Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Worthiness of the Stay-at-Home-Mom

Marriage includes fighting. It's unavoidable. I'm feeling very sheepish today because I quite unfairly - unleashed, I believe would be the correct term - on my lovely husband last night, and again this morning. I realized too late that I couldn't take back the things that I said and he left the house angry. Now that Mt. Linz has fully exploded and I'm left to just sit in the steamy aftermath, I can see what led up to the big blow and I feel pretty badly about it because the things I'm angry really don't have much of anything to do with J. So let's talk about sleep deprivation, how much work it really is to be a stay-at-home-mom and the feminist movement, shall we?

I can hear all the mice and trackpads clicking this tab closed as I write this. I know what they're thinking, those who left us: Not another whining mom who "doesn't work" complaining about how hard her life is, right? Wrong. I work my tail off 24-hours a day doing things that no one respects or values and I have had enough. It's time. I'm saying my piece.

Sleep deprivation is real. I think Christine Skoutelas summed it up nicely in her Huffington Post article, "This Is Why Parents Are More Exhausted Than You Think They Should Be." In a sentence: once you become a parent, you never sleep though the night again. Ever. The infant months give way to the worrying-if-your-baby-has-died-in-their-sleep months. As Skoutelas explains,

At first, parents wake up in a panic when the infant doesn't wake them up, and they check on them, adrenaline rushing, thinking they're going to find something very wrong. They nudge the baby. Nudge. Nudge. Until they hear an audible sigh. Then they either can't fall back asleep because of all that adrenaline or they can't fall back asleep because they woke up their kid.


This gives way to the toddler years, filled with a little person coming into your bed, bed-wetting, or needing a tissue! No improvement in sight. Teenagers keep parents up with worries of sneaking out and when they're in college and no longer at home you lie awake, "wondering if they've been roofied and are lying in a ditch," until finally they're out on their own and you're so old that you're "biologically incapable of sleeping. The end." 


Great. It's all too familiar. I woke up in a complete exhausted panic last night, having forgotten that I had put Theo in his crib, and woke J exclaiming, "Where is Theo?! We lost him! He's not here!!!!! We have to find him; the door is open and he is not in this room. WHERE IS HE?!" to which J replied, "You put him in the basket, remember" and, knowing he meant crib, I got back into bed and went back to sleep. So concluded the first 90 minutes of my sleep for the night. I was woken by Theo two hours later, just as confused, wondering if Coco was crying in the distance. I came to, realized it was Theo crying from his basket, and stumbled into his room and brought him into our bed. He proceeded to wake me at regular intervals wanting to be cuddled and spooned just so for the rest of the night until J's alarm went off (and he pressed snooze repeatedly!) in the early morning. My neck is sore from all the cuddling. But, like Skoutelas said, it's not ever going to get better, so I guess that  I should just quit worrying about. At least I have chubby baby cuddles right now.

Being a stay-at-home-mom is quite impossible. Literally impossible. I love the kids and I love our house, and I love taking care of all of them, but there is just no way for one person to do all that. No matter what, our house is always a flipping mess. I try to be proactive, I am still working on a traditional housekeeping schedule to keep it all under control. But the fact remains that the mess and the laundry and the dishes are being produced at a rate that will never slow down. Groceries and toilet paper disappear at the same rate. I might be able to find a pace to keep up, but that means never ever having a break and never ever being finished. I am a hamster on a wheel. As much as I want to, I can't ever slow down, because then the wheel will flip. I understand that people who work still have laundry and eat and so on, but it's different. When you're all gone all day, no one is there to make a mess on par with a grenade going off in your living room. When your children are in daycare, you can pop into the store and grocery shop without them in a fraction of the time. And when we were both working, we could afford to have cleaners come every couple of weeks. I had no idea the reality of the workload of the stay-at-home-mom. It is actually quite impossible. But, awesome tip: vinegar in the rinse cycle makes clothes so soft! Try it. :)

And now, to the load of blarney that is the feminist movement. Just hear me out on this one. This is my current reality: Right now, it makes sense for us for me to stay at home. It makes financial sense because childcare is so ridiculously expensive. Additionally, it makes sense for us as Montessori teachers and experts on child development because we want the formative years from 0-2 to be optimized through the security and attachment our children get from being at home with me. That may piss a lot of you off, but that's how we see it, and we are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to do it. The decision for me to be at home is a well thought out, deliberate choice. 

And yet, I am constantly at odds with warring ideologies. I feel an insane amount of pressure to be more than just a mom. Women are supposed to have it all! The career, the children, the happy marriage, the vacation photos. Don't forget the sexy figure. But we cannot have it all. We have to make choices. 

