mothering

This Sunday is “Mothering Sunday” in the UK. It’s a funny way of saying it – to an American, at least. I wonder if the etymology and word choice has something to do with making the holiday more inclusive? I don’t know. What I know is that the date difference with the US always throws off all the American mums here. Do we expect our husbands to lavish us with attention and gifts in March/April OR in May? A smart one said recently to me: “Both.”

When I walked in the door from work last night, this is what greeted me:

I immediately added it as #482 on the list: Reasons Why Melissa is Our Perfect Nanny. And then she went the extra mile and actually had photographed the artistic process involved.

And let’s not front: I would never have set up an art project for Jonah yesterday. If I was home, I would have checked email and then dragged him to the dry cleaner.

I am always reluctant to say “Nanny” though. Audibly off my lips it honestly makes me cringe. For some reason, I don’t mind saying Jonah is in a Nanny Share, as I have convinced myself it is more ‘of-the-people’ – just one step beyond daycare. And then I am always quick to tell the story about how it wasn’t our idea, that we were approached and talked into it when Melissa was leaving the nursery. Because, you know, all of this makes me relatable.

I am sure an armchair psychologist could make quick work of my reluctance to admit what I have. And considering it is while I work a full-time job in an office Monday-Thursday, I can only imagine my anxiety if I was one of those moms (I am friends with more than I ever expected) who do not “work” and have full-time nannies.

Not that they have anything to be ashamed of. I am home with Jonah on Fridays and I know all too well the ways in which being at “work” is easier. Although even saying “easier” gives me pause. The whole Working Mom vs. SAHM pretend debate is bad enough as it is without the endless semantic minefields. In honor of Mothering Sunday, I am including a 2007 article below Summer found some weeks back and then my comments after. I would love to hear yours. But even if not, I know we’re all in this together. I would be hopeless at Mothering if not for my mothering friends. In whatever form they exist.

The Washington Post
TELL ME ABOUT IT ®
By Carolyn Hax
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Carolyn:

Best friend has child. Her: exhausted, busy, no time for self, no time for me, etc. Me (no kids): Wow. Sorry. What’d you do today? Her: Park, play group . . .

Okay. I’ve done Internet searches, I’ve talked to parents. I don’t get it. What do stay-at-home moms do all day? Please no lists of library, grocery store, dry cleaners . . . I do all those things, too, and I don’t do them EVERY DAY. I guess what I’m asking is: What is a typical day and why don’t moms have time for a call or e-mail? I work and am away from home nine hours a day (plus a few late work events) and I manage to get it all done. I’m feeling like the kid is an excuse to relax and enjoy — not a bad thing at all — but if so, why won’t my friend tell me the truth? Is this a peeing contest (“My life is so much harder than yours”)? What’s the deal? I’ve got friends with and without kids and all us child-free folks get the same story and have the same questions.

Tacoma, Wash.

Relax and enjoy. You’re funny.

Or you’re lying about having friends with kids.

Or you’re taking them at their word that they actually have kids, because you haven’t personally been in the same room with them.

Internet searches?

I keep wavering between giving you a straight answer and giving my forehead some keyboard. To claim you want to understand, while in the same breath implying that the only logical conclusions are that your mom-friends are either lying or competing with you, is disingenuous indeed.

So, since it’s validation you seem to want, the real answer is what you get. In list form. When you have young kids, your typical day is: constant attention, from getting them out of bed, fed, clean, dressed; to keeping them out of harm’s way; to answering their coos, cries, questions; to having two arms and carrying one kid, one set of car keys, and supplies for even the quickest trips, including the latest-to-be-declared-essential piece of molded plastic gear; to keeping them from unshelving books at the library; to enforcing rest times; to staying one step ahead of them lest they get too hungry, tired or bored, any one of which produces the kind of checkout-line screaming that gets the checkout line shaking its head.

It’s needing 45 minutes to do what takes others 15.

It’s constant vigilance, constant touch, constant use of your voice, constant relegation of your needs to the second tier.

It’s constant scrutiny and second-guessing from family and friends, well-meaning and otherwise. It’s resisting constant temptation to seek short-term relief at everyone’s long-term expense.

It’s doing all this while concurrently teaching virtually everything — language, manners, safety, resourcefulness, discipline, curiosity, creativity. Empathy. Everything.

It’s also a choice, yes. And a joy. But if you spent all day, every day, with this brand of joy, and then, when you got your first 10 minutes to yourself, wanted to be alone with your thoughts instead of calling a good friend, a good friend wouldn’t judge you, complain about you to mutual friends, or marvel how much more productively she uses her time. Either make a sincere effort to understand or keep your snit to yourself.

And even though a few of us discussed this over email a few weeks ago, it hasn’t left my mind. This was my response:

Well said. And I admit I sometimes wonder myself if my SAHM friends might have more free time/easier life/insert whatever than me. But I always realize the folly of the thinking. I feel like these discussions are always based around each side proving their life is harder/worse. Which is a curious reaction to choice. I like to think of it all in terms of how lucky each camp is.

SAHM – tiring, exhausting, crazy days, yes. But benefits are no adult boss looking over her shoulder making her feel small/horrible/untalented/micromanaged. No fear at meetings of underperforming. No moment of panic when unable to grasp something academic that will be demanded within a tight deadline. No internal work politics that render her almost-near tears and finding refuge in a bathroom stall, including colleagues trying to claw their way past her at her expense. No commuting. No requirement to stay abreast of news/law/regulation/innovation in a certain field that might secretly bore her to tears. No constant question of whether she is underpaid or at the wrong company/firm. No constant nagging self-doubt that she is a bad mom for leaving her child(ren) for most of every working day and no base-level terrible sadness because she misses her kid and just wants a kiss or a smile. No pantyhose.

