My friend Penny is the mother of three of the world’s most energetic boys, spaced a year apart. While they were whipping around a Georgian Bay island one summer, Penny was talking about her “winter” life, and the cocktail parties that she and her husband frequently gave for his business. At one of these events, one of the guests leaned over to another to gesture toward Penny… ‘is that the children’s nanny?’ he asked.
The quickest way to be left alone at a busy “soirée” is to say you’re a stay-at-home mom. Somehow people look at you as if you flushed your brain down the toilet along with diaper doo-doo and chose instead to sit in front of the tube, engrossed in sitcoms and soaps.
Back in 1978 when my first child was born, I got a full dose of this. We had waited nine years before starting our family; we wanted careers well under way, so that one of us had some work flexibility to offer our kids full time parenting. I was the lucky one who got to stay home. At my “retirement” party from my newspaper, one attendee commented: “I can’t believe you’re going to have this baby and stay home. With this brain of yours!”
Believe me, the “staying home” part has been the hardest work I’ve ever done.
I meet women constantly in classrooms, looking into writing their resumés and getting “back into the work force” and their sense of self has all but disappeared. “I don’t have any skills. I’m just a mother,” they say simply. Our culture does that to us.
So let’s have a look. Your baby, around four months, pulls its little leg up to its chest and makes its first attempt to push itself onto its back. Mom stands there, watching, encouraging, but not helping. Mom’s part psychologist, knowing the importance of goal setting and getting at an early age.
Toddler enters a room, any room, with the goal of taking it all apart within 40 seconds. Mom knows that children have to take apart first, before they learn how to put it together. She makes sure each room offers an area that belongs to the child, so she can re-direct. Mom becomes coach.
A five year old, very focussed youngster walks past, dragging a ‘dead’ electrical panel and tools. Mom looks, smiles, and says to her friend, “it’s amazing what he is able to do.” Instead of saying “stop” she makes sure he’s experimenting in a safe environment. Mom becomes mentor.
The little one starts to climb, and Mom realizes height matters when you’re 36 inches tall. A step ladder finds its way into the living room so the little one can go up and down. Mom becomes physical education director.
A huge piece of wrapping paper gets ironed out and the little one lies down, Mom drawing around him or her so he can see how big he really is. And together they paste on fabric, paint on a face, watching the child’s self image take shape. And then they hang it in the living room. Mom becomes art teacher.
Time to learn how to share with others, how to trust that toys shared will come back, how to take care of other people’s property and a weekly getogether with other moms and kids is organized. Mom becomes social convenor.
Lessons in swimming, or dance, or hockey, or art are lined up for, signed up for, paid for and then organized around the busy family schedule. Others ask Mom if she’ll pick up and deliver their kids as well, because their work schedules don’t permit it. Mom gets to listen to other kids, point out positive character traits, make suggestions about how a negative comment can be turned into a positive one. She also makes five stops in four different directions to load in four other kids and help deal with changeroom antics, pool deadlines, towel sorting, hair drying, re-loading, refereeing, seat belting, and delivery. And when her child jumps from the pool, races to the hall shouting “I can swim! I can swim!” Mom is excited and generous and knows her child has no understanding that she played a part in this. Mom becomes distribution manager.
Eleven year old daughter and eight year old son are screaming insults at each other, partly for entertainment, partly to try out how their insults sound, partly to irritate adults in their company, and partly because they can’t stand/absolutely love each other. Mom becomes facilitator.
Older child is bucking the system, performing poorly in school, anxious to explore his or her own interests and passion in life. Mom encourages child to use his head while following his heart. Mom becomes career counsellor.
Grandparents, cousins, teachers, husband all complain about the choice the child is making. Mom runs interference, explaining, outlining, pushing crisis into opportunity. Mom becomes advocate.
I could fill this newspaper with the things that Mom is. Her skills are consummate. They’re focussed tightly on the lives in her charge. And everything she does with little ones takes a long, long time. It takes much longer to let a child experience the fun of making and eating his own playdough creations when Mom makes gingerbread playdough for him to use. It takes longer to let a child mail his own letter. It takes longer to let a child iron his own shirt, or sew on his own Scout awards. It takes longer to teach her how to hammer and saw and make her own shelf. It takes patience. It takes focus. It takes having your eye on the big picture and keeping the daily activities on logical goals to get there. Mom becomes Chief Executive Officer.
Showing by example, apologizing for her mistakes, asking for forgiveness, listening to torments that seem as big as mountains, Mom is teaching by example that each of us owns our own realities. Mom becomes mentor.
There are two kinds of respect to dole out for Moms these days. Women who are juggling incredible full time jobs or their own businesses, living with guilt the size of our Spirit Catcher each time they miss a school recital, or buy a Hallowe’en costume, or watch their kid’s tear stained face at the end of a game… these women are caught in our society which says they must do it all to prove themselves. They’re caught between two generations of women… those whose place was in the home, and those whose home is only one place. Their load is enormous. Their guilt is even bigger. But their sense of self is healthy because society tells them they’re doing a great job as a this-or-that at work.
And then there are women who choose to stay at home. To these women I want to say thanks. Because these women have to draw deep inside themselves for their accolades. They have nobody to say “you’re doing a great job!” There is no applause at the end of the day. There is no recognition about the tremendous skills they have when they do re-enter employment. There is so little thanks. These women have to give all that to themselves. And that’s the kind of Mom I had/ve.