Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mom, CEO

This fall applied for a job. It was sort of an act of faith--I wasn't sure if I was ready to work more than I am (it was only part-time, but still more hours than I usually work). But I felt led to give it a go, thinking that I was at least worthy of an interview.

Well, I did not get an interview. Which is kind of a blow to one's ego. And then a person starts wondering if a mother of five who has worked from home for 14 years will ever get an interview for anything. I read just yesterday that mothers who take more than 10 years out of the work force have a much harder time getting hired than those who take between five and ten.

Don't get me wrong. I made the choice to be home with my kids, and I love it. I have loved being home for almost every minute of their baby and toddlerhood. I've had a lot of freedom to schedule my days and pursue many different interests. And I realize that a person can't have both: you can pour yourself into a career and not have kids, or you can pour yourself into kids and not have much of a career, or you can try to balance the two but always feel like you're cheating someone or should be somewhere else. But you can't have a high-powered career and be a stay at home mom at the same time (a lucky few manage to stay home for a few years and have a high-powered career before and after those years, but that is not easy to do). And of course it is a luxury and a blessing to be able to stay home with my kids--a luxury and blessing that many people do not have. I am thankful.

Who wouldn't want to be home to capture moments like this?
And be able to go on fun outings with your kids on weekdays?

But there are moments when I wish for the benefits I would have if I had chosen a career instead of staying home. The fulfillment of doing something that lasts longer than my empty laundry basket or clean kitchen. The benefits of a supervisor telling me I've done well. A paycheck. An adult conversation. Being part of a team. An escape out of talk of potty training and picky eaters into the "real" world. And, yes, the ego-building of having a title, of having written or said something that other people care about.

So, what does a stay at home mom do in these moments? All too often, I think we turn mothering into a career. We make choices that give us fulfillment or feed our egos rather than serving our children. From the outside we look like supermom, but sometimes we are using our children to meet our own selfish ends.

What does that look like? I think when our kids want us to sit down and play a game with them, but we instead scour Pinterest for ideas and then spend two hours making a game, which we then take and pictures of to post to our blog, that is feeding our egos instead of serving our kids. When our kids want us to sit down and let them serve us their imaginary food, but we make felt food upgrades to impress our fellow crafty moms, that is ultimately serving ourselves rather than them. When our kids want to color with mom, and we instead find an idea online, make a trip to the craft store (where our kids have a tantrum and we get aggravated with them), and then get home and are too tired to even do the craft, we've failed to capture a special moment with our kids because we wanted to do things that would capture our interest instead of theirs. If our kids ask to play with play doh and we instead spend all morning making a "sensory bin" that keeps their interest for about five minutes, we haven't tended to their needs and interests, we've tended to your own.

There is of course nothing wrong with Pinterest, or mom blogs, or elaborate crafts. It is good to do all our work, parenting or otherwise, with excellence. And there is nothing wrong with trying to make the work of parenting more interesting for ourselves. But I think sometimes we scour Pinterest for the best ideas and then post our efforts to a mom blog out of a desire to 1) find fulfillment in our kids--who while they are fulfilling, should not be where we look for fulfillment (that's a way of using them). Our kids are a sacred gift for us to tend, not a career or a path to self-actualization; 2) feel better about ourselves by seeking a pat on the back from our fellow moms who are impressed by our efforts; 3) do the things we want to do rather than the things our kids want us to do. Sometimes they ask for a simple activity and we give them way too much--getting stressed and grumpy in the process. Sometimes we forget to listen to what they want, instead imposing on them what we want or what will make us feel good.

Maybe in the end it's not so much about what we do, but being honest about our motives. If you want to crochet a kitchen's worth of food for your kids because you like to crochet food, then by all means do it--just realize that this is your hobby, and your kids don't care if their play food is made of air, plastic, or fancy crochet. But they do care if mom is too busy with her hobby to be served at their "restaurant." If you want to have a mom blog because you love it, then do it--but don't sacrifice your kids on the altar of your ego by embarrassing them or spending so much time blogging that you neglect your children in the process. If you want to make a fun craft from Pinterest, do it because you want to, not because you think your kids need it (they probably don't) or because you need someone to tell you how wonderful you are.

I'm not arguing here for a more kid-centered approach to life. In fact, just the opposite, I'm arguing for a less kid-centered approach. If we were to stop making a career out of our kids, I think we'd end up with more time. If we listened to what the kids want from us (an hour of us playing with them) rather than spending an hour online finding a clever idea to do with our kids, we would have filled up their love tanks during that hour by getting down on the floor and playing with them, and then when the hour is up we would be able to pursue our own interests while they pursue theirs.

And if we did make time to pursue our own interests, maybe our kids would end up happier too. They would get a mom who listened to them and did the simple things they were asking for rather than a mom who constantly stressed herself out trying to be supermom. They would get a mom who had interests of her own and showed them what it is like to find out what you like to do and have the discipline to do it, rather than always seeking approval of someone else. They would be released from the pressure of being mom's "project" or life-fulfiller. And let's face it, those are roles no one should be asked to fulfill.

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