Thursday, May 22, 2014

Are You a Chicken: The Tale of a Stay at Home Parent


There is a wonderful little book my youngest daughter loves entitled “Are You a Cow?” by Sandra Boynton. It is a series of thought provoking questions that are directed for the reader to answer, such as “Are you a Frog? Are you a Lamb? Perhaps a Pig? Are you an Upside Down Chicken? What ARE You?” Like all literature, it’s open to interpretation, but I see it as a reflection of the values in our society, particularly our obsession as adults to categorize everyone’s socioeconomic status with the never ending question “What do you do?” If your answer is not quite impressive enough, the person posing the question moves on to a more exciting individual. You didn’t quite make the cut.  



What does this say about us that we can’t be friends with all kinds of people regardless of what they do for a living? Does a stay at home parent need to prove their worth outside the home, separate from their family so they can be deemed respectable? What follows might be a cautionary tale, or perhaps not, maybe you're a cat, a dog, or a bear that does not frown. 

This is a non issue when you work outside the home. You go to your office, your job wherever that might be; you greet your colleagues, face your adult responsibilities, and live a life outside the realm of your family unit. You might drop your kid off at daycare or school, or your partner might do this. You work all day, and whether you like your job, or not, that is irrelevant because the fact that you have a paid position with a title adds another dimension to you as a person, as a woman. Society is proud of you.

So who are you as stay at home parent? Are you defined through our children? Are you defined through your partner or through your partner’s occupation? Do you suddenly become Mrs. Partner’s Name even though you never changed your so called maiden name since you don’t believe in such traditional nonsense? Or, are you indefinitely called Your Child’s Name Mom instead?

Do you suddenly lose your intrigue as a person, your brain power, your very essence because you chose to raise your kids full time thus you are no longer a feminist, no longer an intellect, no longer a respectable contributing citizen to THIS society, and definitely no longer interesting in the LEAST.

But, what if you didn’t choose to stay at home? What if you weighed your net income against the cost of a good, quality daycare and realized it resulted in a negative balance? - A quite astounding one at that. What if you cursed the fact that you spent your college years reading classical literature and analyzing dead foreign poets all of which resulted in a charming yet financially worthless Bachelors of Arts degree in Humanities of the Arts of Basket Weaving? Dang it for not managing to feign more interest in that Economics class you barely passed with the cool Indian professor that mentioned you might have what it takes to major in Economics if you just put a little more effort into it? Had you taken his advice you would be able to support your family just fine in right about this juncture of your life. Your kid would be able to go to that fabulously expensive crunchy daycare where the students finger paint with handmade, organic paints, learn to make gluten free muffins, and create their own volcanoes, all by the age of 1. Don’t you also know that the overpriced preschool has a 90% Ivy League acceptance rate? Darn it!

But you don’t give up. You investigate other, lower cost daycares and are appalled at the conditions, saddened at the thought of leaving your kid there all day, look down at the stained carpets, the dreary lights, and hurt inside for all the parents who really have no choice. Consciously or not, you realize you do have a choice, and you make the one to stay at home. Is there a middle road? Probably, but you don’t find it. You forget about investing in the combined cooler/breast pump, lugging it on the train every day and delve into childrearing thinking it is okay; you’ll have your career again.  It’s not as if you were that crazy about working in an endless web of gray cubicles anyway.

You of course adore your kids; admire their perfect features, their peculiar quirks, and the ridiculously funny things they sometimes say. But you find yourself questioning whether you are setting a good example for them staying at home. When your highly intellectual daughter mentions she does not want to become the first woman president because it would be too time consuming as she plans to be a mother someday, you have a mini heart attack, bubbling with anxiety and panic and the need to take it ALL back. But you manage to breathe, breathe again, and initiate a very logical conversation on the importance of focusing on life way before all that, the need to travel, live, read and study, study, study. Not just to get straight As and be the perfect student, but to really love and embrace academic learning, to establish a career where you are truly happy and flourishing. This is way more important than having babies because when you do finally have babies you want to love the experience and not have one ounce of regret about not getting to backpack through Europe, visit Asia, and take that class where the students visit Cuba for the summer to study a model healthcare system. You want to scream “Don’t get married! Don’t have babies!” but instead you say “You’ll have time for that much, much later.”

