Why This SAHM’s Getting Out

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The Sam in this picture is not a SAHM, but she is my best friend and baby Sam’s namesake. Her cutie, who is six months older than mine, is Alex. We’ve been reconnecting more since I joined the motherhood club.

There’s a reason stay-at-home moms (SAHMS) are advised to get out once every day. It’s the same reason why all my mommy friends complain that they need “adult” conversation: We SAHMS weren’t meant to stay at home with our children. Clarification: we weren’t meant to stay home alone with our children.

I’ve given this a lot of thought lately. At the risk of sounding like Hilary Clinton, it seems to me that babies are meant to be raised in community. But I’ll take it a step further. Adults, whether parents or not, are meant to live in community. Overall, it’s ideal for everyone to have family and friends around. But I don’t just mean in the next town over, or even around the block.

I am blessed to have many friends and relatives in nearby towns; I even have a couple friends down the block. Out of these, a good number have offered to babysit if I need help; a few have. Still (dare I admit it?), I sometimes wish for more help. An echo of offers, made from miles away, is not the same as having many hands, and many minds, in one house.

Pitfalls of a Single Family Home

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Look at this awesome family! This picture depicts the type of celebrations my in-laws are capable of. (Most of the credit goes to my wildly creative sister-in-law, Deborah.) Here, we are celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday, dressing to represent characters from his favorite crime shows.

After we brought Sam home, I never seemed to have enough hands. Merely trying to keep him fed was a fulltime job, not to mention the dishes, laundry, and unsent birth announcements that piled around me. Two weeks later my husband went back to work and I thought I might not survive! It was then that I decided it was not good for man and wife to live alone (with a baby). But upon more thought, I’ve decided the issue is even bigger than that. It’s about more than a new mom and dad having helping hands.

 Personal Struggles

At two months in, I’m starting to feel capable of caring for Sam by myself. But this has not ended my longing for more help. That’s because caring for Sam still takes most of my day. Even when he’s sleeping, I must attend to baby or household tasks: mixing bottles, washing dishes, making supper, or running errands. (Major plumbing issues in recent weeks, now requiring remodeling, hasn’t helped matters.)

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This picture, taken with our adorable godkids a couple years ago, could actually look like our family in a few years.

With life settling into a new normal, I am re-realizing what I’ve always known about myself: I want a career, or at least some “me” time, in addition to motherhood. Whether or not that desire comes from feminist grooming or God, I know I don’t feel fulfilled only tending to baby and house chores. I don’t know whether I should apologize for this.

What’s the Real Issue?

Having had plenty of quiet time (minus the baby’s crying) to think about all of this, I’m again questioning my true desire. Maybe I’m wrong about my innate desire to have a career, and what I really long for is regular, meaningful contact with other human beings who measure more than twenty-one inches long.

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No caption needed here.

Whatever the roots of my domestic discontent, I know that if my household makeup looked more like that of former, or foreign, societies, with several generations in one house and houses within walking distance from family, life would be better. Work could be distributed according to gifts or penchants. One person cooking, one cleaning, one doing the yardwork, one teaching the children. (Yes, I realize this is utopian thinking and possibly impossible.) And thus freed up from time-consuming duties I don’t like to do (such as cooking and cleaning), motherhood probably wouldn’t daunt me like it did in the beginning—and it wouldn’t frustrate me like it still sometimes does. It would be doable alongside my desires to tangle with ideas, words, other minds.

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Here’s one of my favorite SAHMS, my good friend Ashley from church, holding my favorite Sam, along with her delightful daughter.

My Conclusion

I don’t care what a woman’s ultimate desires are, be they to raise a family or have a career or do both. (I have girlfriends in all three camps, by the way.) Life is not meant to be lived in isolation. Maybe the non-mothers out there don’t “need” extra hands as much as the mothers do, but we all, no matter who we are, need other minds with which to exercise our own. There are other feeling elements I haven’t even touched on here, which are harder for many of us to admit, (such as love, compassion, sympathy, and empathy), and we all need those, too. Thankfully, these days I don’t feel a dearth of love, thanks to a wonderfully supportive husband, family, and church family. But what I do lack is adult conversation and adequate time and space in which to articulate my thoughts. Call me a successfully initiated SAHM. It’s beautiful and sad all at the same time.

