Saturday, May 10, 2014

Motherhood and Mommy Wars

I'll introduce each of the kids in their own post next week, but with this being Mother's Day weekend I'd like to take some time to talk about motherhood. In particular, tonight I want to share my thoughts on society's view of motherhood, and mothers' views of each other. Tomorrow I hope to write about the influence of the Blessed Mother on my vocation.

Being a mom has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. As you might expect, I certainly dealt with a bit of depression after becoming a paraplegic. For starters, while I tried to trust in God's plan for my life, it was certainly a tough pill to swallow at 25 that I was not experiencing significant recovery, and was unlikely ever to do so without major advances in modern medicine. I felt like in many ways I was no longer the woman my husband had just married, and while I know he promised God he'd be with me in sickness, no one expects their vows to be tested so soon. We did after some rocky times pull our marriage even closer, but I often had feelings that my life didn't make much difference in the world. I wasn't suicidal at all, I was happy to be alive, but my life had little meaning. With my husband working, it didn't matter when I got up, when I got dressed, or what I did with my day. In our house at that time, I was limited in the contributions I could make to the running of our home. We valued our time together in the evening, but that was only a small portion of what I felt was an otherwise insignificant existence.

Giving birth to my daughter changed all of that. Suddenly I was important in the world. Not only did I have someone who cared about me, I had someone who needed me, and needed my time. I had a reason for getting up and moving every day. How I spent my time made a difference to someone. For the first time in five years, having a child actually helped me get off of antidepressants. My existence had a purpose again. I wasn't just the woman my husband came home to in the evening, I was a mother; and this precious life depended on me for her well-being and happiness.

When Sunshine was a year old, we finally moved into a home that is built for my needs, and I can now run my home instead of having others run it for me. In addition to making my life easier, and reduce the burden on Papa Bear, it also came with it a responsibility which I, as a stay at home mom, had been longing for. Yes, the cycle of never ending chores can be come tiresome and monotonous, but I try to do them joyfully, as a gift to my family. And having Fidget has brought even more love and meaning into all of our lives.

One of the big things that gets to me, though, is this mentality many people have that I, and others like me, are "just:" a mom: nothing special, nothing significant. When people learn that a highly educated woman - perhaps even someone with an established career - has "thrown it all away" to be "just" a stay at home mom, they demean our importance in the world. Why waste such time and money to spend your life at home raising kids, they wonder. If a young woman "only" wants to become a wife and mother, why should her parents encourage her to go to college?

For starters, I hardly consider my college attendance a waste. The acquisition of knowledge, and practicing the art of gaining knowledge for oneself, can never be considered invaluable. Just because we're living in the internet age, and can find out virutally anything with just a few taps of a keyboard, a click of a mouse, or a scroll of a touchscreen, doesn't mean that having that information in our own memories is useless. "The more you know," the NBC slogan used to say on Saturday mornings. Somehow having access to so much learning has devalued the experience and the concepts themselves.

Plus, there is so much learning that happens in college that doesn't take place in a classroom. Having attended an out of state university, I learned so much about life (and myself) that I never could have learned even by staying home for college, and esp. if I hadn't attended at all. Could I have learned many of those lessons without attending college? Sure. But they would have impacted my life in much different ways. Every day I draw strength from things I learned in my college years, both inside and outside the classroom.

I also fail to see how bringing life into the world, nurturing it, and helping it grow into adulthood can be seen as an insignificant use of a woman's time. I know many kids of my generation did it, I grew up in the time of the latch-key kids, but I honestly can't imagine growing up without my mom in the house. She has been such a strong source of support, knowledge, and love my whole life; and she remains so today. Working moms are certainly those things to their children, but an early childhood spent in daycare is definitely not the same experience as a childhood spent at home with mom and/or dad. Just as much as I'm so grateful I always had my mom there for me, I'm grateful to have the opportunity to be there for my children any time they need me, and not be trying to fit my family into a work schedule, or my job into my family schedule.