Working Mom – The benefit that dare not utter its name… relief. Working moms sometimes act like they do everything a SAHM does, but with only 25% of the time (after hours and on weekends). When in fact, the second she walks out the door in the morning, she has just begun a 8+ hour shift that will involve no dishes, meal prep, clean up, toy organization, temper tantrum control, battle over sleep, diaper changes. Those things don’t wait for her to come home at night- they are done by someone else in her absence. And the same woman can have quiet adult conversation at lunch with colleagues/friends or choose the time instead to internet shop, walk to dry cleaners, or do some light shopping with no wee one in tow to make things harder. She will never worry that she took the off-ramp from her career or whether she can be independently financially secure. She does have to wear pantyhose, though. And she misses her baby daily. Hourly.

Happy Mothering Sunday UK to all of those who want to celebrate it and be celebrated. Happy Mothering Sunday UK to me.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “mothering

  1. I feel like this kind of debate started with my generation becoming moms (or is that merely an indication of an egocentric view?). It goes round and round and round. I’ve watched you in action, and you are a great mom. PC is a great dad. And all I had to see was how Jonah rushed over to Melissa and jumped into her arms when she came to the door to know what a great nanny she is. This boy is surrounded by love and the best kind of attention. Can any child ask for more?

  2. Sarah

    Just sent this to a SAHM friend – but realized that she probably won’t have time to read it because she is a SAHM, whereas work is paying me to read your blog at this moment. And an amen to the value of a good nanny. I am potentially losing mine for two weeks because of a family emergency and I do not know how we (Quinn AND her parents) will keep it together.

    • yael

      Such a good point- it’s only possible to commit time theft at a paying job. Where else would I have time to order groceries on-line and catch up on Google News.

  3. I don’t know about the etymology making the day more inclusive – but “mothering Sunday” was originally a very Christian day – all about going back to one’s mother church. Of course, it’s very secular nowadays, but the American Mother’s Day has always been secular.

  4. Love love love the Washington Post article, and your own thoughts. I used to be one of those childless people that believed my future life as a SAHM would be a life of ease and leisure. I never dreamed a 6 month baby would be so much work. I love it, but it is the hardest job I’ve ever done.
    Thanks for this. I’m really looking forward to being pampered tomorrow for my first official Mothers Day!

    • yael

      I hope you were pampered, Kristy! Happy Mothering Sunday to you. (Also, considering your eye for design, photography skills and sewing projects- you basically do two jobs at once!)

  5. Carrie

    I am Sarah’s newly SAHM friend; thank you so much for this post. It’s amazing how my thinking about my new “job” has changed since having my baby. I was like the girl who wrote into the Post. Within a week of giving birth, I realized what heroes my friends with kids really were and was ashamed that I ever gave them grief for being unresponsive. As for working outside the home versus staying home, is it not one of the hardest decisions we will ever have to make, for those of us with the luxury to choose? I know that my work is much more challenging now than it ever was at a desk, yet I still had trouble filling out a form today when it asked for my occupation. SAHM has such a negative connotation. But something like “full time mom” insinuates that women who work are not “full time,” which isn’t true either. And when my paycheck doesn’t arrive for the first time on the 15th of next month, I will be facing a lack of financial independence that I’ve never known before. While each role (SAHM vs working mom) has its pros and cons, I wish that women could be less judgemental and stop tearing down those who made the alternative choice to make themselves feel better about those things that nag them about the decision they made.

  6. Elizabeth

    Love the Washington Post article. What I’m wondering about is what happens to us SAHM types when our kids are in full-time school. Arguably the job gets a bit harder in the afternoons as the mother becomes a chauffer to all the extra-curricular activites and homework tutor. But that time during the day? Dare I hope that I have time to clean, grocery shop, prep dinner and, god forbid, go to the gym so that family time truly can be family time, and not me telling my husband to play with the kids so I can clean the bathroom?

  7. Jennifer S

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I just finished my 6 months of maternity leave and have returned to work last Wednesday as a part-time working mom. These past 6 months have made me realize that being a SAHM is more difficult than any job I have ever held. There was never any real “down-time” like I used to have at work where I could sit and surf my iPhone at my leisure and debate on where to have lunch that day. Of course there was no stress of commuting in traffic, trying to stay on top of deadlines, etc., but it was a different kind of stress – the ultimate test of patience. These past 6 months have been a revolving cycle of diaper changes, soothing, feeding, laundry, walking, pumping, bottle washing, etc. All day, all night. But perhaps the most rewarding and fulfilling 6 months I have ever had. I give all moms – working or stay at home, mucho props.

  8. Caitlin

    There was an interesting article on mothering by Rebecca Asher in the Guardian two Sundays ago, an interesting read, based on a soon to be released book (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/apr/03/shattered-rebecca-asher-motherhood-equality.). Your entry echoes the article in some respects. Interesting how she reflects that changing UK laws maternity/paternity would help support greater equality among moms and dads. The US stands in a dark shadow with respect to that! Anyhow, not that your musings had to do with maternity laws…

    • yael

      But maternity/paternity laws are fascinating too. They reflect the value a society places on furthering the population, but more so the value on having the actual parents fully involved in the critical first year.

      The US is in a sad, sad state in this sense.

  9. mdouris25

    this whole debate scares the pants off this childless woman who someday wants kids … especially when told by a partner in her firm (with nothing but good intentions believe it or not) that I can’t have children before making partner or it will derail my career. So many ticking time bombs in this arena … hats off to those who choose to have children, or not; or choose to work or not; or choose to seek the help of someone else with those kids. To each their own –

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