Friday, June 25, 2010

Housewife Angst

Anytime I see a "supermom" on t.v.--you know the kind: the ones who love all their chores and never ask their husbands for help--I feel two extremes. First, I get angry, thinking that these women are promoting an ideal that is not attainable for most women and is, frankly, unfulfilling for me. Then, I feel guilty. I should be spending more time cleaning everyday, I think. Or, does it make me a bad wife that I ask Nathan to help with Ashley's care? After all, he's gone out to work and I've stayed home all day.

Today, after seeing such a "supermom" on the Rachael Ray show, I vacillated between the extremes for a bit but then decided to think more critically. Is my anger justified? Do I think "supermoms" need liberation from the traditional role they've chosen? No. Some women choose to throw themselves into their household work as seriously as others pursue their careers. Many others balance family and career quite successfully. (I hate the term "full-time mom." I was no less of a mom when I worked, and I still maintained a clean home and cooked balanced meals.) Some stay-at-home moms, like me, love staying at home but would rather use some of the time at home not for cleaning baseboards with a toothbrush but for intellectual pursuits. And, of course, there are stay-at-home moms with neglected children and dirty homes. Every woman, and every couple and family, is different. I cannot feel angry that someone else has a different makeup and desire than I do.

What about the guilt? I'm not going to give in to it anymore. There are far too many sources of false guilt out there for women as it is, and no woman seems immune. A few times when I was working full-time and tried to make small-talk with women I'd just met, I asked, "Do you work?" "Not outside the home, but it is work," they told me. It's sad, but almost every woman feels the need to justify her choices. When I worked and someone assumed I stayed at home with Ashley, I usually made some explanation such as "My husband's in seminary full-time, so I have to work." We care too much about what other women think.

Another reason I won't feel guilty anymore is that a "supermom" is not my husband's ideal. I know he wouldn't be satisfied with an immaculate housekeeper who neglected her mind or ran herself ragged. My home is clean, my child is happy, a pregnant woman needs rest, and God gave me a personality that craves more than cookie-baking, vacuuming, and playing at the park. (And I think the same is true of most stay-at-home moms I know. I can't think of one who really fits the "supermom" profile, though they are all good moms in their own right.) Is there more I could be doing around the home, yes. Instead of feeling guilty today, I took action by vacuuming the stairs and around the baseboards. Then I baked some cookies (the kind you break off in pre-cut squares, yes, but they taste good).

I think there's a happy-medium between the two extremes I usually feel: accept who God's made me and work to improve myself where I'm not meeting up to my potential. Now, time to get a little girl up from her nap . . . .


Jcrew said...

Heather, I couldn't agree more! Coming from the business world I've caught myself on more than one occasion feeling like I need to justify my choice to stay home to other mom's who work. There is a happy medium, it's just hard not to compare. I'm enjoying your blog...keep it up! =)


Anonymous said...

Great article Heather. I LOVED being a stay at home Mom before I had to go back to work because Chris became disabled and could not work anymore. But I was not a "supermom" as defined by the world. But my husband and babies thought I was! :) I am now a "working mother" and I feel guilt alot. Mostly put on myself..not by anything that anyone has said. I agree whole heartedly in everything that you said. Everyone is different and has different expectations. I know women who COULD stay home but CHOOSE to work because it is what makes them happy. They are wonderful mothers and love their children and husbands. I cannot look down upon them because they want to work (I once did). I couldn't understand how someone would CHOOSE to be away from their children and being a homemaker - something I wanted so badly. I was happy being home, taking care of my girls, my home and my husband...but that doesn't make me better or less intelligent than they.

Thanks again - keep writing!!!

Juliann said...

