Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Don't have to measure up

I sometimes hear stay-at-home mothers proudly saying that they "work just as hard as women who also have a job outside the home" or that "their days are as packed as anyone's" and they have no time or space to breathe.

I believe, however, that the point of our staying home isn't to measure up against those who try to successfully juggle family life and career. After all, a large part of the joy of home is opting out of the rat race, right? And what have we done if we can say that our days are as hectic as if we also held a job outside the home?

There's an enormous pressure on stay-at-home mothers to prove that they aren't "wasting their time", to justify their being at home for their families – something that doesn't need to be justified, in my opinion, but still often leads to mothers accepting extra responsibilities and activities (even if they have enough on their plate already) such as social functions, volunteering, watching other people's children, starting home businesses, and trying to fill up every moment of the day.

There seem to be two opposing forces tugging at women's lives. One is what I call "the syndrome of entitlement" – it's the notion that we easily can and deserve to have it all, sidestepping every possible obstacle of common sense and responsibility. You want a career but have little children? Put them in someone else's care. Want to have a fancy house but lack the funds? Convince your husband to succumb to an impossible mortgage you will be paying off for the rest of your lives. Want to have more time for yourself? Demand that it must be given to you, at the expense of other people. We supposedly "deserve" a continuous supply of new clothes, manicures, expensive hairdos and weekly outings to restaurants. The entire "I deserve" myth is propped up by the culture of consumption, which is in its turn an essence of greed.

On the other hand, there's the "must be, must do" idea, of us having to be everything to everyone: "fulfilled" in every area of our lives, successful mothers, homemakers and career women, who scoff at the idea of compromise.

In reality, these two forces are two sides of the same coin: the refusal to understand that everything in life comes with a price, that by choosing a certain path we are thereby stepping off other paths. The rebellion against God's ways, against the heart of a wife and mother which draws us to home, to being there for the ones we love – perhaps not having every material good of this world, but in joy and peace.

Ladies, we don't have to be overwhelmingly busy in order to be hardworking wives and mothers. On the contrary, I believe it would be counter-productive. Again, if we opted to stay home in order (among other things) not to be frazzled and to have peace of mind, which is so much more conductive to happy and smoothly flowing family life, and yet we frantically attempt to erase every trace of relaxation from our days, what have we accomplished?

A couple of generations ago, the modern pace of life which has now become the norm would have been seen for what it really is – crazy. Restless. Unhealthy for families, for little children. We should be proud, not ashamed, of keeping an island of peacefulness in the midst of the world's rush, rush, rushing to nowhere. It's important to set a gentle, quiet rhythm to our days, to take a look at what already is on our plate – and if you have at least one little child at home, I'm estimating that in most cases it's more than enough – before we accept additional responsibilities, try to achieve perfection, or in any way turn our days into a hazy blur of ticking things off a to-do list.

The fact is, a day at home with your little one(s) will most likely be full and busy whether or not you try to make it so. We don't have to try and cram more into our day in order to be continuously occupied. It usually happens on its own!
Photo credit:


Anonymous said...

One of my happiest memories is of my Mom lying in a lawn chair drinking iced tea every afternoon that the weather was nice very often there was a pregnant Aunt or neighbor next to her and they would chat and laugh all afternoon . We children would play and enjoy ourselves and keep an eye on the ever growing bellies .Now why do I feel true guilt everytime I take a break from my chores? In the winter ladies would play cards very frequently and my mom did not invite any of those ladies who wanted to complain about their husbands! Gosh here is the oppressive 60's we've heard so much about that women needed to break free from!!!Lazy days at the lake, hours spent reading and knitting and nice dinners . And I run around here like a nut trying to accomplish everything at once, wow I need to think about what has happened to my view of life. Thanks for the reality check!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anna. This is so true and so wise.

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

I needed this today, Anna. More than you know.

Thank you.

wendylf said...

Wonderful thoughts and so helpful! I will be thinking of this article through the day, thanks for sharing and challenging us!

Anonymous said...

You certainly have amply expressed the two opposing forces we face as women, Anna. And from what I have gleaned, through reading your blog & others like it, as well as my own observations & some experiences, it seems we women are finding ourselves in one of the tightest spots ever. In no other time, it seems, have the expectations of women been so great.