People love to say that they respect the choices women make, but when women choose to stay home, they don't. Not really. The work I do is not respected or valued. It's a shame, but that's the way it is. And now I'm done complaining about it. It's true that my current reality gets in the way of the creative ideas I have that I would love to devote more time and energy to bringing to fruition, but I'm happy to invest that time and energy into my children instead. I would love it if my life were more in balance, but early childhood is intense. I would really love it if I could get some affirmation for the worthwhile and important things that I do, but I don't. Oddly, J is my biggest advocate and greatest supporter and admirer. He sees what a good job I do with the kids and he notices when I bust out a few pomodori and get the house looking great. More importantly, he never complains when he gets home and it looks as if we were robbed, or a bomb went off, or both. And then I go and get mad at him and accuse him of making my life more difficult when rough houses with Theo and gives him noisy kisses while I'm getting ready for bed. Sure, it wasn't easy to get Theo to sleep after that, but what gives? I'm never going to sleep well ever again. Why worry about it?! J is an awesome, loving, involved dad. That's more than enough; it's wonderful.

I recently heard a woman with an impressive career, in the last trimester of her pregnancy with her first child, lambast a homeschooling mother of four, saying that the homeschooling mother really has no place telling her daughters that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. My first reaction was, of course they can't because we all know women have to make tough choices between career and family and fitness and discretionary income and I started in on my response, "No kidding," I sighed, and she jumped right back in and volleyed, "Right?! I mean, she's the worst role model for female empowerment ever!" And then she laughed and I really sighed. It is not fair that we set women like her up to think it's possible to have it all. And it's even more unfair to discount the work of the homeschooling mother of four to being such a failure that she doesn't have any place in encouraging her daughters. 

I can see that it's up to me to find a way through this. I am so exhausted I could snap, and yet I have to understand that to most people, it looks like I don't work. I'm not fully clear on my feelings on this far-reaching subject, but I'm getting there. And now, despite the fact that I'd like to edit this and read if over before publishing, Theo has woken up from his nap. We're going to get out of the car where he prefers to nap these days, go inside and change his diaper. I'm going to get a load of laundry in, cook some lunch, eat and feed him, rotate the laundry, clean up, take him for a little walk, come back, rotate the laundry and fold the first load, deep clean the bathroom, change his diaper, go to the grocery store and post office, come back in time to see J off to his class this evening, help Coco finish the bookmaking project she started this morning before school and write a little story together. Then it will be time to make dinner, fold the last load of laundry, get the kids in the bath, read them stories, get them off to bed and then clean up some more. I chose this. I choose this. I am doing valuable, respectable things with my time and energy. It's up to me to believe that it's enough.

(Sweet photo of J and baby Coco circa 2012)

20 comments:

  1. THIS. I'm not much of a commenter but I wanted to voice how much I agree with you. I'm a SAHM in New York City and every time I tell people what I do I get patronizing responses or see the judgment from the career-oriented. It's the choice I've made but it's also so frustrating.

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  2. Hey, thanks for this. You are vocalising a real issue that I am struggling with, exactly two months on from when I should have gone back to work but instead made the decision to stay home with Silvia. I constantly feel I have to justify this decision, arguing the financial case, for fear of making other mums feel bad for going back to work if I mention the emotional positives. I have been made to feel lazy, and as though I have wasted my education and potential by dropping out, and not being a positive role model for my daughter. The whole "lean in" philosophy is such crap, it's bad for everyone involved, piling pressure on women that men still do not encounter. Feminism is supporting women's choices, and that includes staying at home with your child. Whether the pairing socks and thankless clean up breaks you or the work all day after a night with a teething toddler breaks you lets support each other's choices in every possible way.

    Also, I can be a total horror to my husband. Spiteful and rude. But I truly try not to be. And he loves me anyway, just like J does you. If you can't vent on your life partner when life is getting you down, who can you vent to?

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  3. So true Mt. Lindz. You have to be the best you there is. Comparing yourself to others is the worst of all evils or whatever the Instagram motto blah blah is. Yes the days are long and the years are short. Yes we know what we are doing is absolutely amazing. Yes we know that we are thanking our lucky stars we aren't sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours a day with 2 weeks vacation like every other American thinking that is an OK way to live. We are the lucky ones. But we are also grumpy sometimes! It's hard! I guess the only answer is to move back here, right!? Take care and go cuddle that husband of yours!

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  4. I started working again when my son was 5 years old. I have to say after working now a full year that staying at home with my son was the hardest, yet most rewarding job I ever had. You are so right that it is never adequately appreciated. However, now that I am a "career woman" again, I feel like I suddenly have new found respect from everyone that I'm able to manage it all. Sure it can be challenging to manage between the school runs, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc., but it makes me mad that more respect isn't given to stay at home moms. I hate when women pit each other against one another. Thank you for speaking out against this. Your husband sounds wonderful, but he also needs to understand the challenges of staying at home, and your need to get some "me time" every once in a while.