Sometimes, you find yourself pacing impatiently pondering what to do now as your child sleeps or plays quietly. You might begin to ponder ridiculous titles that would glorify your sense of duty at home – Domestic Goddess, CEO of My Own, and Household Diva Extraordinaire. Realizing they all mean the same exact nonsense you waste no more time trying to present yourself as good enough to a society that could care less.

But, accustomed to being extremely busy you volunteer for everything – Room Mom – check! – Bake Sale PTA Chief – check! Dora Party Planner to the Extreme – check! check! This of course does not last too long. Your energy fizzles as quickly as the balloons from the Dora party deflate.

This was ridiculous and not what you signed up for.

Alas, you embrace it. You find other ways to stimulate your mind – reading books, taking a course here or there, even delving into writing. It took you a couple of years, but you get more comfortable in your newly undefined role, you might even stop seeking play dates and really begin to enjoy being an introvert, comfortable in your own skin, enjoying those rare, silent moments.  

You wonder if there is such a thing as spending too much time with your kids, and have days where you want to lock yourself in your room because every time you have a fantastic writing idea one of them says they are hungry, itchy, hurt, or bored. By the time they are settled down, you forgot what it was that you wanted to write about, and that perfect literary line you had created vanished into thin air. You know that there are also days where your patience measures infinite oceans across the universe and forgive yourself for having bad parenting days or bad parenting weeks. Imperfection is unattainable and you are a work in progress, at least that’s what you tell your kids.

Finally you start to recognize that you have not lost your identity just because society’s measures are limited to defining your input on how many papers you circulate around your desk, how many emails you send out, and how self-important you appear. Do you even care about that? Well, maybe. You laugh at how, seemingly days before, you were running to catch the train to work noticing in passing how unhurried and blissful the stay at home moms appeared in their leggings and loose ponytails, kids hanging off their sides.  Now, as you walk your oldest daughter to school in your own faded leggings and barely brushed hair, you admire the sophisticated suits and meticulous styles of the working Moms.  You laugh again, because the grass almost always appears to be greener - that is if you didn’t know any better.

Though some lessons take various attempts for you to understand, you get this one. This is your role for now. Be grateful, be accepting, be an upside down chicken.

15 comments:

  1. Wow, again, love it. I really appreciated the part about refusing play dates & enjoying your introverted self, as it's something I always felt I couldn't say put loud w/o criticism - external & internal. Doing the part time work/part time home thing is not what I expected it to be, since it feels a bit like not really mastering anything in particular, but as you mention, it's my role for now, be accepting & grateful. Please keep writing more!!! :)

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  2. Thank you Jean! Good to know I'm not the only one that refuses play dates!! Ha. There is a lot of pressure to have them for sure. Do you think it's harder to do part time as opposed to full time? I wonder because it didn't seem this overwhelming when I worked. Thank you again for your kind words. xoxo

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  3. I am a mother of two kiddos and while I do not walk in the shoes of stay-at-home moms, I have the utmost respect for them. Who is happier? Let me make this clear -- there is no right side of the battle zone with us mommy wars. Some of my friends, including myself, thrive at work and can't do the full-time stay-at-home mom thing! Nuh uh. And I don't feel guilty about saying this. Each of us have to find that happy balance... what makes a "happy mom?" (Ask yourself that, "What works for me?" And you will have happy kids!) Contrary, I have other friends who are not so career driven and yearn to be mothers and be at home with their kids. Whatever works for you and as a provider, your kids and your family will love and appreciate you for doing what is right (and not doing the right thing) for you!

