Rambling Frustrated Thoughts on Motherhood

Last night, after picking up the umpteenth dirty sock-wad, after doing my third load of laundry, after telling the boys for the 6th time to get their jammies on, after stepping in yogurt blobs on the floor after I TOLD them not to eat in the living room, I lost it.

Feeling bad, but still simmering, I went upstairs to get myself ready for bed- only to find my room torn apart; stuff from under the bed strewn about, a package I received in the mail was opened and scattered, and my new tights for the cold weather were opened and tied around the bed posts. I really lost it. Dropped my basket, so to speak.

Really. Lots and lots of yelling. And tears. Mine on both parts.

What was I doing while this rampant destruction took place? Why, I was changing a diaper. I was sweeping the Play-Doh detritus from under the table, and changing over another load of laundry.

It’s weird. I’m not sure how to reconcile how I feel at the moment. They’re little kids- I know that- but they also know what’s expected of them. At least I think they do. Don’t they? This, again, is where motherhood departs dramatically from any other job. If they don’t get it, if they continually act out and are disobedient, aren’t I the one the ball comes back to?

So that makes me tapped out, weary, tired, angry, and somehow responsible for their actions. If my children don’t get what is decent behavior, what is expected of them, and I am their primary caregiver, somehow, I’m not doing my job correctly. And that sucks.

Motherhood is so stinking hard. So much of it is feeling around in the dark, hoping you get the right switch. Some days, I wish I could just pack up and “go to work”. Leave the house. You know, like I did once upon a time. At least I would be alone in the car for my commute. At Work my problems would not barf on me, pee on me or roll around screaming on the floor like a big, snotty noodle.

But here I am. And here I stay. I do this because I know I am supposed to- because I committed to doing this before they were ever born, and because I know it’s the right thing to do. I love my kids- Like all mothers, I would give my life for them without a second thought…

Hmmm… (That thought stops me in mid-sentence)

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

And some days- like yesterday- I wonder if it will be worth it. I wonder at what I’m giving up by doing jobs a trained monkey could do. I wonder, as someone blessed with talents and interests far beyond the drudgery of motherhood (and it is drudgery- make no mistake- there is little personal satisfaction in changing years of diapers or unending mountains of laundry) (and oh, yes, I know about the happy parts- the sweet sleeping faces, the babies fresh from the tub, the kisses and wobbly Frankenstein-ish first steps- but that’s not what I’m thinking about right now…)

If the Lord blessed me with talents, and I have promised to devote them to Him, what exactly am I doing? This especially causes me pause in thinking about my daugher. As Latter Day Saints, we are continually counselled about the importance of raising the next generation- how nothing is worse than failure in the home, and how mom should be at the helm of the home. So what does a tired, frustrated mother do with that?

Have I given up my carreer and my interests to raise my daughter, only so she can give up herself and do the same? What is it we are accomplishing here? Sacrifice upon sacrifice? Is it only important for the boys magnify their talents? What about me? And my daughter? What if our talents lie outside the home- in Art, or History, or Writing, or Science or Cinema? Like I said, I’m flummoxed.

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. MikeInWeHo says:

    You’re a fantastic writer, Tracy. Reading your post I was reminded of the late, great Erma Bombeck.

  2. Aw Mike! You already know I love you, no need to butter me up! :)

  3. I’m running out the door for church in a minute, but I just want to second Mike’s comment before I leave.

    Tracy, one of the highlights of my time in the Bloggernacle is seeing your name as the author of a post. With all due respect to everyone else, Margaret Young is probably the only other author who can compare.

  4. Oh, can I relate. The feeling of defeat, at realizing that I am the failure, while they are failing. That if they behave badly, it’s because I have not done my job well enough.
    And, yes, the sacrifice, just so that the next generation can do the same. It makes me think of all those who have told me about going to church, walking the halls during sacrament meeting, etc, etc, “for the kids, so they would know that this is where they need to be”. So that then those children can grow up, and walk their own halls?
    I so much wish that there was an alternative. That a woman, within the sphere of righteousness, could choose a profession suited to her personality, not just her biology. But then, who would do my laundry?

