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Monthly Archives: January 2012
With all the hype over Anderson Coopers’ WM v. SAHM debate, there has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about who does more, the parents who work outside or inside the home. Though I really disdain this debate, I appreciated the thoughtful post by Kludgy Mom that raised the related question whether Motherhood=Martyrhood because it got me thinking.
As I started replying in her comment section, I realized I had a lot more to say on the topic and decided to respond in a post of my own…so here goes.
This is the distillation of Kludgy Mom’s question: Do stay- at- home moms complain too much?
Why aren’t we also asking the question do employees complain too much? In my mind, it’s the same concept. Work is work, whether it takes place in an office building or in a residence. This is the same issue I take with the stay-at-home vs. working parent debate.
These very questions are problematic. Who does more? Who complains more? Who is justified? Who is defensive? Who is superior?
Every job is different. Every kid has different needs. Some workplaces and children demand more effort than others. Jobs change over time; supervisors come and go and expectations evolve. Children grow and change; sometimes the effort expended is more emotional than physical and vice versa. Trying to compare the work done outside the office vs. at home is like trying to compare the work done between lawyers and construction workers. Both involve work; the jobs are just different.
The most obvious primary difference is the pay is absent in the at home role. In our society, money follows what we value. We value celebrities; they get paid disproportionally to the actual “work” they do. We undervalue teachers relative to athletes. We overvalue some doctors and lawyers. The lack of monetary compensation for parents raising kids at home contributes to the devaluation of the role. It is easy to measure the importance of an income contribution to a family; we know the amount of our bills. How do we measure the value of clean laundry, a dust free living room, a changed diaper, a trip to the park, a story read at bedtime? There is no equivalency. Thus the debate arises as to how much is the work at home worth?
Historically, the stay-at-home role has been undervalued due to misogyny and patriarchy. But the times are changing. With more stay-at-home dads (I hang out with three of them); more involved fathers; more working mothers; more economic strain on families; roles are changing and flexing. Men and women are taking on each other’s traditional roles in increasing numbers and new understanding is growing. It may feel slow, but change is happening.
Even still, these questions persist. They persist within families as spouses/partners hash out who has the right to the scarce alone time available, as parents feel overwhelmed and exhausted juggling multiple roles and expectations, as the laundry and bill piles rise higher. Envy and resentment set in. The grass is greener in the other role. But the reality is that if either partner had the other role, they would find that there are struggles and advantages to each situation. Short of a Freaky Friday parent swap, such as one that takes place in my daughter’s book “Goofy Minds the House,” (incidentally, I am aware that Goofy isn’t portrayed very well in that story as the bumbling househusband) we just have to take the other person’s word for it when they say, “My job was hard today.” Maybe instead of faulting them for “complaining,” we could pour a cup of tea and say, “tell me about it.” Maybe we could pick the errant sock off of the floor without resentment. Maybe we can send our at-home partner out for a kid-free night or give a working parent a night free from housework so they can just focus on enjoying time with their children.
That does not remove the responsibility from either party for focusing on the advantages in their situation. Or if the balance doesn’t feel right, talk with the other party about how to change things up a bit. Those who are “martyrs” probably have a tendency to complain about other areas of their lives. There is a limit to how much people want to hear about any job being difficult. I think the fact of the matter is that our culture has been so silent for so long about the challenges of the at home world, that at-home parents are starting to be honest about it. There were no blog forums for our mothers. There were chats with the neighbors and diaries, and frankly, a lot of unhappy parents and strained marriages. We all need a place to check our insights about our jobs, to talk with coworkers about questions and perceptions, to discuss the highlights and disasters of our days, whether we are in the home or out. The folks that are stuck at work, away from their kids, just have a hard time hearing it sometimes; as do the parents who miss aspects of their former working selves have a hard time listening to the pressures of the office when they’ve dealt with the umpteenth fight with their kids or a poop explosion that day.
There are slackers and perfectionists in both workplaces and parenthood. There are divisive folks who want to judge or climb over their fellow coworker or parent to make themselves feel superior. There are some working folks who desperately miss their children (my husband) and some at-home folks desperately missing connection in the workplace and a position where their intellectual and creative energies are valued (sometimes, me). There are aspects we wouldn’t trade about our work lives (my husband gets out of the twentieth tantrum and third diaper change of the day and I get the random kiss on my cheek during lunchtime with my daughter). I can personally say, though I have days when I miss parts of my former life, I would not want to give up my at home role with my daughter.