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    1. Those are true words right there! I am reading 'All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood' It is the first book I've ever read on how having children affects us as individuals, how our generation fret so much on whether we're happy, whether the kids are happy, are we fulfilled enough, etc. But I think you're right in that if we stand by our decision the kids will love and appreciate it regardless.

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  4. Oh yes. And yes again. I love reading this and knowing I am not alone. Just the other day I was telling Matt how difficult it is to have a job with no review process, no raises, no pats on the back, no feedback of any kind that isn't filtered through my guilt or the projected judgment of others. Ridiculous. Every time I draw analogies so that he can understand I end them with: what would you do if you had a job like that? You'd quit that job! You know you would. But I can never quit, and even if anyone could do the job the way i do, nobody in his/her right mind would want it. And yet... there is beauty and power in the smallest things. Tonight Charlotte came to find me with a drawing and a note that said "I am sad." How much does she trust me? I have helped another human being learn to trust, to open herself up with faith that her heart will be soothed, her psyche gently rocked back to well. I did that just by being there, loving her, admitting when I fall short, apologizing and vowing to try again. I did that by opening my heart and being a brave example. I read something about how we need to remember that parenting isn't one of the things we need to check off our to do lists, it is the list. When I remember that my primary purpose, my job is to love them, be patient with them, teach them the oh so many things they do not know, model for them how to be a strong but sensitive human... well, those are the best days. X

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    1. Ha! When you put it that way it's the craziest job I've ever accepted. "And yet" is Right. And yet there are so many satisfying moments of aha this is all worth it, even if it lasts just 1% of the day with these crazy little people. They are so unbelievably cute and tender. I wonder if it helps not to be so darn controlling, now if I could just let go...Thank you for your wonderful comment Christine.

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  5. You know, now that i have been doing the part-time work/stay at home split for a while (and the balance honeymoon is over), I think the biggest challenge for me on the work side is the fact that you are still overlooked for advancing in work ("you are only part-time - you are so lucky...but you aren't here"). On the stay at home side, you aren't around enough either...so your schedule doesn't mesh w/ the other stay at home parents, school doesn't know why you are around sometimes & not others, and sometimes the transition back to home and kids after a few hours of awesome work can be kind of jarring. I guess I feel like a kid mysrlf these days, lack of fixed schedule is tough for me and so are transitions. ;) of course the positives are obvious - freesom, taste of work w/o overburdening, it is just a strange combo to me right now, and sone days more than others.

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    1. I always wondered whether part time both was ideal but you mention some really valid points. When I was a working Mom, I never had quite enough energy to prove myself promotable. And then I would arrive late to some school event and feel like crap. But now that I stay home I still sometimes forget school events. Ha.

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  6. Ha, I was there with you in those gray cubicles, and I think the only writing of yours I ever got to read was in emails and other boring work stuff. I always knew you were articulate, but your writing here is on another level! I have no point of reference to relate to your first two posts (yeah, I'm still neither married nor a mother) and yet I feel like I understand your perspective very well.

    I'm glad you started blogging. I know it takes a lot of work to write posts with this much depth and clarity, but please keep 'em coming!

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    1. Hey I miss our gray cubicle times and coffee breaks. Ah. My goal is to do a Sunday rant, consistently every week. I hope you can come back and keep reading! I know you are a busy guy!!

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  7. Well, no children yet, nonetheless, as Joseph had mentioned I can relate to some level being that I raised my younger brother his first 3 years and in a blink of an eye he'll be turning 17 this October...enjoy the now. Darius Rucker wrote/sings about it "It won't be like this for long", but there's no crime in celebrating just mami and friend(s) time; club soda and good old fashion talking...

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    1. I don't know who Darius Rucker is, but I like him already!

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  8. Opps...I meant vodka soda...who the hell wants club soda

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    1. This wins the title for Best Comment Ever!!! Sorry I don't have any prizes to give our but next time we meet, vodka soda on me!

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