On Fulfillment and Staying at Home

Before marrying me, my wife was a well-known interior and furniture designer in Finland. She is a SAHM, but to stay current in the field, she enters design competitions and does pro bono work from time to time.

I’m a school teacher who recently started 9 weeks of summer holiday. We decided it would be better for her and the family if she were to do her design work ‘full time’ for the summer when we aren’t traveling. She leaves at 8 and returns at 5, roughly the schedule I follow during the school year. She does a lot of visits to exhibitions, architects and manufacturers, plus my school gave permission for her to use my empty classroom as an office space. And I take care of our two year old boys.

I did not go into this thinking it would be easy. I have done every part of the routine with the boys many, many times. I have had sole care of them for several days at a time. I knew that I would not have time to catch up on my reading or any such thing. At the same time, I don’t expect pity. Many people have a much harder job than taking care of two generally well-behaved and active 2 year-olds during the summer.

I have generally enjoyed it. The boys are hilarious fun, and maybe I didn’t really know them hardly at all before starting this. It’s amazing to be a part of their lives on this scale. But I cannot claim that being a SAHP (p for parent) is personally fulfilling in the way my job is.

Growing up, I believed that the SAH mother and working father were basically mirror images of each other allowing for gender differences. This is basically the line the Proclamation on the Family takes as well. In my experience, it’s not accurate.

Let me put it this way: my last day of work was graduation. I was unanimously invited by the students to be the faculty speaker, a huge honor. My speech, all humility aside, was very good, and I nailed it. I got a standing ovation from the graduates and two offers at public speaking gigs at embassies in the autumn. Being at home with the boys can be very nice, but does not offer this sort of instantaneous ego massage.

You might say, the fact that I like that sort of thing shows my lack of spirituality or humility. Guilty as charged. Most people do like this sort of thing and find it motivating. If it’s a moral weakness, it’s a moral weakness allowed — and even encouraged — in the working individual. People are praised over the pulpit for being prominent in their field, successful businessmen, leaders of the community. (How often has it been said with praise, ‘He works just enough to provide for his family?’) These are not bad things, and they can have great potential for good. The working individual does not need to avoid them. But the sense of fulfillment that comes with honor and position is largely denied to the SAHP.

As I’ve said, being at home with the kids is great, in a different way. There are little moments when I see one of them doing something new, or developing their sense of humor, or learning a new expression, and I feel privileged to be around. When one (or both) want a cuddle, it’s great to be here. But these moments do not grow out of the work I’m doing, really. It’s incidental to being home, which is still a good thing.

I’ve tried to look at this in spiritual terms. I can see that teaching my kids right and wrong can have eternal consequences, and in theory this idea could be inspirational. But I’m not eternally-minded enough to make the battles about putting toys away, the ‘don’t bite your brother’ conversations, transcendent. We do it, but it doesn’t spark me up. Others might say the knowledge that they are caring for children of God inspires them. I can’t see how that makes a difference when I’ve cooked a meal that a boy throws at me without tasting, or the other boy walks into the bathroom holding a turd he just laid on the living room carpet. Maybe I’m just not spiritual enough. My point is, when you’re working outside the home, you don’t have to be.

I’ve also found I cannot be totally honest with my wife about how I feel about being at home if it’s been a tough day. In my case, it’s because she would give up on work if she had a feeling it was hurting the family, which it isn’t, but I don’t want to put her in that bind. I imagine some mothers have a similar dilemma, or even feel that they will be judged because they don’t thrive in what the Proclamation on the Family calls her divinely designed role.

I think the SAHP work is sometimes rewarding, allows for a lot of bonding and really benefits the kids. But in my brief experience I would not call it fulfilling. I say this not to put down SAHPs, but to honor them. To overemphasize the personal fulfillment of the SAHP is to minimize his or her effort and sacrifice, and to unfairly judge those who need fulfillment beyond their devotion to their families. And may God bless the single parent.

Comments

  1. Norbert,

    I haven’t had the privilege yet of staying at home all day alone with my 13 month old daughter. I’m sure if I did, I would have days where I would welcome home my wife from work as if I hadn’t seen her in years. Having a child of my own, even in a very stable family like ours, makes me respect my mother immensely more than I have in the past. She was a single mother of two, working three jobs at one point to raise us up. I bow to her strength and endurance, and hope I am honoring her efforts in raising my daughter to be like her.

    I’ve tried to look at this in spiritual terms. I can see that teaching my kids right and wrong can have eternal consequences, and in theory this idea could be inspirational. But I’m not eternally-minded enough to make the battles about putting toys away, the ‘don’t bite your brother’ conversations, transcendent. We do it, but it doesn’t spark me up. Others might say the knowledge that they are caring for children of God inspires them.