This constant need to justify ourselves, to qualify each moment of our day at home can become another job in itself! I will admit that I've not been challenged very much about my decision to be home with my children. But I know other women who have, & I've certainly observed the frantic pace of young mothers trying to retain the involvement, post-partum, in activities (whether work or pleasure) that they took part in before the arrival of their children.

I have noticed that women who are happily bringing up their children, caring for their homes, & carefully regulating their outside involvement are often the ones who are asked the most (sometimes even pestered!) to accept this assignment or take on such-&-such an activity. Often the people asking for their slice of these women's time mean well. They have something that requires doing, & they want someone capable in the role. But what they (those who approach the homemaker) fail to realize is that the very reason they like what they see in the successful homemaker is because she has her priorities straight to begin with! If she were to accept proposed volunteer opportunity, part-time work, hobby, etc., it would fall apart. I have seen this happen to women I know. It usually doesn't unravel right away...but usually the passage of one full year's cycle will reveal the difficulties of trying keep up with such a schedule.

It takes strength to say "no" to people we like & respect. But we must do so if we are to thrive, as well as foster the kind of home environment that led us to choose this way of life in the first place.

Many thanks for posting about this today, Anna.


Anonymous said...

I actually think what you're describing is what most women mean when they say their days are packed. If one has small children, one is busy. There's not necessarily any conflict here.

famayes said...

When I was a little girl (in the sixties and seventies) every other year we would spend a few summer months at my Grandmother's house in France.What I remember most about it was the utter peacefulness of a quite life. No TV (we couldn't understand it) or running off to soccer practice or any planned "vacation" type activities, just really long family meals with lots of conversation, long walks in the country and every evening in the twilight my Grandmother, Mom, and Aunt would sit under a willow tree outside and watch us kids play in the garden, while they talked and talked. We were never bored! We felt so much closer to each other than when we were home in America rushing from activity to activity, even though back then cant be compared to today for business.

Thanks for bringing back that wonderful memory. Even though we are not as busy as some, I think we are still fractured by TV and Computer business.

Martin + Rosey said...

This post is so very important. Thank you Anna! I often am amazed at how so many Mothers are in competition to be the most busy- comparing calendars and schedules and marveling at how packed their lives are. This is unhealthy and not always conducive to the secure and happy childhood we are trying to provide. Thanks again for your very wise words. Rosemary

Paulina {Lina} said...

Beautifully said. I greatly admire you, and enjoy reading what God places on your heart. Thank you!

Everly Pleasant said...

Thank you for keeping your blog going while you are becoming a busy wife and mother!

Your posts are an encouragement and inspiration. I am looking to write a book on the stay-at-home lifestyle (as I am currently a stay-at-home-daughter) and blogs like yours are the reason I am inspired to do so and will feed me along the way! So thanks again for all you do!


Gombojav Tribe said...

I LOVE THIS! I'm going to share it with others!!!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, of course anyone who has little children at home will be busy. What I mean, however, is the goal of being busy and trying to fill one's days as much as possible, thus "justifying" being at home. ("Yes, I'm currently home with my children, *but* [why should there be a "but"?] I'm also studying animal therapy/fundraising for a charity cause/watching a couple of other babies").

WesternWoodburner said...

So true. Thanks for posting.

Janette@Janette's Sage said...

So true, so well said...from this mother of 26 years and still mothering a four year old...I have had to learn this lesson the hard way and I am so enjoying the lesson learned.
Enjoyed...first time to stop by,

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

I became a stay-at-home wife 11 years ago this month. In those first few years, I constantly felt as if I had to justify my decision to people. I did get some ugly comments from other women. That hurt. But time and maturity have taught me that I don't have to justify anything about my life to anyone. It's between me, my husband, and God. Other women can like it or hate that I'm at home, and it really doesn't matter. It's such a personal decision to work outside the home or not, and none of us should be commenting and comparing.

Thankfully, I pretty much never have anyone say anything negative to me anymore. I think much of that has to do with my attitude. I'm no longer defensive about it. Like it or not, I am what I am, and I do what I do regardless of the approval of disapproval of others.

Anonymous said...

I used to feel guilty that I wasn't "working as hard as my husband" in my stay-at-home motherhood. I'd fill my days with chores upon chores, projects upon projects. All the while my son (this was before daughter was born) wasn't getting the best of me. I finally lamented to my husband that I absolutely need to get it through my head that spending time with our child was NOT wasting time. Of course, my husband agreed and encouraged me.

