Saturday, July 01, 2006

"I Couldn't Do That"

Occasionally when I tell other women that I am a stay-home mom, I get the comment, "I could never do that. I HAVE TO work for my emotional sanity. I just can't stay home. In fact, I think I am a better wife and mother because I work."

Before I start my griping about this comment, let me just say that I really do believe that women are better wives and mothers when they have something ELSE going on in their lives besides their parenting--some hobby or passion that they make time to pursue. In fact, a husband who doesn't make sure his wife gets such time to pursue something else will pay the price eventually, I think, if only at empty-nest time when she discovers she has nothing else. But in this post I am talking about women who work full time.

I hate this comment (above) for two reasons:

1-It completely makes light of my sacrifice. Yes, unlike many women, whom I envy, I see staying at home as a sacrifice that I make because I believe it's the right thing to do, and because I can't stand the thought of someone else raising my kids. It's HARD for me. I hate the implication that I'm somehow less of a person (more simple-minded?) because I apparently find ultimate fulfillment in changing diapers and and doing lamaze breathing for the fiftieth time today to keep from screaming at the five-year-old whiner.

2-You cannot convince me that a woman who works full time is truly parenting her child. (Yes, I think that God probably steps in and makes up the difference in the case of single mothers or women who truly must work in order to provide the basics.)

I had an experience this month that illustrated both of these things for me. I went to a conference that was Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 5:00. I was lucky to have Grandma and Grandpa staying here at the house to parent the kids for me. And here's how it went:

It was WONDERFUL. It was so very much fun. I got up early, prayed with the kids, kissed them, and left. I had fantastic days doing interesting, invigorating things. Things that were so interesting that I even forgot to eat--wasn't hungry, even--and realized how much of my eating at home every day is due to boredom.

After a busy, exhausting and thrilling day, I would drive home in time to feed the kids, kiss them all soundly and put them in bed. They were so very sweet and so very cute because I had been away all day. I adored them. I was a better mother. For the two hours or so that we were together.

I can see how a woman who works all day would say that she can't imagine quitting and staying home with the little guys all day. When someone else parents for you, all you have to do is be the kids' buddy, kiss them, snuggle them. Then you get to go be important at work. I imagine that to a woman used to working, the thought of a whole day with just the kids sounds impossible.

It even sounds impossible to me a lot of the time, and I do it every day.

Anyway, that's my little tirade. I'm glad to be back in the thick of things with the guys and find out what their lives are like. We don't really have a lot of deep, bonding discussions or "moments" together, but just being the one who nags about the homework or chores, who debates whether to accept an invitation with them, who makes them eat carrots at lunch, who snuggles them at reading times and slaps their little bums affectionately as they walk by--just BEING here--makes me a part of their lives, makes me their parent. And that, hard as it is, boring as it is a lot of the time, deep down feels pretty darn good.


Alb said...

Hey Darlene,
I'm Chris Bigelow's wife and just read your post after linking from his site. I have to tell you I so agree with what you said. I teach school 1/2 day for financial reasons but I'm a full time mom in the summer. I have been exhausted over the last month but also extremely grateful for the opportunity to be back at my favorite full time job. When I'm away, even for part of the day, I'm thinking about what my kids are doing without me. Honestly, some of it is probably better than what they get from me but, I feel responsible for making sure they are getting good parenting and when it is not from me I worry about the quality factor. Anyway, I appreciate your viewpoint and agree wholeheartedly.

Darlene said...

Hey, Chris's wife! Nice to see you here. (As you can see, I don't get a lot of traffic--or at least from people who like to comment.) I'm grateful for your comment. Ever since I posted this morning I've been debating whether to delete this post, since it sounds so judgmental of other women. It's just my way of dealing with the fact that a lot of the time it sounds awfully tempting to be somewhere else than at home. I'm hoping to get more serenity and joy out of this by the time I'm done--and already I can say that it's getting better. The older the kids get, the more fun I have doing this.

Thanks for commenting.

Angie said...

Amen!!! I also gets lots of women telling me "I could never have so many children," "I could never homeschool," and so on. Well, 7 years ago I worked full time and never thought I could do it either, but I have followed the promptings of the spirit and I have grown in the process. I'm so glad I didn't stop with what was my comfort zone, and I feel sad when I think what some women are missing out on...what I almost missed out on.

