Tag Archives: the work of motherhood

My Kids are Computers

I pretty much have to congratulate myself on this one: when my kids were born, I checked off the box that said “Computer module.” I really didn’t quite understand what that would entail, but boy, did I make the right decision!

These days, behavior, morals, even chores—you know what? All of parenting is just not the hassle it’s made out to be! All I have to do is enter my input:

Environment.church {
behavior: reverent;
volume: 10%;
default-position: seated;
thoughts: Jesus;

And BAM! My kids are the most reverent at church! (It’s important to beat other people with your reverence, too.)

At home, it’s just as easy:

Operation.chores {
complaining: none;
enthusiasm: 85%;
competence: 100%;
willingness-to-see-it-through: 200%

Entitlement? A problem of the past!

Operation.gifts {
response: gratitude-sincere;
attutide: positive;
asking-for-more: please;
if-no: whining-off;

Uh . . . YEEEEAH. Right. My kids aren’t computers, and I’m betting neither are yours. For some reason, it’s sometimes hard to remember this, but kids are people. They come with their own preferences and penchants and personalities. Their default settings are the same as any adults’, really:

Default {
selfish: yes;
self-centered: yes;
ungrateful: yes;
minimal-regard-for-others: yes;

I kind of think they’re that way by design. The whole job of parents is to teach kids otherwise (hopefully so thoroughly that our defaults as adults aren’t the same!). But it takes a lot more than one line of code to change ingrained, inborn behaviors for a lifetime.

That’s why parenthood is so hard. It doesn’t matter how many times you teach a child to be grateful/not whine/not throw a tantrum because they don’t get something they want, they’ll probably do it again.

THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU FAILED. It means your child is still a person and probably wants some control over his/her life. It means you have to keep teaching the same lessons you’ve taught a thousand times, probably a thousand more times—basically until your kids grow out of some of the behaviors. (I’m sure there are a few you can legitimately extinguish. Biting, maybe?)

And even then, even adults slip back into these natural-man behaviors. OVERCOMING THESE ID TENDENCIES IS THE BATTLE OF LIFE. I believe one of the major reasons why we came to earth is to learn to control our bodies, our urges, ourselves.

It starts in childhood with external instruction from our parents, but it never, ever ends. Neither does the battle of parenthood.

We will teach our children the same things over and over and over again. And they’ll still not learn it, or they’ll still act up, or they’ll still be people.

But you know what? That’s okay. Because I didn’t sign up for computers. I signed up for kids.

What do you think? Are your kids computers? Are you glad? Why?

Computer monitor photo by Brian/David

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Can you spend too much time with your kids?

Real Simple magazine recently reported that as of 2010, mothers (working and SAHMs) spend an average of fourteen hours a week on childcare—up from ten hours a week in 1965.

To which I say, um, what?

I realize I might be in the most time-intensive phase of parenting right now, where I still have young children at home, but I spend nearly fourteen hours a day with my children. And even if I my children were older and I were working, I would still have at least four hours a day in their presence on weekdays, and at least that on weekends.

I’m guessing (slash hoping) “child care” here means more than just “spending time with your child,” since I also have a hard time imagining mothers in 1965 shunting their children off for all but 85 minutes a day. I’m not “caring” for my children every single second of the day, but I’m still mothering them, whether the TV is on, whether they’re playing in the backyard, whether I’m on the computer—I’m on the clock, doling out food and punishments and advice. (So how is that not child care?)

But according to the Real Simple article, even two hours a day of caring for your own children is too much:

One study suggested that children who are the center of their parents’ universes may grow up to become more neurotic adolescents. The Free Range Kids movement, started by author Lenore Skenazy, has gained traction by advocating for unstructured and less-supervised play. Elisabeth Badinter, author of The Conflict, suggests that motherhood need not be a full-time profession. “Some parents believe that a good mother puts her child’s needs before everything else—and that’s not healthy,” says Badinter. Nor does it make us the best role models. After all, if our ultimate goal is to have our kids find personal fulfillment, perhaps we should lead by example: By putting ourselves at the top of our own to-do lists.

Wait, seriously? Somehow we’re saying that spending more than an hour and a half a day caring for your child is not only making them the center of your universe and putting yourself last, but also creating neuroses and makes us bad role models?

I think we’re conflating several very different things: taking care of our children, spending time with them and not making ourselves a priority. A very young child will not be able to tell the difference, but I would hope that an adult could. The difference isn’t something you measure in minutes: it’s measured in a mother’s mindset.

