Not nice things, certainly. Even uglier when thrown around in the “mommy wars.” But I was reading my paper in between homeschooling lessons (“Let mommy finish the paper, honey, and we’ll play a game. Yes, the whole paper. No, I’m not done yet. Yes, I’m sure you won’t collapse of boredom without me for five minutes. Now scoot; I’ll call you when I’m done.”), and got yet another annoying tweak of it this morning.
I make the mistake (much too frequently) of reading the advice columnists. It’s like reading the tabloids at the grocery store; you know you shouldn’t, but you just can’t look away.
Today, one of the big advice columnists was revisiting some advice she’d given to a new mom who was worried that she had post-partum depression because she got really bored being home all day, playing blocks with her daughter. The first guest advice encouraged her to keep things in perspective, get some “me” time to retain a healthy sense of individuality on occasion, understand that this phase will pass, etc.
The second person who had written to the columnist and got published said:
Every mother is different. Some of us were meant to be stay-at-home moms, others need the challenge of a career and the company of other adults. That doesn’t make someone a bad mom.
I’ll agree with the first and last sentences. It’s the one in the middle that made me grind my teeth.
Oh, yes, I’m obviously a stay-at-home mom because I am pathetically lacking in ambition and I’m anti-social.
As I said once to a smirking twenty-something working the cash register for minimum wage and feeling superior because she got a paycheck, “Yes, I’m just a stay-at-home mom. I used to drive an aircraft carrier, thank you very much. This is harder.”
My brother said something about his wife going back to work eventually because, “Well, you know, she just doesn’t want to do that boredom long-term.” Thanks, dear brother, tell me about it. Something about how he said it came across as, “Maybe you can settle for the drudgery, but my wife is too good for that.”
I’ve got news for you, people: being a stay-at-home mom can be boring. Very boring. I don’t eat chocolate all day, nor do I watch the soaps. Day after day of laundry, homeschool, cartoons, whining, breakfast, lunch, snack, errands, dishes… and hardly another adult in sight. Yes, I know there are plenty of women out there who put on their best 50’s housewife smiling face and tell you to throw yourself more into taking care of your husband, kids, and house, or pray about it, but the truth is, there are a lot of not-so-exciting parts of staying home. And I didn’t chose to stay home for my kids because I like the boredom, but in spite of it.
Second piece of news: family life is not about me.
Get over it.
If I was going for excitement and fascinating people to talk to, I could’ve stayed in the Navy. I saw eight foreign countries and Hawai’i before I graduated from the Naval Academy. I saw nine more (and revisited two) during the following three and a half years of sea duty. If I hadn’t actually wanted to be on the same continent as my husband, I could’ve taken my good score on the foreign language proficiency test and done all kinds of things. I wrote reports, led people, and stood watch on the bridge of an aircraft carrier, where on almost every watch a mistake could have killed someone, particularly when we were launching and recovering aircraft. Especially while at sea (and especially on the aircraft carrier), I had time to read and work out in the midst of the hectic schedule. My superiors were impressed with my work and said so. My peers held me in some respect for having earned the position of senior officer of the deck. In short, I had a challenging, high powered career that entailed more travel and real responsibility than most people will see in a lifetime. As I once wistfully sighed, “I could whisper, ‘Turn,’ and 6,000 tons of aircraft carrier, four acres of U.S. sovereign territory, thousands of people, enough aircraft to make a nice air force for a small country, and billions of dollars of equipment and training turned.
And I traded it for a toddler who giggled and ran the other way when I yelled, “Would you come here?!?” My kids cry or complain because I won’t give them more candy, or they wanted mac ‘n’ cheese and got leftover chili, or they don’t want to do their schoolwork, or they won’t go out and play because it’s too hot/cold/sunny/cloudy. If I’m very, very lucky, I might be able to say I’ve successfully done my job in, oh, say… twenty years or so. (I figure by then I’ll have a good idea whether or not the oldest is going to do ok.) Forget finishing projects, meeting deadlines, and getting promotions. My workout schedule is nonexsistent, I’m a year or more behind on two of my three magazine subscriptions, and my travel habits have been distinctly curtailed. My mother frowns every time she thinks about what I could’ve been doing with my life (i.e. a paying career).
