Saturday evening, after our little cherubs were in bed, my goal was to fold a week's worth of laundry before turning in for the night. Saturday nights my goal is to get enough done so that Sunday I can spend hanging out with my family. And I had a mess of work to do. So naturally I was collapsed near the mountains of clothes, on the couch, watching Chicago on DVD with a cup of tea. A few moments later I got a suggestion that my priortities were actually well in order; Handsome Hubby dropped a Newsweek article on the coffee table and told me I'd love it.
Two weeks back into my return from maternity leave, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I read the article about mothers who left their children in more willing and capable hands in order to follow their own ambitions...and I found it, well, ENJOYABLE. Not because working motherhood is terribly hard (it is, sometimes) and I'd rather be home with my babies (I would, more than sometimes). The editorial in the Society section acknowledged women who have dared to do what men have been at liberty to do forever: put parenthood second, while putting themselves and their ambitions first.The author, Julia Baird, sited Dorthea Lange, who gave her five children to foster families while she created many now-famous photographs migrant workers. I am not saying I want this lifestyle, so put away your slings and arrows. Heck, now that I'm back to teaching I already have this lifestyle half the time anyway; someone else is raising my children during the day. It's their fabulous Nana, but still, it's not me. Were we financially able, you would not find me taking my job and shoving it either. Bob is the one who would happily be a stay-at-homer. He may get his wish next year anyway! To me, working means the change of scene, adult conversation, and renewed sense of purpose - things I can't do without for extended periods. I get itchy. To quote author Doris Lessing, who left her children to write Nobel Prize-winning literature: "There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children." Or, Omigod, please, let's talk about something besides princesses and playdough.
Though the career of a public school teacher in New Jersey may be changing drastically in the next decade, right now I feel I've hit the goldmine where working mothers are concerned. I have a career, one for which I was educated and in which I could immediately use that education, but it's a career that lets me be a mommy too. Few late nights, safe conditions (unless you talk germs), and it's still child-focused. Right now, as "interesting" as life has gotten, I find work to be a respite from home and child worries, just as home is my safe haven from the turmoil at school. It's compartmentalizing, and it works.
But most women aren't so lucky, and the guilt factor is high. It's not enough to be a mom and employed. You are judged by media and peers at every turn. Do you kids eat homecooked meals? Gerber tubs count, right? Do you go above and beyond at work? Teachers especially feel this pressure, because that's what "good" teachers do. Do your kids have developmentally appropriate toys that have been safety-tested and weren't made in China? Oops. Do you mop your floors more than quarterly? Um...
Do your kids have socks on? YES! That one I got! ...I hope. Every year further research into child safety and development yields more "dos and don'ts" in parenting magazines. Or as my father calls them: "Fretful Mother Magazine". I have subscriptions to these, too. Ask me if I have time to read them! Do not get me started on the evils of the What to Expect When You're an OCD Hypochondriac. That book is probably responsible for nervous breakdowns all over the mommy world. We have more "musts" for our children's safety and development by far than existed a generation ago. Scores more than in the 1950's, when the nuclear family and the stay-at-home mommy ideal seemed to peak!
Do we have more well-adjusted, healthier, or smarter kids today? Um....
Do we have happier, more fufilled moms? Hmm...
Confessions of a nutcase: In her infancy, I would move Maddie from her swing or Jumperoo if I thought she'd spent "too much time" in one place, even when she was perfectly happy to continue swinging or bouncing. I gave this up after a few months, because, well, I slowly grew out of my crazy pants. Most moms do evolve, after all. All that switching and worrying, because of one article I read in Fretful Mother about the containerization of babies. It warned that babies who are not switched from activities every 15-20 minutes or not held for X hours a day could end up insecure, their language abilities stunted.
Everybody who knows my daughter just got a good belly laugh.
I loved reading in Baird's piece that mothers today are actually more involved than their 1950's counterparts. That was a nice shot in the arm. And women of the Victorian era just banished their kids to the nursery! I wonder if they just trotted them out for those stoic family pictures. Mothers today spend more time with their children but are actually less happy now, explained Baird said, than their non-mother, female contemporaries. This is based on some survey research, I assume. But why? Aren't children the grand prize? Aren't you supposed to grow up, get married, have a little family, and the movie ends happily? Not anymore, because apparently as a collective we mommies aren't feeling it.
Being an elementary school teacher, I still marvel when an otherwise perfectly able child comes to me for a shoe-tying at age 9. Well, if it's always done for you, why would you learn? Seriously. We struggle with Miss M. on a daily basis to get some independence out of her. We have these little princes and princesses, and somehow a vibe got out there that says if you don't do, do, DO for your offspring, you are a Bad Mommy. No wonder we're not reporting bliss.
But back to these women who dare to outsource parenting more than the rest of us. Do they make the usual over-worked but wellmeaning mommy look better? (If so, THANKS!) Or are they setting an example for us who NOT to be? Personally I try to remember that childhood is short, this too shall pass, and I will have time to spare when my kids are out of the house and I'm missing them terribly. So I'll hang out at home as much as I can, and leave the rest to bide its time on the shelf. But I loooove my "me" time. For instance, I just took time to blog when I could have been, I don't know, doing something about those floors. Or my gradebook. Yes, my little E loves her swing and play mat and hangs out there a lot longer than 15 minutes. No, Maddie and I have not "done numbers" (her preschool workbook that she adores) in days. But as far as my involvement, my commitment to Mommyhood?
Yeah, I do enough.
I will forever love Baird for her reassurance of that fact: "Enough. If you love your kids and are doing your best, if they are alive, safe, and sane, then your mind should simply be at ease."