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This SAHM is Julie, the friend I am reconnecting with since having Sam. Can you tell I am having fun with puns?

Epilogue

After wrestling with these ideas for several days, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and ask for the help and friendship that had been offered me. Asking for that help was hard for this “liberated” woman, but yesterday I lined up a sister-in-law who loves babies (that detail was key, so I knew she was benefiting, too) to watch Sam for four hours a week so I can get back to work on my book, and today I lined up a visit with another SAHM friend who became regrettably distant four years ago after the birth of her first child. I realized the desire I have to mix with other adults is a universal one, and there’s no reason we SAHMS should struggle on alone.

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Growing Pains of a Career Woman Turned Mother

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Here is one of the ways I’m trying to regain productivity in my life. So far, it’s not working.

I’m writing tonight about something I didn’t want to write about: my trouble adapting to motherhood, or my trouble adapting to a life that is family- rather than career-oriented. I’ve decided to post about it because, let’s face it, I can’t focus on anything else these days. What’s more, I’ve decided to type this post directly in WordPress (not on a word document that I will edit, and edit, and edit) because there is no way it will otherwise get posted.

Maybe I could post more often if I weren’t so worried about producing stellar writing…if I hadn’t been “tainted” by the successes of a career or a master’s degree or published writing. My blogging buddy, Kate, recently posted about how sometimes a bit of “fame,” such as being freshly pressed (which success I’ve also had), can hamper a writer’s voice. I wonder how much this has happened to me.

Ever since I became intent on publishing my memoir (which is maddeningly dormant right now), compounded with a growing blog following (especially after I was freshly pressed), my writing process has slowed down. I want my posts to be witty, clever, well thought out, and worth reading. When I began blogging, I told myself I didn’t just want to move my diary online. I tried not to spill my unfettered guts on the blog without first framing them in some (hopefully) amusing or enlightening way, or at least trying to make a larger application for my readers.

Blogging is tough these days because all I can seem to write about are those very mundane things comprising new motherhood: feeding troubles, sleeping woes, baby blues. And by the time I get a free moment to write, I don’t have energy to be clever about them. Do I feel these topics are too pedestrian to write about? Do I feel they are beneath me? Um, a little. Before this stage of my life, I prided myself on having more to talk about than just my family. Than just kids. I smirked (inwardly) at women who had nothing to boast of but children. Prided myself on my multiple degrees and teaching career.

But you know what? Not having kids, not having those “pedestrian” goings-on in my life, made it hard to talk to people. And graduate school made it even harder to swim in casual conversation with non graduate students. I found myself biting my tongue when I wanted to use big words–I didn’t want to  sound too nerdy. I fear I’ve often failed.

Now, my tendency to over-intellectualize has crossed over into motherhood. Whenever I discuss baby Sam with my sisters-in-law, one of my three mothers, or my girlfriends, I find myself saying things like, “Well, I read that babies should start to smile in the second month,” or, “According to my parenting books…” or “In my reading I discovered that….” When I hear myself saying such things, I am appalled. Motherhood is not an academic subject to be learned through books. And yet, that’s how I’ve approached it.

Yes, I confess: despite successes in a career, in graduate school, in writing, I find myself hopelessly fumbling with motherhood. I wish someone would give me a manual to study with clearcut answers. But there is no such manual to be found. As I’ve been telling everyone who asks how it’s going, “This is the toughest job I’ve ever had.”

To those ladies I judged as simpletons for having nothing to boast of but children, I apologize. I was wrong to judge you. Of course, it’s not the physical “having” of children that makes you awesome; it’s the adept raising of them. So far, I’m not adept. As for my strengths, those seem pretty weak right now, too.

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How’s this for unfettered? Me and Sam and no makeup. Yikes! But it’s a common sight at my house lately.

Just now, in fact, I’m fighting the urge to apologize for this incoherent and badly organized post…but it occurs to me: maybe an incoherent and badly organized post is another way, in addition to motherhood, that I can relate to my audience. Everyone goes through periods of uncomfortable growth and change–and this is one of mine.

