Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some more about mothering--staying at home and seeking more

After I wrote yesterday's post about who I would (me) and would not (anyone else) want raising my kids, as well as after some friends brought up some points about my comments, I decided to write a little more on the issue of me staying at home, and staying at home with kids in general.  I can't guarantee the lucidity of what is to come.  So I will at least group them by topic.....just to keep things straight for myself.

Mothering in Past & Present

Awhile back I read the book "Perfect Madness:  Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" by Judith Warner.  I am now currently reading "Wet Nursing:  A History from Antiquity to the Present" by Valerie Fildes.  And it is interesting what these two books tell me about mothering in the past and present.

I tend to romanticize the past....back in the day when people lived as hunter/gatherers, all the women were together and helped each other watch the kids and cook the food while the men hunted monkeys.  Or in pioneer days, when children stayed innocent much longer than they do now.  When all women breastfed and took care of their babies....blah, blah, blah.

The past in my mind often equals "natural" which often equals "the right way of doing something."  Maybe I think this way because in the grand scheme of things, modern life as we know it is like a dot compared to the thousands of years humans lived as hunter/gatherers or since the beginning human adoption of agricultural practices.

But reading Fildes' book on wet nursing has been a surprise because many women throughout times past did not nurse their own children.  Upper classes and royalty used wet nurses so that women could become pregnant again quickly in an attempt to ensure that some of the infants survived to adulthood.  Poorer women nursed their own children as well as the children of others (the upper classes) to have bread to eat.  If wet nurses could not be located for foundlings, they were sometimes suckled by goats or given goat/cow milk or paps (a mixture of grains and water).  Infant mortality was much, much higher than it is today.

In times past, life was about survival.  Meeting the most basic needs--food, water, shelter, clothing.  So my romantic notions of moms nursing their own babies, caring for home and hearth, are tinted (or tainted) by the reality of the past.

Modern life makes most moms bananas, and I think this is because we aren't worried about survival.  If you have a refrigerator, a Kroger down the block, vaccines at your pediatrician's office, etc, you worry about other things beyond the basics.  You worry about making your children optimal human beings---smart, emotionally intelligent, well-adapted, successful, happy.  You worry about undoing all the slights/wrongs/failings from your childhood with your own child.

Maybe this is why scrapbooking and blogging about one's family is such a big honking hobby for a lot of moms.  Because we can edit out the unfun, unhappy, unsatisfying parts and just show the great trips and neat school activities and silhouette pictures of our wonderful families.

Warner's premise is that the social science (and social experience) on motherhood has dovetailed with politics and social anxieties throughout the decades.  As the US moved into the 2000s and the age of hyper productivity, so too did moms....."the state of being 'almost always on-duty'," (p. 116).  Attachment parenting is an example of this.

And modern life gives us the luxury of having books like Warner's that discuss how motherhood is impacted by society at large.  I can think about what society means for my mothering and my view on mothering because I'm not hell bent on making sure I have gruel for my family to eat once a day.

Mothering Choices

My mom doesn't have a college degree and hadn't traveled or done any of the things I had done by the time I had my kids.  So what does that say about her mothering?

She was a good SAHM....because she wanted to stay at home with her kids.  And I think overall I am a good stay at home mom because I want to be at home with my kids.  And there are some moms who don't want to be home all the time with their kids.

I suspect many working moms, and many SAHM moms for that matter, would like a better balance.  They'd like to be able to work a little outside the home....maybe 15-25 hours a week and be paid and make them feel like they are still using their brains and skills.....but still be able to have ample time with their kids for zoo trips and picnics in the backyard.

But the reality is that it simply isn't worth one's time or energy to pay for quality childcare for multiple kids given what little money most moms can make.  And/or most businesses are not interested in offering such situations to workers because it means more HR hassle.

Since this better balance is nearly impossible to find, it means sacrifice of some kind.

If you stay at home, you may sacrifice having extra money, being able to do vacations every year, being able to buy your kids close at Justice for Girls.  You will definitely sacrifice some self-esteem, some mental capacity.  (I know of no 37-year-old woman who would, on her own without anyone else around, play Barbies.  Some things are just not fun for grownups).

If you work, you sacrifice time with your kids and the leisure of a slower pace to life.  You spend more money across the board since you don't have the time to shop consignment sales or cook dinner every night or shop multiple stores to get the best deals.  You meet yourself coming and going because you are trying to maintain a home and family (laundry, mopping, etc) plus do all the fun "family" activities and spend time in the presence of your children.  

A FB friend brought up the point about quality time versus quantity time, which I think about a lot.  I think delineating time in this way is a ruse, regardless of which side you prefer to be on.

Time is time.  We call it quality time or quantity time to make ourselves feel better about whatever choice we have made.  What we as moms think of as "quality" may not actually be what our kids think is "quality," just as their version of a good movie might be "Karate Dog," while we as moms would definitely have a different view.  And I know I sometimes use the fact that I am "with my children 24/7" as an excuse to spend probably more time than I should "checking out" via Facebook or a magazine or just zoning.  Being there but not really being present in the moment.

And the point of this is......?

There is no point.   I'm just rambling.
But at some point my kids, and particularly my daughter, might want to know why I stayed home with them.  And what I thought about it.  And I don't want them to have this glorified idea of "mom" that I have/had of my own mother.  That she was perfect.  That I am perfect.

I want my daughter, who may one day become a mother, to recognize that there is always a sacrifice to mothering, to being a woman.   Just as I have my opinion as to what I think is most important as a mother, she will have to decide for herself what kind of mom she wants to be.


Timeless and Treasured, Photography by Heather said...

This was AWESOME!!! You are a very gifted writer!

Keri said...

Very interesting thoughts here! I never really thought about reading up on the history of motherhood and its various aspects, but I bet both of those books are fascinating.

When you get right down to it, EVERY life involves choices that result in sacrifice, whether male or female. (Ignore the bad syntax on that sentence, please.)

Men who choose to follow their passions into professions like teaching or social work might be sacrificing their attractiveness to some potential mates - the women who want to be well taken-care-of by their husbands.

And men who choose to climb the corporate ladder and spend untold hours at the office or traveling are making sacrifices too, in terms of the relationships they have with those closest to them. Just imagine what many daddies miss out on (whether or not they realize it) when they're working 100 hours a week in order to get that next promotion.

Or take my husband, for example. He could have been pursuing the next level of management (with a substantial pay raise, among other benefits) for the past fifteen years, and likely would have been promoted a long time ago. But he doesn't want the accompanying massive headaches, or to be in complete servitude to the company, so he has chosen to remain where he is. No doubt some of his co-workers question his decision, maybe even look down on him. But he's willing to make certain sacrifices in order to have the life he really wants.

I have no idea why I went on about this. I guess I was just trying to support my point that men AND women make sacrifices in life, and I hope to teach both my daughters and my son that nobody can have it all. Sorry to ramble, as usual. :-)