    The way I’ve thought about it is seeing my little girl in the future, when she is grown up, when she can challenge me intellectually. And I think, if she grows up with me always by her side, always there for her, always supportive of her good actions and deeds, that relationship twenty years down the road will be a most beautiful relationship. I look forward to that. And it will be most rewarding to be there by her side as she grows up in this world.

  2. I don’t know. I did this from newborn to 18 months while my wife worked and I finished two master’s degrees at night. I am now in a management position at a NFP corporation. Sorry, but my take is exactly the opposite. I felt much more fulfilled at home…I can’t say why we feel differently. Possibly because I did it for longer, but I don’t know.

  3. I bet, if you work really hard, you can get a standing ovation out of your boys by the end of the summer. (Maybe no speaking engagements, though)

  4. Naismith says:

    With all due respect, during the first six months on any job one is just finding one’s way around, and it’s unrealistic to expect much fulfillment before one finds one’s groove. Doing it a few weeks on a temporary basis not the same as a professional commitment.

    Like any job, colleagues are important. In my experience having been a mom at home for about 15 years or so, the ones who have a best time are those who have parent-colleagues, with whom they share diaper-rash tips, trade babysitting, do playgroup together, etc. Just like in the workplace, those relationships are an important source of fulfillment and the bonds last for years.

    Like any job, it takes a while to find a workable schedule and streamline processes. I took great satisfaction when those systems worked. For decades at a time, my husband never had to worry about findng a clean shirt or socks, and the kids always knew there was milk in the fridge and bread on the counter. You can laugh, but I know it made a difference in their lives.

    Like any job, ongoing training is important. I always enjoyed reading through the public library for books about parenting and cooking and crafts to do with the kids. I found fulfillment in learning new things.

    Sure, kids make messes and talk back. In my paid job, people would lose paperwork and miss deadlines and so on. No job is without a downside.

    Maybe I’m just not spiritual enough. My point is, when you’re working outside the home, you don’t have to be.

    I don’t know where you got the idea that parenting should be transcendent or whatever. That never occured to me, so I was never disappointed.

  5. Julie M. Smith says:

    This is a very thoughtful post, thank you.

  6. Mark IV says:

    Norbert,

    Wow, props to you on the graduation speech, and good luck in the Fall!

    I agree with you in that I see no evidence that women are more suited than men to finding satisfaction caring for children. It is lots of work with no breaks and the payoff can be years away, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all.

    I also think you are fortunate in that you seem to have found an occupation you really enjoy and where you find fulfillment. My own (admittedly cynical) view is that more and more people see their jobs as simply something to be endured in order to get money, and going to work every day is like putting a little more of themselves into the meatgrinder. We can’t blame a person who has just been loudly berated by a supervisor for thinking the grass might be greener at home with the kids.

  7. Kristine says:

    “I don’t know where you got the idea that parenting should be transcendent or whatever.”

    Um, from the Ensign and General Conference??

  8. Julie M. Smith says:

    Re #7:

    Amen. I think a rhetorical mistake was made in church discourse: in response to 70s feminism, we should have towed the line on duty and obligation and not adopted the “women’s lib” rhetoric to talk about how ‘fulfilling’ mothering is. That said, I can really relate to Norbert’s thoughts about spirituality and the praise we heap on working men, etc.

    Also: yesterday was a bit of an epiphany for me. I’m normally the homeschooling mom of three boys (2, 6, 9). Yesterday I was the SAHM of the 2yo while the brothers were at scout camp. And I thought, so this is what everyone else’ normal looks like. And as much fun as it was to wander around IKEA and consider watching Oprah, it was . . . boring. Really, really mindnumbing. Now I remember why I didn’t like being the SAHM of teeny kids.

  9. Julie M. Smith says:

    BTW, the new comment thingie is way cool.

  10. Maria Victoria says:

    This really echoes how I feel. I have been a SAHM for eight years now, and I have yet to find fulfillment in that role. I agree that establishing relationships with other mothers in a variety of venues is helpful. I haven’t been lucky enough, however, to really “click” with any group for longer than a year of the past eight years. Seven years of non-wanted isolation can really do a number on you.

    I don’t want to cause an uproar here, but I’m wondering if people’s satisfaction to their stay-at-home life is in inverse proportion to the awards and honors they got before kids. Example: I was consistently rewarded with money, prestige, and scholarships at my university. My professors praised me. When I graduated with top honors I got a job that hundreds of people had applied for. It was wholly rewarding. As soon as I stayed home with my son and daughter the money and praise stopped. It was a shock I don’t know that I’ve ever recovered from. Do I dare suggest that SAHMs who find deep satisfaction never experienced the accolades prior to children that I did? That it wasn’t a let-down for them because many of them didn’t have the rewards that I did? I guess I would just like to hear how a woman who had more going for her than most became a satisfied SAHM.

