Monday, July 13, 2009

Library Lady raises her own kids

Blog post: Library Lady is bringing up her kids

As someone who used to do library storytimes as a children's librarian and is now bringing her own child to library storytimes, this post resonates with me. There are no good terms for parents who work for a paycheck outside the home, those who work for a paycheck inside the home, and those who work without ever seeing a paycheck. "Working mom" implies that mothers who don't get paychecks aren't working, and "full-time mom" implies that mothers who work for paychecks outside the home aren't their children's mothers all the time. More important than labels, though, are the choices we've made, the decisions we've had to make, and the challenges that come up no matter what we do.

I'm going to do my best to avoid articles that lay guilt-trips upon mothers who work for paychecks outside of the home regardless of why they do it, or upon the mothers who work as parents without the benefits of paychecks, health insurance, etc. I'm also going to stop trying to justify the professional and personal choices I've made. All along, Bede and I have worked to make decisions that were best for our family.

I'm curious... when someone tries to undermine a decision into which you've placed a lot of thought, how do you respond? When it happens, I'm so taken aback that I come up with my witty response long after that person has gone on to something else.


Lone Star Ma said...

I agree - the labels are all distinctly unhelpful.

I like to think that usually people who say things that undermine our choices are either too inexperienced or too insecure to know better, and I try to meet that with love and acceptance. And I also try to remember that sometimes they might not be doing any such thing as trying to be undermining but that I might be insecure enough to take them that way.

I know that most new mothers (and mothers who have a lot more help than most folks do) say very judgmental things to other mothers, just not realizing how very many good ways there are to do things. Also, mothers want so much to do right by their kids that judging other people's different choices can be a way of making them feel better about their own. I tend to hope that most people grow out of that, though of course not everyone does. I find that if I am self-deprecating in a gentle sort of how-hard-it-all-is universal way, it can sometimes help a parent who feels defensive to open up to other people's ways.

Also, I know that lots of people experience another person's strong feelings about something as a judgment about doing anything else, even when no one judgment was meant. I, for example, feel very strongly about the benefits of breastfeeding and very happy that my education and support system and circumstances allowed me to nurse my kids until they were biologically ready to wean. Many people I have encountered who have formula-fed their babies or weaned early think that because I feel that way, I judge their actions as wrong when I totally do not. I believe families are complex social organisms in which many, many circumstances and needs must be weighed and that what is best for each family will be different and best known by that family, not me. But people don't accept that and will do things like subtly criticize me for nursing so long as a sort of payback for the judgment they incorrectly imagine me to be feeling. I try to have empathy for where they are coming from and not answer attacks with attacks because they obviously already feel attacked.

I guess my philosophy is just to try to be loving and accepting enough to help other people let go of that defensive, attacking feeling. Though I am not always in an emotional place where I can do that. I try, though.

Kathleen said...

When someone makes disparaging remarks (or "witty" remarks) about my chosen way of life, in particular the size of my family, I always try to respond by emphasizing how fortunate I am to be able to go my own chosen path - how blessed I am with a husband who brings in enough money that we can survive on one paycheck, even in this crazy economy, how wonderful the homeschooling support network is in my town, and how lucky that I have not had any health problems that prevent me from bearing so many children. God is very good to us.

Then, of course, my children are almost always on hand to bring the ruder ones up short by explaining that we used to have even more kids, but our little boy died in a car crash. That makes the nosy ones feel bad for asking, fast.

Schelle said...

While I like to (vainly) hope that I have never made a judgmental type of comment that made someone else feel uncomfortable (oops, I can think of several...) I am particularly interested at the moment by the way my own opinion and approaches to motherhood have changed over the years - at times, I have heard a small (large) judgmental whisper (shout) from my former self, which is much harder to defend against than any outside source :P

For example, before I had kids, I blithely remember wondering "How could any mother insist on wanting 'me-time'? Children are so much fun to play with, and they are only young for such a short time - why wouldn't you want to just be with them all the time?" Mmmm yes. But even now that I have experienced the reality of desperately and insistently forcing my beloved boys to nap so that I can have some time to myself, I still feel the occasional stab of guilt from the umbrella of that younger self with her rose-coloured Mary Poppin glasses.

Lone Star Ma (whose insight & approach I enjoyed greatly) mentioned breastfeeding. When Wombat was little, I took great pride in the midwife's comment that I was a "natural milk cow" lol. If anyone had suggested I would be giving my baby formula before they were a year old, I would have laughed at them with scorn... and yet here I am, breathing a sigh of relief that Munchkin has taken such a liking to a bottle of formula that I only need to breastfeed at nights - and yesterday made the decision to stop expressing milk for his daytime feed because it was becoming too difficult. (I still feel I need to justify myself - to myself - by saying he'll be one in less than a fortnight and he is still breastfeeding three or four times a night...)