Maybe I could post more often if I let go of some of my impossible standards.  Maybe I would find that readers even appreciate my unfettered guts, er, I mean, thoughts (how’s that sentence for nerdy?). Maybe I WILL start to make regular posts again (albeit bad and incoherent ones), and let you share this uncomfortable journey with me. Maybe we can all learn something new in the process. At the very least, we can laugh together…once I figure out how not to take myself so seriously.

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 4

While still in college, like many students, I was forever trying to figure out what career to pursue. But it wasn’t just about figuring out a career: I felt panic at the thought of college ending with nothing waiting for me on the other side. I needed a plan after college, because I still didn’t trust myself with free time. (Having kids was definitely out, because I couldn’t fathom passing along my dysfunction to another generation—much less the responsibility that comes with children.)

Photo Credit: "Reading Outdoors" by Lusi
Photo Credit: “Reading Outdoors” by Lusi

So, during my senior year of college, I spent many mornings at my kitchen table, praying: “God, what do you want of me? Why am I here? Why don’t I feel your peace? When is life going to get better?  And what the hell am I supposed to do when I graduate?”

For all my praying, I didn’t notice any response from God–except for the fact that I got only one job offer: teaching at a rural Texas high school. Feeling insecure and unprepared, I took the job.

Teaching Troubles

Photo Credit: "Young Woman Teacher" at kevinmccullough.townhall.com/blog
Photo Credit: “Young Woman Teacher” at kevinmccullough.townhall.com/blog

Teaching that first year became all about performance. The demands of the job, along with the sassy attitudes of my freshmen, sent me home every day exhausted and on the brink of tears. I lost sleep, I lost weight, and I lost confidence.

I woke early many mornings with knots in my stomach. I remember paging through the Psalms at 4 a.m. looking for comfort, but I never felt comforted. Every day the stress began all over again; I didn’t feel God’s hands guiding. Instead, I only sensed myself fumbling through the dark from August until June.

But somehow, I made it through the first year—and even agreed to come back for a second.

Hindsight and Foresight

During the summer, I couldn’t make much sense of what had gone on the previous year, except that I knew I could not repeat that year again. I resolved to plan ahead as much as I could for year two. There would be no more frantic school nights wondering what to teach the next day; there would be no more “dead” time during class. The students might still act up, but it wouldn’t be for lack of preparedness on my part.

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For more information, visit https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php

In July, my older brother, Kyle, suggested I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I did.

A note on my brother: for a few years, I’d been noticing a change in Kyle that had me wanting what he had. When I was twenty-one, I’d first seen it: I’d walked in on him kneeling fervently in prayer—prayer that lasted over thirty minutes—and I’d heard him talk about his new relationship with God. He’d even prayed with me, looked up Bible verses with me, and encouraged me to “give it all to God” so I could find peace. But try as I might, I couldn’t find that dynamic God-relationship he’d found. Maybe I was doing it wrong; maybe I didn’t know how to pray properly. Whatever the case, as I read The Seven Habits, I felt myself come alive: here were concrete steps I could take not only to get my classroom in order, but maybe my life, too.

I began putting the habits to work immediately in my lesson planning: I was being proactive (habit 1) by starting well before the school year began; I was beginning with the end in mind (habit 2) by defining goals I wanted my students to reach by the end of the year. I was so taken with the seven habits, in fact, that I decided to make them my first unit of the school year. I ordered an audio presentation on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens to play for my students, and I made powerpoints to go along with each segment. By August, I had a three-week unit ready to go, and I was excited for the year to begin.

But one week before it did, crisis hit.

Testing Time

I was notified that back in Minnesota my mom had gone off her bipolar meds and my ten-year-old brother, Caleb, had been put in a group home. To make matters worse, Mom had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was not accepting conventional treatment. Now, there was no way she would seek the medical help she needed—for either malady. In the past when I got this kind of news, I typically retreated to a solitary place and cried until I regained composure–sometimes I was incapacitated for days.

This time, I didn’t have that luxury. Now, I was one-thousand miles away from the problem and had one-hundred students to lead and guide. It was no time to collapse—except to collapse to my knees.