  11. Kristine says:

    Julie, I agree with you about the rhetoric. I don’t mind at all being told that I should stay home with my children because it’s good for them. What I do mind is lessons titled “Motherhood: A Fulfilling Career.”

    smgy–I think the difference between your feelings about staying at home with kid(s?) and Norbert’s illustrates precisely what is so irksome about LDS stay-at-home-mother rhetoric, which implies that simply by virtue of being female, all women should find the day-to-day work of motherhood rewarding or enjoyable. Some women do like it–they’re the ones who majored in child development and would be preschool teachers if they weren’t home with kids. Other women like other things, as God created them to do.

  12. Kristine says:

    btw, I was asked to teach that lesson when I had 3 kids under 4. It’s possible that some women in the class may not yet have recovered from listening to me that day…

  13. What’s exceptional about Norbert’s experience isn’t that he doesn’t find SAHPing fulfilling, it’s that he finds his work so fulfilling. Like Mark IV, it seems to me that most people endure work so they can get paid. If you’re lucky you have occasional gratifying moments. Only if you’re super lucky do you regularly feel “fulfilled.”

    At least that’s the way it seems to be for most working people I have known, myself included.

  14. Mark IV says:

    Kristine, # 12,

    I would have paid $200.00, cash money, to have seen that.

  15. Is “fulfillment” (whatever that means) really the goal? Does anyone else see a problem with equating public approbation with “fulfillment” (as intimated in 10, for example)?

    Perhaps I’m atypical, but I have a job where I am congratulated frequently and publicly for doing a good job, and I’d trade jobs with my SAHW in a heartbeat if a family in Texas could live on a school teacher’s salary.

  16. My younger brother is a SAHP and I think he feels the same as you Norbert. It is boring and tiring at the same time but it still provides opportunities to see your kids in ways that no one else does. He likes it and doesn’t like it but I’m so proud of him for opening it to his wife and family to change things up.
    It’s definitely more than Mormon to believe that money is equated with righteousness. That if you’re blessed financially at your jobs then it’s because God is smiling upon you, but within Mormonism it feels awkward since we value the family so much while we encourage men to work so much that some of them are rarely home or involved and the women lose even more adult interaction and fulfillment.

  17. smgy:

    I felt much more fulfilled at home…I can’t say why we feel differently.

    Being a grad student ‘at night’ may have given you some sense of fulfillment.

    Naismith:

    I know that the temporary nature of my quality affects this. But the question I keep asking is, ‘Could I do this full-time?’ and I really don’t know. I also don’t think it’s impossible to find SAH life fulfilling — you’re obviously an example of someone who has — but there are some qualities you posess that make it a bit easier. Example:

    I took great satisfaction when those systems worked.

    Some people are more interested in systems than others. I’m not. I think it would be easier to find life at home more interesting if I were. My point is, as a ‘provider’ I can find work that does not require me to deal with those processes quite so much.

    I don’t know where you got the idea that parenting should be transcendent or whatever.

    You probably could find something along these lines somewhere on the Bloggernacle if you looked hard enough …

  18. Re: #10, #15

    I do see a problem equating public approbation with fulfillment. The fulfillment that comes from staying home is not in the work but in the relationships that the SAHP has the opportunity to develop with his/her child. There are certain depths in a relationship that can only be reached with time and consistent presence. Working parents just can’t have that amount of time with their kids. I am convinced that professional accolades are exactly the type of worldly rewards we are promised will 1) leave the recipient craving more and more, never really satisfied, or 2) evaporate in time or changed circumstances, leaving the recipient mournful and desperate to restore the outside source if his/her fulfillment. (Finding fulfillment outside oneself, as in public approbation, is to surrender control over one’s own happiness. Of course, the clever respondent will claim that finding rewards in relationships with other people is no different, that it is still to seek happiness outside oneself. But I don’t believe that position holds up under closer scrutiny.)

    In the past years I have passed from the heights of academic success and recognition, with great hope for future professional fulfillment, to surprising disappointments and, ultimately, a job that was deeply unsatisfying. I am now playing the role of SAHP parent for a week while my wife is a writer’s conference. I have to say that even compared to the best professional experiences I have had, this is much more rewarding. (I know I’m comparing apples to oranges, given that I’m doing this only for a week.) But even if I can create the perfect dream job for myself, there is still a certain level of emptiness that professional life holds. In the end of my days, what I have done, how much of that was recognized and honored, how much money I made — it all will be relatively meaningless compared to the relationships I have with wife, children, friends, neighbors, etc.

    That said, I cannot deny that much of the work of a SAHP is tedious, repetitive, and unrewarding per se. But all of that work, I suggest, is but a means to a very fulfilling end: a deep, loving relationship with the souls that you brought into this world as they grow to (hopefully) a rich and rewarding adult life that, I believe and hope, will allow that loving relationship to continue forever.

    Acknowledgment of the SAHP’s sacrifices and discussion of his/her fulfillment derived from staying at home are not mutually exclusive.

