    We all seem to need something that is uniquely "us" in purpose and meaning. We all have talents that need and want developing. And as much as I feel sad about this fact, we all have different levels of tolerance for motherhood. I love it, but I know not all women do.

    I sometimes think of the early women in the church and marvel at their vast accomplishments in professional-type endeavors, and wonder about the praise and encouragement they received for their work–which doesn't seem to be the trend these days in the church. There must be a place for both, because thank goodness for women teachers, counselors, doctors, nurses, etc.

    I think this is sounding like an elaborate version of "it's different for everybody." I suspect that really being in tune with the Lord has got to be the key. It's a Sunday School answer, but I think it's an answer that works. It could be very easy to get caught up in needing the praise of the world or extra money or what have you.

    I keep thinking of your question about how to tell if our soul is being harmed. My soul is being harmed when I am not doing the basics. And even not working, the way I spend my time often has me neglecting the basics. Even though I have no intentions of getting a job for a very very very long time, I still need to ask myself your questions about balance and my soul being harmed.

    This has gone much longer than I planned, but it has been so nice to have a few free moments to write on such an interesting subject. Thanks for your thoughts, Kristen!

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  3. I also do "more" than motherhood having a small business and periodically heading back to school. So, I understand the need for more-than-motherhood and I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting "more." In fact, I think we need to listen to our desires and dreams and head them whenever we can.

    However, I think the need for external validation is a false paradigm to work from. If we love our part-time time job it seems like it should be because the work itself is satisfying. If we love our volunteer work it should come from the work itself and not our seniors telling us that we're doing a good job. It seems that always wishing for external validation often stunts our ability to have true internal validation or self-esteem.

    So, I'm a fan of a well-rounded life full of motherhood responsibilities and education and challenging work and church service. I love living a creative life including being creative in how I make my life work for me as a Mormon, a wife and a mother. I just sometimes wonder if the stay-at-home mom's desire for a external validation is something we shouldn't wish upon ourselves. Because with positive feedback comes negative as well and if we depend on it, we might end up worse than before.

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  4. The Lord gave me talents and abilities that have little to nothing to do with my children. I think He expects me to do something with those talents, just as He would with a talent for parenting or baking or domesticity in any form.

    The Spirit will tell you when you've crossed a line or pushed a boundary too far. Let go of the guilt, honey! I'm with you!

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  5. Thanks for your comments, Wesley's Mom. I think working from home definitely "counts." I do my work from home as well. I did not write about this since it was a bit of a tangent….but I would feel too guilty about leaving home to go and work for a number of hours each week…I'm not saying that that isn't "right"—just that perhaps I have not yet got the confidence in myself as a mother, or the ability to not care about what others may think of me. I would feel strange leaving my child elsewhere in order to do something that fills my needs. Clearly, if I HAD to work, to support our family, then I would probably look at the situation differently. But since I don't, that is how I feel about it.

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  6. Oh Kristen. Absolutely yes. Motherhood is an awesome part of life, yet so is learning and even working. When I had my little girl I was completely set on staying home always. I love her dearly, but i soon realized something was missing.

    I took one class in the summer, when she was about 9 months old. I remember walking on campus and feeling an absolute exhilaration, freedom, and "me"-ness that I had been missing.

    And you're right, it makes me SO much better at mommmying.

    For me, being out of the house, away, on my own has been important.

    That said, I was also socialized to find all fulfillment in "my divine roles." I just realized that wasn't right.

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  7. It seemed that every time I had a new baby it wasn't very long before I began to feel tied down and restless. I guess that is because I was. Holding down a job never worked out for me. I didn't find very much satisfaction doing that and I wasn't very good at it. But, that didn't change the restless feelings.

    I hope that it won't seem like I am quoting scripture to make any kind of point about what anyone should feel or do. I just remember how good it felt to read D. & C. 25 where Emma Smith is told in the second part of v. 8 "and thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much." This took away all the guilt. Because the last verse says, this is my voice unto all. It told me that I could use my time to do the things that I greatly enjoy. I am also thrilled that learning comes through writing as much as it does through reading, etc.

    What we spend our time to doing is what we become good at over time. And, it is perfectly acceptable to be good at something besides mothering because while motherhood is forever mothering is not.

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  8. Thanks Justine, Wendy, and Maralise. Your points about the Lord giving us talents to use, and also choosing something that is truly meaningful for us, are very important.