Today, as a SAHM, I changed 5 diapers, made and cleaned up three meals, washed the floors in the hallway, kitchen and two bathrooms, cleaned the bathroom, updated my blog, engaged in three reading sessions with my daughter, built a puzzle, built a block castle, made Valentine cards with my daughter, did four loads of laundry, ran and emptied the dishwasher, organized and wiped down the counters, bathed my daughter, nursed her for three hours, tidied the playroom, made two beds, vacuumed three rooms, took out the trash and recycling, called the plumber, scheduled a playdate, handled three tantrums, danced with my daughter in the living room. I am happy with my job, with my daughter, and the work I did today. I think it’s enough. Do you?
I came home from our trip to visit family in Michigan this Christmas feeling overburdened by stuff. We, the owners of a small sedan, crammed our suitcases, diaper bag, bag of stuffed animals, a bag of books, a toddler snack bag, carry-on bag, three suitcases, a yoga mat, extra packages of diapers, one giant chest containing V’s holiday gifts, two paper bags full of our holiday gifts, a box of glassware, 5 pillows, and winter coats and boots alongside ourselves and our daughter’s car seat. Literally, we did not have room for one more sippy cup in our car. I am grateful for our families’ generosity for Christmas, and I am mindful that we have space issues with our small vehicle whenever we travel, but after dumping all the loot in our house, and unpacking it into our home, I felt an urge to purge some stuff that would not be stifled.
Perhaps it was the story about hoarders we listened to on NPR while traveling. Maybe it’s a ritual of frequent moving turned into habit. It might be my slightly obsessive nature when it comes to organization (have I mentioned that as a child, I used to unpack and ORGANIZE my room before playing on VACATION?)! I can guarantee that I’m not nesting, for those inquiring souls thinking the question. Wherever the impulse originated, I became a woman with a mission to eliminate excess from the moment we arrived home.
I started with the bathroom cabinets and countertops the evening we got home. As I unpacked our toiletry bag, like a woman possessed, I dumped out our medicine and toiletry chest, bagging up old prescriptions for disposal at our local pharmacy, tossing half melted cough drops, and reorganizing the whole lot. I consolidated renegade band-aids from various storage dumps in our home. My husband, M, exhausted from our 9 hour trip, looked askance at me, splayed out amongst bottles and boxes on our closet floor, but wisely refrained from persisting that maybe it wasn’t the best time to start a reorganization project. He’s learned over 13 years of loving me that I’m best left alone when in the zone.
The next day, I moved onto the box of junk on top of the refrigerator that we carted over to this house from our last move, a year ago. I found a missing hair clip of my daughter’s and restored it to its home in the bathroom. More band-aids reunited with their band-aid friends. A mug moved to our yard sale pile. A bookmark joined our bookmark box. Safety pins moved to my sewing kit. Coins clinked into our Superman piggy bank. Old batteries were recycled.
Our kitchen junk drawer was my next victim. Packages discarded. Unused child safety products were moved to the yard sale pile. Random, unidentifiable, broken pieces of things were trashed (hope we didn’t need them). More darned safety pins. Tools and tape rolls were pulled to move to our garage tool box.
I realized as I’m typing that my get rid of frenzy actually began pre-holiday, as I cleaned out my daughter’s closet, pulled baby stuff from her food cabinet, and began a preparatory sweep of her playroom. My plan was to dump my stuff on my unsuspecting and ever-gracious sister, who has a daughter a year younger than V. Duplicate and superfluous children’s books were passed on. Outgrown clothes and shoes, put to use. Room for new toys and books, minimal but more than when I started.
The stumbling block for me remains V’s playroom, where I know I still have work to do. I still am trying to find room for the toys my daughter has acquired over the three month spree of birthday and holiday gifts. At two, she hasn’t really grown out of any of her toys yet. We really haven’t purchased much for her, a play kitchen, a homemade dollhouse for Christmas and a few manipulative type toys. But our ever thoughtful mothers have continued to dig through their attics to bequeath upon us remnants from our own childhoods: Fisher Price airport set, Fisher Price castle set, blocks, baby dolls, dollhouse furniture, Star Wars action figures and ships, my old rolling horse, a table and chair set, and books. Every holiday, V is gifted with thoughtful presents from family and friends. It is all great stuff that V enjoys, but it just adds up. Short of building the equivalent of Dudley’s second bedroom (Harry Potter fans) onto our rental, something is going to have to make an exit to the basement, donation or yard sale pile. This is the task I most dread, feeling that whatever I eliminate will be the wrong thing, the sought out toy. I’ve already snuck a few items out under the cover of darkness after my daughter’s bedtime, and so far, so good.