  19. I fight the balance battle every day. I absolutely LOVE being home with my kids – and I am very good at it. I also LOVE being out in the world conversing with other adults – and I am very good at it. I am in a profession that can keep you going 18/7, chew you up and spit you out – that has a high incidence of divorce and domestic abuse. I have to set my limits and enforce them daily, and often I find myself wondering if the time I spend at home (and in my Church calling) will affect my performance in an arena where very few others spend that amount of time at home – and evaluations are based strictly on quantifiable performance. Luckily, I have a track record I can point to whenever that issue arises. In the end, all I can do is live the balance I believe is right and accept the consequences.

    This is going to be hard to say correctly, but I will try: If you were to look at my family and judge from some objective standard, I probably should be the SAHP and my wife should work outside the home. However, my wife believes strongly that she NEEDS the benefits of staying at home more than I do – specifically because the only way she can become the type of parent she wants to become is by practice – by parenting more than she could if she worked a full-time, paying job and came home exhausted each evening. In that situation, she would have a VERY difficult time being a good parent – which would devastate her emotionally – which would exacerbate her difficulty being a good parent – ad infinitum. Some days drive her crazy, but we both have seen tremendous growth in areas where she craves growth – and, when you add the closeness she has with our children, we wouldn’t change it for anything.

    The correct balance varies couple to couple and family to family, and we should support each other no matter how we create our balance.

  20. Sorry; forgot to close the italics.

  21. Amen, Julie and Kristine. Having had a career pre-kids, there are days I would kill to go to an office and deal with that kind of ‘stress’. At least there is an end to it, and at least when I would tell a colleage to give me a minute, I actually got it.

    That said, I too don’t mind staying home because I understand it is the right thing for my family. But please stop telling me how spiritually and divine this should be.

    Like Norbert said, a two year old with a piece of poo in his hand, no matter how you spin it, is hardly nirvana.

  22. Peter LLC says:

    a two year old with a piece of poo in his hand, no matter how you spin it, is hardly nirvana.

    If this were a forum with signatures, that would be mine.

  23. Julie M. Smith says:

    Maria Victoria,

    It would be interesting to see some studies on that. My (purely anecdotal) experience is that I was highly praised in grad school and a job before I began mothering. I hated mothering. It wasn’t until I found some outside interests (some of which involve praise, others just intellectual stimulation) that I became happy mothering. The moral of my story is that you can go from being a highly-praised person to a happy mother *if* you maintain outside interests. For me, anyway.

  24. Kristine says:

    Yeah, Tracy, I’m with Peter–that is one of the best one-liners the bloggernacle has seen in a while. It may go on my list of things to cross stitch!

  25. Mark IV says:

    OK, whats worse?

    Being around two-year-olds all day who often need their diapers changed,

    OR

    Being around adults all day who often ACT like two-year-olds who need their diapers changed?

  26. Chad Too says:

    My at-home Daddom lasted about 3 years and I worked full-time at night whole time. I found I got different rewards from the two different situations. I distinctly remember a period where I felt adrift because all the time I put in at home didn’t seem to produce anything tangible: I had no widget at the end of the day that validated me. I re-discovered a hobby (sewing) that I could do during my son’s naps (kids on chemo take great naps and I could get a lot done) and it seemed to make the difference for me. My son had the fullest, most eclectic pajama drawer in the county, I’m sure.

    The best part is that I have a much deeper and richer relationship with my son than most dads in the ward/school/neighborhood seem to have. The parent-child relationship in our home is much more balanced between Mom and Dad than I see in other homes. Our son, upon getting an owwee, would be just as likely to run to Dad for comfort as he would to Mom back in the day (he’s ten now and parents are soooooo yesterday). My best friend’s 3-year-old daughter cries in his arms for Mommy the entire time he watches her while Mom teaches her 4th-Sunday Relief Society lesson.

    Fulfilling? Give it some time. Perhaps work vs. home is an apples/oranges kind of thing. The rewards are different. Man you’re making me miss those days right now!

  27. Call me crazy, but I love the smell of a fresh bleached kitchen sink after clearing the counters and doing the dishes. I take great pride in my laundering and cooking skills and would trade with my wife in a heartbeat to be with my daughter all day.

    Maybe the chlorine zapped some of my brain cells but I really enjoy the daily routines of household chores and crayon clean up duty. I smile when I think of the 2 year old with poop in his hand. That means he is learning to use the toilet. So one could argue that is nirvana.

    I don’t think one’s satisfaction level has anything to do with recieveing accolades prior to ones SAHP status that affects happiness in such a role. It is quite silly to bring that up. I don’t understand the need for divine influence 100% of the time as it is percieved. We just need to understand that kids need to be taught to be a good person from their parents. That in itself is divine, transcendant or whatever you want to call it. I believe that is what the GA’s and church mean.