Your article is yet another agreement and encouragement to me! Thanks!

LadyLydiaSpeaks said...

This is so true. There is a modern misconception of that passage entirely. The educated women are trying to make that passage fit their concept of life, rather than change their lives to fit the Proverbs 31 principles. Some people cannot relate to the past at all, because they have never seen anything except their own experience. There will come a time when a generation that will never have known a mother or grandmother in their past with the example of a home life.

When I was growing up in the 50's, women did as they liked, according to their interest and their energy level. Some had knowledge in some areas so that they could pursue a skill, like sewing or knitting. Others preferred gardening or fishing. A woman with a baby was not expected to do anything much beyond keeping the baby alive. Today they want you on your feet and working, working, working. We never felt we had to justify sitting and reading while the soup was cooking. The point of Proverbs 31 is that she was God-fearing enough not to waste time in foolishiness and to be busy enough to look after her own family. Just because she bought some land and planted a vineyard, or later sold it, does not justify being a full time real-estate agent.

Serena said...

Oh, what a breath of fresh air! Thank you for this, Anna!

CappuccinoLife said...

All too true Anna. I've struggled with guilt over not being "insanely busy". I don't want to be, but it seems like the thing to do in order to be a good mom, you know.

What's funny is I remember my husband telling me that the women in his culture--a subsistence, agrarian, dirt poor place--he remembers the mothers of the village getting together with coffee every morning, chatting while their little children played. And the men would gather later on to rest in the evening after the farm work was done.
They had to work hard just to get enough food to eat, but they knew the benefit of taking that time out.

I actually had a fabulous day today, took a friend and met another friend at a local retreat center for an afternoon of fellowship and ministering to the one woman who needed encouragement. My children played happily nearby, and came to contribute to the contribution every once in a while before going off to play again. It was beautiful,, relaxed, and I would say a totally worthy use of an afternoon even if I wasn't 'being useful'.

Anonymous said...

Anna,almost all avenues are dried up to young men and women.I'm hoping to post a link to your site on FaceBook. I desparately want to post your article on "measuring up"! But I got
I read it to my youngest son, and ironicly, he was already wondering about these things.
His face did his heart.YOung girls in his life are frustrating him to no end.I have four sons and wish I'd found you earlier.
You have helped me more than you can ever know.
I want to be able to 'share' your talent and insight. How can I do this the correct way? Laura

Tammy L said...

What a great reminder for me... thank YOU!! :) It is too easy for me to get over-committed with "fun" family stuff that just doesn't leave us time to relax as a family...

Anonymous said...

I think what adds to this psuedo-busyness is the idea that you have to be this perfect crafty, blogging, gifting, organized, couponing decorator, baker, teacher, celebrate sisterhood super-mommy like all those popular shiny blog mommies who seem to always have it all together, despite their minor claims to the contrary. I'm not knocking them - they are inspirational, but even I find myself struggling with a sense of 'not good enough' sometimes when I see them and I've heard others admit the same. Did that make sense?

Table Poetry said...

I absolutely agree. I think one of the most harmful side-effects of modern culture is the loss of free time. You are never free. You are constantly on call, on your cellphone, ready for business.

Most kids don't see their mothers ever curl up with a good book. Because the mothers do that only as a guilty pleasure late at night, when all their other self-imposed tasks are done. And then we wonder why kids never take a book and curl up with it themselves.

Elisabeth said...

It's not just mothers who face this challenge, it's daughters. I'm SO aware of the constant pressure to be "busy" and "prove" that I'm working just as hard as my father and all the men I know. And, at the end of the day, the REALLY sad thing about falling for this lifestyle is that we're so busy justifying our existence and our life at home that we miss the POINT of our existence - God, the people He's placed in our lives, the things He's asked us to do. Thank you for the encouragement. You've no idea how badly I needed to read this at the moment!

Analytical Adam said...

Mrs. Anna wrote:

>After all, a large part of the joy of home is opting out of the rat race, right?

Actually no it isn't. Neither role is BETTER then the other. The male role is more of an external role and the man should make a living in a decent way and the man role should bring SOME satisfaction as well. The issue with feminism is that women have their own role and shouldn't envy the male role (which will lead to putting down the male role which if the woman does this how can she be his helpmate?) but the male role should have a higher purpose as well (although just like the woman some of his role is boring and repetitive in some ways). If they do think their role is BETTER then I think this is back to feminism and again, this envy of men, is unacceptable and a serious violation and envy is the reason many hate Jewish people because they don't like that they have a different role.

