Let’s pretend you get a quarter every day.
Let’s say this quarter represents the amount of influence you can have over other people each day.
Maybe you’re at work where you see the same people every day. You influence them simply by being with them every day. You add a quarter’s worth of influence every day you’re there, either by complaining or by joking or working hard or hardly working or whatever. Doesn’t matter, really. You’re influencing them, either convincing them to like you or resent you, agree with you or distrust you. I’m not saying it’s always good, but at the end of the day, you can see you’ve invested your quarter’s worth of influence.
Maybe you’re connected to the internet so you invest your quarter not in the people you know but in trying to convince people online to think more like you. You cash in your quarter, turn it into 25 pennies, and spend the day trying to influence others on a bunch of topics around the internet. Who knows if anyone reads it, responds to it, is changed by it. You rarely find out. But you feel like you’ve done your part to spend your quarter’s worth of influence. You’re keep a more diverse portfolio, maybe hoping one of these little investments turns into something significant. But most of the time you never get to see whether or not your ideas made any impact at all.
Maybe you’re like me, at home with the same gang of kids each day. And you’re trying to decide how to use your influence. Do you keep trying to influence your kids (even though most days it seems like your influence may not be making any difference!) or do you escape to the world wide web of Big Ideas and scatter a little influence there? Try to make a difference with likes and retweets and words and all the like? Do you cash in your quarter and try to do a little of both?
This is the question I’ve been living with, more or less, for the last few months. I love that I get to stay home with my kids, I really do, but it is hard to see the payoff of my investment in them each day. It was hard quitting my job. When I was a teacher, I was scattering my pennies of influence widely each day. Now I’m just stacking up quarter after quarter in the same account. Sometimes I’m tempted to diversify my portfolio, maybe give my 2 cents’ worth in a few places online. I don’t think a few pennies here and there will shortchange my kids, but I do have to recognize that every decision to pour my energy elsewhere costs me at least a little.
From my perspective, it feels like our culture values having a wide influence over many people, rather than having a deep influence on a few people. We admire people who spread their pennies far and wide. We assume anyone who has good name-recognition must be doing something right.
To decide to stay home is to decide not to break your quarter. Instead of having a name everyone knows, you have a name that only a few people know, but for those few people, it is the only name they know and the only name they need to know. It is to keep investing in the same account, keep betting on the same horse. It’s a tough choice to make–some days I miss the feeling of having a wider influence. But it is a choice I don’t regret and I have determined that I won’t allow myself to regret.
Some days it feels like a small job, no more than a janitorial job. I see my former students around town working as nannies for kids the same ages as my kids. Four years ago, I held a little piece of these girls’ fate in my hands. I was the authority in the front of the room and they were the students eager for my approval (or at least that’s how I saw it.) Now we are essentially peers doing the same job. Except they are getting paid better!
It seemed like a small job when I first took it on, but I’ve learned that stay at home mothering is an enormous job. Instead of needing to know a LOT about one thing, I now have to know a little about LOTS of things. This is because I am, as G.K. Chesterton describes it, “shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t.”
I get to be the first and most trusted source of answers for these four kids. I get to introduce the world to young imaginations and then see where that takes them. I get to see the spark of wonder come on as each of my children recognizes the world for what it is. I have immense influence. It only looks like a small job if you measure it in pennies a day. It is a big job if you think of how all the pennies add up.
Today I needed to remember that. I needed to write this so I could lay out the meaning of it all.
I don’t know if I’m doing it “right.” I’m not even sure I know how to measure motherhood’s success. But at least I am starting to see my influence on my kids. As they grow, I can start to see some of the results of my own good intentions for them. Were my intentions good enough? Did I live up to them? I don’t know yet. There are thousand ways to measure yourself as a mother which is why it is always possible to feel like you don’t measure up.
I’m trying not to measure myself as often anymore, trying to just keep my head down and do my job with grace and humility. I’m trying to treat each day like it counts because I know eventually it all adds up.