Saturday, May 30, 2009

Whose fault is it, really?

Okay, so this is probably going to start a firestorm, but after thinking about the comments to the babysitting post, I wanted to talk a little bit more about what it is that we moms are doing to ourselves, and what we are expecting of our families, and why.

I think that, for at home mothers, there is a lot of guilt about the fact that we are not bringing in an income, so it is hard to hire help for personal time. It may also be hard to convince our husbands that we need it.

I see, too, that amoung my working friends, most have help for just the hours that they work. Especially for those who use day care, help just covers the hours that mom is actually at work somewhere. I bring this up because it means that when it comes to a need for some personal time, at home mothers and working mothers are really in the same boat.

I want us all to stop and read this comment:

When it comes to men who have more regular hours, who sleep at night, who get to leave work and actually leave it behind, it is usually not impossible for them to make some adjustments to accomodate an overtired wife and mother who does not get to make her own hours or get a "lunch break" or even a shower.

Now, with due respect to the commenter, because I think that many of us feel just as she does, I think anyone who gave this an initial "amen, sister" needs to stop and think for a moment.

Unless your husband has a job where he punches the clock, he keeps his hours based on his work load and his time management. There are many days when my husband does not get a lunch break, or does not get to go the gym as planned, because something at work gets out of control for a while. Mostly, though, he gets those breaks because he stays focused and tackles each task efficiently as it comes his way. And, he gets the shower because he gets up in time to shower every single day. The only thing preventing me from being up to shower is my own lack of dicipline. He has the added incentive that he needs to shower in order to work, whereas I can totally let myself go and still do my job, but can I really? Not if it makes me all bitter and burnt out.

Mostly, my husband can get finished with his work by 10 and relax some in time to get to bed by eleven. He gets up about 7.5 hours later when his alarm goes off and hits the shower, then dresses and has a nice breakfast. In our house, the older kids dress themselves and the younger ones often come to breakfast in PJ's. When he leaves the house there are just the toddler and baby to dress, and I can easily do that myself, it takes less than ten minutes. I can get up early and shower or I can throw on "sid the science kid" and buy myself a half hour from 8-8:30 if I want to blow dry my hair, or one evening I can shower while the laundry is running.

On to the next point, I don't have a lunch break per-se, but I can make the lunch and then sit down and eat with the children and most days have a pretty nice time. I can give the baby some cheerios while I eat my lunch and then feed him while the other guys help clear the table. Then, all of my kids have a nap or quiet time and I can use that time wisely by resting in bed while nursing and doing some spiritual reading, intellectual reading or even pleasure reading.

I can throw in a load of laundry in the morning and another one right after the kids go to bed, put them to bed at a decent hour and then clean up the kitchen and be fully done with my housework by 9:30, which is usually when my husband walks in the door from his work.

I am really lucky and glad that I have a cleaning service twice a month, but if I didn't I would set aside a time for housework and do it all in one intense bout every other week, so that the shower scum would not nag me on a daily basis. Also, in times that I have not been able to have a cleaner, I have let a lot go and we have been fine.

My days are not always smooth, it is super hard when everyone gets the flu, or is over tired from a trip, or we have a baby who is not yet sleeping through the night. My husband is a great help to me, and at those desperate times, I expect my husband to step it up physically and emotionally as much as he can.

But I want to say this, loud and clear: if the default mode in your house is that you do not have time to shower, that you eat standing up in the kitchen, that you don't get much exercise and you don't get enough sleep, you are headed for disaster and you need to get a household routine under control.

When we live like this, we are doing damage to ourselves and to our families. When we add bitterness towards our husbands we are making the situation even worse, but we have to take responsibility for ourselves. You might well want to hire help or arrange for dad to take Saturdays until noon, and this might be a great break for you, but this should not be the only time all week you shower, rest, exercise or eat properly.

The key here is good use of time, some planning and also expecting some respect from the kids. We used to be constantly getting up from breakfast to pour kids more juice, etc. Now, when we are at meals we tell them we will not get up for things until after we have eaten ourselves.

