Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stay-at-home mothers, social pressure and feelings of inferiority

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, and I only hope I have enough eloquence to express myself properly.

In the first neighborhood where my husband and I lived as a young couple with children, it was lonely during the day. Most women worked, except those who stayed home with the really tiny babies. Most children were in daycare by 6 months of age. When people heard that Shira, then less than 3 years old, wasn't going to attend any type of daycare or preschool that year, they were shocked. No, more than shocked - scandalized. Certain that I'm depriving my child of a very important developmental step. "You'll have to work very, very hard with her at home to be as good as a daycare," one Mom told me. I didn't work hard. I just enjoyed life and we did fine. 

I felt very much alone. In all the time we lived there, I didn't meet one person who shared my views about education and family life. Still, I was convicted that what we're doing is the right choice for our family. This gave me strength, though at times I reverted to what I now call "the no choice tactic" - telling people "I'm staying home to watch over my children because daycare would be too expensive"; "I'm not getting a job because there aren't any good jobs available locally, and I don't drive". Call me weak, but sometimes it was just easier to do that instead of arguing with people.

Then we moved to our next neighborhood, where I instantly felt at home. Most women were homemakers. Most children were home at least until they were three years old. There was a homeschooling family with girls the same age as mine, and we immediately hit it off. We hosted sleepovers. We hung out in the mornings, watching over the kids. Until I was there I didn't even realize how good it feels to fit in, to be - if not like everyone else - not a freak either. 

Seasons passed, and due to a combination of various circumstances we were forced to move again, to the place where we live now. Socially, I now find myself in the same place as in our first neighborhood, with one further disadvantage: my children are now older, which makes my desire for us to stay together and learn as a family stand out even more. Also, I keenly feel the loss of that environment in our old home which was so supportive of our educational choices. 

I see the women all around me. They are all such good women, mothers, friends. They all love their children, take care of them and teach them, just the way I do. They all nurture their homes, cook nutritious meals, and bake delicious treats, just the way I do. Only they do it part-time rather than full-time. They also work hard outside the home - as a personal sacrifice rather than a career achievement, I must add. Many of the men here struggle to provide for their families, and so their wives step in and work extra. Several are nurses working night shift, sacrificing their sleep so they can later be with their children during the day. The families all manage on a very tight budget, even with both parents working. 

I am, truly, full of respect for these women. Seeing them sometimes makes me feel spoiled, indulged. Not that I sit twiddling my thumbs at home; I have three children, one of them just 5 months old. I get no help with household chores or child care. I thrift shop and have become a really economical cook. Still, I sometimes wonder what it is about me that makes it nearly impossible to even let my baby out of my sight, let alone go to work for part of each day. Is something wrong with me?

But I guess that what makes me ache most is the feeling of mental isolation. I would so love to develop close, trusting relationships with at least some of my neighbors. I feel that what we have in common - the love for our G-d, our families, our children, our homes - is far bigger than our differences. Unfortunately our neighbors feel differently. I sense people are wary around us. Like it's not enough to have a lot in common; like you have to be exactly the same to be friends. And I think that's a real pity.

I guess the key here is that nobody should feel threatened by the different choices others make. I don't pass judgment on the Mom whose young children are in daycare from 8 to 4, and then in various afternoon classes from 4 to 6 (though I might think this lifestyle is quite hectic). Similarly she shouldn't pass judgment on me (though she might privately think our lives are boring). We can disagree on some issues, but we can agree on many others. And we can be friends. At least that's what I believe. 


Lana said...

Stay at home Moms are perhaps more common in the US but it is expected that most women will return to work after the children are grown. I did not and so I am a stay at home wife. We do not need any more income and choose to have me home taking care of what needs to be done here during the day. This is a lonely place too since most women my age are working during the day and are too tired or busy to do much outside of working hours. I hope you find a solution so that do not feel so isolated. It is a hard place to be.

Anonymous said...

I am a stay at home wife with no kids and people around me have been really annoying. I have to see doctors for medical reasons and most of them are females that urge me to work. I worked before I got married and part tme when my husband was looking for work. It is better that I stay home.

I know it is easy to say but just ignore other people. It is your life and your marriage, not theirs.

We have one car and my husband's schedule has alwas been erratic. I am not going to pay for a second car only to be paid peanuts an hour again!

Leah Brand-Burks said...

I feel exactly as you do. What we do is hard, and those who try to do both outside work and all the work at home are to be lauded. But as for letting my children out of my sight, I agree with you. I am very protective.

Kathy Thurman said...

This world seems to be a hard place no matter what you do!
I worked when my kids were growing up because we needed the money. I was in the Navy when they were born (twins), I retired, then I worked in daycare for 14 1/2 years. I retired in March, and am a stay-at-home wife, and although I have plenty to do to make good use of my time, it does get lonely. People think I'm weird because I did things backwards. I love being home and out of the rat race, and my husband loves it too, so I don't care what people think. My kids are almost 24 now, and they like that I am home now too, they come over all the time for dinner, and I help them out with lots of stuff. I'm happy!

Florence Mayes said...

Mrs. T. I have always loved your blog and wanted to tell you that. I am a homeschool mom in the US whose last child just graduated this year. I know and have lots of homeschool friends from church and homeschool group, but I don't think I have ever had a neighborhood friend either. It just works out that way sometimes.

Being different from your culture is always hard. Being a believer around unbelievers, a homeschooler, conservative, even having food allergies and not being able to eat food that other people can can make you feel weird!

At first I felt isolated homeschooling, but we ended up, or were drawn, to churches where most people homeschooled, so that made it easier. I hope eventually you will find others. Maybe you can start your own homeschool support group?

I don't know if you can understand this, but knowing that you exist all the way over in another country, going through the same things I go through here, has always seemed so special and comforting to me!

God bless!

Winkel's Crazy Ideas said...

I have four children and have become (worked as a nurse first five years) a home maker, full-time. It is a very lonely business and people, paricularly close friends and family, often make a point of degrading me, hoping to make me feel inferior. My husband and l aim to live a simple life and spend time together as a family instead of working overtime to buy a whole lot of stuff we don't even want. We both love being thrifty, and teaching our children the environmental benefits too. Peolpe just don't seem to get it altall. I wish our differences didn't make for barriers.Nice to know there is someone else on the other side of the planet thinking along the same lines. Pam in Norway

Mrs. Anna T said...

Ladies, thank you for your comments. You are awesome. Yes, it really is comforting to know that someone somewhere across the globe is facing just the same issues.

littleduckies said...

What was your second neighborhood? I'd love to live there!