Monday, October 6, 2008

The Question


In mid-August, the children and I (sans ET, he had to work) went to the North Carolina shore to celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary with all of my extended family members. All of us - grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. - stayed in the same house, so there was much opportunity for conversation and fellowship. On the first evening of the vacation, one of my uncles sat me down at the dining room table for a little chat. Innocently, he asked me when I was planning on going back to work. 

"Well, probably not for a little while...I mean, I'd like to get our family settled into our new home before I make any plans to work again," I said, taken a bit off guard, but determined to give a better answer to his next question.

He persisted, "So, you think that you will go back to work in a little while? Maybe next year?"

"Well, actually, I'm pretty sure that I will be staying home with the children, at least until they've started school. I would prefer not to put them in childcare at such a young age, and it's a full-time job just taking care of our family! We were so busy when I was in graduate school, finishing up classes and doing an internship, with C in daycare, and I've really enjoyed the past couple years of being home with the kids. Since I haven't really worked in the field yet, there aren't many opportunities for part-time work, although there are plenty of volunteer opportunities that I'm thinking about. So until the children are school-age, I'll pretty much stay home with them." 

Okay, that was a better answer. Now my uncle would understand my priorities and that would be the end of that. Or not...

"Are you planning on having more children?" he asked, with a knowing look on his face.

"Well, yes, that's our hope at least. We always say, one child at a time!" I said in my most cheerful voice. 

"How many more children?" he asked.

"Well, like I said, we're taking it one at a time, but we're open to God's plan for our family." 

With a look of dismay on his face, "So that's it, you're going to be a stay-at-home mom."

"Um, yes, I guess that's right. Look, Uncle Tom (not his real name), I believe that I use my education every day when I am with my kids, talking to them, teaching them things..."

He continued, now with a pitying look on his face, "It's such a shame, Kat, you're so bright. You worked so hard. You went to Princeton, and now you're just going to stay at home." 

He might as well have added, "What a waste," but mercifully he left it at that. I responded with an, "Mmm-hmm, yes, that's what I'm going to do," smiled, and excused myself from the table, not being able to think of anything better to say in the moment. I didn't feel like having to defend my priorities to my uncle when I had just been shamed by him - after all, my whole extended family was close by and had probably heard most of the conversation, and his conclusion was quite clear: I was wasting my education and my talents by deciding not to work outside of the home.

I would imagine that many of us who stay at home have faced similar reactions from family members and friends, and I'm sure that sometimes we are happier with the answers that we give than others. Sometimes we probably walk away from these conversations and start asking ourselves our own set of questions, perhaps going something like this:

"Okay, so why I am staying home again? Am I wasting my degree? I mean, not everyone has the opportunity to go to college and grad school and get a great education...Oh my goodness, maybe he's right, maybe I should be working. I mean, maybe I actually have a social responsibility to be working! But then who would take care of the children? No, hold on, that's the whole reason that I'm not working, I want to stay home and take care of my family! That's my priority right now!"

Everyone's internal monologue is going to be different, and everyone's family is going to have different circumstances and needs. My reason in writing this post is not to garner pity or boast about some saintly path that I have chosen. Far from it: My reason in sharing this story is to offer all of you readers a little window into the thoughts that often fill my mind, with the hope that you will be encouraged if you also have similar thoughts. When it comes down to it, we all struggle to do what is best for our families, not always knowing if we are making the right choices but praying like crazy all along the way. I'm pretty sure that as long as we cling to Our Lord and to our spouses, we'll make it just fine.

May God bless all of us and our families today! Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, pray for us!

26 comments:

mary alice's husband said...

This is an inspired post, and I hope it prompts an interesting dialogue. I have two observations: (1) work is seriously overrated; and (2) no offense to your uncle beyond what offense he deserves, but I will never cease to be amazed by how people don't mind their own business.

More seriously, if the idea behind a liberal arts education like the one offered at Princeton is to make people blindly enter the workforce out of some sense of obligation, then the education will have failed miserably at its principal purpose -- to allow people to think deeply (yes, even pray) about their role in the world and how best to leave their mark on it.

AR and J Mama said...

