Why This SAHM’s Getting Out

IMG_0249
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

IMG_2610
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.)

IMG_0174
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.

IMG_0523
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.

IMG_0800
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.

IMG_0333
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.

I May Be Childless—At Least my House is Messy

Image
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?”

Image

“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.

Image
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.

Image
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.

Image
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