In his memoir, Days of Grace, the legendary tennis player, humans rights activist, and AIDS victim Arthur Ashe asks, “What happened to black America since 1954?”
His answer is a 20+ page essay criticizing his fellow black Americans for lowering their moral and educational standards, for forgetting they once fought for true justice and not for a violent display of power and ‘payback,’ and for failing to uphold the high level of integrity with which their ancestors courageously and honorably stood with at the height of slavery and the civil rights movement. His words and perspective are fascinating, unexpected, and moderately refreshing to a certain degree – especially coming from an African-American athlete who grew up playing the whitest sport imaginable… in the 1960’s … in the South.
He continues: “But I estimate that it would take at least a generation, perhaps more, before African-American culture can regain the moral authority it once possessed. Then we would have, as we still did, mother and father; a sense of the value and power of education; a sense of the deep importance of religion and moral instruction; a sense of pride in ourselves as achieving, thinking human beings, a sense of our place in community of peoples, regardless of race, a sense of our superiority to those who would deny us our rights because of the color of our skin.”
Ashe pulls no punches, but his critique of society is not limited to his African-American brothers and sisters. Rather, he believes these societal illnesses are symptomatic of America as a whole. Specifically, the deterioration of education, moral standards, individual drive, and finally, the family. Perhaps it is more appropriate to list family first. Ashe alludes to the idea, which I agree with wholeheartedly, that the deterioration of the family is not just another symptom, but is in fact the root issue. He states, “The public schools began to deteriorate as increasing numbers of students entered school without first having been prepared at home to accept the rigors of education.”
During this coronavirus pandemic, social media has been flooded with memes and posts about how teachers deserve an increase in pay … a certain late night TV host suggested it should maybe even be a seven-figure increase. As much as I’m already dreaming of how such an increase in my income would affect the number of skis in my quiver, and while I’m grateful this pandemic has served to show the general public the myriad of different struggles we teachers face daily, I think they may have missed the mark in who to properly give credit. The person who deserves the pay raise isn’t the teacher, in this case.
It’s the stay-at-home mom.
Every issue and struggle, to some degree, of the modern educator, can be traced back to the element Ashe is referring to when he says, “to accept the rigors of education.” Right now, many parents are struggling to keep their quarantined-trapped kids focused. In reality, their children lack stamina – mental, emotional, and physical. That’s why they can’t focus, that’s why they won’t work, that’s why they are unable to ‘fight’ through the struggles of understanding algebra or learning how to properly write a 5-paragraph essay. Don’t be mistaken: they aren’t stupid, they aren’t all stricken with an educational disability, and they don’t all have A.D.H.D. But their brain is a muscle, and it is weak. They didn’t build their mileage up as youngsters, and now, we are asking them to run 40 academic miles per week. Here is the sad thing: Ashe would say its embarrassing we are only asking them to run “40 mile academic weeks.” In his day, he was doing 100. He didn’t care that he was in an all black school, faced legitimate, awful racism, and didn’t have access to richer, white peers.
So, what wasn’t fostered at home to begin with has forced the educational system to gradually react by lowering standards. 100 mile weeks in the 50’s turned into 80 in the 70’s, and 40’s by the new millennium. And thus, we have, as Ashe even encountered during a short stint teaching a community college course after his retirement from tennis, people who not only can’t properly articulate their thoughts and have a clear thesis statement, but can’t even write a complete sentence starting with a capital letter.
“…without FIRST having been prepared at home to accept the rigors of education.”
This is why social media, Jimmy Fallon, teachers … everyone…has gotten it all wrong. We shouldn’t be highlighting the teaching profession during this panic of 2020. And that isn’t to say I don’t believe teachers aren’t heros. They are, and I’ll get to that in a moment….
Instead, we should be using this time to recognize a fact our country has tried to downplay for at least the last 50 years:
The stay-at-home mom has a full time job. And it’s important.
Even if she is not bringing home a paycheck, her work has farther reaching implications than any paying job does in terms of its effect on society. When parents who are struggling to cope with increased time with their kids begin lauding their teachers with “I don’t know how you do it?!” comments, what I really hear are their unrealized undertones: “Wow, being a stay at home mom is hard.”
“Being a stay at home mom is ….crucial.”