I think this is such an interesting topic! Having a bachelor's degree and 2 master's degrees, and staying at home right now with my children, I struggle with this daily. I am blessed that I do get to work part time (I work 4-6 weekend days a month). However, every month when I write that check to the student loan corporation, I am forced to think about my decisions regarding staying at home versus working. But when I look at my children, I get the feeling that I am doing the right thing. I am not saying this is right for everyone, but it is right for our family right now. We make huge sacrifices financially, but I love spending this time with my children. If I had to go to work tomorrow full time, I would cherish every second that I got to spend with them while staying at home, and I know they were blessed by it also. I love teaching them things every day, and I try to incorporate learning into our play. So I feel like I do use my education daily by teaching them.

As for the "Are you having more children?" question...oh boy. My father has just come out and said multiple times that we should NOT have any more children (we have 2, a girl and a boy). I just have to say sorry dad, it's not up to you. And I leave it at that. It's tough to hear your own father try to convince you not to have any more children...his GRANDchildren, but I try to at least understand where he is coming from. He grew up very poor, and I think he is afraid another child will put us beyond our means. So I try to understand so I don't resent him or his comments. But I know God is watching over my family and it is up to Him ultimately. :)

BTW, thank you for this blog. Every time I check in, I read your stories and realize that I am not the only woman/wife/mother going through these issues. And it's so ironic that I will read a post and it will be about something I am currently going through or dealing with! :) You guys are awesome!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the thoughtful post. A liberal arts education is supposed to give people the tools to think deeply and come up with answers to the tricky questions of life, not to train them for a specific career. The only way to waste a B.A. is to give up thinking. The irony is that women do think about whether to work while men of course must work.

I do work. I am a scientist in basic research and this is my calling. My children are young enough not to question why I work, but when they get older they will know it's because I'm working to understand a small piece of the universe. Hopefully that will guide them when they start to figure out what to do with their lives (not that they have to be scientists, but to work on something that's important rather than simply lucrative).

I think it has actually been a blessing for my family (everyone's family is of course different). My husband is involved in childcare to a degree he might not be if I was at home. If I travel for work, the house does not fall apart. We are very lucky to both work at the same research institution and to have onsite day care. We all go to work in the morning together and drive home in the evening. They are taken care of and taught during the day by people I know and trust.

Working vs. staying at home often gets reduced to "stay and home and waste your education vs. work, make money and have other people raise your children". Reality is of course much more complicated on both sides of the debate.

LL

Lara said...

I have a Masters in Ed, and various teaching credentials that I've worked on part-time over the years, am so grateful that I have my education. Part-time work opportunities seem to come to me as we need them (God is amazing that way...)through subbing, or tutoring, and I do plan to go back full-time at some point. I love teaching, and have found it fairly compatible with mothering. And because teachers tend to be child-centered, most of my collegues understand my choices.

I agree with LL and Juris Mater that working vs. staying home isn't as black and white an issue as some make it, and that with God's help, we can creatively construct what is best for our individual families.

I understand the struggle. Before my son was born, I was convinced I would go back to work. And then a few weeks after he was born, I called my boss in tears to tell her that I just couldn't leave him. We came up with an arrangement (small private school) where I would help with subbing with him in the sling, and as he grew, he would join the preschool class for the hours I was subbing. It was such a blessing for us.

I'm home now, having recently moved, and expecting a precious little one this Feb (after 14 years!). I'm taking a class at the university to finish off my single subject credential--a long held goal. We'll see what happens next!

Some people will never understand, and I think that is why a blog like this one is so important--so that we can help support each other.

Joanne said...

This comment:

However, every month when I write that check to the student loan corporation, I am forced to think about my decisions regarding staying at home versus working

...really speaks to the only struggle I have with staying home. It's not even a struggle, really, it's just - every month they take out this money and I barely got to use my Masters before I started staying home. Also, my Masters is in Information Management, so I don't do much with it with my little kids.

When I think of my being a mother as a vocation, my life is much easier to figure out and defend. I was made to be the mother of these children of mine, and I just know that it will all come together in the way that it should. Lord knows I have my doubts, my oldest is on the autism spectrum, my youngest is not quite nine months old and we are expecting another baby in May. So we have our times of freakouts but mostly I just try and remember that God wants me to be here and that He will not fail us.

