As a cold drizzle soaked the soccer fields, I huddled on the sidelines with another mom. Her only child was in third grade, like my youngest, and she was sharing how she had recently re-enrolled in college to finish her degree. After describing how great it was, she said sympathetically, "Well, once the kids are gone, you can get back to what you wanted to do, too."
Ouch! She didn't mean to be insensitive about my choice to focus my energies at home while raising the kids, but her words hurt. She implied that raising kids wasn't a valuable use of my life, so the sooner it was over the better. Her comment reminded me how undervalued mothering is in our society, even by, or maybe especially by, women themselves.
As an aid in correcting this sort of self-defeating point of view, I find the Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life, to be a splendid analogy. In this 1946 classic, we first meet George Bailey after a financial crisis has caused him to contemplate jumping off a bridge and ending it all. Now, I must admit that motherhood has, on occasion, driven me to similarly extreme thoughts, but that is not the analogy I want to explore today. No, I want to look at how George, like most modern women, grew up with big dreams. George was aiming to get out of his small hometown and make a difference in the great beyond somewhere. Unfortunately, events and people kept getting in George's way. Events like his father's death and the stock market crash of 1929. People like his brother who never returned to help George with the family business and the local millionaire, Mr. Potter, who served as George's nemesis.
In response to these events and people, George sacrificed his big dreams little by little. In the face of each new crisis, George put himself at the service of his community, rather than of himself. In doing so, George acted as a type of Christ, and his community became a more loving place. Unfortunately, George himself didn't believe in the importance of his little acts of love. George believed his life had been a waste; so much so that when the accidental loss of $8,000 put his company and family in financial and legal trouble, George entertained suicide. He believed that the life insurance money he could provide for his family by his death would be more valuable than his presence in their lives.
There are many parallels between the plight of George Bailey and that of modern mothers, but let me highlight just one. It was George's misguided perception about what was truly valuable, not his rightly guided actions, that limited his satisfaction with life. So it is for many modern mothers. George, like so many mothers, made the right, life-giving choices each time he chose to invest his talents at home in Bedford Falls instead of running off to do it somewhere more glamorous. The problem was that George couldn't see it that way. So, God sent a quirky guardian angel named Clarence to show George that his life was not a waste. Clarence did this by showing George what a big difference all of his seemingly little, life-giving choices had made. At the end of the movie George understands and begs of Clarence, "I want to live again! I want to live again!"
This Christmas, let me be Clarence for you, for just a minute. Thank you, mom, for all the time, talent, and treasure you are devoting to your family. You are making a difference. Our world is a better place because of your service to your family. Thank you for all the little sacrifices and the big ones, too.
It's easy to think, like George Bailey did, that all the really fulfilling, important stuff happens outside our homes somewhere out there in the big career world. It doesn't. It's just easier to quantify out there. Next time you feel like I felt at that drizzly soccer game, sidelined in the game of life because of the life-giving choices you've made, remember this: You, just you, are more important in the life of your family than any material thing you could ever provide. Believe it, act on it, and the world will be a better place because of you.