Photo Credit: "Young Woman Praying" from blogs.voices.com
Photo Credit: “Young Woman Praying” from blogs.voices.com

Oh Lord! I prayed. I feel so helpless! What is going to happen to Mom? What’s going to happen to Caleb? Is she going to die? Is he going to be left to foster care, or stuck with his drunk dad? God, I am lost right now. I’m so scared!

Lord, I don’t know what any of us are going to do, especially Caleb. Oh please protect Caleb! Please shield him from this somehow—he shouldn’t have to go through this. But I am not there to save him, and I cannot go to him right now. Oh Lord, HELP!

I cried myself to sleep that night, and when I woke intermittently, my stomach souring each time the reality washed over me, I began praying all over again: Help, Lord, please. Just please…help.

An Answered Prayer

Somehow I began my school year on the right foot. The students were responsive to the seven habits, and I fed off their energy. Six times each day for the first three weeks, I listened to the audio presentation about forming effective habits—and the material bore into me. I learned that it takes about three weeks to form a habit, and at the end of our three-week unit, I realized I’d formed a habit of my own: morning prayer and Bible study.

Driven to my knees by my utter helplessness at fixing the family drama, I was praying like never before. I had also started reading my daily Sabbath school lesson—the study guide put out by the Seventh-day Adventist church—and the Bible. Amidst a backdrop of uncertainty, I took comfort in the routine of reading God’s word in the quiet morning hours. I began talking to him during my commute, telling him my fears and concerns like he was my friend. And now, it was as if he’d opened my mind to concentrate on his truth—and he’d opened my heart to feel his presence.

While everything around me swirled in confusion, the peace that passes understanding filled my heart. I was able to stand in front of my students with a smile, knowing God was with me—knowing I didn’t have to know how things would turn out. All I needed to know was that God was in control.

For the first time in my life, I was surrendering everything to God: my fears, my feelings, and my attempts to control my life. My family’s situation had showed me how very powerless I was—and how my survival, Mom’s survival, and Caleb’s survival, depended on a higher power. If any good was to come of this, I knew it would have to be God’s doing.

In part 5, read what happened to my mom, Caleb, and me, as well as what God taught me about persevering through hardship.

Birthday Blessings

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Photo Credit: Flowers by Just4You

Today is my 29th birthday, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than sitting here at my favorite breakfast place writing, reflecting, and thanking God for the blessings of the past year. Here’s a recap of how my personal and professional lives have converged (and diverged) over the past twelve months—showing me how God takes a very personal interest in the mundane details of my life.

Last Summer

I was fretting over what I saw as conflicting desires, including the desire to write, teach, and (though I didn’t much tell anyone), have a baby. God started to drop things into place when Paul Coneff of Straight 2 the Heart ministries asked me to help him write his first book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel. During July of last year, I was also starting to write my master’s thesis (eventually 100 pages), which was a perfect warm-up for the book-length project I was taking on. Now busy with writing, I tabled my internal baby discussion for the time being.

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Last Fall

I was still working fervently on my two writing projects, but there came pausing points in both works, during which time I was left with nothing to do but finally start writing what was in my heart. Four notebooks and one month later, I had the rough draft of my memoir and the beginnings of this blog down on paper—both would wait for January for further development.

I looked around one day on campus and asked myself if this student life was what I wanted for five to eight more years. I didn’t see how that life would allow me to be the parent I knew I’d want to be—if we decided to have kids.

One day in October, while writing a paper for my last graduate class, I broke down at my computer and finally faced the truth: I was tired of this solitary student life; I wanted something more. I called my husband in tears and he came home early that day to take me on a walk-and-talk through the local state park. As I unknowingly acquired poison ivy, it was a relief to hear myself finally saying words I had been repressing for a long time: I want to have kids (this was a fun scene to write for my memoir).

In December I completed my master’s program and sent out two graduate applications—one MFA, and one PhD—just in case we didn’t conceive, and just in case God still wanted me in graduate school.

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Last Winter

I did not get into either of the grad programs I applied to, which told me that was not God’s plan for me right now. I went off birth control in January, began this blog, and started officially calling myself a writer.