As for people asking about such personal issues - hoo boy, have I been there. My Dad told me, before we told them we were expecting a third that since we had a boy and a girl that was known as a 'millionaire's family'. I have no idea what this means. And he's Catholic! If I tried to defend myself, between breastfeeding and staying home, it could easily make for a full time job in and of itself. So I say no thanks. :)

Maria said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the comments about the true end of a liberal arts education. In high school I felt very called to contempletive religious life and at first planned to forego finishing my college education to join an order. While my parents were overjoyed at my call, they advised me simply to finish my education first because it would help me with an important part of my development as a person before I entered religious life. So I went to college with NO plans to use my degree beyond working a year to pay off my small student loans. I in no way saw this as a waste of time, energy, or money.

The Lord took me on an u-turn during that year and here I am married to a wonderful man with three wonderful children. Though I am a full-time SAHM, I am even more thankful for my degrees now than I was before. My degrees (political science and history) are an important part of my marriage. My husband works in the political arena, and my education and work experience are a real aide to him in his work and a real instrument of bonding for us. I could not be more thankful for my education!

Juris Mater said...

I appreciate all these comments so much. Kat, I've been thinking a whole lot about this lately, thanks largely to re-reading Letters to a Young Bride by Alice von Hildebrand and Tex's great book recommendation A Mother's Rule for Life by Holly Pierlot.

This general culture trend of devaluing stay at home moms is really poisonous. The Devil wants MOST to undermine the family, since it's the first church and the civilizing influence on young souls and fosters vocations and everything else good, right? And making stay home moms feel like their efforts are a waste or second rate is the very best way to undermine the family. Our good spirits and our happy hearts are our MOST priceless commodity as stay home moms. We're not just babysitters and housekeepers whose menial labor could be farmed out if we could afford it. We are creating havens of Christian love and raising and guiding by hand the young souls entrusted by God to our care. We're THE spirits of our homes. Not a single person on earth could replace any one of us in our positions in our homes (and in our relationships to our husbands and children), and that's more than can be said for the vast vast vast majority of the work force.

I particularly resent this cultural attitude, because I think I came into the married vocation with more than my fair share of contempt for "only" stay-home moms. This type of devaluing of our vocations can creep into our minds and thwart our own efforts to do what God is asking of us, which is to direct the VERY best of what we have--including our intellects and educations, our energy, our management skills, our tenderness, our patience, all our virtue--in service of our vocations. When I feel like what I'm doing day to day is second rate and not worth my best effort, pulling together everything I have to carry it out as well as I possibly can is impossible. And that's a failure in my vocation. I'm not trying to go way overboard here, but this post just reminds me how much we do really need to encourage one another to cherish our vocations as wives and mothers as THE very most valuable way we could be spending our lives.

Thanks, Kat!

Liz said...

I too have heard the "millionaire's family" comment, it means that you have a "perfect family" (in some people's eyes) and you can stop there -- with one of each. God's will has been just those 2 for us and I have to admit it sometimes makes me defensive to be Catholic with just 2 kids! I can't keep explaining to people that it's not us keeping with the mainstream ideals! Some things are too personal to announce to the world at large! But clearly His plan is not JUST large families for His own reasons.
Thanks for this post. I am in a different position, as I am the primarily earner in the family, but I have found a way that I have worked at home for 10 years, the entire time we've had children. So it sometimes means working very late at night to catch up, or that I can't do every park playdate or every school volunteering the way nonworking some SAHMs can, but on the other hand, I do get to do more of those things than many working moms and I am home when they get home from school.
I too have a liberal arts education and a masters. But I decided long ago that, while I have to work, I'm working to earn a living, not for prestige or titles. So I work as part of my particular vocation as wife and mother right now.
So many of my classmates have high prestige jobs and important titles. I felt a little doubt at one college reunion. But I guess that one of the many blessings of this blog and others for Catholic mom blogs is that we get to support each other and recognize the value in the choices that work for each of our families!
Sorry this is long -- guess this post hit a cord!

Mary Alice said...

One thing about personal questions -- I have recently made a decision to stop being so defensive when people ask whether I plan to have more children or why I am homeschooling. I used to assume that there was a negative judgement implied, and sometimes there is, but often the person is just surprised or curious or just trying to make conversation.

People, even Catholics, are shocked that my husband and I plan to continue to be open to life after having six children in the first 8 years of marriage. Let's face it, sometimes I am shocked, too. I am shocked by the fact that I am a stay at home, homeschooling mother of many living in the burbs, and even more shocked that I am enjoying it (most of the time). I have had a long time to think about, pray about and digest these decisions, and sometimes my relatives just want to share in the thought process so that they can understand.

