Nov 24, 2017

The Paradox of a Mother's Time (from our Archives)

Note: This piece first ran in the spring of 2016.

By Anna Mussmann

At night, I complain to my husband that all I want is time. Time to type the thoughts in my head and the novel in my notes, time to sew the projects I’ve pinned, time to organize the clothes. Time without a baby in one arm and a toddler industriously undoing my every-second action. He means so well, that kid. It’s a good thing he is also so darn cute.

Some days I claim that I failed to get anything done at all. It makes me restless, as if life is flowing by irretrievably and I am too bogged down with the weight of childcare to accomplish anything. Soon my time will be gone.

Yet in another sense, being a stay-at-home mother means that I have all the time in the world. My children force me to experience the minutes and seconds in a new way. We make granola together, and it takes forever. First, I wait while the toddler fetches and gathers the measuring cups. Opening the drawer requires deliberation. Selecting the right items is not swift when he must stand on tip-toe to peer in. Later he must, of course, do the stirring. That takes a good long while. Even clean-up is not hasty, because who licks the molasses off the spoon in a hurry? Molasses is good stuff.

The things we do are done together, and that forces me to wait and watch and think. The socks are put away individually. The yard work is done in brief spurts while the baby is willing to sit on a blanket. If an adult without children lived at the pace of my life, she would no doubt be on vacation in the Bahamas. I try to remind myself that I live a life of leisure.  

In the midst of this paradox of having all the time in the world and yet not nearly enough of it, the real issue is whether or not the things I do matter. If the clock stopped ticking, would my work--my tortuously leisurely, child-smudged labors--have been worthwhile enough to compensate for the more adult things I never managed to do?

The majority of what I do is, simply, living. I live with my kids. We eat, we clean, we learn good manners, we plant doomed seeds in over-watered pots, we read stories and say prayers. We guard nap time with the zeal of a thousand dragons. Is that worth a decade of my life?

It’s deceptive, because my children could grow older without nearly as much of my time. Who will know, years from now, whether they would have turned out just as well if I stuck them in daycare and did something other than make granola and drive to story hour at the library? We cannot know. That is why my life is built on the trust that whatever the answer is, it is good that I am at home.

The thing is, parenting must be built on trust. After all, without the willingness to act on what we cannot prove, how would any of us dare to have children in the first place? How could we decide that we were capable of rearing vulnerable human beings? Of taking on the responsibility for someone who would not otherwise exist? Of being a father or a mother?

All we can do is believe in what we know and risk the rest. Love is good. Family is not only good, but also the creation of a good God who said that it is not good for man to be alone, and that a husband and wife should “go forth and multiply.” Therefore, I will love these little beings with whom I am entrusted, and I will teach them how to make breakfast cereal.

It is a privilege to have this opportunity, to be the person who sees the baby first start scooting and to be the one who teaches the toddler to obey, and in my trust--my gamble--I can only seize it with gratitude.

I never have enough time. Yet I will give my time to my children, and I will pray that in His mercy, our Lord will bless what we do together.  


After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's neglected personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist.

Image: "Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child," Mary Cassatt, 1880


  1. I think the phrase "stuck them in daycare" may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of some working moms reading this. Maybe you didn't mean it that way... but maybe you did.

  2. Thanks for lovely reminder, Anna!


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