Now before I start getting things thrown at me by all the working parents out there, I'd like to address the rapant "mommy wars" that seem to be so prevalent in today's society. I know not everyone feels called to stay at home with their kids. It can make me sad sometimes to hear parents so eager to get rid of the presence of their own children, but I also know that being a 24/7 parent is hard work. I know there are other families where they can't get by without a second income, and single parents who are the home's only income. Those things might not be applicable to my own life, but that doesn't mean that my experiences and feelings invalidate those factors for others.

It seems like mommy wars go viral more often than almost anything else in social media. Moms chastise each other's decisions on vaccination, circumcision, parenting styles, educational paths, food choices, media exposure; the list is virtually endless. Some moms get tired of others projecting "pinterest perfect" existences to the world, and post about their shortcomings in an effort to "keep it real," but then other moms question why we're celebrating mediocrity when we should be striving for better? I personally have never construed it as celebrating mediocrity; when I put a *real* post on facebook it's more of a way to say, yeah, I fell short, and I'll try to do better next time, but the world didn't come to an end because of my failure to meet goals which were imposed strictly on myself. Most recently it's been a pair of posts: one pleading with mothers to put away the smart phones and engage with their sons and daughters when spending time together - the example of a park outing being specifically given; while the other one chastises the original commentator by saying look, you haven't seen what I've done with my kids all the other hours of the day, and I need a break just as much as they do.

I can definitely agree that there is some value to the lesson that so many of us - myself included - can easily find ourselves lost in the digital world of our phones and tablets, and miss the life that is happening right in front of us. However, there is equal value to the bottom line that we don't know what goes on behind other people's closed doors. Unfortunately there are indeed parents who are neglectful or abusive to their children; but the vast majority of us are doing our best at any given time. So for those of you who fall in the second category, I promise you this:

I will not judge you on this blog. Ever.

Did you serve your children three square meals and snacks consisting only of organically grown produce, grass fed meats, and other locally sources ingredients? Good for you, that's great that your kids have developed a palate that appreciates such healthy foods.

Did your kids eat fast food every single meal of the day? Well, it happens. You were probably caught up in a crazy day like the one I had yesterday. A simple pre-op pediatrician visit for Fidget (he's getting ear tubes this upcoming week) needed a second stop for bloodwork, then I had a crown fall off because the tooth under it broke and I needed an emergency dental visit. Oh, and there were crazy flooding rains, so an appointment I expected to return from before lunch ended up becoming a full day ordeal that didn't see us home until 7:45. But at least my kids were fed.

Are your children going to bed hungry tonight? Are you going to bed hungry because you gave the last of the food to them? I'm so sorry. I know what it is like to fall on tough times. I will pray for you to find the resources necessary to better provide for your family.

Is your child in private school? public school? homeschooled? Good for you for figuring out what environment your child learns in best. Is your child stuck in one of those situations because you have no other choice? I'm proud of you for working to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

Do you work outside the home? An in-home job? Is homemaker your sole occupation? Either way, you're working hard to support your family. Well done.

Are you more of a free range parent, trying to give your kids a "don't come home until the streetlight is on" childhood? That's terrific you are so confident in your children's abilities, and working hard to prepare them for the scenarios they may encounter. More of a helicopter mom? That's impressive that you can give them so much of your attention.

No matter what choices you make for your family, they are your choices, and yours alone. Most of us fall into different categories on any given day. With every moment, we are each making the best decision possible with the information available. Deciding on the best way to meet the many varying needs of an entire family is never an easy task. We may not understand the reasons why someone would choose an option which is vastly different than the one that works for our family, but they're not in our family. As long as they know why they made that decision, and are comfortable with it, that's all that matters.

So on this Mother's Day weekend, how about we all cut each other some slack. Assume that your fellow mom is doing what she thinks is best for her family. Our encounters with each other are brief; don't assume you know what has happened before, or will happen later. And if you see a mom who is struggling with some aspect of her role, how about trying to pick her up instead of pushing her down? No matter how you do it, this mom stuff is hard work; our children place enough demands on us, there's no need to make things more difficult for each other.

Have a happy Mother's Day everyone.

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