Both men and women of a certain generation have seen more fights for women's equality in the workplace, educational institutions, etc. It may be confusing to them that we have so much available to us and yet we make a choice to live the way some women in the past only lived because they had no choice.

Often, hearing that we have thought hard about and chosen our life, rather than had it forced on us or just allowed it to happen, can releive some of the confusion and anxiety behind well intended but ill received questions.

Juris Mater said...

PS--When pregnant with my first child, I was out to dinner at a fancy restaurant on the top floor of a Chicago skyscraper, when my aunt whom I've always deeply admired, in a patronizing and saccharine voice, reminded me to "remember to give something back to society" and not just have children. I almost spat on the floor.

Mary Alice said...

liz -- thanks for sharing your story, and as for not being able to do the PTA type things that a non-working mother would do, I couldn't do them, either, when my son was in school, because I had 1 year old twins!

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to comment on the flip side of this post. As a mom who works full-time out of the home, I have had several discussions with various family members about why I am not staying at home. It can be almost as challenging to artfully answer those questions from people who believe that "a woman's place is at home," as it is for you who stay home to answer in reverse. I believe that as women we are all called to do what is best for our family, and that means that all of us have different reasons for our decisions. So, in the only way I know how, I must say, "I feel for you," because no matter what our choices are, someone is always second guessing us. Being a mom is hard work.

Jennifer in MN said...

My husband works in a university. I just 'love' interacting with the faculty there, because nearly all of them are horrified; 1) that we have 6 children and 2) that I stay home full time (and like it). It's sad, actually. They've limited themselves to no children or only a few, so that they can pursue careers, that in the end, won't matter a jot. Yes, I have a degree and may eventually go back to work, but it won't make me a better (or worse) person.

Katherine said...

I have a B.A. and a M.A. but I don't think anyone where I live knows that. They assume that since I am a SAHM, I must not have any extended education and will only want to discuss Spongebob.

My resolve is simply to try to not concern myself with what anyone else thinks - just God and my husband. Then it doesn't matter much what anyone else says or does about my decisions for my life.

Mary Alice said...

I thought I might add this to the conversation, not to politicize, but to highlight how much conflict there is within each one of us about this issue:

What we talk about...

Stephanie said...

I agree that every mother faces questions whether staying at home or working. I work outside the home, and sometimes feel as though I am being judged that I must bot LOVE my children enough because how could I leave them? When, in actuality, this is what is best for OUR family at this time. I am lucky enough to work school hours so have my summers off which we FILL with things to do and places to go. My chidren do LOVE going to preschool and love what they are learning. However, I fully support those that choose to stay at home. Your children are blessed to be home with you all the time. I imagine that no matter if you are a stay at home mom or a working mom, it is the kind of mom you are when you are with your children that matters. Both sides have those mothers that are not the best and those mothers that are wonderful no matter which "side" they are on. Kudos to you for this post, the insightful comments, and the non-judgemental way it is written. I love reading this blog because it is women lifting other women up, who doesn't need more of that?

Right Said Red said...

Hi Ladies,

Great discussion. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts.

I don't have much to add, I'm a SAHM with a law degree. I think so long as parents are working to SERVE their family, rather than to fulfill some career dreams, then the decision is the right one. Prayer is really important here. We must choose wisely to serve our family, not ourselves. For some moms, this will mean working outside the home. In our particular case, it means I am at home, but my husband works more hours than he wishes too. We are both making sacrifices for each other and our family.

I think prayer and discernment is REALLY important regarding this issue. Thanks for all the good thoughts, and a special thanks to MA for the link. As usual, I really enjoyed Lisa Belkin's thoughts.

Julia said...

I think a lot of the conflict comes from a line of thinking that assumes that having kids (and staying home with them) is *our* decision rather than something God has called us to do.

I live in a big city, where having five kids is so off the wall that people approach me with awe. Oddly enough, I have only ever had one experience with someone saying something critical about the size of my family.

On the other hand, I think I've met every old lady in the metropolis who had five kids, and every person who grew up as one of five.

This gets at the flip side of the negative nosiness: we often don't see or know how God is acting in the hearts of others simply because we are following his call.

One day a priest who'd left our parish told my husband how heartened he was to see our family filling the pew every Sunday. He had long weeks of visiting with families where there were three kids by three fathers, no one was baptized, the parents weren't married. He said that seeing us there on Sunday mornings was a like a message that he wasn't nuts to believe as he did, and it told him that all was not lost.