    Everything is in our perception of things and life experiences. Do we get so caught up in trying to make money that we forget to make something more important? Besides what greater achievement could you have than raise your child to be a caring respecting person.

  28. I don’t think one’s satisfaction level has anything to do with recieveing accolades prior to ones SAHP status

    I disagree and think it would be a tremendous adjustment for many mothers to go from a challenging, stimulating, rewarding environment, whether it be education, vocation, or otherwise, to stay at home and take care of a child or children all day. Of course many women prefer the SAHM role and thrive in that environment. Other women love their children just as much but naturally do not enjoy the SAHM role.

    Personally, as a father of two children, I work, but my career is not currently personally rewarding. I prefer being home and find more satisfaction in doing typical household activities than I do in the workplace, but obviously everyone’s situation is unique.

  29. I should add that I have utmost respect for all SAHMs, whether they relish the role or not. It is generally more physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding to take care of kids than what I do all day.

  30. I noticed my fat fingers smudged some spelling. Sorry.

    Jim,

    Perhaps the satisfaction level has more to do with ones interpretation of the experiences and equate accolades with satisfaction. So in effect it really isn’t the accolades that produce a sense of satisfaction, but the interpretation there of. I wonder if most realized the accolades of raising children. Many fail to see the prize through the fog of vain repetition of daily routines. When they may be interpreted as vain routines when the could be interpeted as the opposite. The same can be said vice versa. So perhaps what really needs to be evaluated are ones ideals and the interpretation that is placed on them.

    Do I profess to have all the answers. No. I am merely suggesting another course in this thread that our perception has much to do with levels of satisfaction. The same can be said with any course of action in our life. It is my goal to become at peace with myself and where I am at any given time in my life and realize it is all a big journey. It is not the destination that matters but the voyage to that point. Yes there is a final arrival point, but it is the trek you remember more than the final point.

    I do second the notion that SAHP is very demanding. I will not however say less rewarding. I can think of no accomplishment in this world that can outweigh the pride one feels when looking into the eyes of their children.

  31. I smile when I think of the 2 year old with poop in his hand. That means he is learning to use the toilet.

    Ha! Maybe in your house it does. :) In our house, it just means he hasn’t discovered that poop is yucky. (That milestone is reached when you find the first BM in the closet.)

    “Fulfilling” is not the word I would use to describe full-time caregiving. I don’t think any *one* role is “fulfilling.” It takes a whole life to fulfill me.

  32. Naismith says:

    I don’t want to cause an uproar here, but I’m wondering if people’s satisfaction to their stay-at-home life is in inverse proportion to the awards and honors they got before kids. Example: I was consistently rewarded with money, prestige, and scholarships at my university.

    I don’t want to get into dueling cv’s, but I went to grad school at a competitive program which is consistently ranked in the top five in the nation in my field, and I was awarded a University Fellowship, which was the most prestigious and lucrative scholarship available. I got one B in my coursework (which I actually like because it shows I am not a brownnose and not afraid of difficult challenges).

    Upon graduation, I was courted by the top agency which does my sort of work. When I finally made it clear that our family didn’t want the hyperdrive lifestyle of living in the Washington DC area, they hired me to do some consulting for them. I gave my first presentation at a professional conference during the first year of grad school, so that by the time I finished, I had an above-average record in that area.

    My professors praised me. When I graduated with top honors I got a job that hundreds of people had applied for. It was wholly rewarding. As soon as I stayed home with my son and daughter the money and praise stopped. It was a shock I don’t know that I’ve ever recovered from.

    So this is your opportunity to learn some intrinsic motivation.

    Not to cause an uproar, but doing things for the praise of other people sounds very shallow, and even dangerous.

    Also, I have to say that a lot of my career success throughout my life has come from staying late at the office, going in on Saturday morning, and putting my butt in the chair in a silent office and doing what needed to be done. Later, the results may have been nominated for awards or whatever. But my personal satisfaction, like my work at home, came simply from doing what needed to be done.

    I think every graduate student goes through a phase where they are sick of classes, having second thoughts about their thesis or dissertation topic, and want desperately to be somewhere else other than in the library at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. Having stuck through that hump and come out the other side, I took that same perspective into being at home: sure, parts of it stink (literally) and some days might be boring, but in the end it is worth it.

    Do I dare suggest that SAHMs who find deep satisfaction never experienced the accolades prior to children that I did?

    Well, I don’t know how accurate that theory is. Take for example journalist Jane Clayson who was pretty much at the top of her game when she chose to focus on home and family.

  33. Melinda says:

    Yeah, I’ll weigh in on the discussion about whether it’s hard to leave a praise-intensive job to be a SAHP. I had a praise-intensive job. I had a very easy transition to SAHMing.