I have been blessed to have my husband home on paternity leave twice now and I have learned so much from him -- he does not take nearly as much infringing on personhood from the kids as I do. They cannot steal food off his plate, and he makes them wait to do the next activity until he has taken off his coat and put it away properly. Too often I make myself a slave to my kids and then resent them.

We need to assert ourselves and take care of our own needs for the sake of ourselves and, by extension, our families. This means that we need time to meet our physical, personal and spiritual needs each day, and we need to work that time into our routines and then follow those routines with a balance of discipline and flexibility.

Now, I will add one more thing about the idea of having some outside help -- once you have a good routine in place, the help may feel like an indulgence on the good weeks. When I have had regular babysitting I have found that there were days when I did not know what to do with myself (mass and confession are a good choice, BTW) because things at home were manageable. The mistake I have made, however, is that we do not know when the routine will be thrown for a bit, and when husband's work gets crazy or the baby is teething or your best friend could really use a friend, your regular sitter can be the cushion which will allow your family to get over the little bumps without being thrown off for weeks at a time or having mom become a terror. When I had four kids ages four and under I used to nap when the sitter came. she must have thought I was so lazy, but what I really needed was sleep. We were in survival mode. I worry, though, that those who consider large families might get too used to survival mode and might not ever be getting back to what we builders call "maintenance" mode, which is where things are basically running smoothly.

Okay,feel free to discuss: Whether you work outside the home or stay home, do you make time to take care of yourself? If you already do, what advice do you have for others?

This is tough love, ladies, but I really think that it is true.


Anne said...

I like what you wrote about learning from your husband when he is home with the kids. I am SLOWLY learning to do the same thing. My husband is much more consistent with our son than I often am. I am trying to follow his lead.

As to the questions at the end: I find time for myself when I get up on time in the mornings and after the kids go to bed in the evenings - and sometimes during naptime, too! I find that having a routine for the kids (a set bedtime and a semi-set waking time) really allows me and my husband some me-time and some us-time.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Eileen said...

Mary Alice, this is downright inspired. I notice you often take this kind of role in discussions of this nature, and I for one really appreciate the dose of reality.

For me, "lack of discipline" is the key. When I am most honest with myself, I have to admit that I really do waste a lot of time. Not necessarily big swatches of time, but enough time to get small tasks done well (and those are the ones that pile up and eventually make me crazy.)

When I find myself getting bitter or even depressed by my circumstances, nothing helps more than having even a small dose of "success" -- clearing the counter,getting rid of the dirty dishes and filling the dish tub with hot soapy water before starting dinner, for example. Oh, I feel like an organizational queen when I remember to do something simple like that!! It really doesn't take much to make me feel like I'm "handling." I just have to expend a modicum of effort toward that end.

It'd be nice if I could sail through my days without a worry, and have happiness and serenity handed to me on a silver platter. But, no surprise, the truth is that any hope of achieving that rests with my own willingness to actually work for it.

You've long been an inspiration to me, Mary Alice. Thanks again for more of the same.

Sophie said...

I think you spoke with much wisdom here...

It is very common for me to let my self-discipline slack, then complain that I have no time to take care of myself. Really, nothing other than sloth.

There is a reason why Holly Pierlot uses the 5 Ps. Person is very important.

I also really loved the point you made about families getting used to the survival mode. It is very easy to let it continue longer than it needs to. I have 3 children so far and I feel that I often let it go longer but feel huge relief when I step it up and get things back into maintaining mode. Very important distinction.

Raising children shouldn't be 18+ years of "well, I couldn't keep the house clean because of the kids, or I never exercised because of the kids..."

Now, off to kick myself in the pants. :)

Right Said Red said...

I think this point sums up the reason why moms need some outside help on a regular basis:

"The mistake I have made, however, is that we do not know when the routine will be thrown for a bit, and when husband's work gets crazy or the baby is teething or your best friend could really use a friend, your regular sitter can be the cushion which will allow your family to get over the little bumps without being thrown off for weeks at a time or having mom become a terror."

