Disillusioned


Yesterday Michael came home from work and started telling me about this case he’s handling at work, and how the Ninth Circuit granted his (client’s) petition for rehearing, which means he gets to go up to San Francisco and argue before eleven judges.  Very exciting stuff.  Then he asked me about my day.  “Oh, I had a very productive day,” I said.  “I did three loads of laundry, took Finn to speech therapy, baked some Christmas cookies, gave the baby a bath . . .”

More and more lately, the shape of my days – the monotony of them, the veritable triviality of them, the drudgery of them – is getting me down.  I know I’m not supposed to say these things, right?  As a stay-at-home mom, the proper thing to do is to sing from the rooftops in exaltation about how wonderful and magical my life is as a housewife, and as a “mommy blogger” (if that’s even what I am; I’m not sure), I should be honing my photography skills so as to document for all the world just how wonderful and magical my life is.

The reality is, however, that I’ve been spending an awful lot of time lately feeling like not much more than a servant.  Everybody in this house wants something from me all the time, and most of them complain about what they get from me.  I am here to do for, to serve, and to listen to (not be listened to).  I am a pair of hands and a pair of ears.

Do I sound bitter?  I guess I am.

On the one hand, I do feel extremely fortunate to be able to stay home to raise my kids.  I know that not everyone can do that, and there was a time when I couldn’t financially do it either.  On the other hand, lately I can’t help but question the choices I’ve made.  I don’t think they’ve been the wisest choices.

I read this book recently, Why Have Kids by Jessica Valenti.  I couldn’t put it down, and it left me feeling angry and depressed.  The premise of the book is, first and foremost, that motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Can I get an Hallelujah?  It’s not.  I’ve known that for a long time.  It is a lot of monotony and drudgery.  There are, without a doubt, moments of bliss, of transcendence, but those moments are fairly rare – rare enough to be noteworthy, certainly.  It’s mostly a thankless undertaking.  I guess the rewards come later, when the kids are all grown up, and they turn out to be decent, productive members of society.  Then we can sit back and say, “I guess I did a pretty good job.”  (In truth, though, so much of how they turn out is out of our hands; if they turn out to be assholes, do we take the blame for that?  I guess in that case, the whole endeavor will have turned out to be a complete failure.)

Valenti also posits in her book that, basically, we mothers have been duped into believing that motherhood is the most important job in the world by a paternalistic society that really, even in this progressive, enlightened age, wants to keep women at home where they belong and let men continue to run the world.  Even the push to breastfeed, she asserts, is a way to keep women tied to the home and the children, and to limit their choices.  I can see truth in this: while I’ve always been rather militant about breastfeeding, it can’t be denied that formula was created in the first place as part of Women’s Lib – a way to open up women’s options.  And while we as a society push breastfeeding, we certainly don’t make it extremely easy to breastfeed out in the world – especially in the working world.

Is motherhood really the most important job in the world?  That’s like saying, “Maintaining this house that I built, that nobody asked me to build, is the most important job in the world.”  I’m only raising the kids that I chose to have – I’m not doing society any favors.  Perhaps one of my kids will grow up and contribute something truly amazing to society – and in that way, it will be a blessing to humanity that I bore and raised that child.  But it’s not likely.  Let’s be honest: the vast majority of our kids will live average lives and will not leave a lasting mark outside of their own families.

vintage+housewifeAnd really, is doing laundry the best I can do?  Am I dazzling anyone with my baby-bathing skills?

Motherhood certainly doesn’t utilize my best talents, and in fact, it probably, more than anything, exposes my failings and shortfalls.

The truth is, I’ve been turning these thoughts over and over in my head for a while.  It’s hard to write this stuff and not come across as ungrateful, and even unloving.  I love my kids, okay?  I do.  They are my whole world.  I guess that’s what’s getting me down.  They are my world.

What happened to me along the way?  Who am I?  I had no idea when I took on this gig that my entire identity would be subsumed by my kids.  I am a mother.  I am a mom.  Outside of that, I don’t know anymore.