  5. This week I went back to work 2 days/week. It seems like a nice compromise – enough money to balance the budget, and enough time with the kids to still feel like I’m the one raising them.

    Now, a week in, I’m wondering how do I kill that ambition and talent I still have for my work? Working part time, I will see my colleagues and friends progress right past me. I won’t have access to the positions that I would love to hold. Why was I born with a high achieving personality when I feel like I’m told I have to squash all personal goals/desires and talents to sacrifice for my family? Men aren’t asked to do the same. Yes, they have the same work/life balance issues – but they are encouraged and helped to develop their talents – with everyone in the family sacrificing for them. I know being an at home mother isn’t a sacrifice for all women, but right now, for me, it is a sacrifice – and I feel so horribly guilty about it I don’t even want to admit any of this. This week I’ve spoken with several friends who work limited hour schedules to ask how they dealt with these feelings … most have said that eventually it just goes away and is ok.

    I guess this was a tender topic for me today.

  6. I have no idea what to say, and have no standing to give you any advice on motherhood. I can just tell you that I love you and have always admired your mothering skills. You have great kids, they’ll turn out okay. Everyone’s family is crazy and dysfunctional…and yet, the world is populated by at least minimally functional people–and some truly great ones like you. Just keep hanging on.

  7. I found myself wondering exactly these questions, Tracy. Just what *is* the difference I’m making by sacrificing my career to be home with my children? I sometimes feel I could make more of difference in the world at work. So, I’m struggling too. No answers really, just another kindred spirit.

    lyn–I’m with you on part time work. I work part time and I enjoy the arrangement, but sometimes I ache to go back full time. I’m love what I do and I’m very good at it. I don’t have the same confidence in motherhood. Granted, I’ve been a mother for much less time than I’ve been at my profession, but… motherhood doesn’t ever seem to get easier.

  8. I know this will sound like a stock answer, but you need to pray about what you are supposed to be doing with your life. There is a different plan for each one of Heavenly Father’s children and you need to discover yours. Yes, generally speaking, women are supposed to be SAHMs because that is where they can contribute the most. But for some women, there may be other alternatives, short or long term, that are necessary for spiritual growth. Whether you work in the home or outside of it, there will always be days when nothing goes right. Those, too, shall pass!

  9. I don’t have children, but I think about these questions a lot when I decide what to do with my future. All I can say is that I sympathize deeply.

    One more intellectual thought: we tend to call motherhood a job. To some extent, I like that rhetoric, because it “raises” motherhood to the position of a job, which unfortunately I think does reflect how most Americans value the role. But, what if we weren’t to call motherhood a job or to compare it to another kind of job? Would that make a difference in how we feel?

  10. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    I’m not your kids, Tracy, but I was raised by someone who may have been much like you. My mom’s choice wasn’t completely voluntary (she caught something from one of her patients that still affects her today) but that was a nuance I wasn’t aware of until I was much older. What I knew as a child growing up was that my mom was always there. There aren’t words that can convey full measure of the love and sense of security that gave me. I know I had my moments as a child and certainly as a teen. However, even then I knew that the things she did — as boring, repetitive and frustrating as they were — she did because they were important. That she did them for me meant that I was important — even when I screwed up. That’s not a lesson I would have learned anywhere else because if I hadn’t been primed for it by her, I wouldn’t have been able to hear it from any other sources.

    So while there may not be much intrinsic value in cleaning Jell-O out of the carpet, I hope you can remember that the sum of what you do is greater than the parts.

  11. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the same way–I’m doubly guilty when things are out of control because I should be the perfect homemaker and the perfect mother and if I were better at both everyone would be doing what they were supposed to be doing and instead of dust bunnies and debris my home would be full of ducks lined up in a row.

    Despite my doubts and double dose of guilt, I’ve come to know over the years (my kids are all in school and I’m no longer a SAHM) that while there may be things I do better elsewhere, there hasn’t to this point ever been anything more fulfilling. I can say that in spite of the frustrations I feel over all the things that aren’t going right (sadly, as the kids get bigger those can get a lot bigger, too).

    In response to #8, I don’t know that we are needed at home because that’s where we can contribute the most. I have a job where a lot of people depend on what I can do well for them and I feel much more confident in my abilities to do that job than the one I have at home. The way I see it, I am needed at home simply because that’s where I’m needed the most–flaws and all.