The problem with clutter, as discussed by some of the participants in the NPR conversation on hoarding, is that we attach meaning and memories to items. Some of us aren’t wired to let go, and some things are easier to dispose of than others . Will my daughter miss half of the stuffed animals in her collection? No. She doesn’t even know she owns some of them. Yet she has a tote overflowing in her room because I remember each person who gave her a cuddly friend when she was first born or how I arranged them in her room when pregnant, eagerly anticipating her arrival. It is easier to disassociate with prescription bottles and old dishes than blurry pictures of loved ones, stuffed toys, that ugly plastic holiday placemat my grandmother gave to me. Over time, I’ve been forced by moves to pare down the items that do not meet one of two criteria: 1) It is beautiful, meaningful, and we love it and/or 2) It has a repeated function in our home. But when it comes to my child’s belongings, I’m encountering a roadblock.
So I’ll tackle the garage tool box, the office supplies cabinet, and my clothes closet before I re-engage with the playroom. I need to give it a little more thought, and detach from the things that aren’t beautiful and meaningful to my gal, and the things that don’t serve a repeated function for my daughter’s play. Hopefully, I won’t misstep along the path from excess to simplicity.
Update: tackled the playroom. All stuffed animals are still in the family. One obnoxious noisy toy and some fast food figurines in the yard sale pile. Handful of baby toys in the basement. Several broken plastic items, brochures and scraps of paper, hidden in the trash and hurriedly carried to the garage for pick up this week. A few storage boxes purchased and all toys have a home off of the floor…ah! I know I could have eliminated more, but for now, it’s progress.
Linking up with Things I Can’t Say for
Old habits die hard. Relatively new ones still resist budging sometimes. With the onset of the new year, though I know better than to set us up for failure by making new choices into RESOLUTIONS, I still feel like a new calendar brings an opportunity to make some changes and start fresh. I feel renewed energy and determination to tweak some persistently bothersome habits and clutter in our lives.
Putting it on paper (or screen) may prove to commit us to change, or it may backfire in an embarrassing sort of way, but I believe that you do not make changes without effort, so here’s the attempt, in list form, to hold us accountable.
1) Less family TV time and more constructive, creative time.
Though we don’t have cable, we do have Blockbuster online, and a TON of DVD’s. I want to say our TV viewing habits have increased due to the low energy, sleep deprived state we’ve been in during the past few years, but the truth is, my husband and I watched our fair share of TV prior to the birth of our child, so we really can’t use that excuse. We lament the lack of time we have for personal pursuits, and it is true that we are often exhausted by the time our little gal goes to bed, but we still find hours where we could be catching up on sleep or sewing, reading, writing, gaming, consumed by the black hole of the television. V has a daily “movie ticket” that she can turn in to watch a show, and we have a family show ticket reserved to allot her when we want to watch a movie or show as a family as a treat, but that is the daily limit we have set for her TV viewing. A renewed commitment to reducing TV time means that I start my day reading to my daughter, V, rather than letting her watch her one daily show in the am. It means suggesting a game, curling up with a book, catching up on my writing, or attempting to practice yoga after my daughter’s bedtime. The morning reading sessions were met with initial resistance from my gal, who is not a morning person, but as the week went on, she adapted to the new morning routine and I’ve gotten in some good snuggle time with her instead of plopping her down in front of a screen. Our evening time has been more challenging, as V is teething this week and dealing with separation anxiety from my husband who returned to work after holiday vacation. Her normal, very consistent bedtime begins at 7 pm, but this week has taken up to three hours to complete (highly unusual). I hold out hope that we’ll keep our reduced TV watching plan after bedtime schedules return to normal.
2) More exercise for everyone in the family, including time outdoors.
I do not exercise regularly. This past year, motivated by lingering baby weight, I started walking in our neighborhood daily, weather permitting, and yoga one night a week. With a tightened budget after multiple car repairs and holiday expenses, I am attempting to keep myself on an exercise routine at home, building in time in the am while V plays independently (cross your fingers here) and after her bedtime. This week, in addition to a jaunt around the neighborhood with my family, I’ve managed to walk a mile using my Walk-Away-The Pounds video with Leslie Sansome. This may not seem like much, but for me, it’s a positive change, so I’m going to feel good about it. Especially, because I did this while carrying my daughter, who was crying because she wanted to watch Blue’s Clues not my “walking movie.” She got over it and I got extra exercise hauling her 25 or so pounds during the initial part of my walk. Evening yoga has been sacrificed this week to an ongoing struggle with bedtime. Still, I have a new video and a fresh yoga mat that lays flat and has not been chewed upon by our rabbit. I fit in one morning session this past weekend. I am determined. I’m also determined to get my daughter moving during these winter months. We are really good at taking time outside daily in warmer weather, and as she is highly active this year (last year, she was just taking a few steps at this time), we need outlets for that energy. So if the weather is just below 40 degrees or higher, we’ll be outside. If colder, you’ll find us at the gym, or kicking balls and climbing cushions in our living area.