I think I should have had fewer kids.  I think I should have kept working outside the home – at least part-time.  Not only have I lost myself, I’ve made myself completely financially dependent on my husband (which I swore I would never do after my first husband died and I sold our house, paid off all our debts, bought a smaller house for me and Kevin, and started over fresh).  I’ve sacrificed my earning power.  I’ve been out of the workforce for ten years now, and it will be at least several more years before Scarlett is in school and I can possibly find part-time work.  By then I’ll be in my fifties (!!!), and I won’t be qualified to do anything that will earn as much as I earned before when I worked.  It’s frightening when I think about all the what-ifs.

And it’s not just about money.  What am I teaching my own daughters about independence?  I’ve started to think that maybe I’m not such a hot role model for them.  And maybe everyone in this house would appreciate me a little more if I weren’t here at everyone’s beck and call all the time.

But for the time being, I’m stuck.  I feel stuck, anyway.

And that’s the thing: it’s a goddamn myth that women can have it all, do it all.  No, we can’t.  If you want to stay home to raise your kids, you sacrifice independence, earning power, and possibly your sense of self.  If you work outside the home after having kids, you’re engaged in a constant, never-ending, exhausting juggling act, and it’s likely that you won’t get the kind of practical support you need at home or in the workplace to feel like you’re giving your best self to either.

I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for this particular post.  So, that’s it I guess.

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18 Comments on “Disillusioned”

  1. Becca
    December 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Ah, crap, I just wrote this long, drawn out comment, and it disappeared. 😦 Anyway, I was just saying that while I, myself, am not in the same situation (only 1 child, working full-time outside of the home), my husband was at home with Samantha for nearly 6 years and voiced similar concerns. He was jealous that I got to go to work and have real adult conversations with real adults. Now that she’s in 1st grade (Kindy was only 1/2 day), he’s finally working full-time again. Crap pay and a long commute, but I think he’s really grateful to be out and about again. Btw, your blogging style is amazing, and the voice of who you are comes through to us faceless ones beautifully. Not sure if that’s enough, but we’re grateful for it. 🙂

  2. Mom of 2
    December 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    I have to say as a Mom to 2 almost raised sons, (18 and 21) when I see a mom out with a few young kids..I feel for her. It is so much work!
    There is a light at the end of the tunnel though..once you can leave your youngest alone at home for a day with no worries, around 14? Life get soooo much better 🙂

    13 and a half years to go!!

    Love your blog even if I don’t comment very often 🙂

  3. Diane
    December 15, 2012 at 2:43 am #

    May I just say that you have a very special unique talent! You are a writer, and not everyone can do that. I love reading about you and your family. I think you should write a book! There is something unique and special about how you write and what you have to say. You are real!! Many people can relate to you, I am sure. I love reading your blog, even though I am a retired teacher with 2 grown kids and we really have nothing in common except that we both love our children! Okay, that’s it. This is the first time I have ever made a comment, but I just wanted you to know that you are an exceptional writer, and that maybe you don’t realize just how important you are!!!

    • Lisa
      December 15, 2012 at 3:20 am #

      Thank you, Diane.

  4. Carolyn Gabriel
    December 15, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    I am 72 years old with an 80 year old husband, two adult children and two grandchildren. I felt this week as you described, just used by every one of them. I am disabled, in bed a lot. When I get up my husband always has a comment about what needs to be done. The two year old came to visit and started “Mema, Mema, Mema”. She wanted the crayons (would color herself, walls and floor) and a playmate. My 11 year old grandson is always “Mema, Mema, Mema” asking for help with something or telling me what I do wrong. Well, I know that I have created this situation. I am a dyed in the wool enabler. On a lighter note, I have thought of changing my name to Eloise and not telling them (not realistic). If I am sleeping in the daytime, when I get up, Chris will say “I’ve had no dinner’. I thought of getting meals on wheels, $6 each. My husband thinks they would be like microwave dinners, would like to at least try them for a month. He does the shopping. I made a list of what he can get for meals and explained that one has to think ahead and plan. So we are trying to set up a system, We have a Respite Care worker that comes to get Chris one evening a week and we don’t even go out. So it’s my fault that I am a servant. I loved it when I was younger but with aging, I think I resent what I cannot do well, what used to be a five minute project is now major. Then I look at them as they are sleeping and just over flow with love. I love that you sit in the rocking chair with Finn in the morning, miss the little ones, last baby grew up too fast, started day school last week. It is going so fast. Hang in there, we are professional women, such is our culture. Give yourself a break, a pedicure or something. They would all be lost without you, your loving care and guidance. You are building people for their lifetime, are determining that their lives will be successful. What a job! I don’t know how you do it! ❤

    • paula
      December 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      well said Carolyn!