As for the fact that I have just submitted a job application for full time work that would necessitate us moving as well as contemplating an hour-long commute... just don't ask my inner self what she thinks of that one - because while the intellectual side of me is jumping up and down in excitement and rubbing her hands with glee at the thought, the emotional want-to-be-a-great-homeschooling-mama side is howling like an Edvard Munsch painting.

What I guess I am trying to say in this long-winded and personal essay is that we are often more judgmental and conflicted within ourselves than any outsider could be, no matter how well thought out our decisions are.

Finding a comfort-zone in parenting seems much like balancing on the head of a pin with an abyss of might-have-beens and should-have-dones all around. It is hardly surprising that anyone in such a position might give the impression of being touchy and overly defensive!

(Great post, by the way - I'm looking forward to seeing what your other readers have to say!)

Saints and Spinners said...

LoneStarMa, Kathleen and Schelle,
Thanks so much for writing your thoughts.

LSM, I think I have a similar self-depreciating kind fo way, though certain subjects will light the choleric temperament in me (certain children's books, for example).

Kathleen, Theoretical children are so different from actual children. Regardless of how one feels about population sizes, etc., it's heartless and thoughtless to tell someone "Your family is too large." It's like wishing away actual human beings. I'm glad your children keep the ruder ones in line. I wish we lived closer so that Lucia could have cousins to be with in lieu of a large immediate family of our own.

Schelle: Yes, the "small (large) judgemental whisper (shout)" is uncomfortably familiar to me, too. I've got plenty of what my daughter used to call penguins. (Years ago, I told her that she had strong opinions, and she laughed and said, "Penguins!") I keep coming back to what that woman in Library Lady's salon said about not wanting other people raising her children, and I KNOW I've said something before to that effect, i.e. I felt sick at heart at the thought of bringing my daughter to daycare. It wasn't a matter of my thinking that other people were just fine with bringing their children to day cares, and I knew that I was extremely lucky to have had a choice in the matter. We've all been so lucky that even with the misfortune that has comes our way, we have no reason to be anything but grateful for our lives.

Swedes get subsidies for staying home with their young children. It's not enough to live on, but at least the basic idea is in place.

Kathleen said...


Probably it is that very fact of our own harsh judgment of ourselves that make us so vulnerable to the (innocently intended) comments of others. I know that my hackles rise every time someone chuckles at my string of girls and says "You have *your* hands full!"

Schelle said...

Kathleen: definitely! perhaps the point is that those little niggles are too close to the bone! You DO have your hands full - and sometimes it probably feels like too much - but you wouldn't change it for the world!!! (I know I'm still hoping to add to my two, so I am certainly not judgmental of your family - more like envious :P)

Farida: in Australia we are lucky enough to have a similar subsidy called the parenting payment. You can apply for it if your family earns less than a certain threshold, so it doesn't stop you or your parter or both working, but it gives you the freedom to choose to stay home with the kids. As with the Swedish one, it is certainly not enough to live on without making a lot of sacrifices, but to my absolute surprise when I first had a child, I discovered it was MORE than the student allowance I had been getting (it amazed me that the government would pay me more to stay home and play with my kids than they would to go to university.) There are also tax concessions for families with children under 16. I am incredibly thankful for this, as it is what has allowed me the luxury of continuing to study - kids and all (that and online education ;P). Despite this I am still looking forward to finishing my education this year and actually earning some money in the real world. Much as I yearn to be home experiencing every little joy and frustration of the day, I am tired of living off government handouts and want to prove that I can support myself and my family - I am just praying that Yeti's health improves to the point that it truly becomes feasible. You see, I am premising all my dreams on the boys having their dad to look after them - I am not yet ready to contemplate sending them out of the home... but who knows whether that may need to change in time as well...

Lone Star Ma said...

I am usually more embarrassed at many of the judgmental things I thought as a young mother than made guilty by not living up to what I then thought were important standards. Though I certainly do feel guilty that my younger daughter gets less time and energy than my older one did from me as there is less time and energy to go around these days. I do wish we lived in some smart country with decent family - I don't really want to live anywhere else - I just want the country I do live in to get more civilized that way! What I wouldn't have given for that Swedish year at home...

Jules at 7-Imp said...

I love that post. MomsRising is an organization I love; they do a fabulous job of trying to put an end to these so-called "Mommy Wars," made worse by the mainstream media. It makes me LIVID to see reports on, say, morning talk shows about this kind of thing -- that is, when I actually see them, which I mostly don't anymore, because of reports LIKE THAT.

My answer to your question is just sad. I'm the type of personality that wishes everyone in the room to be happy, so I disregard comments like that. Kinda like how I also stood for ENTIRELY TOO LONG this afternoon and let a salesman talk to me at my front door. I really don't like this about myself.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the initialism WOHM, working-outof-home-mom. A mother who runs a business from her home is therefore a WAHM. Where that leaves mothers who take care of their kids (working) but don't earn money as well, I don't know.

(I totally skimmed your post, and will reread later.)