The Support Moms Need, Part 3: Friends You Can Use

Yesterday I alluded to moms who don’t have a supportive spouse: single moms, military wives whose husbands are deployed, and even women married to jerks who think having a stay-at-home wife means they can abdicate any responsibility for the care of their children.  Even for many of us with supportive husbands, life looks pretty different than our grandparents’ generation, when everyone was raising families in the context of family and community.  Since becoming a mother, I have always lived hundreds, and now thousands, of miles away from my parents and siblings.  When you move so often that each of your kids is born in a different state, as we did, you don’t always have a dependable community to turn to for help for those immediate, physical crises we all have from time to time.  All moms, and especially those without help in the home, need to be purposeful about building real friendships.  We’ve talked about friendship before (here, here, here, and here), and we had my friend Sandy, a veteran military wife, talk about being and helping a single mom for a season.  So I won’t belabor the point that we should all can and should proactively reach out to the lonely or overwhelmed sahm in our neighborhood, church, Bible study, or playground.  (If you don’t know any isolated sahms, you need to look harder.)  I will point out that the sacrifice of reaching out to a new friend almost always blesses me unexpectedly.  Building community is a service project that redounds to you.

I’ve probably blogged enough about how practicing hospitality–having people into our homes–is a huge friendship builder.  I’ve also found that asking for and giving sacrificial help instantly deepens the bond of friendship.  Our church community group once had a discussion about whether we felt comfortable calling each other to get a ride to the airport.  Though we all were friends, most of us felt that that was too much to ask!  Then I broke my foot (and re-broke it 11 days later) and realized I needed to ask my community group for help.  Some of our group members live an hour away from me.  It was humbling to see how many of them showed up at my house with a meal last summer.  So a few months later, when one of their kids broke his arm, I found myself driving 45 minutes to drop off a meal for them.  Now I think either of us would be willing to ask for a ride to the airport!  It often takes a medical emergency (a broken foot, a new baby, a particularly bad stomach flu when the fridge is already empty) to get me to ask people for help, but after I’ve done it once, it’s easy to reciprocate in kind.  I often say that I’m not really friends with someone until we’ve been in each other’s kitchens.  Maybe I could add I’m not really good friends with someone until we’ve exchanged sacrificial favors–watched each other’s kids or run an errand for each other.

Some moms truly are so alone that there is no one they can ask to watch the kids during a doctor’s appointment.  I’ve certainly had my kids lined up on the floor during my annual exam or while getting a dental check-up shortly after moving to a new town.  It is depressing and so, so hard.  But many of us actually do have people we could ask for help in such a situation but we just don’t want to trouble.  It sounds selfish to “use” a friend, but it actually indicates a closeness that you don’t have with a mere acquaintance.  I have never been turned down when I asked a retired mom from book club or a CBS classmate or a Sunday School teacher, “Could you please watch the kids while I go to the OB-GYN?  My husband can’t get off work, and my son is too old to come along with me anymore.”  Most of my friends were happy to be asked.  I rarely have friends ask me to pick up the kids for them or borrow an ingredient for dinner, but I am always thrilled that they feel they know me well enough to ask (even if I can’t help that that particular time).  I can see how a single mom might feel that all she’s ever do is asking for help, which is why I’d probably go out of my way to ask her for help so that she feels things are mutual.

 

How many friends do you have who you could ask to run you to the airport or pick up your kids for you?  Do you have a support network of friends right now?  How did you grow to feel close enough to ask for help?

Posted in For New Moms, Friendship | Leave a comment

The Support Moms Need, Part 2: Dads

Photo Credit: Mindy Rainey Creative

Photo Credit: Mindy Rainey Creative

Yesterday I noted that young moms need support, and that our kids can be part of the solution, not just the cause of our stress.

For most mothers, there is one other built-in supporter: our husband (I’ll talk about supporting single moms and military wives later).  This is a blog for women, but we can’t talk about a young mother’s need for support without pointing out that a young father needs to make some sacrifices for the family, too.  For our family, that meant my husband’s earning potential peaked at 27, when he quit his prestigious law firm job to pursue a career path that would allow for more time with the family.  For another family, that might mean that Dad doesn’t take the promotion that would require him to travel 4 months out of the year.  It might mean not running for public office.  It might mean working a ho-hum job that pays the bills rather than up and moving your family to LA to pursue your dream of making it big in Hollywood (I know way too many of those guys out here!).  It might mean turning down an opportunity to attend a conference so that you can be home on Saturday to coach your son’s soccer team.