  5. mumofone
    December 15, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    This is why I read your blog. Because you write about how I feel – and so I feel normal when I read.
    I sometimes tell people that as a woman who works 0.85 of a full time equivalent, is a Mummy/wife full-time (because you can’t be either part-time!!) and who studies in her spare time….that you can have it all….but it comes at a cost. The cost of any spare leisure time, the cost of sleep, the cost of an immaculate house, the cost of friends…and the list goes on.
    I feel for you that you are feeling as you are. But I do hope you keep sharing your journey and your thoughts because you encourage those of us who read your blog in so many ways – thankyou 🙂

  6. Sarah
    December 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I only have two kids and I’ve only been out of the work force for 3 years, but otherwise I could have written your essay. My youngest will be in full-day school in 2 years (starts at pre-k here) and I am already dreaming of being able to go back to work — yet I know that it will continue to be important to be home when the kids get home from school, expecially as my oldest has some special needs. Yet I also know that I will miss the wonderful days I’m having with my toddler.

  7. Carolina
    December 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    I totally agree with Diane. I think you are an awesome and talented writer! This is also my first comment, but I am a big fan of your blog and read it every day! I think you have a gift with words and you should write a book!
    I’m a recently separated mom and work full time outside home, sometimes I wish I could spend more time with my son but I need to work. I understand your point of view as well, I guess there are no happy mediums in life!

    • Lisa
      December 16, 2012 at 4:02 am #

      Really appreciate the kind words, Carolina! Thank you 🙂

  8. C
    December 16, 2012 at 3:19 am #

    I have at times felt some or all of those things. I just wanted to encourage you with a few thoughts 1) you are a gifted and honest writer 2) you are a good mom 3) Christmas can be a depressing and stressful time for moms b/c not only do you have all your normal duties, the holiday seems to depend on you and there are 10,000 more things to do than normal.
    4) you could go into the workforce and be successful, but… I think you do find value in nurturing your children. You absolutely could trade that in to do meaningful work not at home, but I think a part of you does know the invisible, repetetive things that seem so pointless to the world are precious jewels to those little people who look at you and see the world.
    I see myself in some of what you said and could I just share this–often my anger at my children or my situation (feeling trapped) is really anger at someone else (my husband) or sadness. Sometimes I need to just sit and cry. Hurt and sadness (about alcoholism, death, abuse) come out in anger at our lives sometimes. Could I encourage you to think about dealing with your anger? (I know that sentence will probably make you mad, as it does me when someone calls me on my anger issues) Getting down to the root issues might help heal some of those wounds so that the anger doesn’t spill over onto those little people that we love so and hold so dear.
    Hugs to you and please remember, you are a good mom and you are doing important valuable work, even if the world may not value it.

    • Lisa
      December 16, 2012 at 4:03 am #

      It doesn’t make me mad. I know there is truth to what you say. Thank you.

  9. C
    December 16, 2012 at 3:29 am #

    One more thought–if you are feeling like there’s no part of you left, if you’ve lost some of yourself, maybe think about what you dream to do and find a way to do it. If it’s writing, how could you have time to write or do freelance, or write for Brain,Child, or edit or whatever to have that part of yourself back. Sometimes when I am overwhelmed with all those same thoughts, I make myself go to the YMCA. I know it seems like such a small thing, but it is me saying to myself–my needs are important here too. Someone else watches the kids, I get to go for a run (and get those happy endorphins to combat my depression/anger) and I can listen to my iPod with writing workshops or whatever I’M interested. Nothing to do with the kids, just something for me. It makes me happy. And that’s reason enough. 🙂

  10. Heather
    December 16, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    I’ve felt exactly that same way and its always when I have a baby less than a year old. Newborns are hard and time consuming. I loved having a newborn in the house but it took a toll on my emotions. It’s hard to get anything accomplished or feel productive. I can tell you that it does get better. My youngest is almost 5 and now I’m dealing with the emotions of my kids not needing me like they used to. This motherhood thing is hard but I do agree its the best way to spend your time. With all of the trauma and horror we’ve seen this past week, it makes the importance of our jobs even more real.