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  5. Amen, sister! I am replying typing with one hand, holding the baby in the other, and scarfing down leftovers for my meager lunch. A basket of laundry to fold sits behind me with another load in the dryer, today is bathroom day for me too (I made a schedule!) and I have to go pick Hunter up from school in an hour. All this to say, I feel you, I am on your side, and you're amazing!

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  6. SAHMs work harder than anyone else in the world. We need to stop judging and start supporting everyone no matter whether they choose to work or not, and most importantly, the politicians who claim they support families should think about finally putting some policies in place that would actually help American families. It's shameful to be one of the only nations in the world without paid family leave and universal healthcare. That is all.

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  7. This is why I feel that most feminists don't represent me. Even though I work full-time, the work of women is so undervalued by most of society, even women themselves! As a teacher, I truly believe that what parents do at home is more valuable than the work anywhere else. I also believe the old Mormon addage: No Success can compensate for failure in the home. Why is it okay to praise women in visible positions, but not praise those who do the thousands of countless acts of service and love in their own home and circle of influence? I have amazing respect for those who homeschool and do it right, as well as stay at home parents, foster parents, and so many others who take on thankless jobs that make the world a better place. Those children who are nurtured at home physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually will become the greatest influences for good. Thanks for this post which illustrates the divide so well.

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  8. I'm coming up on more or less nine years now as a SAHM, and I hear you. I feel strongly, strongly, strongly that if you invest in the early years, and build a good, strong, foundation for your kiddos, you can reap the rewards in the later years. STILL. This is the most gigantic leap of faith I've ever taken, and the day to day reality is extremely trying. It's difficult to talk about this belief with many parents, because it could come across as a condemnation. So, even after 9 years, I still feel pretty isolated and alone. Which adds to the "fun."

    And as you mention, sleep deprivation is huge. And honestly, I think it makes everything feel worst. We also co-slept for a long time, simply because everyone got more sleep that way and apparently we have horrible sleepers. It helped me, however, when we reached a point where the little one would co-sleep with dad, and I could go sleep alone somewhere else. Actually, still doing this occasionally with my almost-three year old for about half the night.

    One more thing: I really started noticing that it was getting easier when my second child was about 2 years old. With the third child, it was more like 2.5. Those earliest years are killer. Either way, hang on! You are almost there.

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  9. Yes!! Sometimes you just gotta let it all out. Thanks for writing this. I've been thinking a lot about this lately... what I want my life/days to look like once we have kids. I've been talking with others about how life comes in stages. I'm reaffirming that I really want to be there for the developing years of my kids, and that I'm going to have to plan to make that happen. I want to be able to breastfeed and bond without worrying that I have to go back to work in X amount of weeks... I want to be able to be with my child in those early years when I think bonding matters so much. I don't know if that will mean part-time work for me, or not working outside the home at all, but what I keep coming back to is that it's a stage of life.

    It's not forever (or it doesn't have to be). And it's a stage I want to go through. I had the chance to talk with Suzanne Arms, a birth & mother-baby advocate/author/activist since the 70s for a new podcast & portrait project I'm doing called Working Birth, and she reaffirmed for me how important bonding is... and how messed up U.S. culture is in supporting it. She even advocates for comparable work pay, aka compensating stay at home moms for the hugely important work they do. I'll let you know when her episode comes out; it was really great.

    As for feminism, I don't see as much of a problem reconciling my view of wanting to stay home for a few years with the feminist movement. There was a great article in the Washington Post about how each generation sees feminism really differently, and my generation (I'm almost 27) tends to define it on our own terms, not necessarily tied up with the feminist "agendas" of the past decades. So while I do fully consider myself a feminist, AND want to stay home to take care of my kids for a few years, I do wish that feminists like myself were more visible. I wish the more active/celebrity feminists around my age (Lena Dunham, Emma Watson) would start to shine some light on this. Here's the WP article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/feminism/betty-friedan-to-beyonce-todays-generation-embraces-feminism-on-its-own-terms/2016/01/27/ab480e74-8e19-11e5-ae1f-af46b7df8483_story.html

    All this to say, you are rocking it, what you do IS important, and keep doing you!! :)

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    1. I think you're dead right actually. The whole prescriptive feminism of past generations is being rejected in favour of a more biographical view. I also think the idea of "universal income" is an interesting one being batted around at the moment.