  12. I absolutely believe in BREAKS. I always fed my mind while my children napped, and I didn’t care how messy the house was. I doubt I’d be a writer today if I hadn’t chosen that particular priority. I had to work full time during my brief stint as a single mom, and I hated it. I hated seeing my daughter only a few hours a day, doing something fun (usually), and then going to bed–for another day of greeting geology students while someone else took care of my daughter. On the other hand, I love working PART TIME. I have a great life. I teach one class twice a year. I also make movies and do a few other things. And my daughters? Well, my oldest says that as soon as he baby boy is old enough, she’s going back to school for a MA. She wants to do opera. GOOD FOR HER. Middle daughter wants to be a singer as well–and a psychologist/philosopher.

    Some people handle a multitude of children magnificently. They’re organized and they know how to sew and how to make cookies. My cookies are lumpy grease cakes, and the one time I tried to make pink Easter dresses for myself and my two daughters, we all looked like crookedly constructed, patchwork puffs better suited to advertise Pepto Bismal than go to an Easter service. (I wore my dress once, then threw it away.) I am organizationally challenged–but that’s just the bad side of what is actually a gift. I am spontaneous, usually pretty fearless, and able to make do with very little. So I choose to look at the good side of my defects and thank God for laughter.

  13. Julie M. Smith says:

    Tracy, I forget–exactly how old are your kids?

    I ask because if they are teeny, we need to talk about coping mechanisms. But if they are older, we need to talk about training the little boogers to pick up their own *I$&@ socks.

  14. Julie, my kids are 7, 5 and almost 3. They should pick up their %$#& socks themselves, and sometimes do… My problem is, much like Margaret:

    I am organizationally challenged–but that’s just the bad side of what is actually a gift. I am spontaneous, usually pretty fearless, and able to make do with very little.

    Although, I can honestly make anything… if it’s creative, I can do it. But if it’s sticking to a schedule or being rigorous in routine? I’m totally lost.

  15. Tracy, you have such a gift for getting to the heart of the matter. That image of the tights tied to the bedposts while you were busy with the baby in the other room perfectly illustrates the situation in which I find myself. Just when I’m getting one aspect of the job under control, two other parts are falling apart. I can’t do it all, yet I’m going to be responsible for it all. It’s just such a huge hunk of my life being given to them. And it doesn’t always seem to be making a difference.

    I know I volunteered. I’d volunteer again, but I’m not signing my girls up. They get to choose for themselves. Thank heavens we live in a world where they get that choice.

    My oldest two daughters are old enough to voice their opinions about motherhood, and the reviews are not good. They love me. They’re glad I’m doing the SAHM thing, but they’ll pass, thanks. The oldest would like to actually be something. (Ouch.) Her younger sister says thanks, but no thanks to the discomfort of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth. Perhaps I should have smiled more.

  16. Tracy, my house is a mess. If you and I had an unannounced messiness check, I have no doubt whatsoever that I would lose/win – whatever you’d say for the one that is the messiest. However, our kids are happy and well-adjusted – I say after interrupting my typing of this comment to threaten to take away my youngest two girls’ toys if they didn’t work out their problems without coming whining to me.

    The point is that I wouldn’t trade my messy house for a spotless one – because I know what it would take to accomplish that. Do I look around occasionally (or more often than that) and think I SHOULD be able to have the house be more organized and less messy? Absolutely. Then I realize what it would take (what my kids and wife and I would have to give up) for perfect orderliness and realize, to me, it’s not worth it. I take a deep breath, lift my eyes from the floor and let go of the expectations to enjoy the reality of our joy.

    I’m not sure I will ever live in a tidy, organized house, even when the kids are gone, but I know I live in one filled with what I value most – my happy wife and kids. That’s enough.

  17. Go ahead and tell your girls to “be something.” Just be sure they understand the flip side: Being the best at your job is worthless if nobody else cares. The discomfort of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth are soon over; alone is forever.

    Family is the only thing that really matters.