    The problem with the accolades is they come with an expectation that you not only maintain that level of performance, but that you do it better and faster by tomorrow. Praise is stress-inducing. But being home, it’s enough that the baby is fed and happy. He doesn’t have to be *more* fed and *more* happy tomorrow.

  34. Kristine says:

    Well, home and family and a book and part-time radio work…

  35. Mad housewife and Naismith,

    My thoughts exactly. They are all things that need to get done and it does take the whole life. My very confusing previous comments were directed to just that. What is our reality? Some times we need to do a Reality check.

    MHW-

    Maybe they haven’t discovered yet that poop is yucky, but that is a joy in itself. I can’t help but laugh at moments like these. I also am glad to teach them that poop is yucky and belongs in the toilet.

    Unless of course the poop belongs to a cow then we should put it on our food…

  36. (wonders about the dietary habits at the Ben S. household)

  37. A two year old with a piece of poo in his hand, no matter how you spin it, is hardly nirvana.

    Correct. Nirvana would be a three month old, swimming towards a dollar bill.

  38. I love leaving interpretations open. I frequently ask these type of questions and statements. I don’t know whether it is shock value or a need to see humorous responses. I also don’t like explaining punchlines. Sorry for the digressions.

  39. Michelle says:

    Exactly, Kristine (#34). I’ve long thought that her motherhood sentiments are from quite a privileged, removed, and somewhat disingenuous position.

    Looking forward to the book review…

  40. I think one of the reasons SAHM’s so desperately need friendships is that they get their praise from each other. Also, with 5 children, I’ve often wondered how people have time to worry about whether they’re “fulfilled” or not. Laundry and cleaning and wiping noses is not interesting work, but the hours are filled. There’s a big difference, I think, in parenting 1 or 2 children and parenting 4 (for the record, I think parenting 1 or 2 is harder in many ways).

    What I love about being a SAHM is being able to set my own schedule (to a certain extent). If I want to read a book all day, I can. I have to be willing to catch up on the housework later and take breaks to make sure the kids are fed and playing safely, but I set my own deadlines. I love that I can go to the park on those random 60 degree days in February. I can go to the lake every day in the summer if I want. I also feel accomplished that I can juggle doctor and dental appts for all my kids, remember their activities and medications, learn lots about many different things (asthma, hernias, peanut allergies, bed wetting, sleep schedules, immunizations, speech problems, etc)

    I will have to say, though, that being a Primary president (i.e. having heavy duty responsibilities outside the home) has been a tremendous boost to my feelings of accomplishment. The compliments are nice, changes are relatively quick and easy to implement, etc. But, I have no desire to work outside the home because I can’t figure out how I would get everything done if I worked 8 hours/day in addition to everything I do now.

  41. The recognition I get at work is based on what the employer can milk out of me. It dries up as soon as I do.

    The recognition I get from my children is based on their loving who I am: Dad.

    That makes a huge difference to my fulfillment.

  42. Starfoxy says:

    I think we should be careful in extrapolating the experiences of SAHFs to SAHMs and vice versa. SAH fathering is still a very different beast than SAH mothering simply because it is not as pervasive. Because SAH fathering is still such a novelty the bar of excellence is set much lower and praise is doled out for much less. It’s not fair to anyone involved (ie that mothers are judged more harshly and that fathers are assumed to be inept), but that is how our world works and does change the way mothers and fathers will feel about the same situations.
    As an example- a father alone with a tantruming toddler in the checkout line is much more likely to get sympathy than a mother in the same situation. While she might get the stink eye for her supposedly poor parenting, he’ll get the benefit of the doubt and the assumption that he’s a great guy for even trying. In this situation a serious meltdown at the store will likely be much harder on a mother’s psyche than on the father’s.

    Also men who become SAH fathers are going against social trends and so will have a selection bias. These are men who stay home with their kids because they (for the most part) really wanted to. They didn’t just let social pressure herd them into the role the way many women do.

    Because of those two things I think men will find fulfillment in SAH parenting more easily than most women.

  43. Starfoxy:

    I agree completely. I would also add that a SAHF doesn’t have the ‘by divine design’ phrase hanging over him. If I’m not terribly good at nurturing, or if most days it gives me a royal pain, it’s no big deal because hey, I’m a man. If a woman has those same feelings, and I can see how she would, she could read the declaration and find herself falling short of her ‘divine design,’ which I doubt God would want. But the language of the Proc could take someone there.

  44. Some other thoughts (while the boys are having their nap):

    1. I’m a little surprised at how many of you talk about cooking and cleaning as part of the SAHP’s role. In our house, we consciously separate the role of childcarer and housekeeper.

    2. I’m not arguing that being a SAHP cannot be fulfilling; many of you find that it is because you like the problem solving, the self-motivation, etc. I’m just saying the fulfillment found by the SAHP is based on the type of person that parent is rather than anything inherent in the work itself.