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  9. Okay, I am probably straying from the whole point of your post, but you brought up something that really hit me. You mentioned that we judge things by the "fruits of our labor". (I know you were referring to your job, but I thought of something else.) That can't be a fair assessment when it refers to motherhood. Some of the best parents have rotten children. And some of the worst parents have fantastic children.
    I guess the best feedback we can ask for is help and reassurance from Heavenly Father.

    Sorry for the tangent. We can all go back to the point of the post.

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  10. I haven't read the other comments, but here is my "feedback":

    Yesterday, I asked #1 (my 6 year old daughter) if she was okay with me teaching piano lessons. She said she didn't mind, although we both knew that #3 and #4 didn't like it very much. I explained to her that teaching piano lessons was important to me.
    "Why?" she asked.
    "Because although I love being your mother, I'm also still Cheryl. And I need to do things for me. Do you understand?"
    She nodded, although I'm not sure she understood all of it.

    I've never understood the martyr attitude when it comes to motherhood. Even when the Church (I'm using your line of reference here, just to be clear) says we should, I've never made motherhood my sole role. Sure, I love being with my kids and I'm dang glad I don't have to work (I would fail in the business world. No, really. I would.), but I'm thrilled that I write incessantly, blog like crazy, and teach music. Those are parts of me I have to keep, because if I let them go, I'd be the worst mother and wife in the world.

    Finding balance? Needing validation? Fo' shizzle! That's what it's all about, in my book. Sometimes that validation is a sticky kiss from little toddlers. Other times, it's a publisher's letter finally accepting my manuscripts (I wish!). And sometimes, just a small whisper from the Spirit telling me I'm gonna make it is all the validation I need to get through the day.

    Great post, Kristen. Great, great post!

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  11. I agree with so many of the others here that say that working outside the home makes me a better mother. I have never felt guilty about working outside the home. I have often thought that with my personality (driven, competetive)I would have made me kids and family crazy if I would not have had another outlet besides my home and family. My profession has been the relief valve that keeps our family from boiling over with my craziness. Consequently, I love being a wife and mother and see it as both my highest calling and my most fulfilling experience. I fear that if I had not worked outside the home that my efforts at parenting would have been in such high gear that everyone would have crashed and burned sooner rather than later.

    I also agree with Wendy that when we focus on the basics and our priorities, everything falls into place. Our soul is harmed when we neglect the most important things for the good things, to paraphrase Elder Oaks. Mothering and family have always been my highest priority in spite of a demanding profession. Keeping my focus there has prevented me from getting wrapped up in the arrogance, superiority, and bombast that I sometimes see in others of my profession. I have always felt that my experience and ability in parenting have made me much more successful in my paid job.

    I do have to say, though, that I did not start working full time until my children were all in school. I loved being at home with them when they were small and don't know how women with young children find the energy to work outside the home. I couldn't have done it all, I don't think. Our lives can have balance both daily and over the long run.

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  12. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and one I have been wanting to write about for a while. …

    Alas…my comment got too long, so I am pulling it over to my blog (linked to my name).

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  13. I have never heard a general authority say that a woman should only be a mother and nothing else. If we get that message it is definitely from the church culture and not doctrinal. I think that there has to be a balance of course. Doesn't it seem like life always comes down to a need of balance??

    I am of the attitude though where I would not want to leave my kids in daycare to go out and work. That's just me. I am lucky to be able to occasionally teach college classes at night. That is why I am all about getting as much education as possible. When we do we have so much more power to chose what we want to do. That is what President Hinckley said recently as well. He said something to the effect that it is our "duty" to get as much education as we can.

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  14. I work about 16 hours a week as a psychotherapist. I love my work, and often feel guilty about the fact that I do. But, I feel I do need to work, and am just grateful I have a job that I love do, and feel 'called' to do.
    Keeping my skills up is important. My kids are in second grade and preschool, and my mom watches them. If I didn't have her watching them, I don't know if I would continue to work or not. She loves them as fiercely as I do, and teaches them things I can't.
    Do I need to work, financially? Well, a few years ago we had some medical issues come up and that income kept us from worrying about losing our house. If my husband were to die today, I would probably need to keep working, and I want to be able to work and make a decent amount of money. If I didn't have professional skills and he died, I would have to work many more hours to make the money I make now. I guess I think of working part time as my insurance or safety net.
    Finding a balance is always tricky. I don't feel my soul is being harmed because I know I am helping heal others' souls. But I do worry that my working outside the home harms my childrens' souls–which is why I think I could only do it if they were with my parents.

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  15. I am of the attitude though where I would not want to leave my kids in daycare to go out and work. That’s just me.