I spent the early months of the year feeling lonely and a bit depressed—now I was alone in our big house all day long, getting to write, yes, but without the promise of much people time during my days. I started really missing my family in Minnesota, whom I hadn’t seen since the previous June. I also realized I had been taking my husband for granted for most of our eight years of marriage—putting him on the back burner as I worked on emotional issues, self-improvement, and career development. I decided to be more family oriented.

Around the same time, God also brought many friends into my life to help alleviate my loneliness. This told me that God could meet my need for people contact with or without a baby.

Amanda and me

Last Spring

In May, when I wasn’t expecting it, I found out I was five weeks pregnant. Yay! We had a fun time surprising our family with the announcement, as most hadn’t been reading this blog and didn’t know we were trying. I rededicated my efforts to finishing my memoir “before thirty,” and now I also vowed to try to finish before baby.

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Currently

I have just returned from two weeks in Minnesota—probably my last trip to see my family before baby comes in January (I am four months along today). While in Minnesota I attended my ten-year class reunion and felt additional closure about God’s plans for my life. Though visiting Minnesota always makes me wistful, I clearly saw God’s wisdom in moving me away almost nine years ago. Visits back home used to be hard—brought painful memories—but more and more they bring happiness. Now, my husband and I are talking about getting a summer house in MN in a few years—which prospect fills my heart with joy.

My memoir is going well, and I have made contact with a favorite author of mine, Trish Ryan, who has agreed to consult on my book in late August to help me prepare it for publication (my hubby is giving me a “loan” because I told him it would be a good investment!). This fall I will be searching for an agent and/or publisher as I prepare for this baby’s arrival—and hopefully this winter I will have both a healthy baby and a manuscript headed for publication. The healthy baby is more important, of course—the book would just be a bonus. Regardless of how long it takes to get the memoir published, The Hidden Half of the Gospel will be published long before my next birthday—showing me that God heard my “before thirty” prayer six months ago.

It is 10:10 as I finish writing this, and my dentist’s office just texted, “Happy Birthday, I hope you have many reasons to smile today!” I am happy to say, “Yes, I do!” Today, I am smiling about my immediate future that will consist largely of family time, writing time, and more Minnesota time—and that doesn’t even compare to my eternal future!

Thank you, Lord, for taking such a personal interest in the mundane details of my life. Today I praise you for how you care about my heart’s desires and how you’ve led, not just for the past year, but for the past twenty-nine years.

The Writing Life

It’s one thing to tell people you like to write. It’s another thing entirely to tell them you’re a “writer.” To illustrate, recently I’ve listed “freelance writer” on my resume. However, I still have trouble telling people that’s what I am. Apparently I’m somewhat embarrassed admitting to a lifestyle that has historically been the butt of jokes, scorn, and ridicule.

What the Stereotypes Say
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Writers themselves (ourselves?) make fun of the profession and perpetuate the stereotypes. You know, those tropes about sitting in a secluded place drinking coffee, frittering away time, professing to be “doing” something, but not getting much done at all. Sadly, even if we’re doing stuff, a lot of us hardly make enough money at it to pay the bills. (I’m certainly not there yet!)

Why We Do It

We live a life of poverty to continue a craft that may never yield monetary gain. Yes, it’s true: We could make more mowing lawns or babysitting. And yet, writers will tell you, we continue writing because we “love” it.

How We Do It—For “Fun”

A lot of writers have had to sneak writing into their lives by logging late night or early morning hours. Was it William Faulkner, or  Don Delillo (or maybe even Fitzgerald?), who wrote while manning his position as a night guard in a boiler room? I remember that from one of my lit. classes, but regardless of who it was, the point is that writing takes sacrifice. And I love the story of Samuel Johnson writing Rasselas in “one week of evenings” because he had to pay his mother’s health bills. Interesting that he knew he’d make money at his craft—but maybe times were kinder to writers in the eighteenth century.

Indeed, today some professionals advise that the only way to find enough time is to “steal it” from something else in your life (I remember reading this tidbit in Writer’s Market). But maybe this advice is mainly for those who have to support themselves and their families with other means.

How We Do It—For a Job

For my part, when I taught fulltime, I could never take that advice. Summer breaks were about the only time I could devote to writing—because the rest of the time I just didn’t have the energy (I guess starting a Master’s degree didn’t help).