Yes, my children are my top priority and the biggest segment of my day right now. Honestly, whether you’re working or staying at home—heck, whether your children are infants or adults—if your child really needed you, would you say, “Oh, honey, I’m having my me time. I’ll help you with that impending peril/broken arm/unplanned pregnancy during your allotted two hours”? Is that really the way to be a good example of personal fulfillment?

Yes, we want our children to find personal fulfillment, and (obviously, I hope) we all want to find that ourselves. HOWEVER, I personally feel that exemplifying personal nirvana isn’t the main goal of full-time parenting. I have taken charge of my children’s formative years because I want to teach them the most important things in life—how to treat other people, the way to find true happiness (hint: it’s not by focusing only on yourself!), and the things we believe that will take them there—and that’s important enough to me to be willing to put in the time necessary to accomplish it.

A mother finding fulfillment in motherhood—in life—can put herself neither first nor last. Her children’s needs will come before hers quite regularly because she recognizes the level of commitment motherhood warrants, but she’s not going to forgo all meals until her children are independent, successful and grown.

She does model someone who sets personal goals, always learning, and devotes personal time to her own sanity and development. But she manages to do that in a very careful balance, managing her priorities and most of all her children and their physical and emotional needs. And importantly (to me), she looks for that personal fulfillment in the time she spends with (and caring for) her children, too. It is never easy, but it is worth it.

What do you think? What’s the difference between spending time with your children and “child care”? Can you spend too much time with your children?

Photo credits: watching timer—me!; multitasking dad—Henrik Betnér

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Every! Single! Minute!

I think every mom has had a “veteran” mom—usually an empty nester, with grandkids—pat her on the hand and command her to cherish these times, lament how much they miss the dirty handprints on the windows they just washed, and/or wax nostalgic on how wonderful it was to wake up every two hours with an infant. (Only slightly exaggerating on the last one.)

To which moms in the throes of motherhood pretty much think, “REALLY?!?!

I like to think that memory has glossed over how difficult raising children is—I’m just shy of six years in with my first, and there are already many difficult periods in our lives that have been covered with the benignant mists of time.

Thank heaven. Today is hard enough as it is; can you imagine if all the past trials we’ve endured came crashing down on us whenever we thought about them?

So maybe one day, I’ll be able to look back and say that I enjoyed it—overall. I hope I never forget how hard it was—or at the very least, that it was hard. Because it is hard and I’m not going to pretend like it’s not.

But I think Glennon at Momastery said it much better:

I think parenting young children (and old ones, I’ve heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they’ve heard there’s magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it’s hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that  most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.

And so I think that if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers – “ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU’LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN’T!” TRUST US!! IT’LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!”  – those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.

If you have somehow missed “Don’t Carpe Diem,” you have to fix that. Seriously. Now. If you have ever been tempted to bodily harm a well-meaning old lady who tells you how she’d give anything to have her little babies back (or maybe just sic your babies on her), if you’ve ever struggled with perspective and wondering how, exactly, changing so many diapers was suppose to be the ennobling, important calling you’re searching for, if you just need to be reminded that motherhood is worth it—go read it.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

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From the archives: Savor the seasons of motherhood

This post was originally published with a different introduction on April 6, 2008, when my kindergartener was only two (check out the picture below!). It was part of the March/April 2008 Group Writing Project, with the theme “Savoring the season.”

This week I was reading All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience by Neal A. Maxwell (man, I miss him!), and I came across an interesting concept. “Time is clearly not our natural dimension,” he says. “Thus it is that we are never really at home in time. Alternately, we find ourselves wishing to hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. . . . [W]e are clearly not at home in time—because we belong to eternity” (11). I’m glad to hear that problem isn’t unique to me, from wanderlust or mommybrain or what have you. Although this life is a tiny piece of eternity, the experiences we gain here should not be rushed through. They are invaluable to our eternal progress—especially in our families.

This brought to mind a quotation, source long since lost, that a good friend’s mother shared with her:

Wise is the woman who cherishes each season
and cheerfully anticipates the next.

My friend shared this quotation during a lesson in church on having patience. Most of us in the room were mothers, many with young children—and I think we all recognized the very common human tendency to want to rush or move on through the difficult times of parenting.

Focusing solely on the future, the next season of our lives, robs many of us of the joy of today. We dwell on the difficulties that bedevil us now: lack of sleep, kids’ eating problems, overwhelming amounts of housework, lack of time with our children and/or spouse, kids’ tantrums, and on and on. We could all likely spend hours listing the things about motherhood that leave us dissatisfied. For me, at least, after I’ve done that, all I’m left with is dissatisfaction.

