Oct 9, 2015

Blessed by the Children of My Youth

by Dana Palmer

Note: this article is part of a series inspired by this conversation. The series is not meant to imply that all women will or should be mothers, or that motherhood is any holier than any other vocation, but instead to encourage those who feel that they are swimming against the cultural tide by getting married and having babies.

After getting married at the age of 22, I was blessed with my first baby when I was 25. Three more followed and by the time I was 33, we were a family of six. This would put me in the minority In today's society. According to the Washington Post, "By age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married." Among those who do marry in their twenties, the tendency is to wait to start a family until a career is established. In fact, the same article also states, "Women who wait until age 30 to marry make much more money," although this statistic does not indicate which of these single women are already mothers. What are women to think when considering the effect that marriage and motherhood might have on their career?

When I got married, I was studying elementary education in college. As I approached the completion of my degree, I had my resume ready to go. I even sent it to a Christian school. Yet, something was bothering me. I couldn't stop thinking about what our family would look like when a child came along. Since marrying, I had never been home enough to get things organized and make our townhome really feel like home. If I started teaching, would I be ready to make the transition into motherhood? After pondering, praying, and reading the Scriptures, I realized that I needed some time at home before a child came along. It was the only way I felt that I could fulfill my vocation as wife and hopefully as a mother. I nervously discussed this with my husband, who somewhat reluctantly agreed. We had been planning on putting my salary in savings as a down payment on our first house. People at the school where I was student teaching surprised me by saying they thought it was great that I was staying home (two women even said they wished they could do the same).  

Was having kids and staying home when I was young difficult? Becoming a mother was an adjustment--as it is at any age. A year or so after my first baby was born, I remember having an epiphany- -"I feel like an adult." Previously, I often felt more like an overgrown college student. Being a mom grew me up, so to speak, and was formative in making me into the woman I am today. That is one of the many benefits I see in having children when I did. I learned to be my children's mother when I was pliable and young. I was not yet set in my adult ways; therefore, they were not add-ons or drains to my already formed adult life. Plus, as much as I don't like to admit it, I had a lot more stamina in my twenties than in my thirties (and now, my forties). For example, I didn't wear glasses until I was in my mid-thirties, when I discovered I needed reading glasses. Even with them, when I was more tired than usual I still got eye-strain headaches. That is still true for me today.  My twenty-five year-old body adjusted to the new demands of motherhood without constant eye-strain headaches--which is much better than my thirty-five year-old body would have done.   

Something that helped me transition to motherhood was befriending women from church. I also attended a weekly ladies Bible study and an exercise class; both activities included moms of all ages. I called the older, more experienced moms when I had questions or needed help; several of them were so kind as to watch my baby occasionally so I could run errands or go for a jog alone. At the time that our firstborn came along, my husband was working full-time and going to school part-time. He is a great listener and encourager. He is also great with babies, but his availability was limited then. This made it even more important for me to ask for help (which is not easy for me to do). It also highlighted to me my occasional intense desire to "get away from it all." I had intensely desired to be a mother; however, adapting to the 24/7 nature of motherhood felt stifling at first. I found myself wanting to be separate, even for a little bit, from this role. However, when I left my baby with someone, all I could think about was how she might be doing! Thankfully, I had another epiphany after my second child was born. I realized that I was still trying to keep me as "just me," not a "me that has to take care of someone else all the time." Realizing that I could never satisfy that desire (and why was it there, anyway?! I had been so eager to have children!), and realizing that Jesus was serious when He said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," I embraced the constant demands of motherhood and found myself joyfully content, although at times exhausted, with my growing flock of little ones. And in losing my life, I found it.

Although I found being a young mother fulfilling, did I give up all intellectual growth by changing diapers all day? Actually, I found that as I was home with the children, I learned not only a lot about health, hygiene, nutrition, time management, organization, and human growth and development, but I also had the flexibility to educate myself in areas where I was lacking. I have read about politics and theology; I have listened to thought-provoking radio programs and podcasts. I have read books for enjoyment. In addition, as my children have grown, we as a family have more complex discussions about all kinds of topics. I have grown into my adult ways of thinking as a mom, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

But was it really worth it to give up my earnings potential for all of those years? Interestingly, the Washington Post article I referenced earlier states that men who marry in their twenties actually earn more than men who postpone or avoid marriage. Joy Pullman explains in an article at The Federalist that her husband and kids are much happier when she is home, and that "research also shows that marriage makes men work harder and smarter, and spend more time contributing to their families and communities." So, while it appears that I gave up my earnings potential, I actually helped increase my husband's. I view that as re-routing my potential into him, while simplifying our lives and increasing our family's contentment.  My husband and I are joined by God, and as we fulfill our vocations we serve each other in love. The money we have is technically money he earned, but it is really money we earned because it takes both of us to keep our lives running smoothly.

My oldest child is now married and I am thrilled not only by the possibility that I could be a young grandma, but also that I could live to see my great-grandkids (and possibly even a great-great grandchild!). Although it isn’t given to everyone to marry and have kids while young, it is something to be embraced when it does happen. God calls children a blessing. God does bless people with money, but God also calls the love of money a root of every evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The temptation to think we need more money is great in a society that has unprecedented material abundance, the most in the entire world. While my family doesn’t go on fancy vacations or have the newest and best of everything, we wouldn't trade all the money in the world for what we do have--rich relationships with each other, and time for what is most important: receiving God's Word at home and at church.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. . . . 
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD . . . 
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm127:1a, 3a, 4-5)


***

Dana Palmer is Pastor Stan Palmer's wife, a mother of four, a mother-in-law to one, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Spanish.  Although she has enjoyed tutoring students in Spanish as well as teaching Sunday School, the majority of her teaching experience comes from teaching her own children, three of whom she currently home schools.  As an adult Lutheran convert, she  is particularly interested in Lutheran theology and is thankful to be Lutheran.   She finds pleasure in reading classic fiction, writing, classic movies, exercising, scrapbooking, and spending time with people.  

Image: "Young Peasant Woman with Three Children at the Window" by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, 1840

3 comments:

  1. Dana, thanks.

    "I embraced the constant demands of motherhood and found myself joyfully content, although at times exhausted, with my growing flock of little ones. And in losing my life, I found it."

    It's true.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would have loved to marry young right out of college, but it turned out that wasn't God's plan for me, so thanks for including this caveat "Although it isn’t given to everyone to marry and have kids while young, it is something to be embraced when it does happen." I'd say, overall, we all need to learn to embrace the plans God has for us, even if they don't seem ideal at the time. I, too, am blessed by the first child God gave me at age 33, 11 months after my husband and I were married, and there's no way to know if I even could have conceived a child prior to that if I had been married sooner, since I had large uterine fibroids that went undetected for years. All children are a blessing regardless of when they come to us. But I can also see how your experience and attitude runs counter to what most of our society would say, and so I thank you for sharing your viewpoint.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You're both welcome. Bethanie, I felt compelled to put in the caveat for the reasons you mentioned. My husband wanted to be married in his twenties; he was thirty-one when we married. Life certainly doesn't unfold the way we think is ideal, but God upholds us in all of our sorrows and joys. Thank you, Rebekah and Bethanie, for your comments and thoughts on motherhood and the blessing of children.

    ReplyDelete

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