Just as motherhood is often not glamorous, fatherhood can seem less exciting than the workforce.  Men can’t have it all, either, and a dad who stays late at work because he doesn’t want to come home and give the kids baths is being selfish and disrespectful to his wife, who has been working just as long as he has by 7 pm.  As a stay-at-home mom, I am ON every waking moment.  My four year old crawls into my bed at dawn to get me up, I’m homeschooling all morning and trying to do chores all afternoon, and on the nights when my husband goes back in to the office to work until midnight, I’m the one sending overtired kids back to bed until 10 pm (I hate you, daylight savings time!!!).  My husband gets up earlier than I do and works a full day, too, but that doesn’t mean that he’s exempt from bedtime duty on the evenings when he’s home.  It’s poisonous to try for a perfect 50/50 division of parenting duties, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and throw all the responsibility for child-rearing on mom. Kids are a lot of work, and when you choose to become a father, you should expect to participate in that work.

Moms sometimes shoot themselves in the foot here.  They complain that they have to do everything, but then they criticize how their husbands do things: Dad takes the kids out on Saturday morning to give Mom a quiet couple of hours at home, and they come home, announcing that they had a yummy breakfast at McDonalds!!!!  Mom blows up at Dad for feeding her precious snowflakes junk food, and Dad decides that next weekend, he’ll sleep in.  Mom complains to her girlfriends that Dad just doesn’t care about the kids, and resentment grows.  Or Dad gets the kids dressed, and the girls are wearing church dresses to go watch a soccer game.  Mom lights into Dad (who can’t tell the difference between church dresses and play dresses–they all just look like dresses to him), and next week, he sits in the minivan, waiting, while Mom searches for shin guards and dresses children and mumbles about how unhelpful Dad is.  Know what I mean?  In nine years of parenting together, my husband and I have figured out that yes, I do have certain ways we do things because my routines work for our family, but if he does something differently, it’s okay.  I can’t remember which one of us first let the kids put mini chocolate chips in their oatmeal, but you know what, my kids eat oatmeal every single day, and there’s still less sugar in it than in a bowl of cold cereal, at a fraction of the cost!  It’s okay!  There is not one right way to feed kids breakfast!

And then there are my friends whose husbands seem to feel that if Mom is staying home, they don’t have to worry about parenting.  Or the husbands who are really in a crazy time at work (pre-tenure, or leading up to a big case/presentation/conference) and really don’t have the brain cells left at the end of a long day to do much more than kiss the kids and tuck them into bed.  That is tough.  Most of the burned-out moms I know are the ones who have been doing all the parenting and figure if they go back to work, their husbands will have to pitch in more.  One mom I know announced to her husband that she was chucking her home daycare business and going back to an office job because she couldn’t handle their four children plus two extras, all on her own.  Her husband was totally caught off guard and promised to help more, but at that point, it was too late.  She said if he’d spent the last three years helping, she wouldn’t be quitting now.  This is where I think regular dates with our spouses, talking through work stress and family needs, would really be helpful.  (If you’re like me, thousands of miles away from family, the idea of a regular date night probably has you rolling your eyes.  Maybe you can substitute with a 15 minute conversation after the kids go to bed and before pulling up Netflix?)  It’s hard for me to address this issue with my own husband in a way that respects the hard work that he does for our family by bringing home the paycheck but also communicates my need for specific assistance on evenings and weekends.  I totally mucked up a discussion on this very issue recently and had to ask my husband’s forgiveness for my sinful words and attitude.  I get it, girlfriends, it’s hard.

Perhaps the most important way Dad can be part of Mom’s support network is with his words.  Even though I blog about the importance of full-time motherhood, I can get pretty discouraged on the days (weeks!) when I see no fruit from my work.  When my husband comes alongside me and and praises me for the invisible things I do each day, I feel so built up and encouraged.  In our excellent pre-marriage counseling, our mentors specifically told my husband he would need to do this–a lot–when I was home with a houseful of kids.  Of course, this not-taking-your-spouse-for-granted thing goes both ways: how often do I praise my husband for getting up and going to the office day in and day out, year after year?  Not enough.  If any husbands are reading this, I encourage them to praise their wives today.  And for the discouraged moms reading this, I encourage you to tell your husband that he can help you by praising you for your efforts with the home and the kids.

 

How does your husband support your work in the home?  Do you believe that men can’t “have it all” either?

Posted in For New Moms, Having It All, Marriage, Parenting | 2 Comments

The Support Moms Need, Part 1: Many Hands Make Light Work!

Happy Easter Monday, friends!  In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been pretty quiet on the blog of late.  Turns out between homeschooling, moving to new houses, parenting, and doing our daily work, Anna and I are pretty maxed out.  But my kids are on spring break this week, so I’m going to try hard to knock out some of the ideas that have been rattling around in my head of late.  Get ready for a blog blitz this week!