If a woman JUST wants to think about her role and think it is better she may marry a man that makes a lot of money but may not do it in a way that is moral or by hurting others. Which women do have much leverage over rewarding men who are moral even if at the moment they make somewhat less money and are struggling. In countries like the Soviet Union without G-d they produced nothing. I see women who seem to want to be at home so they can be harsh to their son's and again their is no need for this. Women of childbearing age can chose to marry the man that is moral and reject the one that is immoral but some woman only look at their role and how much money the man makes but not is he overall use his role in a good way.

I also say this from being in a home last shabbos where the husband was a surgeon but the husband was very strange and after shabbos didn't even give he his number along with his wife. In many prior situations I see women who have many children and have traditional roles but the woman doesn't want other women to marry and she has little regard for her son's and it usually is because the man isn't using his role in a moral way.

What kind of husband doesn't introduce himself to other men as this family I was at on Shabbos at a single event. It just really was something that isn't normal for a husband to just let his wife give me her number and the husband doesn't even say who he is.

Some surgeons (which this man was) to make more money perform surgery when really not needed and this husbands lack of any communication to another man really made me wonder and I'm sure he makes a good living but is he moral in his sphere. I don't know. The most basic part of morality is being able to be social and talk to other people and hear other people and their struggles.

Abraham in his role brought people to G-d and part of a man working should hopefully also be to share a little bit in the proper times.

Catherine R. said...

You certainly have a way of articulating things that many of us deal with but have a hard time explaining or understanding. I found myself getting defensive the other day when I was talking to a friend and her husband about being a homemaker; I was trying to prove that what I do is "harder" than working outside the home. I don't know WHY we have that need but you zeroed in on it!

You know, in some ways it *is* harder for me in that the role is self-directed. You have to think of meals and know how to prepare them, which in and of itself is a great undertaking for someone like me who (through circumstance and choice) had zero ability as a homemaker when I got married. It can be very challenging to do keep up with the daily demands when you feel so inept and it doesn't come naturally. I imagine many of us who grew up under feminism deal with this.

But goodness gracious, I get nauseous when I think about going back to some of the jobs I've had in my life! I would not trade staying home for anything unless I absolutely had no choice.

Anonymous said...

Quite a few people are trying to get away from it all and go back to nature, so the appeal of not trying to have it all is great. The sad thing about staying at home is that it can be a bit boring if you are a very social person. It may be hard to find other stay at home moms nowadays because people expect to be able to drive a car. But trying to have it all is, I'm certain, draining. I wouldn't know. I'm just a single.

You can always say that you are committed to your family only eating the healthiest things and as the family chef it's important to cook everything from scratch, raise your own chickens, and hoe your own garden, start a home-based organic bakery and people realize how crap their lifestyle is and that the food they eat is killing them.

Kids can learn so much from tending animals and gardens.

In any case, here's hoping I meet a nice man before it's too late. It's getting close to too late and I refuse to be with a jerk just so I can tell my friends I have a man.

Kristy said...

I love this! It is so true, and you have phrased it so well. A deliberately slower, simpler life is not much culturally valued anymore, it seems.

Karen said...

Excellent blog!! I know a woman who is having a really hard time with this right now and I think I'll pass this along for her to see. She's been babysitting for her family, volunteering at church, writing for an online magazine from home, and doing all this on top of cooking and cleaning and homeschooling her 3 children! She said she was feeling unwell and wanting to cut something out, but having a hard time deciding. I don't really have that problem. I wanted to volunteer for church choir but when it came down to it I just didn't have the time. Hopefully my singing voice will still be there when I do!!

I've been missing your blog. So busy!

Katie V. said...


Lara Gisela said...

Dear Anna,
I've been reading your blog for a long time and and I love it, though I don't usually comment. I know it's very nice to receive comments but as I see that you get lots of comments, when I do have time to comment, I prefer to do it in those less-visited blogs. Sorry! I was reading this post, and I would really like to share it with my Portuguese speaking readers. So I would like to ask you permission to translate it and post it in my blog, refering, of course, that you're the author. Thank you and may God bless you and your family.

Mrs. Anna T said...


You are, of course, most welcome to translate/quote from, and link to this post. Thanks for asking!