  11. Shelley
    December 17, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    I was going to wait to comment on this until I had something eloquent to say, but that clearly isn’t going to happen, so I’ll just say this: THANK YOU!!!! This is exactly why I prefer your blog over all the sugar-coated, rainbows and sunshine “mommy blogs” I’m used to. I have that book on my to-read list on Goodreads and I will definitely move it up on my importance list now. As a feminist *and* a mom that fiercely loves her kids, all the thoughts and feelings you expressed in this post have also been *my* thoughts and feelings. I became pregnant unexpectedly at 20. The father literally left the state the day after I told him with no contact info, I was in college and I had plans to move out of my hometown. I wrestled with what to do for pretty much the duration of the pregnancy before (somewhat begrudgingly) settling into motherhood with the help of my parents. I knew it meant giving up the dreams I had of finishing college and moving out of town but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to give him up for adoption either. I ended up taking distance courses to become a medical transcriptionist so I could work from home and wouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for childcare. I did most of my school work at night or when my son was napping. I married a man I’d been friends with for years when my son was a few weeks shy of turning one. I’ll be 30 soon and now have another son, five the 26th of this month. I feel conflicted all the time because I’m so happy with my two sons and my husband but I’ve been deeply unhappy about never being able to return to school for a job I’d *really* like to have (transcription isn’t exactly anybody’s dream job nor is it lucrative) or having enough money to move to a different town. I just don’t feel very productive or fulfilled a lot of the time but then I feel guilty for feeling that way because I *do* love my kids so much. As happy as they make me I often can’t help but wonder how my life would be different if I’d been able to finish school, have a career, move. Not to mention how simultaneously being a stay-at-home mom AND full-time employee means no “me” time whatsoever. It’s likely that the life I have now is the one I’ll always have. My husband and I both have to work full-time and barely make ends meet so there’s no way I could cut back enough to take classes. I suppose I’ll go back when they’re grown and I’m in my 40s but I still feel so frustrated about *right now*. Phew, I am so sorry for this novel, it was just such a relief to read this post. All the moms I know in my life haven’t expressed any desire to do anything else besides have a family so they look at me like an alien when I talk about wishing to return to school and have an enjoyable career. This was just SUCH a relief to read. Thank you.

  12. Sara
    December 18, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    What a great, great read! I havent commented before but love your blog..backread the whole thing a few months back. This post is true..I only have two little ones And most days i feel like a houseslave not a housewife! I used to have an amazing way of living and found it easy with one baby..but my second was/is a fuzzy little thing whom i have barely put down in 13 months!

    I was going to med school when i fell pregnant with her so thats been put on hold..probably permanantly to be honest. We moved to a country (australia) where childcare is so incredibly expensive, school when it starts is short days, no family to help out and a husband who workes long hours, 6 days a week and is more away than home..me going back to any propper work or school is just unrealistic.

    On the plus side..I find it so much more difficult with two than one that I feel like its go big or go home!! So im definatly planing on having lots more babies instead!!

  13. Rebekka K. Steg
    December 23, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Thank you so much for your openness and your honesty Lisa, I truly appreciate it, especially because I feel women often paint a rosy picture of what it’s like to have kids.
    I don’t have kids myself, and I’m not sure if I want to. The thought of “losing myself” and not having any time left for myself scares me. I love the work I do, but when the day is over I often feel drained, and I can’t imagine coming home and having more needs put on me by kids, and I can’t imagine having to give up my work either.
    Also, I’m an introvert, and the thought of having kids around me constantly who needs me to be present, as I would want to be, I’m just not sure I’m cut out for it.

  14. Tonya Richard
    January 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Just wanted to say that I can so relate to this post. As a SAHM of 8, sometimes I feel like nothing more than an unpaid maid. It is the life I chose though, so I try to enjoy the good parts. Like you, I really do love my children and am glad they are here. I don’t know if it is my age, almost 42, or that I am just tired of the drudgery, but I find myself asking these questions a lot lately. Who am I? Surely I am more than just someone’s mother? And having 2 adult children, one of whom is not doing well at all transitioning to adulthood, I wonder if all the hard work was for nothing.

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