If you ask me, that's a pretty good reason for explaining why I have five kids.

Julia

Bethany said...

As I sat preparing my resume last night to send in, I thought a lot about this post and this topic. I am currently a SAHM of 3, 1 of which attends our parish school. We recently moved so that my husband could take on his dream job that unfortunately does not provide enough income for the family to cover our already meager expenses. Therefore, after two years of being a happy SAHM I am returning to work, hopefully part-time only, to help us get out of debt and ahead of the game.

I, too, have had the experience as ar_and_j_mama where people in my family and friends have said, I don't think you should have more children or even commanded "You are NOT having any more kids." And it has less to do with finances as it does with their mock concern that I am not living a fulfilling life (at least not by their standards).

I think back to comment in a book I recently read that stated children in our culture are looked upon the same as luxury cars. It's nice if you can have one but if it breaks down don't come ask for help to fix it. It's really sad that our culture equates children as a commodity.

So I have decided to take this approach. My husband just began using the Creighton Model of NFP (hoping my irregularness will still be able to be charted) but we're not telling our family and friends. Mainly because it's none of their business. If we have more children, if I stay at home, if I go back to work, if I stay at home again when I am able too, none of it is any of their business. They can play the concerned parent/relative/friend and I will listen thoughtfully, but I answer to God.

P.S. I have a BA in English Lit (so irregularness is a word) and minor in theology. I would like to eventually get my Masters in Liturgy or something of that nature. But, acknowledging that college and post-secondary degrees are expensive propositions, a career should never be the primary goal of an education or learning. They are an end in and of themselves. An expensive one to be sure, and those of us who have been lucky to acquire such education and higher learning and be able to pay-it-off even though we're staying at home, don't feel guilty... feel blessed.

Amanda said...

So many of the comments here resonate with me. I am currently a SAHM of just one who has a BA and also a phenomenal part time work opportunity where I am able to take my son with me.

What Bethany has just posted really struck home. People are always asking me when I am going back to work, why I bothered to go to college, etc. And I often say, well I will be going back for my masters when the time is right and may enter the work world again one day with a new career. My wish is to obtain a degree in library science, and when I tell people that they almost fall over and the comments pour out - "why pay so much money to become a librarian when they make nothing?!" Thank you Bethany and others for pointing out that education has value in itself.

Sarahndipity said...

I agree with those who have said that it’s not quite as simple as working vs. staying at home. There are so many options – working part time, working from home, staying home when the kids are small and going back to work later, etc. I think every situation is unique. Some mothers have to work to help support the family. I’m one of them. I work full-time now (though I’m switching to part-time once we have our second baby). I think I’m a better mother the less I work. For me, work is just one more thing I have to do and one more thing to stress me out. Right now, it feels like I never get enough down time, never get enough time to just enjoy my daughter, and our weekends are completely taken up by housework and errands. I would stay home full-time if I could, at least until all my kids were in school. But for some people, work gives them stimulation that they need. Some people are actually better mothers if they work at least part-time or do something outside the home. So it really depends on the person.

I agree with whoever said work is actually part of her vocation, since she’s working not just for her own self-aggrandizement but to help support the family. That’s the situation I’m in too. Though I do think it’s important to have a job you enjoy – I would have a very hard time working at a job I hated to help support the family, though I realize that’s sometimes necessary.

When my boyfriend and I (now husband) were in college, we decided that I would stay home once we had kids. I remember feeling ambivalent about it back then, worried that I might be bored, etc. Of course, this was before I had kids and before I had worked a day in my life. I was very surprised at how incredibly strong the mother-child bond is. When my daughter was born I didn’t want to be away from her for a second. I was also very surprised at how much work sucks. :) I agree with Mary Alice’s husband that work is highly overrated. As it turned out, we couldn’t afford to have me stay home, so I went back to work, and I hated it. Fortunately things are easier now that my daughter is older, and I’m very excited about working part-time when we have the next baby.

Kat said...

Thanks everyone for your comments, I am very encouraged by getting a glimpse into how each of you - working outside the home or staying home full-time - have thought about these issues.