    I think we need to be clear here, though, and say that it isn't just you. This is the counsel we have received…to do all we can to have mom in the home. That doesn't mean a woman can never do anything else but be a mother, but we ought to be clear on the counsel. And of course, as we were recently reminded, they teach the general principles and then leave it to us to seek the Lord's guidance on how to implement them. But I do think sometimes we shy away from those general principles because we don't want to offend. I don't think we should shy away from them. And I say that still not wanting to offend. 🙂

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  16. I am definitely a little nervous to write a comment here…however, I will do my best. When Sister Beck gave her talk, "Mothers Who Know," there were many who were offended. However, I think those people misunderstood here goal in speaking to us.

    She said the following,
    "Mothers who know are leaders…These wise mothers who know are selective about their own activities and involvement to conserve their limited strength in order to maximize their influence where it matters most."

    She didn't say you shouldn't have any "me" time, but she said we should be selective so that we could be the best we could be at home.
    I think we all have intricately designed needs. We all need a place to feel loved, needed, wanted, and we need affirmation. Kids, by nature, are demanding. They need all day long. Moms give and give, all day long.
    If we are to be a leader to our children, I feel that we need to make sure our own lives are in check…one might need to work to find that balance while others might need a three day vacation every few months. Who knows? But really, as long as you are taking care of your family by taking care of yourself, I tihnk the Lord will be pleased.

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  17. Okay, so while we are quoting scripture and Sister Beck, I might as well throw in Ecclesiastes 3:1, which is what helped me decide about my personal mothering/working balance: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

    I am such a black-and-white person; for years, I really wanted God to say the number of hours per week I could have a job (or hobby–because I think it is important to note that some women's hobbies take more time than my job). I finally realized through a lot of prayer, fasting, consultation with my bishop, and etc. that there is not a black-and-white answer. Not only is there no perfect answer for me as compared to others, but also not for me from time to time in my life.

    Luckily I teach part-time at a university, and it is extremely flexible. So I am having a baby? No problem. I take the semester off. So my little guy is going to kindergarten next year, and I want to spend more "special time" with him? Once again, I take a semester off. As you can see, for the last number of years I have been on an oh-so-rigorous 1 class per year schedule. That's okay. This is my "season" of mothering (mostly). Next season might be something different, and I will celebrate that time by magnifying my talents in other directions. By the way, I do hear Sister Beck's call about being selective in activities. I see that I have had to cut back on some hobbies that I used to enjoy to make time for teaching in my life. It's a trade that I willingly make.

    I feel blessed beyond measure that my husband is in a flexible job, so he can watch our kids while I am gone. And I am grateful that I filled the part of my patriarchal blessing counseling me to "get all the education" I can, so that I am in a position to teach a class I love on my own part time basis.

    Yes, sometimes I feel the twinge when I see students that I taught finishing PhD's and getting full-time positions. I think, "I could do that."

    But I had a friend once ask me, "What if you had the most perfect childcare in the world? What would you truly choose to be doing?" And I realized that I would choose exactly what I am doing: being the most time-intense teacher in my kids' lives, working a titch in a field that I love and that I think I make a contribution to, and always stretching toward God to make sure I understand exactly what "season" I am in this year or this semester.

    I sorry this is so long. I did want to throw out one more thing. Some have talked about how much better they are at mothering because they work. Because my husband is with our kids while I work, I feel like he is a much better father and a much more compassionate husband. He knows what it feels like to pull your hair out because we're eating peanut butter (plain–no jelly) for the tenth day in a row. And he knows how it feels when your spouse is "late" from working and you were dying for back up.

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  18. I might as well throw in Ecclesiastes 3:1, which is what helped me decide about my personal mothering/working balance: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

    Pres. Faust talked about this as well. 🙂 We live in a culture that tries to suggest that we can have it all all at once. It's just not so. But I'm amazed already at how different seasons bring different opportunities. Sometimes that means being patient through certain seasons…and trying to enjoy the seasons while they are there. As much fun as I'm having, I still sometimes miss their littleness. That proverbial 'they grow up so fast' really is so true. I'm trying to savor the stages more and more because I realize how quickly they really do go. It just doesn't always feel that way when they are sooo little. 🙂

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  19. I love being a mom. I feel so blessed being able to have these little people in my home. And sometimes I want to yell, "Would you just leave me ALONE for 5 minutes, please?"

    Motherhood is all consuming, and I think some of us long for different things because quite simply, we need a break. DH doesn't like to work long hours, and when I worked, I didn't like it either. Nobody likes to do the same thing day in day out, and there is nothing so repetitive as a mother's days who is in charge of small children.