One reason, I think, we HAVE honored teachers in these circumstances is because we have, subconsciously recognized that in modern society, the teacher has actually taken the place of the stay-at-home mom. So in a sense, when we validate the difficulty – no, impossibility – of the tasks given to a modern day teacher, we aren’t off. Teachers today are not only being asked to teach geography and algebra and time signatures ….we are also being asked to teach everything great moms used to teach their kids so that they were “prepared to accept the rigors of education.” To me, this is why you should see teachers as heroes. But we all might want to reconsider how we’ve shaped society in the process. We are asking teachers to take up the slack which comes as a result of simultaneously encouraging young women to do the impossible – be full-time worker and full-time mom – while downplaying both the effects of a society where everyone tries to do that AS WELL AS ignoring those who decide to devout themselves fully to the latter path (mom). Can we really have our cake and eat it, too? It doesn’t appear so. Even Ashe, whose wife was an incredibly successful photographer, would say so, as she opted to be with their daughter Camera, sacrificing a certain level of her career, during her formative years.
I often laugh after conversations with my grandparents, three of which were teachers, about the teaching profession. They are always baffled by my accounts of student “issues,” and understandably so. Discipline and behavior issues of today are as foreign and unbelievable to them as the idea of an 10-week worldwide shutdown is to us tod—-
Anyway, the point is, what teacher’s are currently being asked to teach is not solely ‘academic.’ We are also tasked with equipping young people with the skills necessary for functioning in society – skills people used to receive at home, often from their mothers specifically, and the family unit as a whole in totality. Discipline, self control, focus, behavior, standards, intuition, kindness, maturity, ability to follow rules, ability to respect others and self … the list goes on and on and on. And, unfortunately, if a child just can’t seem to master something on that list, we prescribe him/her a medication and tell the parents – “don’t worry, it’s nothing you could or could have done. It’s a medical condition and we will treat it with drugs.”
Ashe died before witnessing this reality in schools, but I guarantee you it is making him roll-over in his grave. I would postulate his comeback to a comment or thought such as that would have been one of gentle respect but humble intensity, the same way he approached the game of tennis: “Look, your child is brilliant, but he/she needs more time from you. They need to be engaged with in order to develop, learn and grow, and while we can provide them a specific service at school, we can’t give them the same level of individual engagement you must give them when they’re at home.” The current state of our educational system is worrisome, to say the least, and I don’t think one can simply peg it on a democrat’s or republican’s decision … it goes back to what everyone as Americans thinks is important to the fabric of our society. Namely, the importance of the family.
And so, I reach the ultimate thesis of my writing today, which comes 7 days too late.
Thank you mom, for deciding that being a stay-at-home mom was the best career move you could make.
You had a high paying job in prestigious company, and you walked away from it to raise three boys with stinky diapers. You walked away from it at a time when society would have lauded you to do just the opposite. I actually can’t and will never be able to imagine the kind of social pressure you faced in making that decision. In history, we as Americans love to recognize heroes that stand up for the “right thing” in the face of opposing social forces. It’s ironic that we don’t recognize the stay-at-home mom’s of the 80’s and 90’s …especially since the lack of people making the same choice has been the root cause of much of the issues we struggle with in society today.
We can’t have our cake and eat it, too. Don’t get me wrong, women make fantastic CEO’s, teachers, pilots, cops, journalists, realtors, etc. They are intelligent, driven, and capable. This isn’t a paper suggesting we should “suppress” women from striving for their dreams and goals. Instead, it is a call to praise those women – those moms – who have decided their dreams and goals were centered around fully focusing on being a stay at home mom, raising their children in the way they should go, and being the glue which holds a family together. Does that not deserve praise? Honor? Today, if you choose that route, we tend to look down on you and see you as someone who must be a bigot stuck in the ways of the 1940’s. We don’t view you as a contributing member to society, when in fact, as has been illustrated, there might be no more important contributor.
For those ready to suggest my words are suppressing to young women everywhere, I have a few things to say. I believe girls should pursue being athletes, teachers, CEO’s, analysts, etc. I don’t have a problem with that. I do, however, think we should recognize the importance of stay-at-home moms and also the gravity of deciding to bring a child into this world and the necessary elements required to running a good family. Today, we’ve pressured women into feeling like they can be both supermom and super CEO/business/career gal. That just isn’t true. Those are two completely full time aspirations! That is like asking Tom Brady to be the quarterback and the wide receiver of his team. It can’t be done. He can’t throw AND catch passes. Or…maybe HE can, but …I digress. You get my point. And while being a stay at home dad sounds romantic and fun in certain ways to me and possibly others, I know that it’s a calling no one, scientifically speaking, is more equipped to do better, than my wife.
I imagine many will be offended by my words. Some can bring up circumstances of moms who have had to raise their children and support them financially. That is a unique situation, one which is connected to Ashe’s and I’s argument. The family is a unit – as he mentions the importance of a mom and dad, so I will I stand by what I’ve alluded to. In an ideal world, a mom shouldn’t be forced to work and be full time mom because there is another member – their husband – who has a role to fulfill as well. So, by all means, don’t take this as some bashing of those who have heroically stepped up to the plate amidst challenges and raised wonderful kids while also working full-time. They are great people, and their path was decreed by God.
