My name is Marie, and I'm a stay-at-home mom with three kids.
And hired help.
Months before the birth of our twins, my husband and I decided we would hire someone to help me care for the kids and manage our home. We knew everyone would be happier for it. I posted a question on a Facebook page set up for twin mothers, asking what hours of the day most moms of a toddler and twins found they would benefit from an extra pair of hands. The overwhelming response? You don't need help. You can do it all by yourself.
While I think most of the responders meant this as encouragement, I still find this reaction to be unfortunate. It reveals our society's general lack of acceptance of a stay-at-home mother's need for help. Stiff upper lip. You must shoulder the burden alone.
We didn't always treat mothers this way. The Daily Beast brings up how starting at birth, colonial Americans allowed mothers a "lying in" period, for new moms to rest and bond with their babies while other women kept up her household. That era has disappeared and not been replaced with anything, other than—if you're lucky—a stream of delicious casseroles from neighbors and friends (thanks for those, by the way). The article went on to say:
"A culturally accepted postpartum period sends a powerful message that's not being sent in this country," said Dr. Margaret Howard, the director of the Day Hospital for Postpartum Depression in Providence, Rhode Island. "American mothers internalize the prevailing attitude—'I should be able to handle this myself; women have babies every day'—and if they're not up and functioning, they feel like there's something wrong with them."
This "you can do it" form of "encouragement" also echoes our culture's overwhelming rejection of help, hired or not, and pervasive sense of pride. I don't need any help. I can do it all on my own. Isn't this attitude the antithesis of the Christian life? The very core of our faith is that we cannot gain admittance to heaven based on our works alone. In the same way, we cannot attain parental perfection by pure solitary effort, no matter what society expects.
When we imagine at-home parents hiring additional help, words like spoiled, lazy, and self-indulgent come to mind. Mommyish blogger Sheri Segal Glick calls hired help her dirty little secret, something she's "ashamed to admit to most people. When [she does] admit it, it comes with a rehearsed monologue of excuses and apologies." When the NC Registerreported on stay-at-home moms with hired help, they barely wanted to talk about it: "One mom admitted that she had a housekeeper come do a deep clean once a month. Two other moms said they had babysitters come a few hours per week. All of them seemed kind of sheepish about their confessions, admitting to having help the way one might admit to smoking a little crack to get through a long day."
The pressure to do it all is even stronger in Christian circles. After all, children are a gift from God. It is our responsibility to guide and train them in the way they should go, to keep our homes, to manage our households and not be idle, and to do so with joy. How dare we shirk any of these God-given responsibilities?
As Christians, we might argue that struggling to parent on our own while juggling all our household responsibilities builds perseverance and reliance upon God for strength. And it can. But all this self-sufficiency can also feed our pride and rob us of the opportunity to develop humility and reliance upon our Christian community. Granted, not everyone can afford to hire help, but everyone can ask for it and accept it when it is offered. Everyone can support others' desire for assistance and refrain from dismissing the needs of those moms who choose to hire help or get help from family or friends.
But, you may ask, isn't it just plain lazy to delegate the care of your children to others? I'm reminded of Joseph and Mary traveling with Jesus as a boy on the way home from the Passover festival. For an entire day, they traveled without him, thinking he was must be with someone else in their caravan. Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in community, among family and friends, entrusting their community to join them in the care of their son.
Even the passages so often quoted in regarding keeping our homes and managing our households and not being idle, nowhere do they mention doing so all on your own. The Proverbs 31 woman planned the day's work for her servant girls. This Proverbs woman is often praised for all her talents and accomplishments, but rarely do I hear it pointed out that she obviously had help.
Sisters Mary and Martha had very different reactions to Jesus. One sat at his feet and the other prepared a large dinner. Martha complained to Christ that Mary wasn't helping her. The expectation was that Mary had a duty to help. Too often, our present day vision of stay-at-home motherhood and homemaking is that help shouldn't be accepted, in fact is should be shunned, and to accept it or seek it is a source of shame. If Mary and Martha were present day characters, Martha would be cooking dinner all by herself, salting the soup with solitary sweat and tears, never uttering a word of protest, but still missing out on the opportunity to sit at the feet of Christ.
Beyond these examples are the passages concerning our call to bear one another's burdens, serve those in need, and refrain from passing judgment. The Scriptures present compelling evidence for providing assistance to those who need it and accepting those who have chosen to seek help. We must acknowledge that there are women who are silently drowning in the face of this "do it all alone" mentality. Last year, a Gallup poll found that stay-at-home moms reported more depression, sadness and anger than working moms. In my case, the prospect of managing three kids under two-and-a-half on my own seemed insurmountable. I sought help as a preventative measure, before loneliness and sadness could turn into complete overwhelm and depression. I'm happy to say that I've received nothing but acceptance and encouragement from my Christian community, but of course, I need help. I have twins. What about the mother of one who's struggling for reasons all her own? Does she not deserve the same compassion and understanding?
And let's not forget the passages concerning God's hatred of pride and call to humility. In inviting others to help us in our household tasks and child rearing duties, we can put our humility to practice, increasing our flexibility, and strengthening our sense of community. But more than all this, our kids get to experience even more love. My son gets an extra caregiver who loves him to bits, and a less frazzled, more emotionally present mom because someone else did my dishes. As Kim Simon so eloquently stated, "There's no such thing as a child who has too many adults who love him, and that was the hardest lesson for us to learn. Help can heal you. Help can stitch a family closer together. Help can save your life."
Marie Osborne is a wife, mama, and blogger who loves Jesus & large non-fat lattes. You can find Marie at mrsmarieosborne.blogspot.com encouraging, challenging, and laughing… under a pile of diapers.