    I don't like being away from my children for long periods of time. I almost had a panic attack when we took a trip to London for a week and left my then 12 month old with my mother. However, short breaks are fabulous, whether it be to work from home, work a little while kids are at school, or just go to a book group. Everybody needs a mental health break from the daily grind.

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  20. One more thought–a friend threw this out to me as we were discussing going back to work. She has a 4 month old, and she is the primary bread winner in her family. She has been able to take an extended leave of absence, but that is coming to an end. She said she would love to even have the choice to stay home, but she doesn't. I don't know what kind of arrangement she is going to make, but she said to me, "If you don't HAVE to work, don't. Your baby won't be a baby forever, and if you can financially swing it, stay home." Not having choices changes the perspective somewhat, and I feel very blessed that I am in the position to choose to stay home. Sometimes I forget that in a lot of ways, it is a luxury.

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  21. I don't think it's Church culture alone that drives us to these sorts of attitudes. Most of us are pretty strong people. I don't think many of us would let our opinions be solely dictated by the opinions of those around us. However, I think it's human nature to take counsel within ourselves and push it to extreme. So often when things are pinned on Church culture, it is the perception of the speaker which may be at least equally at fault. When a prophet says "primarily responsible for nurture" we read "don't do anything but nurture" or when he says "fathers provide the means for the home" we read "fathers and no one else". Similarly, it's easy to take "spend some time for you" and push it to "do whatever you want to do". No extreme is healthy.

    If you are living the gospel, the Spirit can help you balance all of that. We can't know the future, but God can. That's why we need His help deciding what is best—even if that decision hurts us in the short term.

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  22. Wow, this has been an amazing discussion. Thank you everyone, for your thoughts and wisdom shared about your own experiences. Silver Rain, I think there is a lot of truth to your comments about how our nature is to interpret certain principles spoken of, in an extreme way. Very insightful.

    Thank you! This has been most helpful for me, and hopefully for all of us.

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  23. When a prophet says “primarily responsible for nurture” we read “don’t do anything but nurture” or when he says “fathers provide the means for the home” we read “fathers and no one else”. Similarly, it’s easy to take “spend some time for you” and push it to “do whatever you want to do”. No extreme is healthy.

    I think this was a key message in the Worldwide Training. I am sensing more and more that our leaders are reminding us that it is their job to teach the general principles, and our job to get the specific answers. That means that the responsibility for finding the balance lies with us, and so does the responsibility for our choices in that regard. I agree with SilverRain that going to extremes is a natural thing to do, and it's living with the Spirit that can help us find the balance we need to have.

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  24. I don't think it's exactly the outside feedback. I am a mom at home and I'm self-employed, and I find that tremendously validating and exciting and rewarding. I just don't think it is the "others" who make work validating. You don't need a boss's feedback when you can see for yourself the quality of your work. You don't need a performance review or raise when you're exceeding your own financial targets. Self-employed people still hear how they're doing by the praise or concerns of your customers, clients, mentors, and suppliers.

    Maybe it's a personality difference, and some of us are more motivated internally and suited to working along, and some of us are motivated more by our social interactions and work best under direction. In any case, I know I was not such a happy, confident, patient person when I didn't have the ambitious goals to meet, the demanding projects, the occasional business crises, the knowledge that my resume is anything but stale. All that stuff gives me energy and confidence, and that makes me a better mom.

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  25. i don't think that the lord wants drones. i think that the lord expects us to use our talents. i think that every woman should seek out education (pres. monson encouraged this in our last RS conference). i do think that women are the primary caretakers, but does this mean that you can't ever have a bath on your own? does this mean that if you spend a few hours outside of the house doing whatever you need to replenish yourself, that you're a bad mama? NO! i think it means that as women with tender hearts we are better at sensing the needs of our children. we are better at encouraging our childrens growth on a daily basis. just follow the spirit and let go of guilt. i believe that our heavenly father wants strong, happy, educated, talented women!

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  26. I think it would become a burden to my children if I expected them to fulfill my every need. I don't want them to have that sense of obligation. I also think that seeing me interested in various things and contributing in various ways is good modeling.

    The tricky part is how quickly those various things can suck time and mental focus away from the family. I have had to commit and recommit to keeping my family at the center. There is a big difference in the quality of what I do as I mother when i allow myself the time and mental space to plan and reflect on what I'm doing instead of functioning in survival mode.

    I also find that I enjoy mothering, and homemaking, more when I take the time to do them well.

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