3) Less resentment and more thankfulness on my part regarding my daily duties
Mostly, this has to do with me not taking enough time to meet my needs sufficiently and being deprived of adult social contact. These are things I can fix. Some challenging days, I forget the big picture after slogging through the short term issues. Being grateful and not taking people in my life for granted is a life-long project, but one I will continue to work on throughout the year. I am so fortunate to have a loving family, a warm home, abundant food, and caring friends. If I keep focusing on being grateful, like a meditation of sorts, I find my attitude changing and my spirit buoyed during those day to day struggles we all face. I’m not looking to be artificially positive; rather, I hope to hold the good stuff in balance with the challenges to keep a healthier perspective.
4) Less takeout and more home-cooked meals
This requires better planning on my part, to not be away so much during meal hours, reverting to quick, and often less healthy meals.
5) Built in time-in with my daughter
I found myself feeling really burned out this holiday season. In an effort to have a social life for myself and my daughter, I think I overbooked us a bit. I’m limiting our excursions to two a week (excluding weekdays and any special exceptions) and building in more quiet time at home. More time away from home means less time at home to take care of chores and more time at home spent catching up on tasks rather than time-in with my daughter. I found myself missing those quiet moments with her, and noticing some behavioral trends that pointed to her missing them as well. Although I try to always make her the priority, I’ll admit I have my tasky moments where I just want to check something off the to-do list. I am taking the choice out of certain portions of the day so I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not “getting something else accomplished.” I hope that our time together will feel less pressured and she’ll know that I will be fully present for her during these times, rather than divided amongst duties. We are now starting our mornings reading and enjoying breakfast together, we have a post-nap time-in for crafts, manipulatives, or free play together, we read again before bedtime, and I’m not letting anything interfere with those times. Aside from our outings to the library, park, gym, and playdates, we’ve always made time for art projects and baking and play, but I am renewing our commitment to those moments and lessening my commitment to keeping my home tidy. It will be empty and tidy enough when she leaves, someday…ugh, can’t think about that one!
I know that I’ve set a lot of expectations for myself, but I feel like the ones that will stick are the things I am ready to change. I have strong beliefs about the change you can make in your life, when you are ready to do so, and know that the times I am less than stellar are opportunities for me to try again later or make a better plan or fit for my life.
Disclosure: I’m not getting paid a dime for this blog, so both media mentions are of my own free will:)
Everyone has pet peeves. Some of mine (in random order) include loud noises while chewing, other weird saliva slurpy or clicking mouth sounds, hair or crumbs on countertops, mean people, people not listening, one-upmanship, and tailgaters. But one of the things that really grinds my gears, and actually merits the death ray stares beaming from my eyes, are people who do not pull over for emergency vehicles.
The last time I had this experience, I was one of about two people at a crowded intersection near the on ramp to the expressway who pulled to the side of the road to let an ambulance pass. Then, I was run off the road as I tried to merge back into traffic by the folks behind me who didn’t even bother to slow their vehicle. Needless to say, I was incensed.
My husband has heard my rants about the so and so’s who can’t be bothered to take a moment to pull their cars to the side of the road in order to let a fire truck, ambulance, or police vehicle pass quickly and safely. Since he shares my disdain for these offenders, therefore negating any practical application for said rants, I decided to post on the topic, hoping that someone, anyone, who has ever had their head up their patoot while blaring sirens and flashing lights scream behind them, will listen and my anger will have served a purpose. I imagine most, if not all of my readers, being family folks, might not find this post personally applicable, but I ask, if you’ve ever witnessed this blatant disregard for the life and well-being of another, to repost on your blog, your Facebook site, your e-mail. Remind those who may not be as courteous to re-think their current practices.
To these individuals, I say, MORONS…move the heck (feel free to insert non-family friendly word here) over when you hear or see any of the following:
1) Loud blaring noises (that are not coming from your car radio or that of a nearby vehicle, and sound roughly like, as my two year old imitates: Whooo, whooo, wooo…)
2) Flashing red lights (no, it’s not Rudolph’s nose, jackass) or blue lights, or any flashing blinking, distracting as hell lights that are not attached to a construction vehicle (there are books for kindergartners available to help you differentiate a fire truck from a back hoe, if you need further instruction).
3 )Any combination of the two!
It’s really very simple. Following these very simple directions will help emergency personnel get where they need to go. Because almost nothing you have to do is more important than where they are going: to save a home, to save a life, to respond to a crime in progress. Next time it could be you on the receiving end of their care, and, heaven knows you would expect the world to move to address your needs quickly. Take a moment, in this new year, to move aside both your ego and your car.
Linking up with Shell’s Things I Can’t Say for