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!

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