When I stop brooding over the “bad” parts of motherhood, however, suddenly my charge is less of a chore. When I look at the cute and sweet things that my son already does, when I marvel at the ways he’s grown and continues to grow every day, I don’t think about the drudgery that it was.

arty b/w photo of Hayden at 26 months

Perhaps hindsight is 20/20; perhaps memory is blind. But as I look back over Hayden’s brief life, my chief regret (aside, possibly, from mildly spoiling him 😉 ) is not enjoying him more, even during the difficult times.

So today, I’ll savor the season. Today, I will do the work of motherhood, and I will choose to be happy. Tomorrow I’ll be able to look back with fond memories of the time I spent today. And I’ll be ready for the challenges—and joys—that tomorrow will surely bring.

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Do moms deserve others’ respect? From the archives

I was looking for Rebecca’s first birthday post and I came across this in the archives. I had completely forgotten it, so I figured I wasn’t the only one.

Earlier this month, I posted an excerpt of a column by Mary Ann Miller. Though it was written decades ago, it still rings true, especially when she said, “It’s true that modern ideology still advocates free choice, but somehow the choice of full-time homemaker doesn’t garner the same respect and interest as choosing to be an astronaut.”

One commenter took issue with this statement:

And what sort of respect and admiration do you expect to get when the ones to benefit from the choice you made are your immediate family, as compared to someone whose choices benefit many hundreds of people? In other words, if your choice is to be a full-time mother, you can expect to receive the respect and admiration of your family because they are the ones who benefit, but why would you expect to receive any acknowledgement from other people who gain nothing from your choice? If your choice is to be an astronaut, you can expect to receive the respect and admiration of everyone whose life your work touches.

I responded in the comments there, but the more I think about this, the more this type of thinking bothers me. Let’s set aside how very ego-centric it is to only respect those who do something to directly benefit your life. Let’s look at the standard here—and I’m not trying to pick on this commentator, but using this comment to illustrate a pervasive, destructive thought pattern that undermines mothers.

Here’s our logic:

  • Astronauts can expect to receive the respect and admiration of everyone whose life their work touches.
  • Mothers can expect to receive the respect and admiration of only their children and husbands.

Seeing it yet?

In this line of thinking, a mother can only receive respect from someone who she works with directly, her immediate family. An astronaut, on the other hand, can “expect” to receive admiration from “many hundreds of people,” who benefit from her work (and here’s a niggling point: this argument says astronauts should get respect for everything anyone in their profession has contributed to society—but not so for mothers).

So what, exactly might that benefit be? Can you name one thing an astronaut has done to make your life better?

Now name one thing your mother did to make your life better.

Now name one thing her mother did to make your life better. A friend’s mother. Your child’s friend’s mother. Another mom in your neighborhood.

So why is it that a mother can only receive respect from the people she serves directly, but an astronaut can receive respect for all of her colleagues’ collective contributions to society? Why can’t we take mothers as a force, too?

Mothers do not only benefit their own families. Having a mother at home can benefit the neighborhood—mothers can touch the lives of their children’s friends—mothers can influence generations. An astronaut doesn’t teach children to get along, to share, to read, to write, to sing, to love, to laugh, to live. We influence our children, and through them, all they come in contact with for the rest of their lives. A mother is the most influential career any of us could have.

globeOr, as G.K. Chesterton put it in his “guest post” here:

How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the Universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone?

So yes, I suppose I do agree that all mothers deserve the respect of those who have benefit from any one mother’s time, effort, talents, love. Has your life benefited from any nurturing woman?

Originally posted 27 August 2009

Photo credits: astronaut—Brian Talbot; globe—Sanja Gjenero

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What ever happened to hard work?

Once upon a time, there was a mystique to working one’s own land. Owning a farm was considered by a large part of society to be the pinnacle of achievement—you’d “arrived” once you obtained acreage. Hard work was a virtue, and an aspiration.

I doubt that I have to tell you that isn’t the mentality today. Most of us have learned to work just enough to get by. Even in motherhood, sometimes it’s easy to let the “okay” (PBS) supplant the “good” (playing with your kids).

There’s no way around it: motherhood—maintaining the home, providing meals, rearing children to become productive adults, sometimes even providing income for the family—is hard work. Even if we do just enough to get by, sometimes the work of motherhood is emotionally and physically exhausting.

So sometimes motherhood gets a bad rap. But you know what? I think we had it right centuries ago—though it’s often not fun or even interesting, hard work is good for us. It makes us grow and makes us stronger.

And, honestly, I have to hope that anything that requires this much effort can only be worth every ounce of myself that I put into it.

What do you think? What have you learned from the hard work of motherhood? How have you grown as a mother?

Photo by Sasha Wolff

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