9.16.2009

1734 words to say, "I'm a work in progress"


Ok, so I'm sitting here on a random Wednesday afternoon and I feel like my thoughts are clouds in a thunderhead.

The more intense my feeling about something the more remote location I give it in my mental real estate. As in, WAY the fuck OUT THERE. It's not real, it's not that big of a deal, it'll go away, etc. Yeah well, that only ever works for so long before the shit storm hits. And it's here now.

I've written before about the concepts of feminism and motherhood, although not at great length (here and here), but they're always there on my mind. I live and breathe feminist mothering. I can't not. Although, honestly, I'm having a hard time applying it to myself and my own situation.

Let me back up a minute and explain what I believe feminist mothering is. It's all the usual feminist ideas and ideals (women are as capable as men at intellectual pursuits and are righteously due equal opportunities and pay for their skills and work in addition to protection of these rights), but it's also about the lens through which I teach and raise my son. Although I am in a traditional role, my husband and I are equal partners in our relationship and life; I am not subordinate to his work-outside-of-the-house role in our lives. My son will grow up knowing this. He will see me as a powerful force in our family. He will also see me being proud of being a woman, embracing all that comes with it, and believing that partnerships are born out of complementing one another, not dominating. And, maybe most importantly, it's about instilling the belief that mothering and all things associated with it are high in status and equal to work not related to mothering.

It sounds lovely, right? But, despite pretty much living up to my intellectual belief system, I am having an extremely difficult time getting what I need by staying at home with an almost 2 year old.

I am certainly not short on meaning in my life or pride in my work. I'm all full of love and wonder and happiness and [mostly] confidence on that front. However, I am also lonely, uninspired, unstimulated, and a little bored.

All these feelings have been on the horizon of my mental grasp, too difficult to bear, until recently when I had a come to Jesus moment and questioned the very foundation on which all of my current life is based: my marriage. I questioned the logic of relying on one person for everything for the rest of my life and realized what a red herring argument that was. It's not my marriage - no one person can possibly be my everything - it's ME.

I've let myself down completely and now I am virtually stranded alone with a toddler day in and day out. No friends, no support system of peers, nothing. And I love this toddler with every fiber of my being and it breaks my heart to say that caring for him is not enough for me, but there it is. Somehow it's just not. And my imperfect marriage is also not the cause of my unrest, isolation or sadness. It's me and the fact that I've abandoned myself.

My biggest mistake has been my attempt to do everything perfectly all the time at the very high price of losing myself (not a very feminist thing to do, I might add). I am housekeeper (lo, housewife soldier), financier, teacher, social planner, mother, daughter, sister, and wife extraordinaire all the time. Rain or shine, happy or sad, willing or unwilling. No where in all of that have I given myself a moment to reclaim Jessica in any form, past or present.

I have a couple of theories on why this has happened and it's based on not only my experience, but those of my friends as well. First, women, because we must prove we are as good as men and as deserving as men, work twice as hard in all aspects of their life. And second, I'm tired of getting hurt and so have shut myself in.

Every woman I know, working or staying at home, drives herself like a lowly beast to be a better mother, a better cook, a better student, a better partner, a better everything. She sleeps and exercises less. She beats herself up on the rare occasion she goes out with friends or takes a run. And God forbid she nap (although, some women are certainly gifted at taking a nap, I don't know many that feel truly deserving of one and guilt-free when she wakes up).

On the other hand, men, who are raised possessing a self-confidence and acceptance of the validity and stability of good things in their life (as in, no one's going to leave him if he gains 50 lbs or he's not going to lose his job to a younger, better looking woman) are afforded an incredible ability to just let others handle things while they take care of their own needs: they nap, they shower, they eat, they exercise. They retain a strong desire to protect their personal needs from attending to family and work.

Obviously, I'm generalizing on all sides here, but the fact remains that the majority of the population can relate to these caricatures of gender, and you know what they say about stereotypes being a reflection of reality. And I know I'm all over the place, but hang with me...