Johanna said...

I think part of my struggle with this whole issue is that, whether it's true or not, it's sort of taken for granted that 1)what you do as a stay-at-home mom is known and familiar to everyone else, but their jobs are a foreign world to you, and 2)all you have to do is stay home to be a stay-at-home mom.

Have you ever read any Wendell Berry? I'll have to dig up his essay on the currency of homemaking. Not monetary value (my husband and I just got life insurance and I can't help being really bugged when the dollar value of my life and work are so much less than his), but the value to the family and home and community. As said, I'll have to dig it up.

Maybe it's because we don't make heierarchical distinctions in homemaking, except maybe in jest: Entry level homemaker, middle maker, CEhOmaker. If you're a homemaker, that's just it. You're a homemaker. No nuance to it.

I'm not sure I think that everyone who stays home (with kids or not) is making a sacrifice and doing the right thing. Which is to say that there is craft and skill and technique and lots of other good and learned and "marketable" things to homemaking, and some people excel and some don't and most people specialise, and MOST of all, I am bugged when people start trying to put homemaking in terms that try to compare it with market-economy jobs, like I just did. It's above that. And it's not just about stay-at-home women, homemaking is a family affair, thank you Wendell Berry.

Wow, did that make any sense at all? Speaking of braindump! (Um, looks like this touched a nerve.)

So, Hi! I'm Johanna. I really appreciated your comment months ago on my blog, and apologise for being typically, sadly, slow to respond. We got the first 3 seasons of West Wing on DVD for my husband's birthday, so if you're ever out SE Idaho way, you'll have to stop by for an episode.

Darlene said...

Wow, Angie. You home school? Boy, I could never do that.(Just kidding.)

I know what you mean! Even just saying it ironically just then made me feel yucky inside. It's a making light of what you do in a sort of twisted way. But sometimes we can't help it. Because the thing is, when another woman does something that I suspect is a good thing, I have to immediately evaluate in my mind why I'M not doing it. And in order to make sure my reason for not doing it is valid, I have to make you the OTHER: "we are different."

Why is it so hard for women to truly compliment each other without feeling somehow threatened, or lessened?

What is the right answer to a friend who homeschools if I am secretly wishing I did, too?

What is the right answer if I truly deeply feel I shouldn't (but you go, girl)?

What is the right answer if I think you are doing your kids a disservice for doing it?

I don't know. But I don't think women can help judging each other, just because in this motherhood thing there are no measures for what is "a good job," or even "an adequate job." We are constantly unsure whether we are doing enough, and therefore constantly evaluating any ideas that come our way. Anything you are doing with your kids has to go through my evaluation process.

Which gets into what Johanna was saying. There is a big difference between just being home with your kids, and really making it a career, or an in-depth, heart-and-soul endeavor. But it's all just so vague! How does any of us ever know when she is doing all she should?

Personally, I think I'm rather bad at this career. However, I don't think that's a reason not to do it. I suppose (sigh) that that's a reason to buck up and improve myself. Blah.

Good points, Johanna.

I had a friend in Berkeley who said once, "Oh, shut up already about the holiness of housework. Sometimes housework is really just housework."

I've been buying into that one for a while. I'll probably continue to. It's more comfortable. And sometimes right.

marathonmommy said...

Hi Darlene,

I linked to your blog after reading your "running" comment on Suzie Petunia's blog. Anyway, I really appreciated this post. You are very eloquent and said things that I have thought! I love my children and being a stay at home mom, but I never realized how hard it would be. I am not as good at the housekeeper part as I would like to be or as I see others are. But, I truly feel that we each have our strengths and weaknesses and we should use our strengths to our advantage and pray for help with the weaknesses. Also, I think that we women should help each other more instead of judge. I love the teaching aspect of being at home with my kids.

mary ann said...

I love it! I recommend Caitlyn Flanagan's book of essays called _To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife_. Among other things (like a great essay on decluttering, and the phrase "the winsome arrogance of yuppies" which I love) she admits that the quality of the parent/child relationship is substantively different if you work or if you are at home all day. Takes courage to say if you want to sell your book, but I appreciate her doing it! I think you'd like it.