I suppose people can still (and will still) be angry with this if they’d like. I have a right to express what I feel is a defendable position, don’t I? Readers should know it is difficult, in fact, for me to write this, since not only are most of my loved ones and close family members working women (who do incredible, top notch work by the way) who might misconstrue my message, but I wrestle with the reality that it’s possible that in order to survive in the present economy, my wife may ultimately have to work, at least some of the time. I don’t want to come across as being perceived as preaching to people, saying, “You’re really messing up your life,” or “Your hurting your kids.” Instead, I hope this article hits you and makes you stop and think. To realize just how influential the impact of being a mom is. To ponder about if its possible to have your cake and eat it, too, or if there needs to be a reevaluation of what is important, what is perhaps out of balance, and what God is truly calling you as an individual woman, to strive for.
My hope would be that all of my sisters find the right balance between raising children who are equipped while also following whatever individual dreams God has decreed for you to fulfill for His satisfaction and Glory, ultimately. I want all woman to be the best version of themselves they can be, and rightly place the role of motherhood where it should go. Maybe that means being a stay at home mom for the first 4 years of your kids’ life, and maybe it means for all 18. Maybe its a mix of both. Too often, I think we unfortunately decide for it to be neither, and don’t believe in or reconcile with the affects of that choice.
“Having cake and eating it, too” is a balance that we are always facing, by the way. Even take the panic of 2020. We can’t both shut down the world and keep everyone isolated and separated AND keep the economy going. I can’t both train for the marathon and try to be an explosive body builder. The skimeister can’t train fully for nordic and not sacrifice their alpine. Moms – and future moms – please consider what the impact of staying at home and raising your child will have not only on you and the child, but all of society.
Going back to my experience as a teacher – it is always a blessing to teach those students who love learning, are respectful, and are – this is a phrase I love to use but rarely can: “mature beyond their years.” I’ve found that those students, 99 times out of 100, come from homes where their moms were at home full-time. Actually, I should say, 19 times out of 20, since, of the 4,500 students I’ve encountered in my career, I’ve maybe seen these traits in 19 students (that alone should serve as a startling testimony to Ashe’s warning on society). Do great independent, driven, mature students come from rough situations and single parent homes? Absolutely. Those students are the rarest of the rare, and they are destined for incredible things. But that isn’t the norm, and all teachers know that, whether or not they publicly admit it.
My mother’s day gift was a nice Facebook post honoring my mom for giving me some special traits: a love for sunshine, exercising with no shirt, the mountains, skiing, and combining all four whenever possible. My mom did give me that. But she gave me a lot more, and I think I owe it to her and other great moms to recognize the real importance of last Sunday’s special day.
In addition to a genetic dispostion for six pack abs, my mom also played with me and showed me how to play. She fostered my creativity and imagination. She showed me how to forgive, how to interact with others, how to work hard, how to give back, how to be gentle and kind, and how to stand up for what’s right when I’m out in the big world. She also taught me what IS “right,” to begin with!
She walked me through those situations where I had to learn and experience what it was like to struggle with something and overcome it. To persevere. To grow. To overcome the instantaneous and natural feelings of giving up or simply deciding, “I must just not be good at this.” Oh, how many students I’ve heard say that about a particular subject and wondered if I too would believe the same thing, falsely, about myself had I not had someone to show me the art and craft of teaching oneself, struggling with something, and eventually, owning it.
By being a stay at a home mom instead of chasing a lucrative career and individual satisfaction, she also demonstrated one of the most unnatural traits a human can live out: selflessness.
When it all comes down to it, most of us, me included, don’t actually want to put another’s needs in front of our own. We will a little bit, but we rarely go all out in that venture. Being a stay-at-home mom is going all out in selflessness. Today especially, with the lack of attention and credit given to the role, it might be the single career which demonstrates the most selflessness. What is the minimum wage for being a stay-at-home mom, by the way? Did they raise that to $15/hr, too? You know me: if there is any one ingredient I find crucial to a happy life, one filled with the satisfaction of true success, it is the decision to go “all out,” in something. So, props to the moms, for totally doing that.
Thank you mom, for doing what was necessary to making me a valuable influencer of the affairs of the world. For upholding what Ashe articulated as being essential for society to flourish – “a sense of the integrity of the family, a sense of the value and power of education, a sense of pride in ourselves as achieving, thinking human beings, a sense of our place in the community of peoples, regardless of race, and a sense of” – and I’ll use my own addition here: “the deep importance of truth, and ultimate authority, as is only found in God’s pure revelation – the Scriptures.”
Happy Mother’s Day, a week late, to ALL the moms out there.