I've mentioned it before, but I'm going to say it again: the feminist movement forgot something in their plight for equal recognition, rights, and pay. That the work women do in relation to child rearing and home management is as important as what men do outside the home. Because let's be honest, women bear the brunt of household work in most cases even if they work full-time (and then some). They come home and make dinner, shop, take care of the house, bills, kids, bath time, night time, middle of the night wakings and on and on.

Yeah! we get to slave at a desk job just like our male counterparts, but oh yeah, we also get to come home and KEEP DOING EVERYTHING WE'D BEEN DOING because no one thought to tell men they should be doing them too! Men are typically done when they get home. Women are just beginning their real work. And I've bought into this bullshit somewhere along the line even though I'm not leaving the house to work. I must take care of everything all the time. Do, do, do! Work, work, work! Push, push, push! I must prove to Anthony that I am busting my ass! Wha-?? How the hell did that happen? (And like Anthony even doubts it??)

And now here I am questioning what my life would be like if a) I worked outside the home in order to feel smart, intelligent, pushed, challenged and otherwise embraced as an adult as opposed to just a mother and wife and b) what would it be like if I never even had those aspirations in the first place? If I had been born 200 years ago and mothering and house management was the only role I could fulfill? Would I be happier if either of those things happened? Is the possibility of me doing even more work and being separated from Hollis really the answer? Is the possibility of just ignoring all my emotional and intellectual needs to only mother my son and wife my husband the answer?

No. And what stupid questions! I should be asking myself: How can I get more opportunities to recharge? What can I do to feel connected to people, adults again? Where can I go to find some solace? How can I carve out some balance in my every day life??

My mom bought me a book at Barnes & Noble the other day. It's called, "Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood."

Ugh.

It's not just a little bit embarrassing that my mother bought me this book, but I understand why she did. She knows I'm floundering a bit and wants to help. The thing is, I don't think it's the SAHM thing that I need to get happy with. I'm certain I need to give myself more credit for the work I do, but I really and truly am honored and happy to get to spend this time with Hollis and craft a loving, trusting relationship with him in the exact way I want to. What I really need is a book to tell me how to be a SAHM and still get the kind of stimulation I was used to (and needed!) for 30 years as a non-parent. "Stay Home, Stay Happy, Stay Sane: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood and Still Feeling Relevant as the Human Being You Are."

The other theory I have on why I'm angst-ridden and upset is because I don't want to get hurt by anyone. And by that I mean, "I don't want to put myself out there and get shat on by 'friends'." It's pretty straight forward. I'm a sensitive son-of-a-bitch and over time I've stopped putting myself out there for reasons of self-protection. I think it's time to put the armor back on and get my ass in the game. For my sanity's sake.

After mulling over on this for weeks now I feel confident in my new plan of action. I've joined no less than three Meetup.com groups for moms and parents and even went to my very first last week (it was a quick playdate at a nearby park and it was lovely and exhilarating). I'm at least aware of my feelings now and am questioning my standards of work and giving myself more slack (that's right "at work," as in here at the house). Anthony and I have spent hours talking about my malaise and unhappiness and he is actively changing his at-home trajectory for which I am eternally grateful and now feel more hopeful about our future as a cohabiting pair. And I've begun to open up to other friends and moms about my situation and feelings and have found that I am so far from being alone it's not even funny, and knowing that relieves some of my loneliness and makes me feel much less crazy.

So, there you have it. A lot of words just to say my head's up my ass and I'm painfully aware of it. I'm definitely a work in progress.

Anyone else feel this way??