The simple fact is, that no matter how organized you are, or we are, things will get thrown off by life in general. The unexpected pops up constantly. If you have a larger family, at worst this can really derail things, and at best it can leave mom feeling overwhelmed and emotionally spent. When Dad works long hours (as is the case for my husband and yours MaryAlice), having mom do it all, all week, is emotionally very draining--no matter how organized mom is! Yes, organization makes things much, much, better, and most regular readers know that I am no pushover with my kids. I eat well, get good sleep, and generally do not allow my children to walk all over me. These are the bare bones in my opinion. Despite this fact, time away from the children is really important for my emotional health. By time away, I do not mean taking a shower by myself! I mean getting out of the house and out of earshot for a couple of hours per week. Can a husband provide the childcare and help during this time--certainly! But if your husband works hard long hours, and the budget has room, it makes a lot more sense to have an outside person provide this help, and save the time when Daddy is home for family time.

So basically, I completely agree that organization and a schedule, and discipline with the children all make day to day life not only tolerable, but enjoyable! These things can give a mom the small breaks she needs in a day so that she can be cheerful and happy.

But despite all of this, unexpected things pop up regularly, even if it is just a friend having a baby that you would really like to serve with a meal! And on the weeks where the unexpected doesn't pop up, the outside help at a scheduled time simply allows mom a break to leave the house and do something completely personal and alone. I always think that I am jealous about my husband's trainride--and it is important to remember that those working outside the home have these little perks of spending time alone!

Alone time and time out of the house, are really important. In my mind, it is like running. You can plan your run to the best of your ability, train and organize so you are ready to go, but during the race, you need those outside people to give you water and energy drinks or else you will collapse. Training and perseverance are the most important things (and this relates to have discipline and a schedule in your home). But having a person hand you an energy drink at set points in the race makes the most sense. Sure, you could go pour the drink yourself (or carry the supplies on your back), and only drink it when you start feeling like you might pass out, but nobody would argue your marathon would be done as well or would be as rewarding if made these choices.

Michael and Kristine said...

I think it's so true that we, as stay-at-home moms, need to be extremely self-disciplined. I'm only 25 and am grateful to have discovered the Mother's Rule of Life which has enabled me to split up my housework and daily duties as to not feel overwhelmed. I even work 15-20 hours part-time from home (during naps, bedtime, when my hubby gets home, etc) and don't feel overwhelmed. I also make sure that I have everything done by the weekend, so I can have a weekend, too! By taking these 2 days to refresh with my family, I am ready and excited for another week. The Mother's Rule and the "Weekend Rule" have been my tools for success!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ladies,
I really hope I didn't start the firestorm with my comments about the nature of being home vs. working outside of the home. What has always bothered me (I have been a SAHM for 14 yrs now and have four children ages 14 to 7), is the implied assumption from some women that "they have it so harder" than their husbands. It's a petulent attitude that only leads to unhappiness. I remember spending hours at the playground with my friends and their kids, we'd all have our Starbucks Lattes and fancy Peg Peragos (I'm dating myself here) and packed organic free range chicken lunches and invariably the conversation would start about how incompetent or useless the husband was, or general annoyance that he had to "work late" or go out on a business dinner. And I'd look around and think, my gosh I'd much rather be spending my day with my kids and friends outside at a pretty park than trapped in an office building, dealing with the office politics and all that crap. Is this really so hard?

I've always had help. I could not rely on my husband to help me at all. As the years went on, our help ranged from part time to full time live in help. Now all my children are in school full time and I don't have any help. But it's been a nice life and I am very grateful for that.

Melanie B said...

For me naptime and after the kids go to bed is usually enough "me time" in the week. I plan to have the kids continue to have at least a quiet rest time in the afternoons even when they no longer need naps. I need the quiet space to pray and read and catch up on my own rest.

The hardest times for me are when in early pregnancy and early newborn I'm so tired that I use all of naptime for sleeping and crash right after the kids go to bed. That's my crisis mode and I do get a bit ragged if I don't also have some additional time for quiet reading and prayer.

I also find the transition from survival mode to normal mode supremely difficult. Having allowed my routines to relax to get through the three month crisis time of exhaustion in the first trimester, I find it hard to discipline myself back into a regular groove of personal and household maintenance. But once I realize my energy levels are back up and I whip myself back into shape things do go much better for everyone. It isn't sinful to let things slide when crises happen but I do have a tendency to let it become sloth after the crisis has resolved itself. That's when I have to pull out the tough love on myself.