But maybe the reason I couldn’t write while also holding a separate, fulltime job has more to do with my personality than anything else. Unlike other “side” writers, I found I just couldn’t multitask  without going a little crazy. I’m an all “all or nothing” kind of a gal, so writing sandwiched in between fulltime work responsibilities and family time didn’t work.

For me, then, the only solution was to make writing my fulltime job.

Lucky, blessed me! The Lord has made this possible. Sometimes I actually feel guilty that I can stay home and write. That I can sleep in until whenever (though I try to be up by 6:30 or 7). I feel guilty that I can have a leisurely breakfast and devotional—even exercise if I want—before starting “work” for the day. But, not one to make light of a divine gift, that is what I do most days…and I love it!

Some Differences Between Writing and Other Jobs

I don’t hurry through the mornings like I did when working a “real” job. First, I ground myself in Scripture and prayer and quiet time. Then, I’m ready to write. A pretty cushy life, some would say.

Yes, it is. But I think it has to be this way if I, Lindsey Gendke, hope to produce significantly and consistently. My writing, I like to think, is not top-of-the-head, hurried, or flippant. It is reflective. It grows out of being a slow-moving, reflective person, and also from cultivating slow-moving and reflective habits.

For me

Writing is cultivating quiet, and spending time alone.

Writing is thinking and reflecting, moving slowly and deliberately through life, and refusing busyness and activity just for activity’s sake.

Writing is seeing and saying what non-writers miss.

Writing is shaping reality and fueling imagination.

Writing is intimate—asking the reader to listen, without speaking.

Writing says what one could never otherwise say without interruption.

Writing is becoming bold in way that is impossible when speaking.

Writing is a lifestyle.

I know most don’t have the opportunity to live such a life, and that’s okay. My hope is just maybe, through reading my writing, others can begin to slow down and reflect, just a little more. In today’s hyper-fast-paced world, I don’t see how that could be a bad thing.

To the writers out there: Do you find that writing is more like a lifestyle, or a side activity? Can the two ever really be separated?

*Note: I got my title from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, in case you’re interested in a good book on this topic.

 

Role Confusion and the Modern Woman

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My friend looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face.

“What do you mean, ‘work’ on your marriage?”

We were sitting over two rabbit plates at a home-style restaurant, and I was telling her about my current aspirations. They are the same ones I initially listed on my “about” page: write my memoir and become a better wife.

My friend was confused at the pledge to work on the marriage because, in her eyes, she didn’t see a point.

“I mean, I told *Bill what you said about working on your marriage, and we wondered what that meant. We’re both happy with the way things are, and putting ‘work’ into the marriage just seems like too much, well, work.”

It was my turn to be surprised. Who wouldn’t want to work on their marriage? Isn’t that a societal value?

Not necessarily. But I thought it was one of mine. Why, then, do I find myself annoyed at having to cook and clean? Perturbed when 6 a.m. comes and it’s time to make breakfast? Indignant that he should expect me to help with the garden? Angry when he says I’m too caught up in my writing, not attentive enough to him?

Why do I resent all these duties so much?

At first I was going to blame it on the role confusion that modern women have faced ever since the woman’s movement. And perhaps it does have something to do with what the feminist journalist Anne Taylor Fleming called “the two out of three rule”—where “a woman can have only two out of three big pieces of life: love, work, children” (from her book Motherhood Deferred, p. 84). (For my perfectionist personality, though, some days it seems I’m running more at a one in three rule.)

Probably due to feminist conditioning, I’ve said before that it’s just not enough for a woman to stay at home and be a housewife. She needs a career, too, doesn’t she?

But even though I’m not immune to it, this line of thought bugs me. Along with Anne Taylor Fleming, I agree with Doctor Laura (in her book Parenthood by Proxy) that much of the modern family breakdown is due to women working—who’s standing ready at the door to smooth the rough edges of everyone’s day? And let me just say that I think either man or woman could do it—the thing is, simply, someone needs to. And I think this is noble work. For other women.

So why not for myself?

 The Real Problem Isn’t Feminism

When I step back to observe my excuses to hubby about why I hate housework, here’s what I hear myself saying, over and over again.

