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.

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.

I May Be Childless—At Least my House is Messy

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Please don’t think my house always looks this bad! This is just what it looks like when I reorganize my office.

Last weekend I again felt like a failure as a woman. How did this happen, you ask?

Scene: I’m standing in a pasture talking to two girlfriends. The first one is twenty-eight like me, and married, but unlike me, has a kid. Same with friend number two, only add a couple years and a couple kids.

Can you guess what we are talking about?

The pasture belongs to number-two. Number-one and I have come for a visit and are walking number-two’s property. Inevitably, the talk turns to houses and the jobs we work to afford them and the bodies we are housing with those jobs.

What are our livelihoods? How are we getting by day to day and affording these homes in which we live and raise our families?

Basic questions. They deal with basic necessities that we all have.

Yet when I find myself in these conversations, I see an un-level playing field.

Number-one has started cleaning houses to supplement income. Number-two has started selling Mary Kay. Number-one makes her own cleaning products from baking soda. Number-two plants and cans an impressive garden. Both plan to homeschool, and number-two is positively beaming just talking about what fun it will be to write lesson plans again (she was once a teacher).

Then there’s me. They don’t turn the conversation my way, but I take care of that in my head.

“So, what are you doing to supplement income? What financial struggles have you had? What sacrifices have you made for your family?”

“Uh, well, currently my life is pretty easy,” I’m embarrassed to say (in my head). “Financially easy, anyway. My hubby is making good money at the moment. And we don’t have kids. Yet.”

“Wow. That must be nice. So what do you do all day?”

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“Uh…” here I panic a little. My mind wants to go blank. What is it that I do again? It’s not gardening. It’s not concocting creative cleaning supplies, chasing rug rats, or drawing up lesson plans. When I did write lesson plans two years ago, I don’t remember relishing the act.

Truth is, I’m struggling just to keep my house clean at the moment. And I don’t even have kids, mind you.

Wow.

What a loser I must be.

Standing with these two very industrious ladies, I am suddenly struck with the weight of my failure as a woman.

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Yet another view of my office under construction. Note the headless bookshelf in the corner; my hubby made that for me, and I am waiting for him to finish it off before I put it back to use.

 Am I a Woman, or a Worm? (Perhaps a Writer…?)

A few days removed from my moments out to pasture, the Holy Spirit has helped me realize something I was missing while feeling so guilty for my perceived failings: There’s a good reason why I’m not out cleaning houses or selling Mary Kay or planning a garden or writing lesson plans, and it’s not because I’m a failure. It’s because that’s not who I am.

If you want to get financially pragmatic about it, sure—I’m also not doing those things because we don’t need the money (I might be if we did)—but there’s this point as well: We planned not to be put in that situation. All my waffling about motherhood aside, we also always wanted to be financially stable before we brought kids into the world.

As I prayed about my feelings of failure and my worthlessness as a woman, the Lord brought these words, like balm, to my soul: Don’t compare yourself to others. Just compare yourself to Jesus.

Sometimes when I pray I hear whole paragraphs and Bible verses rising out of the slime of my soul to comfort and guide me. Note that my slime wouldn’t do any good had I not already  planted God’s word in it (Psalm 119:10). Yet this message was annoyingly concise. So I thought about those words some more. How could I compare myself to Jesus in my struggle about womanly duties?

Then it came to me: Jesus had a mission and He followed it. He let others plant the gardens and tend the kids—let them do their missions. But as for Him, He wandered from place to place with “nowhere to lay his head.” He obviously had no house to clean.

Again, I was reminded, it’s not a gender issue.

Not to say I’m going to abandon cleaning altogether. Since I do have a place to lay my head, I will try to keep it reasonably clean. And if we have kids, I’m sure my mothering instincts will kick in. But the truth is, I’m just not by default a homemaker.

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Okay, I’ll admit it: I’d rather my table be full of literary rather than culinary masterpieces!

Like a blessed dew this memory came to me: As a girl, I hated gardening. When my mom tried to get us to help her, I tried anything I could to get out of it–unlike my girlfriends who have always enjoyed the activity.

I love and appreciate my girlfriends and their stellar skills at motherhood, gardening, cleaning, and other things I dislike doing. And I am thankful that they feel called to do them—for without women like these, I really think society would fall apart.

But as for me, well, I just didn’t come into the world wanting to work with my hands as much as dabbling in words and ideas.

So what is it that I do all day?

Well, until we really hit the jackpot and can afford a maid, regrettably, I clean when I have to. I cook a bit, too. But on the perfect days—on the days when Satan is not winning and I’m not worrying what the world thinks—I write.

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Just a few of my journals.

Hi there! If you liked this post, you might enjoy some of my other posts about women’s issues and family-related topics, such as:

Role Confusion and the Modern Woman

Celebrating 8 Years: Roots of a Love Story

A Career is Not Enough

The Question Every Young Couple Must Answer

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!