Monday, April 18, 2011

Somebody or Nobody?

So anyway...

While she was cutting my hair, the beautician asked me what I do for work. When I told her that I stay home with my kids she paused, looked at me in the mirror and hesitantly started asking how I feel about that. I sort of cut her off (there's that phrase again) and said, "Oh yes, it's by choice! I love it." She gave a sort of half-believing, "O-kaaay."

Then I stupidly added that I do some writing from home sometimes, but I am able to be home with my kids full time.

This all reminded me of a bunch of similar experiences I've had here in Poland. In this country mothers just don't stay home with their kids. All kids attend preschool and often nursery, though many kids stay with their grandparents during the day until they are 3 years old (old enough for preschool).

In one of the English discussion classes I taught years ago I was very pleasantly surprised when, during introductions, one young woman said that she stayed home with her two year-old little girl. I jumped right on that! The first mother I'd ever met here who stayed home! I was obviously delighted and I asked her, "How do you like being at home?", excited to have something so important in common with another mother, happy to have met someone that maybe knew the value of --or at least had experienced the joy of-- spending all day working, playing and eating with your child. Someone who might really understand me.

She suddenly got a crazed look in her eye and said, "I hate it! I'm desperate to find a job! I really can't wait to get working." Oh. So never mind about that. Over the course of the semester, whenever she talked about her daughter it was usually only about what a burden she was.

In a different class a very feminist-type girl loved to talk about how terrible it must be to be home all day with your (my) kids, never doing anything, being totally tied down. She couldn't EVER imagine sitting at home babysitting all day, not being able to get up and go whenever and wherever she wanted. Kids belong in daycare. There are reasons people are paid to take care of kids. She said all this while talking about any possible future kids she may have, as if they would be adornments to be worn when it suited her. She wasn't even sure if she wanted any and I wasn't brave enough to suggest that she probably shouldn't bother.

Another actual feminist felt very differently, however. She thought it was great that I stay home with my kids. I told her that I thought feminists thought women should be out in the world making a difference and getting equal pay to men. She said that feminist believe that women should be able to do whatever they want, and since I obviously loved what I was doing any real feminist should think that was cool.

Before the hair cut, the most recent example, and the one that made me think the most, was when I was checking into the hospital to have Spencer. The nurse was taking down all my information. For occupation I said "mother". She asked what I do for work. I (or Greg) told her that I don't work outside the home. I stay home and take care of my kids. She jotted that down (or possibly wrote "N/A" or "unemployed" and I think there was a brief interchange about it.

A little later the subject came up again and Greg said, well, she's a writer, and explained that I do some freelance writing from home. The lady was hugely impressed. "A writer! Oh! Why on EARTH did you say "mother!?!" You're not unemployed! You have a great job!" She said and/or expressed as much on her face.

I was not flattered by her admiration. I was alarmed that typing things on a computer was something worth mentioning (and praising), while intensively spending my time trying to shape four human beings into the very best people they can be, dedicating all (okay, most) of my thoughts, prayers and energy to four little people that look to me to meet their needs, for direction and guidance in making good and right decisions, for unconditional love and acceptance and for everything else they need to be physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually ready to make their own way in the world--that didn't count for anything in the space on the sheet of paper that was supposed to tell What I Am.

But that is exactly What I Am. And it doesn't matter if not everyone understands this--But a mother is not a nobody. She is the most important kind of somebody.

23 comments:

Melissa said...

Wow, Lisa, it would be difficult to be around this attitude about stay at home mothering, when we believe it is so important. I am glad that you can have the church and friends (and wonderful husband, of course) that support you in this monumental decision!

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Yay. And yes. :)

Barbaloot said...

I'm grateful there are so many women like you who feel the way you do, and that there are other women who believe women can do whatever they want---be it a stay-at-home mom or a doctor. As long as there are some of us that feel that way I think we'll be okay!

MelancholySmile said...

What a sad thing!

After spending quite a lot of time with therapists and counselors, J and I have discussed how ironic it is that our culture is so willing to blame all kinds of problems and behaviors on one's parents-- yet are so unwilling to place any value on properly parenting their own children! The convolutedness of it all reminds me of the scripture that says light shall be called darkness, and darkness shall be called light.

I'm just grateful for the advent of internet and blogging, which allows like-minded stay-at-home mothers support one another no matter where we live. :)

Moody said...

Good grief! That's all I can think of saying! I wish I didn't have to work outside the home, but I'm lucky I work at a school where I have the same hours as my kids. It's important to be there for the first five years minimum, IMO, and during the teen years for sure!

Susan said...

You are so good at reminding me how I thought I would be as a mom :) But you know, when I imagined spring break and taking my kids to parks and stuff, I just never envisioned the brown-eyed boy who would be fussing and whining the entire time about going home...
I love MelancholySmile's comment.
I think it's interesting to know this about Polish culture, I didn't realize it before. Now I understand why my friend here is still looking into jobs that would start just a few months after her twin girls are born...

Amy said...

