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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.