Thanks so much, Mary Alice for the good thoughtful post and necessary pep-talk.

Literacy-chic said...

I missed the original discussion here, but followed the link from a friend, and there certainly is a lot here that makes one think. I definitely have my days when I blame myself for my lack of discipline and feel grumpy about it. But I want to analyze this a little bit. You give the example of your husband's job. Both your description of him and how you organize your household seem a little Type A to me. While people who seek employment outside of the house presumably try to seek jobs that suit their personality types, it seems as though those who remain in the house, occupying themselves with the management of the house have to largely suit their personalities to the kind of discipline you describe here. But can every personality type be happy running a household in this way? Do we all have to have designated meal times, etc? What about following children's cues, if we prefer that kind of parenting style? One of the reasons I object to daycares is that all of the children are on the same "schedule" for the ease of the care providers. Isn't this kind of the same thing in a way? I would suggest that this interpretation of the vocation of motherhood feels stifling, and represents what many working mothers fear. It feels rather *more* like being at the mercy of the children and the house than otherwise. My challenge would be to ask how the non-Type-A mom manages a happy household. Or whether it is part of our daily crosses to suppress our more free-form natures?

So that you have an idea of where I'm coming from, I am not a SAHM, but I do work at home quite a bit when I'm not teaching, at least for the present. My course load in the fall will be heavier, so my time away from home will increase. So I find myself with TWO jobs that stay with me 24/7 rather than being contained neatly in the 9-5 workweek. PArt of this is preference--I know I am not suited to a regimented 9-5 workweek. So if I know that about myself, I wonder why I should bring that kind of schedule to my home?

Katie said...

This is a beautiful post. I agree totally. I am a trained counselor and life coach, but so often do not follow those principles myself. My days are better and I am a more joy-filled mom when I get up early, exercise and pray in the morning before the kids wake up. That means I need to go to bed early and not spend time watching TV or checking blogs. But, in the long run, I do not need those things. They are "black holes" of time that take me away of giving time and effort to fully live out my vocation as a wife and mom.

It is because I am a stay at home mom that I need to be more organized. I need to be a good steward of my time and make sure that I take time for myself.

Kat said...

Literacy-chic, I would not describe myself as a Type-A personality, so here is my perspective: First of all, the reality is that there are things that need to get done around the house one way or another, and I have finally found a system that works for me. Perhaps like you, I always felt resentful of housework when I put myself on a "Monday-clean bathrooms, Tuesday-vacuum, Wednesday-laundry" type of schedule, so I had to find something that worked for me. Now I keep a checklist of daily and weekly chores, and when I complete a chore I check it off. This suits my personality much better and quite frankly, I get more accomplished when I operate this way. Other builders do better with a more set schedule because of their personalities, but I think that all of us have had to find what works through trial and error.

Second, I don't think that Mary Alice was trying to prescribe one way of running our families, but rather make the point that many of us blame our state of being SAHM's for not getting to take a shower, exercise, have any personal time, etc. Mary Alice was trying to make the point that if we take a little time to think about how we manage our days and weeks, we should be able to fit in these basic activities. I am totally guilty of wasting time that could have been spent jumping in the shower, taking a nap, spending time in prayer, etc.

Lastly, I think it is worth pointing out that many of us were successful academically or in jobs before we had children, and we were probably affirmed for our success. For some of us, that affirmation is essential to feeling appreciated and motivated to continue doing good work. (For others of us it's not such a big deal.) For those of us who do need that affirmation, it's worth having a conversation with our husband about this need of ours since he will be the one who sees the work that we do for our family. The need for affirmation is not a weakness but rather a "love language," as I mentioned in an earlier post.

Literacy-chic said...

Hmmm... I hope the last bit about a need for affirmation being a weakness wasn't directed to me, as I certainly didn't/wouldn't see it as such!