To add a slight twist to the discussion...Liz was mentioning that, as a mom who works full-time, she is not always able to attend playdates or volunteer for her children's school activities, and MA commented that when she was a mother of young twins, she was also in a similar position of having limited time to "volunteer outside of the home". Here is my comment: I think that as SAHM's, we can sometimes feel obligated to take on every volunteer role in our children's activities - room mother, soccer snack organizer, playdate coordinator, etc. As a mom who has taken on way too many of these roles in the past (and C is only 4 1/2!), I would like to propose that perhaps we take on only one, or maybe even none, of these roles, particularly if we are already feeling stretched! Instead, perhaps it would be wise to take up one hobby/activity that has nothing to do with our children, such as regular exercise, taking up an instrument again, learning a foreign language, volunteering in a non-child-related area. My husband actually feels very strongly about this, so he has made me think about it more, as my tendency would usually be to involve myself entirely in my children's activities!

texas mommy said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting! This has been a great discussion. When I worked part time after my first baby was born, I found it very difficult in that I had very little time with my husband and was very stressed out. However, I was not working out of financial necessity, but more of a prideful need to "stay in the loop" on hot topic political issues and to feel needed, I think. As several people have wisely pointed out, working in order to serve/support your family is a loving gesture. In my case, it was selfish, and so, for the first time in my life, I quit something. Using my degree for the sake of using it was not a wise choice.

Kat, I also share the tendency to overcommit myself and you bring up good points! I think it is important to have some outlet with other adults. For me, I love being part of a book club in which we discuss high quality books over coffee and dessert.

Courtney said...

I LOVE this post. I am a SAHM. Kat, I think we have similar degrees...mine is a masters in Community Counseling. Also similar to you Kat, I haven't worked that long "in the field", so I also feel my career opportunities are limited at this time (part-time options. etc.)

On a different note, in For Better...Forever by Greggory Popczak he talks about how well-adjusted people and people in well-adjusted marriages are content with their decision whether it be as a SAHM or a working mom. In other words, if they are a SAHM they don't compete/compare or become critical of working mom's and vice versa. I think that is an excellent point to remember, to respect others and their decisions for their family. And I think the dialogue in this post has been very reflective of that!

Finally, I like Kat and her husband's idea of cultivating a hobby or volunteering in an area that is not child-related. I have considered volunteering to teach CCD or else teaching English to Spanish-speaking adults and realize that it might be nice to chose the route of volunteering with the adults, which would be different than what I do all day.

kate said...

I'm chiming in late - perhaps this conversation is over - but I'll toss my two cents in. This is a conversation that has been going on as long as I can remember - my kids are halfway grown now - 5 kids- 20 years at home - and it is indeed not an either/or choice - often it is an age/stage choice - but there are usually hidden costs to mom working. Moms at home make huge contributions to society. When mom works there's not as much time and energy for company, for family time and the quality of life is not always enhanced. Actually RAISING children requires a lot of psychic energy that is depleted by a demanding or even a menial job. No education is ever WASTED - and life in this era is generally very long. You will probably have plenty of time to work if that's the right thing for you to do. I'm 52 now,working full time at church, finishing my MA in Theology and thinking about Ph.D possibilities - when my youngest graduates from high school in 3 years. Life is rich and full - and I don't regret one minute of my time at home with the kids - they were sweet days and the kids turned out great.

clara said...

Yes, yes and yes. What a good conversation. There are seasons for everything and I guess I am trying, like everyone else here, to discern what is best in the present one and leave the future ones for the future. My husband's mother worked when he and his siblings were of school age, and mine did not immediately, so I find that we have different expectations at times, and this can be tricky. And then from day to day, depending on my mood and state of mind, I can find myself, like Kat, questionning the value of my daily work at home with the children. Were it not for the fact that my three very young children (none in school yet) require ALL of my energy and time pretty much around the clock, and the fact that other SAHMs out there doing the same thing, I think I would feel pretty worthless. When you are truly busy all day long and every minute caring for small bodies and minds, it's kind of hard to feel like you're doing "nothing"! I figure, those who think that it's not 'real work' or a contribution to society have just never tried it!
As to the pp who mentioned the priest: I have never had a priest say so, but I know that our small family (adding one a year up until last year) has attracted a lot of notice, not only from other parishioners, but from priests, too. I have thought that it is probably the case that it is quite rare for them to witness families like ours, and from what that priest shared, it sounds like it's true...
Finally, several times I have had perfect strangers come up to me in public (grocery stores, the sidewalk--anywhere) and say: "Two girls and one boy? That's enough, NO more!"
It's so ridiculous it's almost funny.