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  10. You ARE doing valuable, respectable things with your time and energy. Look at this beautiful post that resonates with so many of us that you just whipped up, what, in the CAR?! Give yourself a break, friend. Running on limited sleep, regardless if it has become the new norm or not, makes everything seem significantly harder to manage. With some rest (and a little wine) hopefully the next few days will bring respite. Sending a big woosh of mom-pow your way. xxxooo

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  11. FemInism is actually just the belief that patriarchy is a systemic problem that isn't beneficial and should end. Yes, there is the suggestion that there should be equal opportunity for men and women, but it doesnt say anything about women staying home not being empowered. Theyre not funamental opposites. Anyone who suggests otherwise doesnt understand feminism.

    Also, that woman will eat her words when she has her baby ��

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  12. Oh Lindsey. I hear you. So much. It can be pretty tough psychologically to commit yourself to work that 1) is not terribly fulfilling (if you're like me about housework!) or even feels like boring drudgery (dishes, laundry, etc.--it's never-ending, like you said), 2) requires a huge sacrifice of your own desires, and 3) is de-valued by our broader culture. I've thought a lot the past year about how our culture values labor in terms of money. In a hyper-capitalist culture like ours, labor that doesn't generate money (caregiving of the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the young) simply often isn't valued. I think often of the strange irony of this: that if I were being paid to care for other peoples' toddlers, or keep other peoples' houses, I would be thought of as doing "real work" because it earned money. Odd!

    I've enjoyed reading your blog but haven't commented before now. I just wanted you to know you're not alone. I appreciated what Ann said above--I also don't talk much about the reasons we've decided this is best for our family because I don't want to sound condemning towards parents who make other decisions. I have worked some fairly demanding jobs & have advanced degrees and can say without a shadow of a doubt that being a [mostly] SAHM is wayyyyy harder than I ever realized--that weird cocktail of physical effort, emotional effort, lack of break, repetitive drudge tasks, lack of immediate reward, etc.--I also like how Ann described it as a leap of faith. It's been a huge one for me, too. I am definitely laying down my life for what I think is best for our daughter. Sounds like you are too. I just believe this is not in vain. You are a hero to me, Lindsey, and I bet you are to your family too. It takes a lot of courage to swim counter-culturally on this specific issue and to work on defining your identity outside of more mainstream value systems. Thanks for opening up.

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  13. Thank you for your honesty. I really needed to read this today!

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  14. I don't have kids and I am not even married. But I am in 100% agreement with you. This was well-written and well-thought out. My mom stayed at home with my brother and I for our first years I remember her expressing similar things, and understanding more what she meant as I got older. As it stands now, I am so saddened how devalued care taking is in our society. Keep writing about these topics, it's very important!

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  15. Thank you for being so open and honest in this post! I'm overdue with my first baby right now, so I don't know what it's like to be in your position yet, but I know it will come and its something I think about often. Since I'm in Canada, I get a full year of maternity leave paid at 55% of what I was making in my full time job. I can't imagine the extra burden that most American women have to contend with, without having adequate maternity leave and I'm sure those policies impact how motherhood is viewed in the US (although I do think Canada has very similar issues even with a better mat leave policy). I wanted to say that being involved with alternative cultural views of child rearing (in my case, the indigenous community in Canada) has been really eye opening for me. It is so, so, so different than the Western way - motherhood/fatherhood being so much more valued and central. I went to a conference of indigenous leaders last summer and one of the Chiefs, a woman, had her baby with her, who was about 3-4 months. At one point during the conference, a chief from another nation got up to the microphone in front of the few hundred people attending and asked her to stand up, which she did with her baby sleeping in her arms. And he said something like 'That's what its all about' and talked about the importance of keeping families and children and parenting as central in indigenous communities. I was struck by so many things. First, the complete normality of leaders being women, second the fact that it was completely acceptable for her to bring her baby with her to a conference which, in the Western world, would be child free. Third, that another leader - a man - highlighted the importance of her role. Anyway, I've been trying to remind myself and immerse myself in alternative models of parenting and community because the Western way just feels so (as you said) impossible. ~K

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  16. Thank you for this honest and insightful post. I was a sahm when my three were little, I wanted to be home for the same reasons you mentioned. I really relate to what you wrote, I was grateful to have the chance to stay at home (though of course that comes with sacrifices, most of my clothes had holes in them!) but you know yourself when you are making the right choices for your family, but it is tricky when you work so hard and it just isn't recognised. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about it all myself. Just know you are doing a great job :)

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  17. First off, I am not a mom, but hope to be one some day (maybe soon??). Anyhow, when I was growing up, my mom stayed at home with us. It was the BEST. I mean, really the BEST. As I have gotten older, I have become more and more thankful for that time my mom spent with us, and more and more in awe of how she made it all work.

    When I have kids, I really hope that I can make it work to be able to stay home for some period of time, hopefully until they start school. Life is about more than traditional work, it's about the relationships we have with each other. I can't think of a better way to build a strong foundation with your children then staying home with them :)

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