    3. There have been many comments about having ‘colleagues,’ i.e. other SAHPs with whom a community of support is created. I know my wife benefits from that in our neighborhood. However, one can see that such a community might be judgmental and competitive, or perceived to be so. (Our ward’s mommy club leans in that direction.)

    4.

    But being home, it’s enough that the baby is fed and happy. He doesn’t have to be *more* fed and *more* happy tomorrow.

    See, I have the opposite experience. Work is work: you do it and go home. But could you ever be done nurturing? If I’ve got the energy, maybe I shouldn’t drop them in front of the TV with Postman Pat dvds so often, or I should make something more nutritious than freezer fries and fish sticks.

    5. This morning was a good example. Breakfast, dancing with the Ramones (the boys shout ‘Hey, ho, let’s go’ all the time), nature walk to check out the rabbits and goose families by the sea, then to the park for playing and lunch. Excellent fun, great time with boys. But I was happy to chat with a SAHF who was a journalist, with whom I talk about current events and books, not the best way to toilet train. And I’m happy tonight is my free night: beach volleyball challenges. A good balance. As madhousewife said, ‘It takes a whole life to fulfill me.’

  45. I’ve enjoyed these comments as they have caused me to think more about my own situation and motivation in general.

    I thought this was a great comment:

    Praise is stress-inducing.

    Is it safe to say that relying on extrensic rewards (praise, recognition, honors, awards, etc.) is generally a high-maintenance condition?

    Whether one is a stay-at-home parent or in the “workforce,” how do we change our focus from the extrensic to the intrinsic? I hope this isn’t too much of a threadjack, but I am sincerely interested in ideas and comments about finding joy and satisfaction among the more mundane aspects of life.

  46. For me, cooking and cleaning gets lumped in with childcare b/c I’m the one that is home most often (and also the one for whom a lack of clean laundry carries consequences – if my potty-training child pees in his clothes and there’s nothing else to wear…). For my husband and I, we prefer to spend the majority of our evenings relaxing rather than doing housework so, for us, it makes sense to try and get the housework done during the day. If I were not a SAHP, that system would be impossible

  47. Naismith says:

    For my husband and I, we prefer to spend the majority of our evenings relaxing rather than doing housework so, for us, it makes sense to try and get the housework done during the day.

    That’s our philosophy as well. And as a practical matter, since one of us has been in the bishopric/RS presidency/high council for more than 10 years, we haven’t had the luxury of being at home Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday nights.

    In particular, I’m pretty adamant about having all the routine laundry and cleaning done during the work week so that we can use Saturdays for fun activities or Big projects.

  48. Julie M. Smith says:

    Norbert writes, “I’m just saying the fulfillment found by the SAHP is based on the type of person that parent is rather than anything inherent in the work itself.”

    I think it may be a little more murky than that. For example, there are alterations one can make within the job description that might make the role more fulfilling (such as choosing to take nature walks instead of deep cleaning the bathroom), as well as consciously shaping one’s attitude toward the role. I’m not saying that anyone who hates it just isn’t doing it right, I am saying that someone who hates it should consider thinking outside the box before they change jobs or resign themselves to hating it forever.

  49. As an unmarried male I don’t know what it is like to be a SAHP but I know that I would much rather be an SAHP than a full-time worker. I don’t feel I have the option to be an SAHP because I feel an obligation to provide for my future family. But I don’t really believe that I will be fulfilled by my career. I expect to excel in my career, to be financially rewarded. I even expect a certain level of prominence but I don’t think that will compare with the fulfillment of having a family.

    As someone who deals with same-gender attraction though I have to always wonder whether it is unwise to look for fulfillment in something which may not come for some time.

    I’ve had to learn that I can be fulfilled in anything I do as long as I’m striving to live the Gospel. I think we should seek fulfillment only in the Gospel an in nothing else. For me, having a career to provide for my family is a gospel responsibility and as such I do expect to find a measure of fulfillment in living up to this responsibility. But for me that’s the only way it will be fulfilling. It has nothing to do with accolades or praise or with the career itself.

    I think we should find fulfillment intrinsically through living the gospel. Isn’t the goal to have everything in our lives be a means to the end of living the gospel such that we don’t need to find joy in those extrinsic things like a career or being a SAHP but merely living the gospel.

    I’m not being very clear right now but I’m tired. I hope I make some sense.

  50. Stephanie says:

    My husband and I have been married for going on four years, and have yet to bring children into the world. My focus has been on school, and though I’ve had those moments of thinking that I want a child, I always find myself glad that it didn’t happen.

    Last week I had a dream that we had a baby, and I really didn’t like the child. I remember coming to the realization that I was expected to stay at home with him all day, and it was quite unpleasant.

