On being a stay at home mother, Kristen posing a daunting question: I'm afraid I s-ck. What if I'm right?
I am not a big fan of the word suck unless you're talking about straws or nursing babies. So we'll substitute stink for suck and continue the discussion.
Stay at home motherhood is an interesting job. For a performance oriented person (especially one who has just left the paid work force), the life of a stay at home mom presents a unique set of challenges.
To name a few:
1. You get no performance review.
2. The reward structure is idiosyncratic.
3. Power suits? Just not happening.
4. Expense accounts? Ummm, no.
5. People outside your family don't see your failures, but then they don't see your successes either.
6. You do so much, but rarely finish anything.
7. The frustrations are monotonous and jarring and give all the appearance of being eternal.
For a performance oriented person who may or may not have a dash of undiagnosed ADHD, there are a few additional challenges:
1. There's little built in structure.
2. There's no dress code.
3. You do so much, but rarely finish anything.
4. The frustrations are monotonous and jarring and give all the appearance of being eternal.
I'm doing the dishes and overhear this exchange:
John: I didn't get any Goldfish!.
Ainsley: I didn't get any Goldfish!
John: Stop repeating me!
Ainsley: I 'peating you!
I walk into the study and find Ainsley smearing my brand new lipstick on her face. Oddly, there's also a head of lettuce resting on the recliner.
I sit down to end the day with a few minutes of prayer. The four-year-old is bouncing off the walls, the two-year-old starts whining for another drink, the ten-year-old is all but rolling his eyes, and I want to yell. During prayers.
I overhear the baby say, "I'm making a pile!" I shudder.
In some ways, I'm a black or white thinker. Either that was a good holiday or a bad one. We had a pleasant morning or a miserable one. That project went well, or it didn't. Life with children -- young or not so young -- isn't black or white; it's a steady stream of moments of all flavors and varieties.
You know, around here someone cries everyday. And once in a while it's Mom. Because some days I feel like I totally blow at this stay at home mother gig, too. And if you polled my children, my neighbors, maybe a mental health professional or two, they just might concur.
I called Dave a few months ago and announced I was getting a job. I want to be appreciated, I told him. I want to feel capable. I want to be clean. I want to sit at my own private work space and not spy a half eaten frozen waffle sitting on the mouse pad. I want a spiffy outfit with a tag that reads Dry Clean Only.
I want to finish! Something! Anything! For the love of Pete, I just want to finish!
(And, you know, I wouldn't mind getting paid.)
I felt that I was working my tail off and at the end of many days, I felt like telling Dave, "You have no idea how hard I worked to get this place looking so mediocre." Parenting -- from home or from the workplace -- is the last word in delayed gratification. Some days -- many days -- the fruit of your labor is not obvious to the naked eye.
Let me step back and say without equivocation that becoming a mother is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Fourteen and a half years ago my nurse handed Tim to me, and in a way I can't adequately articulate, my capacity to love simply exploded.
In an instant, I was different.
So it was with Kolbe and John and Ainsley.
Friends used tell me they watched "A Birth Story" and cried. Until I had kids, I found the stories moving, sure, but that was it. I watch that show today and cry, cry, cry. I cry over blogs. I cry over adoption stories. I cried reading a children's book the other day.
I love my children, and I love being with my children.
What does all this have to do with being a stay at home mom and whether or not we stink at it all?
Being a stay at home mother gives me two tools that help me be more of the mother I want to be: time and proximity.
Time is a tricky one. Years ago, I wrote a piece for Faith and Family Live! called Seventeen Minutes. Seventeen minutes -- that is the amount of time experts estimate stay at home moms spend interacting with their kids.
I could dispute the figure -- though, the more children I have, the more reasonable it seems. The idea that stay at home moms spend the entire day flitting from meaningful activity to art project to intellectual stimulation is about as realistic as those Pottery Barn ads.
But whatever the amount, being at home gives me more of it.
Then there's proximity. The other day we pulled out the water colors and spent some time painting. John had a Winnie the Pooh coloring book.
"What color is Piglet," John wanted to know.
"Well, Piglet is a pig, and pigs are usually pink," I told him.
"I didn't know Piglet is a pig," he told me.
It was an odd conversation -- the fruit of leisurely time spent together without specific end point or defined purpose. It's the fruit of proximity, and it captures why I stay at home with these kids of mine, even when it's frustrating, even when I'm convinced I totally and completely stink at this.
Veterans of the business world will remember a season when Total Quality Management (TQM) was all the rage. A business model imported from Japan, TQM stressed clear, measurable goals. We broke larger jobs down into discreet tasks. We fashioned mission statements. We set benchmarks. We created flow charts.
Sitting around discussing the fundamental nature of Piglet is random, not measurable. Stacking blocks that will then get knocked over and eventually shoved under a couch doesn't fit into a pie chart. Being available is vague and not particularly productive and sometimes to the discerning eye an absolute waste of time.
So much of what we pass on to our children is oral tradition -- a stream of unscripted conversations about nothing and everything. Ten or fifteen years ago, "cultural literacy" became a popular buzz phrase. Kids today, gray-haired Thinkers would say, just don't know much about history, geography, literature,etc..
This concern spawned an entire series of books (books I love and have purchased, by the way). I am not opposed to cultural literacy, you see. I'm all about survey courses and vocab lists and memorizing the state capitols.
But none of this replaces the day in and day out exchange of ideas that goes on within the family.
Dave's out of town and we pull out the atlas to pinpoint Las Vegas and then suddenly we're talking about the Hoover Dam and President Hoover and The Great Depression. We drive through Papa's home state and cross the Chuck Yeager Bridge and talk about the space race and the Cold War and on it goes. We're sitting in the yard and someone finds a bird's egg and we talk about how some are blue and some are speckled and some birds eat from feeders and some prefer worms and why they migrate.
Part of being a parent is wasting time together. Being a stay home mom helps me waste more of it.
Some days -- because of circumstances or moods, because of trying behaviors or lack of sleep, because of temperament or plain, old, garden variety selfishness -- I really do stink at all this. Big time.
I'm still glad I do it.