And while I don't consider myself a SAHM, as I'm not, strictly speaking, I do share many of the values, experiences, and even problems that SAHMs have, which is why I pop in on these conversations. I have the same issues with not getting to take a shower, exercise, have personal time, as my two youngest children (3 and 18 months) attend montessori only part time (in the former case) or not at all (the latter). So I'm right there with you, really, and I have had to at least force myself to get up before bringing my husband to work and my son to school if I wanted to take a shower without waiting for the stars to align so that both girls are/were asleep at the same time! :) Quite often, the housework ends up being a joint effort on the weekends. My husband & I just try to get done what needs to be done when it needs to be done--more a philosophy than a schedule!

Kat said...

Literacy-chic, I said that the need for affirmation is NOT a weakness - I'm one of the ones who definitely needs affirmation, which is what I've realized about myself in this whole process! I wasn't referring to you, just to us as mothers in general - some of us really appreciate affirmation, some of don't need it so much.

Stephanie said...

I love this post, it's very thought-provoking and how I try to think when I'm having a nice little pity party for myself. As a SAHM, I feel like I have experienced both sides of this story. I have definitely felt sorry for myself plenty of times, usually when I have a very young baby and am feeling very smothered by all the baby wearing and nursing!

My husband frequently tells me that he thinks my job is much harder than his (staying at home, trying to interpret the 2-yr-old and constantly holding the 7-month-old) but I don't like to think that my job is harder- just different. There's no way in heck I could do his job as a logistics analyst- my brain is not wired that way! On the other hand, he could take care of a house just fine, but probably not as efficiently as me. This is because I have over two years of experience of managing a household (why they don't teach this in college I have no idea!). He doesn't have the same experience, so why should I expect him to operate the same as me?

When I have friends who vent to me about how hard life is as a SAHM, I can relate but I always offer words of encouragement. It is not an easy job. It takes a lot of self-discipline because there's not a boss looking over your shoulder making sure your work is done. But I've asked my husband to hold me accountable to certain things, to be a "boss" not in a demeaning way but to encourage me. I know a lot of women might find this insulting, but to me, it's part of my husband being the head of our household.

I have recently hired a homeschooled girl to come to our house once every two weeks or so to provide a childcare so I can get some jobs done around the house. She's still young enough that I don't feel comfortable leaving the kids home alone with her, but soon my kids will get to know her and we'll use her as a babysitter too. I love the "freedom" of being able to work in my home, get a serious, time-consuming chore done or take some personal time to read or pray. I don't know why I didn't hire her sooner!

After the kids are in bed, my husband and I take that time to be together or spend "alone" time apart. I go to the gym twice a week, he will hang out with a buddy, or the two of us will watch television or find something to do together. We take turns showering in the evenings after the kids are asleep, so I've never missed a shower in two years. It's what works for us as a couple. I consider myself lucky that I have a husband who is home by 6 pm most days though, I know other moms don't necessarily have that luxury.

Not that I have a ton of experience as a mom, but I really find self-discipline and routine to be the ideal. I do not get close to this ideal most days, believe me! But when I do, my sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction expressed by my husband is what encourages me to get up the next morning and do it all over again!

Moira said...

I think this is a really interesting topic and I guess I am glad that my comment was the gateway for it. Since my comment was quoted, I would like to say the discussion is a little off-the-topic of what I meant to say. When I wrote that mothers get more of the "hard" parts of parenthood, I didn't mean it as either a) a complaint about the work itself, or b) a criticism of my own husband let alone anyone else's.
I believe that between the toll on our bodies when it comes to pregnancy (morning sickness, especially!), childbirth and breastfeeding, women have a decidedly "harder" road in the simple sense that we are burning way more calories out there for the time that we are doing those things. More so if we have a nursing baby AND are pregnant like some of the builders have done.
To say that you don't get to decide when to go to bed OR when to wake up because of a baby's needs is not a complaint, it's just a statement of fact (though, of course, I agree that we should avoid any temptation to complain). I think of TM's post about wishing for a full night's sleep, even in a jail cell! It's hilarious, and it's also true, at least temporarily. In a few months, with a little more sleep, I pray TM won't be feeling so desperate for rest.
So maybe when Mary Alice is talking about "maintenance", I am really mostly referring to "crisis/survival" mode with very small children (not old enough to be able to "lay down the law" with). For these new mothers, it is not a matter of becoming more organized, but of getting to the point where they have the mental strength to begin to even THINK about getting organized.
Finally, when it comes to our spouses, I'm pretty sure that if our husbands were to read this conversation, they would find it much less controversial to say that IF and WHEN they can (even if it requires a little more discipline or tweaking of their schedules), they could pitch in to lighten the load for their spouse. They can't always, and they shouldn't always have to. But probably most husbands are happy to help when they can, if they just knew much it is appreciated! Like Stephanie said, we can't expect them to know our lived experience, since they are not living the same thing, so again, in no way do I mean this in a demeaning way toward men.