    I’m the kind of person who inevitably gets bored when she’s not in school, so I definitely have my fears that I will be a bored parent. I spent a year in France working as an au pair, and after four months I was so tired of it. Seriously, if it weren’t for the large amount of literature I consumed, I probably would have gone insane. Granted, the kids I cared for were in school, and I plan to work once my kids are in school, so maybe it won’t be a problem… I also have this crazy idea that I can start my master’s degree when I have little kids!

  51. John Williams says:

    Word to the wise: work sucks.

  52. Stephanie–I started my Master’s when my #1 was 3 months old and finished it 2 weeks before #2 was born (all part-time). It was probably the best thing I could have done: got me out with adults and good reading, husband had good baby-time a few nights a week. Now if only I could find a phd program….

  53. Stephanie says:

    spectator, that’s very good to hear! Maybe my plan isn’t so crazy after all!

  54. Vlad:

    Isn’t the goal to have everything in our lives be a means to the end of living the gospel such that we don’t need to find joy in those extrinsic things like a career or being a SAHP but merely living the gospel.

    No.

  55. Norbert- I greatly appreciate your sensitivity and your honestly. Having not grown up in the church I did not go through the acculturation and conditioning that Mormon girls go through every day of their life, every Sunday school lesson, every Family home evening. Many times it is simply subtle nuances, but the mantra of “this role will/should make you fulfilled” is stressed. I believe that many live it. I felt guilty that I could not. However, being a female convert who never even had one babysitting job in my youth, motherhood hit me like a fly on the windshield. It came so quickly, I didn’t know how to adapt. I love my children, I love being a mother, but I never could make it a full-time role. So I worked part time as a teacher and we flip-flopped responsibilities and juggled and I always felt so incredibly guilty that I knew that I could never possibly be fulfilled as a full time stay at home mom. It never was in me. To this very day I need more. Interestingly enough, my daughter says to me, “Mom, I could never imagine staying at home when I get married and have kids.”

  56. I am married but don’t have children yet. I never have wanted to be a stay at home mother. I graduated from grad school 2 years ago and have been working. In my program a number of the women has babies while in the program and still managed to finish on time. I found myself jealous of them. Not because they had a baby but because they had choices in how they are a mother. they can work part time, Work full time, have the father stay home, or stay home themselves. They are not LDS. And they all have made different choices. Most work part time but one works full time but has the husband stay home full time. they didn’t have to feel forced to stay home like i do if i have a child, or face guilt if they don’t. In a way I think that I might have be more open to having a baby if i felt that i had the same freedom in making choices that they do. But I feel like I have to give up everything that i have spent the last nine years working towards or I am a very selfish evil women.

  57. Naismith says:

    Whether one is a stay-at-home parent or in the “workforce,” how do we change our focus from the extrensic to the intrinsic? I hope this isn’t too much of a threadjack, but I am sincerely interested in ideas and comments about finding joy and satisfaction among the more mundane aspects of life.

    But it should be noted that in a sense, latter-day saints are never truly alone. When I say “intrinsic” it is internal satisfaction vs. outward rewards, but a major part of it is reaching the end of the day and knowing through the quiet comfort of prayer and the spirit that the day was well spent.

    At the same time, I humbly admit that everything I accomplished was not done on my own, but with the help of the Lord. I have fasted and prayed over challenges at the office, because they are the flocks of my fields.

    As for finding joy in the mundane, I use most mindless tasks as an opportunity to listen to podcasts or books on CD. The exception is a few things like lawn-mowing, which are just too loud for that.

  58. pat (55),
    I’m not entirely sure what this acculturation you claim Mormon girls go through every day of their lives, in FHE and SS, is. I teach half our youth in SS, and every lesson is based on the New Testament. To the extent we’ve talked about anything outside the interpretation and application of scriptural teaching, it is encouraging all of the kids to read their scriptures and, b/c of the temporal foci that the NT sometimes has, to go to college. (Okay, and also whatever they did the week before, which usually means school and maybe a movie. And, of course, my amazing daughter.)

    And, FWIW, although my family growing up wasn’t perfect at FHE (and maybe that’s where the acculturation failed), one of my sisters has a couple grad degrees and works outside the home, and the other is working on her grad degree.

    Which is to say, there may be (and probably is) acculturation and pressure. Maybe it’s in YWs (because I’ve never been there—I have no idea what they do there). But there has not been in the SS or FHE that I’ve been involved in.

  59. Anon: You still have choices. If you look around, you’ll notice that there are a myriad of approaches to raising children and Mormon women can be found in every one of them. You are not being forced to do anything. Force is not part of God’s plan.

    If you feel guilty, then you need to decide if that’s the light of Christ telling you to make a different choice, or just your own neuroses telling you to live someone else’s life instead of your own.

    Naismith: Try Fall Out Boy on high volume. I find I can hear it over the noisiest mower and it really is a joy.

  60. Ben S. Classic says:

    The Ben S. above in all comments above is not the formerly-frequent commenter and sometime M* blogger.

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