20 comments:

  1. Jessica, this was such an incredible post. Your blog is truly amazing, and your writing is amazing and you are an amazing mother and woman.
    I hear you... it is TOUGH. And there is no good answer I can give you. I will say that to be a stay at home mom is THE toughest job there is. It just is. It is NON-STOP, all the time, 24/7. The amount of stuff we have to do as moms is incredible, and I envy (in some ways) the lives of those who don't have kids. They have it easy, you know? Remember what it was like to wake up and do whatever the hell you wanted to do with your day? To take a shower in peace? To do whatever? Now, we sleep less... far less... and everything has to revolve around our children. Don't get me wrong - being a mom is the best thing in the entire world for me - the BEST thing ever - and I love my children more than I can ever describe. It is also hard. And it has increased my worry about everything, to the point that I know the only time I won't worry this much is when I die. It sound horrible to say, but it's true.
    Now, I do work in an office during the week, so I get some me-time, which is great, but as soon as I get home, I'm 'on' as a mother. No time to unwind, barely time to change out of my work clothes, etc. I don't know how great I'd do as a stay at home mom. I think it gets easier, though, as the children get older and are in school. If I were at a stay at home mom now that my oldest is in school for half days, I think it would be a lot more fun... eventually, I'd love to work only part-time. Anyway, I think I'm going on and on here... I just wanted to say that you are not alone in how you feel... I think every mom feels like this, at some point... I think we are all a 'work in progress'.
    Love you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post. I believe this is exactly how I would feel if I were to become a SAHM.

    And, yeah, the housework is a beast. You may be familiar with the term "The Second Shift" (I believe it was a book title) and it refers to how women have a 2nd job when they finish their primary (day, out of house) job where men feel like it's their time to come home and relax.

    My husband and I don't have children yet, but this is already the case. Even when I directly ask him to to do something, he feels perfectly inclined to relax and get his "me time" first, which then leads to him forgetting that there was anything to do (and he doesn't "see" any dirt or dishes ever) and then it's left until the next day and I wake up furious. I talk about it all the time but I don't know what to do to change it. (His mother did EVERYTHING for him, including pouring his cereal and milk for him for breakfast... WHEN HE WAS IN HIS TWENTIES. No lie. And if he tried, he got told he'd just mess it up. UGH!) We work the exact same number of hours and earn the same pay and I do 80-90% of the housework. There is nothing he does unasked.

    You're right about women just pushing, pushing, pushing themselves to be better everythings - women, mothers, wives, students, humans. I do that but I enjoy it, too. What I don't enjoy is picking up after another fully capable adult.

    It absolutely takes 1700+ words (and then some) to say you're a work in progress because it's just SO much more than that.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't know where to start but here I go...
    - this happens to everyone. When you are 24/ 7 with kids trying to do your best it is hard not to lose yourself. It happened to my husband when he was at home with our daughter for a year. He got lost in the caring for other people and the house and forgot about himself. Seeing that made me realize it can happen to all of us.
    - we need to talk better care of ourselves. It is so hard when they are young but it gets easier as they get older. I can feel the difference now with a one year old compared to 6 months ago. I am so glad that you are getting out and meeting people. That is honestly the best gift you could give yourself. It is wonderful to find other moms online but nothing beats sitting with another mom and hearning and seeing them say what you are thinking.
    - be proud of what you do. cut yorself some slack. Many people couldn't or wouldn't want to be at home with their kids all day. I think that by making it through the day you are succeeding!
    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't know what to say except I'm honored you shared your feelings. I'm not a SAHM and sometime I really wish I was. The work you're doing is 100x's more important to your Hollis than you can ever imagine. In time you'll be back to work and able to fulfill that part that's missing. For now relax and enjoy the time you have. Sharing your feelings with others is sometimes the best release even with no answers at least you can organize the thoughts for yourself. good luck
    Amy

    ReplyDelete
  5. What an honest and moving post. And as much as I love my kids, I don't think they should be my everything. I think that really puts too much pressure on them as well as me.

    ReplyDelete
  6. In the six+ years that I've been a SAHM, I've poured myself into several projects/hobbies/programs/etc. Poured. Immersed. Obsessed.

    Gardening, fish keeping, photography, allergen-free baking, a water filtration project in Sudan, sewing, babywearing, and now home schooling... oh, and blogging.

    I recognize the need to feel challenged. I can't be content without some sort of stimulation. I understand that loneliness. That need to feel worthwhile and relevant... to someone other than my kids!