Michelle said...

M husband had a particularly rough day on Friday. After the kids were in bed, he told me all about it, and I interrupted him at least three times to say, "Thank you for making it possible for me to not have to work for pay." Really, I'll take sibling arguments interrupting my shower over office politics any day.

When at home, my husband tries to notice things like the sink full of dishes at 830 pm while I'm snuggling with the 3 year old to get him to sleep. But for the most part, he seems oblivious. It is easy for me to get annoyed, especially when I'm having a crazy, abnormal week (baseball plus scouts plus a doctor's appointment plus somebody getting sick or whatever) and he isn't pitching in to help. So, during those really busy seasons (baseball), I have to remind him that this temporary situation demands a little more from him on the home front. But I wouldn't not want that sort of reliance on him all the time. There is no reason for the dishes to not be done right after dinner most nights, unless they weren't done after breakfast and lunch either and the clean ones weren't even emptied from the washer.

And here is where I have had to demand my children participate a bit more. The oldest three are 11, 9 and 7, and, until rcently, I has really under-utilized their talents in basic home maintenance - especially dishes and laundry. Now that I have even the 5 year old emptying the silverware and matching socks on a regular basis, I am finding that the laundry isn't piling up as much and at least the breakfast and lunch dishes are getting done (baseball and 4 pm dinners will be over soon!).

I also have a woman clean my house every week. There are good weeks that I think she might be frivilous, but most of the time I am very thankful for her help. (And I call my husband and thank him for cleaning the house - in his delegated way). This summer, I've asked her to bring her teen daughter over to babysit while she cleans. Imagine leaving home, alone, for an hour and a half, and returning to clean bathrooms and mopped floors. I don't know what I will do in that time, but I think summer will be too short.

Juris Mater said...

MaryAlice, AWESOME post!!

Literary chic, you bring up something important here... the majority of us builders are type-A, but not all of us (as Kat said). However, there is a difference between being type-A and maintaining basic order in one's household. We have some freedom in how we choose to live order, but order is something we all have to strive for, regardless of our temperaments or personality types. The reason is that order in the day to day tasks frees our souls to love God, to be truly spontaneous and creative, to direct our time and energy toward advancing Christ's kingdom on earth, instead of constantly scrambling to pick up the pieces of chaos that our lack of focus and discipline have created. Our time is a gift, and order helps us use our time affirmatively rather reactively/defensively. We have more choice and more freedom for spontaneity when there is baseline order. As mothers and homemakers, whether we like it or not, we are managers of a huge operation (the running of the home and the lives of our children), so we have to learn and cultivate managerial and organizational skills if they are not innate to us. In the same way, we are forming souls who aren't always like us and have many needs, so if we are super type-A managers, we have to learn to slow down and go with the flow and nurture the souls in our care rather than just do, do, do.

It's important to remember that our children aren't all like us. Even though we may be amused by our free-form natures, or by our hyper-organized natures, or whatever, out of respect for our children, we need to incorporate a little of both. Otherwise, our children who crave routine will be disoriented if we're footloose and fancy-free all the time, and on the flipside our creative, laid back children won't have breathing room if we're type-A taskmasters.

Child-directed parenting is another topic altogether! Did you want to go there, Literary-chic? : )

Theresa said...