I’m in the midst of a series of posts inspired by this piece on how working is not optional for American women.  I’ve talked about whether earning money is as “absolutely necessary” as the author claims, and now I’m turning to her next sentence, “And the sad truth is that we aren’t doing anything to support them or their families — not because we can’t, but because we won’t.”  There are so many preconceptions built into this single sentence that we’ll have to take a few posts to unpack it.  Skipping past the “we” who aren’t doing anything (are “we” US taxpayers or American culture at large or some other undefined subset of people who need to do more to help working moms have it all?), I definitely agree that most moms I know feel that they could use more support.  What kind of support do we need, and what is the most helpful way to tackle this problem?

As Anna has noted, stay-at-home moms (and working moms home on maternity leave) often feel totally isolated and depressed these days, because we’re often the only ones around the neighborhood all day, every day.  When more and more moms enter the workforce, the other ones left behind feel, well, left behind.  When all our friends are doing impressive-sounding things at their workplace, it’s easy to fall into the trap of undervaluing our own work.  The homemaking mommy blogger who takes unrealistically perfect pictures in her certified organic home with her 1.7 beautifully dressed children can cause us to feel discouraged, as can the driven working mom next door who pulls out the “I do everything you do, AND I work full-time” cliche.  I would hope that our readers have taken our advice and ignored both women.

Even if she can ignore the voices around her, it’s quite discouraging when a mother feels her work is unappreciated by the very family for whom she is sacrificing.  As Bethany reminded us, part of our work is to teach our children to be appreciative.  After I threw my son a birthday party, my mom asked me if he’d thanked me for my effort.  I realized he hadn’t–and that his lack of gratitude was partially due to my own failure in allowing him to become entitled.  Don’t even get me started on the “You don’t want us to have any fun!” statements I get after we’ve come home from a full day of playing with friends, and I have the temerity to ask the kids to clean up the kitchen before dinner.  If my children praised and thanked me for my work every day, I suspect I’d feel less discouraged.  I remember a girlfriend who lived at home while attending university telling me that her most important contributions to the family were encouraging her mother in her vocation as homemaker (by committing to housework as well as her homework, among other things) and helping her mom to respect her dad (rather than trading complaints about his eccentricities). Wouldn’t we all love for our kids to have such a mature and helpful attitude at 19?  Then we’ll have to start training them now.

My oldest asked to be put in charge of making lunches up when we're out and about, and it's proven beneficial to both of us!

My oldest asked to be put in charge of making lunches up when we’re out and about, and it’s proven beneficial to both of us!

The best way I’ve found to teach my children to be appreciative of what I do all day is to involve them in my work.  Our children can certainly drain our energy–I often come home from a long day out with them and beg for 5 quiet minutes in my room alone–but they can also take ownership for the well-being of our family.  At two, that might mean putting their toys away and setting the table.  My four year old can put all the shoes away in their cubbies, wipe down the bathroom with a clorox wipe, and unload the dishwasher.  My six year old can change the baby’s diaper for me, give me a quick back rub, and fold laundry.  My nine year old helps our out-of-the-house mornings run smoother by making up lunches, taking out the trash, and starting the roomba on the way out the door.  I know there are different perspectives on this issue, but I have largely retired from picking up toys.  I do the more complicated clean-up tasks (or run and throw a load of laundry in while my kids are working), and my kids do the grunt work of putting duplos back in the bin and collecting all the doll clothes in the toy basket.  I am not a slave driver; my children usually spend less than half an hour a day in cleaning tasks, though when they dawdle and complain, they’ve been known to take all morning.  Our family does not have this all worked out perfectly yet–see ungrateful comments above–but I am less overwhelmed when I allow my children the dignity of contributing to the running and upkeep of our home.  And note that we can’t invite them to contribute if they’re never home.  I try to be selective when signing kids up for activities, but between my son’s art class, my daughters’ ballet classes, CBS for all of us, and the occasional homeschool park day with friends, we’ve had a busy spring–and it’s not even soccer season!  Last week, a planned play date was cancelled at the last minute, and we found ourselves free at home all afternoon.  You guys, we got SO MUCH housework done: caught up on laundry, put away toys, organized school bins and art supplies, and had a clean table and kitchen counter by the time my husband came home for dinner (homemade pizza).  Note to self, and to all of you: if your kids are too busy with extracurricular activities to help around the house, they are doing too many activities.

We’ll stop here for now: as moms, we can start to build our own support network by teaching our children to help us with our work in order to appreciate what we do.

Next up: dads!

Posted in Having It All, Parenting, Practical Housekeeping | Leave a comment

Real Housewives of E2S: 2:35 pm

img_20160320_143300941_hdr.jpgBirthday cake tastes the same in crumbs or in slices, right?  But this does not bode well for next Sunday’s lamb cake.

 

About the Real Housewives of E2S Project.

Posted in Real Housewives of E2S | Leave a comment
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