A couple of quick points- I agree with some of what you point out. We are all made so differently and that was according to God's sovereign plan for each of our lives. Some enjoy scrubbing baseboards while some enjoy dissecting Greek. We are each made so differently and we should embrace the "gifts" God has given us.
We also must realize there are times in our lives we are able to develop those more than others. I also enjoy studying, reading, and increasing my knowledge base. I am currently reading a book by Latyon Talbert on the providence and sovereignty of God. So though I agree, I also must remind myself daily that God in His sovereingty gave me these five children to disciple, teach, train, encourage and love.
This part you put in the blog...
Many others balance family and career quite successfully. (I hate the term "full-time mom." I was no less of a mom when I worked, and I still maintained a clean home and cooked balanced meals.)
I fear that comment relegates the role of motherhood to a clean home and balanced meals. Mother hood extends so far beyond those basic and often mundane tasks. I also had to work full time for Steve's senior year of college. We had three children at the time...was I less of a mother? Yes, I was. Does it mean I loved my children any less...absolutely not!!! Our society so often uses colliquials like "Less is more"...we bite right into it. Let us stop and think is less ever more??? Never. Less is always less. Now, sometimes less might be better, but it is never more. So, back to my premise.
I was less of mother to my children when I worked full time, because for 40 plus hours a week someone else was mothering my children. In our case we were blessed to have my sister do that, but the reality is that motherhood extends far beyond cleaning and cooking. Though I cooked, cleaned and mothered my children at that time...I mothered less because of my work schedule. I mothered less that year than I do now. I will also agree with you that there are many mothers who do not take their calling seriously and are home with their children each day...their house is a mess, their children are not being discipled, loved, encouraged etc.
Please note how I said I also had to work full time for a year. I am in no way saying who should or should not work. Michelle who is the second commenter is one of the most amazing moms I ever met and she works full time. I am only saying we need to be careful with ourselves when we say things like the above comment.
Lastly, I would argue Heather that your pursuit of intellect will further your calling of motherhood. It is our primary responsibility as mothers to point our children to the AMAZING greatness of God and His sacrifice for our lives. By furthering your knowledge of Him, you are "able to give an answer to every man" (or children in your case)
To summarize, I do believe the Bible encourages women if at all possible to be keepers at home, to disciple and train their children and to love their husbands and care for their home. I believe the Bible teaches for men to lead their families & teach and encourage their wife and children. I make no apologies for it because I believe the Bible teaches that. Titus 2, Ephesians 5,1 Cor 14, 1Tim. 2, Col 3, 1 Peter 3....but I do know there are times where extenuating circumstances when God chose to use Deborah to lead/judge the nation of Israel. As far aw we can see this was out of the "norm". Up to this point God used men as judges...there are times for exceptions and it will be up to each husband and wife to determine how that fits best for their family...
Keep the posts coming, Heather...I love reading your posts. You have a gift for writing! I LOVED the post about your husband being your greatest teacher...what a tribute to him!

Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather said...

Juliann, thanks for your comments. I have always had tremendous respect for you because, not only do you support your husband and care for your children, but you also are highly involved in church ministries.

My purpose in this post was not to assert what is the proper biblical role of wife/mom but to draw attention to the judgmental attitudes we all can fall prey to regarding other women's choices and also the inferiority we can feel when we think we're being judged for our choices (or, as the case often is, not choices but circumstances that force us into a position).

Particularly I made the "full-time mom" comment because I would like to see more sympathy for working moms. If the statistics are correct that SAHMs work the equivalent of 2 full-time jobs, surely working moms do the same, if not more. Our first semester here, Nathan went to class in the day and worked at night. He wasn't able to pick up any of my slack, so I felt more like a single mom than a married one. One of the most meaningful things anyone's ever said to me came from my mother-in-law when she visited that semester. She simply acknowledged that what I had to do was hard. She has thanked me several times for my willingness to sacrifice for her son to go to seminary. (And she gave up working over thirty years ago when her first son was born!)How many times are working moms validated for the sacrifices they make? Not often, and especially not in church. The fact, is both you and I are partially responsible for our husband's ministries because we have worked to give them the education they needed to better serve God. But I fear that, especially among Christians, few people see that being your husband's "helper" can mean taking on his "bread winner" status sometimes. (I do appreciate your critique because I could have/probably should have followed my own English-professor advice and given myself more time to edit the post before publishing it! I could have explained myself more exactly.)

As I stated in the post, there are many sources of false guilt for women, and we fall prey to thinking we have to justify those choices (bottle v. breastfeeding, to vaccinate or not, to homeschool or not). I want to stop judging other people's decisions (though I fear maybe I still sounded judgmental in the post--again if I'd followed my own advice and waited a day before publishing, I could have distanced myself emotionally from the topic) and feel confident with the choices my husband and I make for our family--that's the theme of the post.

Juliann said...

Your follow up comment cleared up alot for me. You are absolutely right about women feeling like they need to justify every decision they make and feeling judged for them by other moms.

I think my emotion based response was triggered by my feelings that we live in a society that thinks that in order for a mom to stay at home...the husband must be making a hundred thousand dollars and all their material possessions purchased. That general mentality is starting to pervade our churches as well...and I like to champion for moms to make the choice to stay at home if they as a couple feel led and then make the sacrifices to do so if at all possible. It my soap box and I smile as I stand on it! hehe!

I also liked what you mentioned about being our husband's helper at different times means different things for different people...and you are right- during that last year of college the best way I could be a help meet to my husband was to help financially so that he could focus on finishing his degree and Senior recital. I never really thought of it that way and so your thoughts alleviates a bit of guilt that may have lingered from feeling that I "missed" so much while I had to work.

I appreciate your posts and your critical thinking. It is refreshing to see someone think through what they believe and not just go with the flow. I am sure whatever ministry God calls your family to will be blessed by it!