We were stationed in Europe for 8 years, 4 at a NATO base in Belgium. There were families from 17 countries. Many of the American women were stay-at-home moms. There was an attitude from some that the American women were spoiled and lazy. Even at church there were sometimes comments like "It must be nice to stay home and do nothing all day."

Patty Ann said...

I totally love this today. Even here, there are many people who think you are less if you stay home. I think you are totally amazing and I admire you being able to stick to your principles. It might not seem important now, but in the eternal scheme of things, it is the most important job ever!!

Lisa said...

I saw the same attitude when I lived in Germany. Not that you don't see it in America, but it's so widespread there. It IS sad...You're definitely "somebody."

Kopie said...

Yeah, this occupation is not connected with much prestige nowadays. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Melissa said...

I love your last statement. Can I quote you? I am SO GRATEFUL I get to stay home with my kids (because I have always hated working!) Not that staying home isn't working! And I do plenty of complaining about my kids. I just didn't like the work environments I was in before getting to stay home. Being a mother is the HARDEST JOB on the planet, but absolutely the most important!

Kazzy said...

I think your definition of a feminist is what a lot of women think. Nice to be understood by at least one woman. Wow!

Tracie said...

Loved this and reminds me of that fantastic poem - The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rocks the World. You are doing the hardest, most worthwhile work and if you haven't read Jane Clayson Johnson's "I Am A Mother", you'd love it! I too am grateful for the blogging community of mothers that find joy and share challenges of this most meaningful endeavor. I'm reading President Monson's biography and at the very beginning, he is quoted as saying "I firmly believe that the sweetest experience in mortality is to know that our Heavenly Father has worked through us to accomplish an objective in the life of another person -- to help make someone whole." We're the lucky ones, aren't we! I just have to be reminded often ;)

Erin said...

Yay! What a great post. That is exactly why I CHOOSE to stay at home with my children. Yes, I have a degree. Yes, I have a high IQ. AND, I WANT to be home with my children to teach them everything I want/need to.

Yes, I feel very passionately about this discussion, if you can't tell :)

(And I said I have a high IQ, and in this very moment, I don't know if I used the word "passionately" correctly. Sigh.)

Loralee and the gang... said...

I LOVE the Actual Feminist's comment. And I agree with you. Being a Mom is the best (and most important) occupation of all!

Carolyn V said...

Lisa, this is so EXCELLENT!!! Thank you!

I'm a stay at home mom of five kids. I had considered going back to work when the youngest went to school, but realized that my older kids needed me home more than the younger ones.

I love being a mom, and feel like it is the most important job in the world.

I just want to give you a hug. ((hug)) =D

music notes said...

I enjoyed reading your post! Great thoughts!

Lara said...

It makes me so sad that so many women in this world will never experience how wonderful motherhood is.

I'm glad the one Feminist really gets it! And I'm glad you get it. And I'm glad you share it with others, so maybe they'll get it, too.

Sylwia said...

i love staying at home with my kids too, and i'm not even a writer on the side :). i do absolutely nothing on the side! and that's where the true freedom is. what person that works from eight to five can say they can nap anytime they want? or go to lunch anytime they want? or talk on the phone however long they want? or sleep in? or go to a park every time the sun shines? or lay in the backyard enjoying the breeze? or read a good book for 12 hours straight?

i don't know about the working women, but i do whatever i choose every single day. a bike ride sounds nice today...

Jenn K said...

What a frustrating attitude that most Polish people have. I know it varies culture to culture, but I raise my children, not the village, cause the village has enough idiots in it.

Motherhood is my duty, my love, my boredom, my joy, my everything. Lately it is fleeting (Rachel will be "grown up and gone" in 6 years) and I remind myself of that daily.

grammawood said...

Lisa, I'm Nathan's mom and I just want to say that you've written about the attitude that I dealt with when my husband went to Duke (NC) in the 1970's. Other women often tried to make me feel that I was somehow lacking because I didn't work. Each time I went to the doctor's office and filled in "mother" or "homemaker" for my job it would come back "none". Then I said something to the doctor and he really appreciated my comments and respected my choice and he told them to print my job as homemaker and they finally did. When people say, "Oh, you don't work?" I say, "Yes, I do, I just don't get paid!" Years ago, I felt I had to defend my choice, but now, I can say that almost everyone I know respects it, and most of my mother friends (grandmas now), tell me wistfully that they wish they'd made that choice then. I love reading your blog and your honest comments about motherhood, the most wonderful, most important (and probably most difficult)vocation ever.

AndyPandyJackaDandy said...

I've been away from Bloggyland for too long! I love this post! I used to say I was a SAHM, but I was also a massage therapist or budding writer... Then I decided I didn't need to tack that junk on. I am a mom. Deal with it.

Heidi said...

This scares me. It is this attitude (their's, not yours, of course) that makes it possible for me to see how the end of civilization can actually come. I have nothing against moms who want to work or do work for whatever reason but I have big problems with mothers who think of children as an accessory to their life as opposed to one of, if not the, greatest undertaking in life.