Amen! But I think in holy-Catholic-homeschool-mama culture, there can be a misperception that martyring yourself is the path to holiness; that if you are miserable playing itsy-bitsy spider all day long, it must be because you haven't surrendered yourself to your vocation properly; and that if running about after the kids is not your fondest way to spend time, there must be something intrinsically wrong with you. This leads to a mindset where women don't occassionally go out for coffee with a girlfriend, hire a sitter to exercise, or even get a fulfilling part-time job when they (and their kids) would clearly be much happier if they did so. God gave us gifts to use them, and suburban domestic isolation without ever working on developing adult relationships, hobbies, or self-care is a recipe for depression. Even the essay this blog is named after always gets me down.... why does that woman think it's okay to be "invisible" in her own home? Why does she think having peanut butter in her hair is virtuous? Go take a shower already lady, join a bookclub, make your children show you respect, and hire a sitter and go out with your husband once in awhile!

Joanne said...

I don't know. I feel like my husband and I are completely different as parents. He is an involved, loving, supportive, SUPER present father, but it is not the same as being a mother and that's just all there is to it, for me. I do not want to learn how to be less of a mother to my children. It doesn't impress me that my husband could ignore my children's needs, whether it be eating the food off my plate, or whatever. I think there is an age where such a thing is appropriate and I think it's kind of mean (this is how I would see it from my husband, I make a judgment only on him and no one else's husband).

I am a stay at home mother and I think the most important part of that definition is MOTHER. I can't turn it off, I don't have a time that I am in this house with these kids that I can clock out (literally or figuratively). There are times where only I will do for my kids - whether that be for the little one who is still breastfeeding or the older ones who fall down or are in pain or whatever.

I do find myself to be envious of my husband, because he can leave the house, in fact, he's expected to. He does not work late hours like your husband, for the most part, which makes my life a lot easier. My job is much, much, MUCH harder than his and that would be true, to me, no matter what his job is. Also, he had his job long before we met and married and had kids. Nothing, really, has changed about his day to day work life since we had kids and EVERYTHING about my work life has changed since we had kids. I do not resent my husband or children for this, it's just the way that it is. I think it would be insincere and dishonest for me to pretend like we are still both in the same boat when we're not.

In (finally) answer to the question posted, I don't really make time to care for myself, *right now* but I have a two week old baby and have accepted the fact that we are just pushing through this part. I have grand plans to at least take a walk daily starting here soon, when I am getting a little more sleep.

Our son is autistic, so I can't demand too much from him - although I should say I do demand a lot from him, but I like to keep my expectations low. :)

I am disappointed, kind of, to read this chastisement because I was so happy to read the previous post where there seem to be some common ground among the Builders and me. I am so impressed by all of you and how well you seem to handle motherhood, but I must admit I was happy to hear that you all have rough days too, and need help. I think that must be true for all of us, if we are honest.

Jen said...

I have been having this debate in my head the last several weeks - hire help or get myself together and it seems like a chicken or the egg dilemma. Maybe if I hired help, I could get my act together; maybe if I had my act together, I wouldn't feel so guilty "rewarding" myself with a little help and an opportunity to pursue my own interests a bit (let alone clean the house in peace or shower at my leisure). I have 3 children under 3.5 and I guess in some ways I am coming out of survival mode and trying to establish a maintenance mode for the first time (youngest is just about 9 months). Since they came in such quick succession, I never got out of survival mode before another arrived. I have started reading A Mother's Rule of Life and am slowly, but surely, trying to develop a workable routine. I know I need time management skills & better self-discipline. I want to feel proud of myself as a mother & homemaker. I know it will go a long way toward helping me to feel a sense of accomplishment. I also need words of affirmation for all the same reasons Kat said, but I think a working routine would help meet that need. Finally, I think the question of who's job is harder (breadwinner or homemaker) is impossible to answer. They are so very different, each with their own perks & challenges. Some days one is harder and some days the other is harder. Rather than arguing over whose job is harder, I want to learn how to work as a team and support one another.

Catherine said...

Joanne, I'm with you. I am always inspired by your descriptions of your household organization and education, Mary Alice, but I don't think it's necessary to worry whether or not others are in "survival mode" too much. We're all doing our best. There are so many factors that affect the way a household runs, from financial security to children's varying needs (we have a son on the autism spectrum too, which means many days are out of my control!) to time of year. Certainly mom has to figure out a way to manage whatever she is given, so perhaps you're just saying it's better to try to come up with a solution to the craziness than to sit around and complain that our husbands have it easier? I'll agree with that.