  • I’m afraid to put time into our home, because what if something happens to us? What if you die on me? (He says I’m always trying to “kill him off”—I say I’m just being a realist.)
  • If you died, I’d be left with a big house I’d want to sell, a garden I wouldn’t want to tend—all stuff that would have amounted to nothing.
  • If you die, I need to have skills to fall back on. I need to be able to get a job to support myself. That’s why I needed to get a BA and an MA, and boy I’m glad I got some teaching experience, too.
  • I’m afraid I’ll put all this time into our home, and then it will crumble. And then I’ll have nothing to show for it.
  • The only investment I feel safe making is an investment in myself—because people die and leave and let you down, but you always have yourself. I need to have a plan if things go south.
  • I’m just afraid, okay?

Wow. Those are some deep roots. It came to me as a huge revelation the day I wrote down “trust issues” in my prayer journal. The days I connected all my over-planning and uptightness and performance to trust issues. Fear issues. Self-protection issues.

I know what it feels like to be helpless. Alone. Out of options. And I don’t want to go there again.

That’s why, after so many gains, I still find myself hoarding my time, my energy, my resources (which could otherwise be spent housecleaning), for self-improvement. Apparently I anticipate being left to fend for myself again someday.

I find it sad that after walking with the Lord for several years, I still don’t trust Him enough to give of myself fully to others. I wish I were more open and loving and warm. But honestly, most of the time, that feels too vulnerable of a position to be in.

I wonder if my girlfriend has some of these same roots, too. Is fear the reason why she resists “working” on her marriage? Fear that it will divert precious energy from building a fortress of self-sufficiency to sustain her when (she must unconsciously think) one day, she will be left out in the cold?

Stepping back for the bigger picture, I wonder, is this the reason that women in our society collectively have renounced housewifery, and largely motherhood, as their sole profession and duty in life?

Have we all been so hurt that we feel this need to gird ourselves about with skills and experience and knowledge for the impersonal workplace, where we don’t have to lay our hearts on the line, only our time—and though the workplace may not fulfill our deepest longings for companionship and family, they at least recompense our time with money—the means by which to sustain our physical necessities and our plastic smiles?

Readers, do you think I’m on to something, or is it just me I’m describing? Or, if you’re not excited to analyze this trend, what do you see yourself (or the women in your life) working toward: family, or career? Please leave me a comment and let me know!

A Career Is Not Enough

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A few months ago I sat on a park bench amidst the buzz of a college campus, realizing for the first time in two years that maybe I was out of place. I was twenty-eight years old. I was about to finish a graduate degree. And I was thinking of starting another.

I had also been married for almost eight years to a husband I rarely saw.

As I watched college freshmen skipping past, carelessly slinging their backpacks as if all burdens were so light, I pulled out a notebook and began to write.

It’s a lonely life right now. I am too old to be running around with a pack of friends like these kids—and yet, I don’t really have a family life. Not one that buzzes like this, creating its own nucleus of self-contained activity, a destination and end in itself.

Both still striving for career goals, my husband and I have talked about how these disparate strands will one day converge—we will have enough money to take jobs side by side at a university, or we will have enough money saved to travel together around the country, or we will one day have so satisfied our roles in society that there’s nothing left to do but sit on a park bench like this. We have talked about this meeting of our lives…but we have not yet arrived.

What is it that gives meaning to our lives as a couple? As individuals, we find meaning in work. I find it in writing. But what is the meaning with another person? There has to be common ground. A place where we reap and sow together. Where we both put in time, and dwell together.

Right now we have a house. And technically we both put in time there. He works on the yard (and usually does our laundry), and I work within the walls, doing dishes, cleaning, painting, arranging. Most of our time together we are asleep.

Our house seems oddly empty.

How do two people, young and building separate careers, find common ground, apart from the passing patches at home? Aside from those moments of rushing out the door in the mornings, or flopping down exhausted in the evenings?

Where is that common ground on which we can meet to slowly, deliberately, live life together? Not merely rushing to the next thing or recovering from the last? Is this an ideal that no longer exists in the twenty-first century?

Or is this where kids come in?