Some stories stick with you. This week, one of those stories rose back up to the surface after a lively Facebook discussion about a particularly scathing post belittling stay-at-home moms. (I’m not linking to the woman’s post here. You can find links in the discussion.) To sum up her viewpoint, this quote should suffice:
“You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.”
Yowza. While I have to think her intent was to simply drive up pageviews, it was still really hard to read. I think all moms, whether stay-at-home or working, struggle with significance and validation. There are no mom awards, and yet we sometimes find ourselves vying for some invisible Best Mom Ever trophy (see: The Mommy Wars). A great deal of time feels like sacrifice with benefits that are difficult to see. So as we are struggling through this role of a lifetime, there are days when we feel down and out. That quote from above? It’s our very unspoken fear.
Back to the story that sticks. When I was in high school, one of my church youth group leaders named Jean shared this with me. Her words came back this week as I wondered, not for the first time, about the significance of this whole motherhood thing.
Jean was babysitting for one of the church pastors, David and his wife. (Hope Church peeps, this story is all up in your business.) My details are a little fuzzy on the setup, but the point remains.
As I remember it, Jean came over and David had just given his daughter a cookie. “Say hello to Jean,” he said, but his daughter was understandably caught up in the cookie. (I can relate.) Again, he said, “Say hello to Jean.” The cookie still won out.
What happened next was a gentle conversation in which David told his daughter this stunning and timeless truth:
People are more important than cookies.
It sounds so simple, and yet, I cannot number the times this phrase has come to mind. When I’m struggling with parenting, knowing that I have shelved cookies like my novel that I can’t seem to balance with wee ankle biters. When a cookies pops up I really need or want, but a friend needs me more. When I need to make a choice about how to spend my time or money.
Cookies come along all the time. Cookies come and go. Cookies might be more measurable or more gratifying in the moment or have a quantifiable reward. Cookies are tasty and become important to us. Sometimes we get a little bit Gollum about our cookies, clutching them in our little gray fingers, hiding in a cave so no one can separate us from our precioussssssss.
People? They can be difficult and inconvenient and unappreciative. Loving or spending time with them can be amazingly fulfilling, but also comes without the same sense of accomplishment. Or, at least, you can’t measure people in the same way you can count cookies.
For years now, that story has echoed in my head as I made choices and felt regrets or was pulled in two directions at once. When I decided to have kids, I made a lifelong choice: people over cookies. On the hard days or the days I’m feeling really selfish, I remember this choice and I have to make it again. And again. People, not cookies. Sometimes I get lucky and have the people and the cookies, but the priority I place on them always seems to matter.
I hope that whether you are a mom or not, this speaks to you. Those people don’t have to be your own children or a spouse. There are plenty of people around to love and to share your life with. At the end of it all, you may not be able to measure exactly what impact you had the same way you could write a resume of your life’s other accomplishments on paper. I believe that you can have a pretty empty resume and still live a pretty extraordinary life.
The next time you are wondering if some sacrifice for a loved one is worth it or are struggling with your life choices, like me, you will hear those words echo: People are more important than cookies.