Monday, April 11, 2011

Examining the Stay At Home Life.

Well, another brilliant study had been released which investigates the diet and exercise habits of moms and dads with children under 5. And this is the shocking conclusion: moms of children under 5 don't exercise as much or eat as well as childless women. No kidding. It is all about time, opportunity, and meeting needs. This is my story: I cannot go to a gym right now unless Dan is home, because Alec refuses to stay at the day-care center they have there and I cannot ask my mom to give up time of her life a few times a week so that I have thinner thighs. I used to go early in the morning before everyone woke up, before Alec was born, and loved going, but I'm not sure I can get up that early and then functionally parent three children until they go to bed. So I am in limbo. I am hoping that the nicer weather comes sooner rather than later so I can go for long walks with Alec in the morning or after dinner with the whole family. I try really hard to feed my children nutritious, homemade meals every day. And of course, I eat what they eat, so that means we're all getting good dinners. But I can see how, with softball and soccer looming ahead of us, that my best of intentions may fall apart and we will reach for something quick and easy to make and clean up. And quick and easy is rarely as healthy as what I normally serve. On a larger scale, though, this debate is all about meeting needs, isn't it? Whose needs will be met first? Whose will be met best? Is exercise really a need? I know it is to some people and not to others. In either case, it is something you have to make room for, and sometimes the things we as moms want fall behind what our kids or husbands or family wants. There is only a certain number of hours in a day, and when you have three kids and a husband all wanting time from you, you have little left to divvy out just for yourself. Nothing irritates me more than reading things about how you SHOULD do this for yourself, you SHOULD do that- it's a whole blame-the-victim mentality: I know I SHOULD go out on dates with my husband, I know I SHOULD make time for myself, but more often than not I am just trying my hardest to keep everyone clean and well fed and their nails clipped and hair brushed and homework done and developmental milestones met and felt listened to and moderately on top of our schedules. The last thing I need is someone's opinion that I SHOULD be doing something else. In the end it just becomes another thing that is not getting done. Because I enjoy knowing that my family is well-cared for, and that gives me lots of satisfaction. Of course, I enjoy doing things for myself- I'm not that much of a martyr. But I am at times perplexed at our culture's blindness to stay at home moms and how much of motherhood in general is a long, hard exercise in putting other people's needs in front of your own. Other people's agendas in front of your own. Other people's schedules in front of your own. And there is just no break, little time off, and the cruel twist is that when you are finally done and your kids are out of the house, so many moms go absolutely bonkers with grief. Have you ever watched a show about hoarding?? Nine times out of ten, when it's a middle-aged woman who hoarding, it's because her babies have left the nest... and so she fills it up. We moms do this because we love it and we would die for our children, gladly, and spend every day thinking about what we can do that is best for them. And they in turn bring unspeakable joy and love and heartswells and laughter and richness to us. But it is hard. I have been in touch with several moms of younger children this past week who needed pep talks about being home. One asked how to mentally survive not feeling well and dealing with children and seeing the everyday chores piling up. And I shared with her that parenthood is all about letting go and growing and putting other's needs before your own and trying not to drown in the process. After I was home awhile I realized that there are three kinds of days as a stay at home mom: fall apart days, where everything goes down the tubes and despite your best efforts, everything is a mess; treading water days, where you are neither further ahead nor further behind than you were the day before; and get ahead days, where the daily routine goes smoothly and a window of time opens up for you to work on a short-or long-range project. And the burst of energy and joy you get from seeing progress made outweighs that bad stuff. It gives you the psychological energy to move ahead, even on the fall behind days. Now my mom would helpfully say that even on the fall behind days, you are really ahead, because you are with your babies being their mommy. And I get that. But it doesn't feel quite as exciting as a get-ahead day, where you can pat yourself on the back and say, "My, my, MY! I have got this stay at home thing LICKED!! I have got it GOIN' ON!!" And then in a matter of moments, something falls apart and you're back to a treading water day.

One of the worst parts of being at home is that we're all (at least I am) thinking that everyone else is doing a better job than we are, everyone is more organized, more accomplished, more everything. We're all hidden in our individual houses and only get a glimpse into what everyone else is doing. And therefore we have totally unrealistic expectations of what OTHER moms are getting done, how much fun they are really having, how clean their house really is, etc, and we end up thinking that we come up short. We're all sort of hanging on by a thread. This is all compounded by the fact that there is no evaluation process, no performance review, and no one besides our husbands (and maybe our moms) who see us for what is really happening and tell us we are doing a good job. Or a GREAT job. In many ways, stay at home moms have to be the best cheerleader for themselves, instead of thinking, "I'm not doing enough or doing it good enough" which seems to be the default setting in many of our brains.

Oh, it's a complex thing. But we do this for the love of our babies.

1 comment:

Winterhoff Family said...

AMEN!!!! Thanks again for your words of wisdom.