Normally, I really enjoy EWTN’s news program, The World Over. They do a bunch of Catholic news, different takes on world events (often with on-the-ground info from priests or bishops from the affected area), and guests. Often, the guest has a new book out, and last week’s show was no exception.
Dr. Meg Meeker was talking about her book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers. Dr. Meeker said that she had stayed home when her children were small and her husband wasn’t home, then went back to work as a pediatrician. She became concerned with the over-stressed mothers she kept encountering in her practice and decided to get to the bottom of the problem.
Maybe the book is better (and it is apparently much more thorough), but the interview seemed to highlight several main areas in her thoughts:
- Quit being such a perfectionist. Buy the pre-made brownies and spend time with your kids instead.
- Stop competing with other moms.
- “Don’t expect your husband to be your best friend.”
- Do NOT make your children the focus of your life; you’ll overburden them with expectations of perfection and performance.
I would have to say that I’m naturally skeptical of the plethora of self-help “10 ways to…” and “7 habits of…” books out there. Some of them may be useful when applied to particular people or situations, some may not; in all cases, you have to ask yourself what the author’s prejudices about her audience are. The summaries of Dr. Meeker’s book online sound great, but I got a very bad impression from her EWTN interview. It seemed like a number of her points were recipes for marriage disasters.
1. Perfectionist? I go to potlucks and usually see a tableful of just-bought pre-packaged junk from Farm Fresh. Hardly anyone I know has any idea what yeast is for, and apparently they aren’t the odd ones: very few of my local grocery chains stock anything but bread machine yeast, if that. The moms in my neighborhood are simply never home, so they deny everything their obnoxious, oversexed teenagers said or did. Although the commercials mock overly-obsessed mothers vs. the cool, hip, laid-back mom, I really see a lot more people finding excuses not to do things rather than getting perfectionist about things.
The “just buy the brownies and spend time with your kids!” line really annoyed me. Have you seen the new commercial for brownies? Happy, hip mom and her cute, smiling daughter are playing at the table. Mom says, “Let’s have brownies!” Child happily agrees, mom pulls out the over-processed, preservative-ridden tube-of-brownies and chucks them in the oven. “… So you have more time for the things that are important!” coos the voice-over.
If your philosophy on what is necessary in homemaking slots nicely into yet another commercial treating moms as idiots incapable of managing their own time or using brownie making as a fun activity in order to badger them into buying yet more pre-processed crap, then I don’t hold much hope for your philosophy. It isn’t an either-or situation, and setting up moms to believe they have to buy more to do “the important things” isn’t any help.
I also wonder how much of the “perfectionist” slur is aimed at moms who either stay home or try to do things better by moms who have swallowed the lie that, “You can’t do it all, now can you? You’d be crazy to try! When would you have time for yourself? So why bother even trying?”
2. Competing with other moms. I do a lot of crafts, I have a big garden, and I do quite a bit of sewing. I don’t expect everyone else to do the same. I’m happy to show anyone anything they want to learn about, but I don’t sneer at people who don’t grow their own herbs. While I find quite a few of the fatty, fried, or otherwise blah store-bought offerings at potlucks unappealing, I don’t track down their owners and berate them, I just skip those foods.
I know why career moms do it: they simply don’t have the time to bake something. They’re tired. I watched my mom do the same thing. I did the same thing when I was putting in ten hour (plus) days in the Navy. (Ok, I always cooked for potlucks, but dinner at home was Hamburger Helper more times than I’d care to admit.)
Which doesn’t mean I need put-downs from career moms about how stupid, lazy, or ridiculous stay-at-home moms are (much of which, I think, is something of a self-defense; they may feel they aren’t doing right by their kids but don’t see any other way). People used to worry about what happened to the children of dual-income families who came home every day to an empty house: drugs, overeating, and sex were all major concerns. Now that most women go back to work as soon as their kids hit school, nobody talks about the problem anymore because it would offend too many people… but the problems are growing, leading to more tax-funded programs to keep kids occupied after school.
3. “Don’t expect your husband to be your best friend.” Again, maybe the book says it better, but what Dr. Meeker said on EWTN was exactly as quoted. She encouraged moms to find other women to support them, which is fine, to a point. In some sense, though, as Catholics, our spouses are our most important relationship, period. Dr. Meeker didn’t give any caveats to her insistance that we find conversation and fun outside the house.
In the end, what struck me most about what Dr. Meeker said was that I had seen someone do exactly what she advised.
This person started as a stay-at-home mom. She enjoyed crafts and sewing. She had a few friends, and visited during the day, but didn’t go out much in the evenings. She cooked from scratch. Her kids were a major focus of her life, and she spent a lot of time with them. She liked to read and garden. She wasn’t rich, but she seemed pretty happy.
Then her younger child entered kindergarden. She went to work, allegedly to “make friends” and “get out some.” She came home every day, exhausted. Cooking from scratch became something reserved mostly for holidays. She stopped kissing her husband when she got home, and they never seemed to talk civily anymore. Perhaps not surprisingly, she went out with friends more and more frequently. She quit doing the crafts she had enjoyed. The family ate dinner together every night, but conversation ceased, because she was too tired to encourage it and gave in to everyone watching the TV instead of talking. Her children learned to come home to an empty house, watch too much TV, get into the junk food, and generally make-do until their parents came home from work, three or four hours after the children got home from school. And all those quick, easy dinners-in-a-box weren’t enough to give her back the energy or time to spend on her relationships with her kids.
She did what Dr. Meeker recommended: she quit making her kids her whole life, stopped expecting her husband to be her best friend, found a purpose in life outside “just” her family, and quit being a “perfectionist” and just bought the quick, easy, pre-packaged food.
She’s still not happy, but she’s highly disapproving of the stay-at-home moms in her family, even though she herself seemed much happier before she re-started her career.
Her daughter was dutifully launched into a high-powered career, poised to major in something practical, be highly employable, and make plenty of money. The more her daughter looked at her mother’s situation, though, the more she saw the glaring lie of the, “Women can do it ALL!” mantra; with all the best intentions, you will have to compromise on your career or your family, and most moms seem to compromise on both and be less-than-happy with either, 10-point checklists and self-help books notwithstanding.
So, the daughter stays home, gardens, sews, crafts, and writes an occasionally sharp-tongued blog that she doesn’t tell her mother about. The daughter makes a lot less money and gets a heck of a lot less respect than when she was the senior officer of the deck on an aircraft carrier. The hours are longer and harder, and there are no sick days (not for the mom, at least).
But I am comfortable in my own skin in a way I never was in the Navy. My heart is where my work is now, and every last peanut-butter-smeared smooch, crayon masterpiece, and “You’re the best Mommy ever!” is mine, as are the results of a dutiful brother checking on his moaning sick sister and getting barfed on (a major disadvantage of the loft beds, I might add, is that barf can fly farther before it hits the carpet).
I still wouldn’t trade it for a paycheck.