    Hmmm, not sure if I have a point. Just know that you're not alone in feeling ANY OF THIS.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I found your blog through Loukia's tweet. Anyway, I think you've been running inside of my head for the last week! I'm a SAHM to 3 kids, 3 1/2, 2, and 4 months old. I've really been struggling lately.

    I understand your frustrations. My husband is wonderful, and he tries to help, but that's just it--if he does the laundry, he's helping me. The chores are considered mine, not his.

    I have to remind myself that staying at home was our joint decision, and we knew it would be a sacrifice, and with any sacrifice comes some pain. I, like you, am trying to find myself while simultaneously giving most of me to my precious children every day.

    The fact that you are questioning tells me you are probably doing a really good job and should cut yourself some slack. Enjoy meeting other moms; it'll be good for you!

    Thank you for your post. It's refreshing to know I'm not the only one struggling. And forgive me if I rambled...it's late, but unfortunately, late is when I have my time!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I lasted 6 months as a stay at home mom before I gave my husband an ultimatum - I get a babysitter part time and do some part time work, or I go back to work full time at my old job. I've been lucky enough since then to do some work from home, some work in an office, and have a MIL who works for us watching the kiddo. I have learned about myself that I need to do *something* that is above and beyond repetitive household and child-oriented tasks. I love my two year old, but he is a two year old, and staying here alone with him all day every day with nothing else to do but entertain him and do laundry makes me insane. I can last about a week before I start crying.

    If you have lasted this long before getting to this point, you are doing a great job. I also think it's great that you're getting out there to meet the other moms. But I think it's equally important to get out there and do something without kiddo along with you. When your husband gets home from work, you are both equal at that point in how much you've worked that day, and sometimes it's your turn to be "done" and be a self for a while instead of a wife / mother / daughter / sister.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "How can I get more opportunities to recharge? What can I do to feel connected to people, adults again? Where can I go to find some solace? How can I carve out some balance in my every day life??"

    Are you familiar with Carrie Contey? http://carriecontey.com/

    She is all around awesome. I recently took one of her classes regarding parenting 1-5 year olds. And one of the points she drives home time and again is that if you do not fill your own cup, per se, you continually deplete yourself in trying to give to your family. You lose out, they lose out, everyone loses out.

    And I feel like the poster child for this sort of deficit. I've written about exactly this feeling of being more than mother/wife, but not getting to BE more than that. It's been almost 3 years now, and 2 kids later, I'm just barely getting to the point where I am sticking up for myself and my need to be my SELF for a while each day.

    This mothering, it is tough in all its forms.

    In addition to those meetup groups, you might also consider looking into this listserv: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AustinMamas/

    It is an amazing network of women, and I can't sing their praises enough.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nursing at keyboard, but just wanted to say that I understand everything you've said, and you said it so well.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Let's face it, it's hard to be a woman these days and especially one of the mothering type. ; )

    I've been both a SAHM and a mom who worked outside of the home with a kid in daycare. Obviously neither is a walk in the park. I've been a SHAM for over 2 yrs. now and in hindsight, I do wish that I could have made it work to be home with my first but I just couldn't at the time (for several reasons,including my OWN needs).

    What I'm trying to say is that I can relate to feeling the need to contribute more but I've also realized that at this point in my life FOR ME, I need to be home, raising my babies myself. And for every mother it can be different. I have friends who can't even fathom staying home with their kids.

    I'm glad to hear that you have joined some groups and have discussed your needs with your husband. Also, if you have a chapter of the Moms Club where you live, I recommend joining it (not sure where you live). It's wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm going to make my husband come over here and read your post right now b/c I cannot say it any better. It is EXACTLY how I've been feeling and for some reason unable to articulate which has led to an even deeper self-loathe funk. Thank you. Just thank you and I wish you the most sincere luck in finding that outlet that allows you your own personal freedom and happiness!!!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hmmm...I have never wanted a career, I wanted to stay home. But that is my choice. Also, I have a husband who though we have big struggles in our marriage REALLY pitches in with the house work because I tend to suck at it.

