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."
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??