Catherine said...

Joanne, I meant to add in my comment not to underestimate the unusual stress a special child puts on the household. I just had my first week ever with my almost 6 yr old autistic son away from home (I'd been away from him before, but it was always me leaving home). This was because we were moving, and I couldn't believe that even though our living situation was in total upheaval, daily life with the other children moved along pretty smoothly. It opened my eyes to how "special" (and insane (-:) our life usually is. I know you and I share that gift and challenge!

Katie said...

I just have another comment to share that may have already been shared . . . I do think women, being at home, bearing and raising children, may have it harder than our husbands who work out of the home But, I also feel we have more joy in raising our children too. There have been so many times, when, my boys are being so cute together, that my husband remarks that it must be great to be with them all day. I know I will gladly take the struggles so that I can be the one to witness the beauty in them too.

And, time management and time away are essential. I know that I have found that having a play date at a park, etc, with a friend it enough time away for me. Just having that adult contact makes me happy and eases my stress.

texas mommy said...

Awesome, awesome post, MaryAlice. I personally took away something a little different than many have commented on. Sometimes I feel like I am in survival mode because things are kind of chaotic and I am always responding to something urgent (poopy diapers, spills, bumps, breaks, lost my ladybug, etc.)

I have recently come to realize that (with the exception of the few weeks preceding the wanting to sleep in a jail cell post when we had a vacation that included lots of vomitting and everyone was covered with hand, foot and mouth disease) we are eating well, the house is clean, laundry caught up, and the baby recently started sleeping a million times better. We are in maintenance mode with our 3, 2 and 1 year old. It is the unpredictability that makes it feel like survival mode sometimes, especially to my temperament. Like when the 3 year old melts down because he doesn't like the color of the bottom of his shoes (seriously) which makes us late for soccer. So what I am taking away from this is that I am not in survival mode, but need to work on a major attitude adjustment towards maintenance mode with 3 little ones so my frustrations and impatience don't aggrevate my little ones. Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

B-Mama said...

I want to also chime in that the words "survival" and "maintenance" are going to look really different from household to household, depending on the people who live within and the season of life they are living. The discussion above illustrates this pointedly. "Survival" to me 6 months ago with a new infant looks really different from survival now. "Maintenance" is also worlds different as well and it should be! Like Texas Mommy referenced above, sometimes we just have to pray for grace to endure whatever mode we're in. And like Mary Alice so beautifully wrote in her post, sometimes we just have to buck up and realize we have a GREAT responsibility handling whatever comes our way (with or without extra help!) I will pray for all of us as we navigate this challenging vocation!

Melanie B said...


I'd say with a two week old baby you're definitely in survival mode. And that can make everything seem so overwhelming. I'm due in July and I expect I'll be in survival mode for at least 4 to 6 weeks after the baby is born, if not longer. I was in survival mode for what seemed like an eternity during my first trimester when I was nauseated and exhausted and dealing with having just moved to a new house and keeping up with a very active two year old and an 8 month old who seemed to be developing a food sensitivity to wheat and who knew what else and couldn't eat anything. It was very disheartening to slog through November, December, January, February, stuck inside in a New England winter feeling wretched and barely hanging on. And it was especially depressing during that time to read blog posts by other moms who were getting organized and setting goals when I could barely maintain my head above water. But I did get through it eventually and was able to get to the point where I was able to do all the things I wanted to do, to finally catch up on all the housework I'd been neglecting, etc.

Especially when you're mothering infants and toddlers, and new ones keep coming, you're going to necessarily spend a great deal of time in survival mode. I know at times in the past three years it's felt like I've been in that mode more than in maintenance and sometimes it can feel very disheartening. But I have to stop comparing what I am able to accomplish in my survival mode with what anyone else is doing. That way lies insanity. Like B-Mama says, what is impossible for me first trimester and postpartum might be entirely do-able for another mom. Circumstances vary so much from person to person and household to household.

God bless you and I'll say some prayers for you in this difficult time.