Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Confessions of an at-home parent with other dreams

Every once in a while I find myself wondering what I've gotten myself into. Like, when I decided I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, was it really because I wanted to spend all my time with my kids, or was it just because I was tired of my job and wanted an excuse to hang out at home, learn to cook and knit, and let my husband support me guilt-free? Or, when I started reading learning theory and thinking about the aspects of school I wanted my kids to miss out on, did I realize that I would have kids at home for the next TWO DECADES?

Sometimes I let neighborhood kids come over for hours at a time just so my kids will have someone else to talk to and will leave me to think my own thoughts uninterrupted for a whole ten minutes. Then when the neighborhood kids start talking to me, I pretend to be deaf. "I'm sorry, did you say something? Maybe you should go home and tell your mother about it, 'cause I can't hear you."

There's nothing like other people's Christmas letters to make you start re-evaluating your life. And when that's too painful, you just start judging how THEY spent their time this year. "Oh, so you took a few days away from your kids this year, did you? Guess you just couldn't handle the full-time parenting gig, huh?" No, no jealousy there. Not a smidge!

For most of my career as a mother I've belonged to the camp convinced that "good" mothers never want to pawn their children off on someone else. Except in special cases. Like doctor appointments. Or the occasional date with your husband. (Movie OR dinner, never both.) And only leaving them with your mother or someone else as trustworthy as yourself. Pity the woman whose mother lives on the opposite coast or who believes Oreos and nonorganic milk are an appropriate snack for children. She'll just have to wait for hubby to come home to take her shower.

In some circles, wanting to have a break from your children means either a) your children are driving you nuts because your discipline techniques are weak, b) your children are driving you nuts because you have inadequate patience and creativity to adequately meet their needs, or c) you shouldn't have had kids in the first place because you're obviously too selfish to be a full-time parent.

While some version of this philosophy insidiously infiltrates every social circle, there isn't a mother alive who's never wanted a few minutes to herself to poop with the door closed. Most of us want a little more.

It's taken me a long time to admit to myself that I do want more. Sure, I want to be the best mom and wife I can be. Sure, I want to enjoy the privilege I've been given to watch my children grow up before my eyes. I want to enjoy what they have to teach me about living in the moment, about creating unbounding joy out of sunshine and sticks, about accepting the waves of emotion that come as life's ups and downs wash over me. I don't want to give up any of that. Not even for the chance to learn how to spin yarn. Or go to the newest Harry Potter film without having to leave halfway through. Or take a yoga class even though it's at dinnertime and my kids will be inhaling corn dogs and tater tots while I exhale my negative chi.

And yet, I do want to do those things. I want to do them guilt-free, trusting that I'm still a good mother even if I desire things that will take me away from my children. Most of my desire has nothing to do with getting away from the people I love and everything to do with going toward something else that interests me. But it shouldn't matter. It should be OK just to want to get away sometimes. It doesn't mean we're inadequate as parents. It doesn't mean our children will suffer. It doesn't mean we're selfish.

At some point, we have to turn off the voices in our heads, ignore the looks and whispers among the playgroup mothers, and give ourselves permission to chase our other dreams. Yes, becoming a mother was a dream of mine. But it wasn't the only one. And while motherhood is a life-long position with never-ending demands, even the most important job on the planet deserves some time off.


Amanda said...

Not having the same capacity to experience guilt, it is hard to feel the same way. As a father, I have always felt that my primary role was to be someone of honor and distinction. If this is taken care of, all the other aspects of fatherhood will follow. Those goals that set us apart and provide for us the opportunity to bring greatness to humanity are what will make us the best parents that we can be, provided that our goals are in keeping with our sacred beliefs.
Dream big for those dreams become the reality that our children grow in.


Jenny said...

I enjoyed reading this. I've had a lot of similar thoughts, although I am unusual in my "mom circles" because I do have VERY little time away from my kids compared to them.

Sandra Dodd has written that she has WAY more time to do things that interest her, and it's WAY easier than it was ten or twelve years ago. I take some comfort in that.

Jenny in Three Points said...

Hi Amanda!
My sister and I were just having a conversation about this very topic. It went the direction of working moms. When I worked part-time the first 3 years of my first child's life, I felt guilty taking any other time for myself away from her. I didn't allow myself a yoga class until I became a SAHM. And we DID have the grandmas nearby to help with childcare.
-Jenny (another one)

Michelle said...


I appreciate the honesty.

I have no personal experience, but that never stopped me from having an opinion...

Just like couples need some time apart to truly appreciate one another, I think it's probably the same for parents and kids, as well. Go take a day off!

(my two cents) :)

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