    So it doesn't all drown me.

    Others are different, and I also have struggles but am probably not as torn by being home alone.

    I used to say, "I MUST HAVE FRIENDS"! But? I just don't know anymore. I have a lot of baggage and finding friends ok with that is just hard.

    I'm beginning to think it's not worth it.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow.

    At right this moment, my life is in such a state of flux, having just had child #2 and with hubs gone 13 hours a day (at a job that miraculously came available JUST as unemployment ran out - so we're GRATEFUL for it even as we cringe), I don't even know where I am now, let alone once we really get into the groove of our new normal.

    But I have to say thanks for having the cojones to type this out and let me start digesting it now. I'm likely to have to go back to work, which I am both eager to do (my job rocks) and reluctant to do (my kids rock. at least #2 seems to so far at 9 days in!) (tongue in cheek, of course she rocks, she's my kid). I'm resenting the idea that I will probably need to go back, even if it's just part time as before, because of the time it will steal from me being with the kids.

    But I'm also afraid of being stuck at home without that outlet; without that expression-of-what-more-there-is-to-me-beyond-motherhood, whether that is a social or a work outlet. I don't know what I want and need that outlet to be. I guess I'm still trying to figure out who I am and what I want, and until I figure that out, how will I go about getting it?!

    So, anyhow thanks for this. I'm bookmarking it so that I can come back, ponder again, and perhaps figure out what it is that I need and want so that by the time I can go after it, I'm ready.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Also, I just wanted to say that like Loralee, the older I get, the fewer friends I want, because I am trying to find the RIGHT friends and they are just. so. damn. hard. to. find.

    ReplyDelete
  16. jessica- I KNOW how you feel, it has taken me 9 years of being a SAHM to figure it out- the restlessness did not go away for me until I did something AWAY from my family- where I am known only as Krystal and not "Ben's wife" or "Kaleb/David/Jade's Mommy". In my case it is going back to school that finally brought the "well-roundedness" I was seeking for so long. I am not sure you will find it at playdates-I certainly didn't because, although it is a social outlet, it is not the social outlet your YOU craves.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I've got a potty mouth extraordinaire, too, and I felt right at home with this post!

    I found myself beating myself up when I discovered that, even though I really wanted to stay at home with Darling Daughter after she was born, I was also burned out because it was 24/7. I never got any time off. Ever. And when I did, I didn't enjoy it because I felt guilty for abandoning Darling Daughter. It sucked. And then two years ago (give or take) when our financial situation necessitated I start working outside the home again, I discovered that Darling Husband wasn't taking up the slack at home. He wanted to keep coming home and doing precious little like he had been because I had been doing the lion's share as a SAHM. I complained to him about it one evening because I'd had to work late and came home to find him waiting for me to cook. He snapped at me about being tired after working all day and not wanting to have to work at home, too. That's when I reminded him that I had to work all day, too. But now I was coming home to all the work I was doing before on top of that. The look on his face was priceless. It was like I had smacked him with a two-by-four. He started helping out.

    I'm home again and enjoying it, but my at home days are likely numbered - again - and it will likely start all over again if I do have to get a job outside the house. Not looking forward to that. But hopefully the transition won't be as painful as it was before. Hopefully!

    Congrats on being the featured blogger on SITS!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I love this post! We have a lot in common. Of course I live in an area where I can't really get out and meet people or join any mom groups - I really wish I had that opportunity, because I know that sitting at home all day with 3 kids age 4 and under is driving me completely insane! Of course I wouldn't have it any other way ;) I love that I can be at home with my kids. But, I so agree with your assessment on everything here - it is so much work and so completely exhausting... and no time for myself - when I have a chance to breathe I end up doing something for the kids or something that needs to be done around the house...

    ReplyDelete
  19. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Lucy

    http://businesseshome.net

    ReplyDelete