But I would trade that career for home again. Why?
Because life is not about me. We are called to do something more than just find a fun life for ourselves, and a large part of my “something” is being a mom. The Navy can find someone else to drive the aircraft carrier. Nobody else can be my kids’ mom (and I’m fairly happily resigned to the fact that, about half the time, I am more “x’s mom” than “Kathy”). When the Church tells us that “parents are the primary educators of their children,” I take them seriously. I might be looking for a second career in twenty years, but, right now, my kids need me more than I need the satisfaction of a paycheck or nice compliments on my performance review.
I think double-income families can work. (and I realize that some people don’t have a choice about both parents working… and some people convince themselves that they have to have a certain lifestyle, so they “have to” have the second job.) I also think that, like single-parent families, double-income families should be aware that that pattern will subject both the parents and their children to additional strains and difficulties.
My husband and I decided that that was not worth it. It’s hard enough raising good kids; we wanted the best odds we could get.
Surveys tell us that many moms (especially with young children) would rather be home with their kids. As a society, we need to do better to make that possible, rather than just offering more subsidies for child care and tax encouragement to leave home. Instead, most people sneer at women (and a few men) who make the sacrifice to stay home. And then the jealousy kicks in: “I want to spend more time with my kids, too, but I’m at this stupid job every day, why aren’t you?” As a result, initiatives to make things more conducive to women choosing to stay home are brushed off with, “They chose to stay home, let them deal with the consequences. If you want respect, get a real job.” And so, we pass on to the next generation that motherhood is demeaning, doesn’t require any real thought, and does not really deserve much respect.
I have a real job, thanks, it’s just that nobody pays me anymore.
We need to stop sniping at each other and have real, honest, discussions about what is best for our children, and demeaning stay-at-home moms is not part of that. Especially when they’re young, it’s not about you. It isn’t about proving your worth through a paycheck (thanks a lot, feminists). It isn’t even about pursuing a satisfying career. It’s about your kids. We bemoan the fact that kids aren’t getting the security, attention, reading opportunities, etc. that they need in those first four or five critical years… and then try to get the daycares and preschools to take more of that on, while telling moms that they should be doing something “better” with their lives than focusing on raising their kids. And, too often, the parenting stuff gets slighted or left out because there just isn’t enough time or energy left in the evenings to do it. I don’t think working moms set out to do it this way; it just sort of happens.
My mom still loved us after she went back to work, but our family was never the same again. The stress and exhaustion from the job and the tension at home weren’t worth the paycheck. Yes, my brother and I were both in school, so she “wanted to have a fulfilling job and meet new people” now that we’d been handed off to the public education system, but the effects of her going back to work were obviously negative. She seems to have forgotten it, but she told me once, “My generation tried to prove that women could have everything: family and career. Your generation is figuring out that you just can’t do both well. Something will suffer.”
Being “just a housewife” or “just a mom” may not be exciting or appreciated. It is a lot of work done in private, where it is not lauded or, sometimes, even noticed. Usually, in fact, trying to do the right thing for your kids will get you mostly sneers and jealousy. Some days, it seems like it would be easier to give up and go back to work, talk to adults, eat lunch without wiping sticky hands, have the satisfaction of a paycheck again, be in charge of someone older than six, etc.
“Mom work” is, however, critical work, and our society (and the next generation) is paying the price for far too many families deciding that that work is just not that important. My answer is to stay home while my kids are home. Several of my friends are staying home until their kids are in school. Your answer may be skipping the high-powered high-hours career for something more family-friendly (and usually less prestigious). My kids’ pediatrician just quit to be home for her teenagers; she said she realized she didn’t have much time left before they left home and she wanted to make those last years at home count.
For our children’s sake, though, we have to find the answer, consciously make it work, and continue to reevaluate whether or not it is, in fact, working (and not just working for us, but for our kids). We also need to support other moms in finding their best answer and making it work, even when they didn’t pick the same answer we did.
It’s not about you or me. It’s about our kids, because motherhood is not a side job. Motherhood, once chosen, is our main job, and the one that will echo most loudly into eternity.