  18. Ray and Ardis, you’re making my screen go all blurry. What? You share a weird superpower?

  19. I don’t at all beleive women have to ‘be something’ to be of value… not at all. My daughter will have my blessing whatever path she choses in life (as will my sons)- it’s the frustrating feeling of the endlessness of it all that causes me to struggle.

    Family is the only thing that really matters. I get that. I really do- that’s why I am home. But I can’t help wonder at the idea of how bringing my daughter up to do exactly what I am doing is somehow so important. It bothers me. I am sacrificing so that… what? So she can then sacrifice her outside-of-home-identity as well? How is that helping anyone be better? What, exactly, am I contributing to with this sacrifice?

    And don’t get me wrong- I’m doing his because I chose it. I would not want to be alone with a fantastic career. But is there no middle ground? Is there not anything but this polarity?

  20. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, Tracy, but your kids will be grown and gone before you know it. They won’t be small forever. One day you’ll long to see your little toddlers again.

    I’m like you: I’m horrible at creating any routine or structure for myself or my family. And any change in our routine (school vacations, holidays, etc) throws me completely off whack. I’ve been so completely worthless since Christmas break ended and the kids went back to school—I feel like all of January was just a waste. I haven’t even put away our Christmas decorations yet. I think for people like you and me, being home with small kids is harder.

    I had to work full time with a long commute when my kids were small. I missed a lot of their growing up years. I knew at the time that it was what I should be doing for our family, but it killed me to do it. I’ll never get that time back. It’s gone.

  21. Tracy, the only time I have ever heard my wife raise her voice is with our two boys, aged three and a half and almost two. These boys are bundles of energy (I had to laugh with the new tights tied around the bed posts, because that’s JUST the type of thing my boys would do).

    Now, the good news is that the only time I ever heard my stepmother raise her voice (with seven unruly boys in the house) was at them also. And all of us turned out OK.

    I don’t know what to say except that the Lord seems to give special tests to mothers, and believe you me ALL mothers, even the most perfect ones (like my wife) lose it with young kids. I hope you don’t feel bad about it.

  22. Ardis’ comment “alone is forever” made me think of our final speaker in Sacrament meeting today. I live in a huge ward with a very high rate of inactivity. Our new bishop is seeking to identify and find “the one” and bring them back into activity. Our final speaker said that none of us will enter the Celestial Kingdom alone — will arrive carrying someone, the person we needed to and did serve. Because that is what learning to live the Christ like life is about, serving others — even when it’s messy, uncomfortable, never-ending, unappreciated, etc. etc. It sounds alot like motherhood to me. Our work in the world can be alot like that but, ahhh, we usually get to leave, we get vacation, we get paid, we get . . .
    But that said, I know the impact of the emotional state of a mother on her children and mothers NEED to take good care of themselves, give themselves breaks and have a support system that reassures them that not only will it get better but one day soon you’ll actually laugh about that dang ole playdough that was ground into the carpet.

  23. Tracy, your last paragraph asks the questions that I think most of the time we’re afraid to think about–if it’s really true, as we’re taught, that the division of labor that means you have hundreds of days like this and your husband has a handful of them, is what God intends, there’s no avoiding the question of whether women’s talents are less valuable, or that God intends that they sacrifice more than men for the sake of their children.

    I think it’s likelier that there are lessons about fatherhood that we are very slow to learn. (After all, as far as we can tell, the day-to-day care of unruly children is a task Heavenly Father takes on, and we’re not taught that Heavenly Mother is more nurturing than he). But still, we have to reckon with the possibility that, at least for this life, God really does intend his daughters to be constrained by their children’s needs in ways that his sons are not. For me, that’s a very troubling idea–holding it out as a possibility, and trusting that the Atonement would in some way make recompense for what I experience as deeply painful losses, is the biggest act of faith I can manage (and that *very* imperfectly).

  24. There was a talk given a long time ago by a GA—might have been Elder Packer—who said women can’t have it all at one time, but we can have all things sequentially. I can tell you now that I’m older, that his words are true.
    At the time I heard the talk, I felt much like Tracy. I wondered why I bothered to go to church or mop the floor. But then I reevaluated what I was doing and changed my attitude. I soon began to enjoy most of my time as a SAHM. I was trained as an Elementary School teacher so I decided to look at my own 4 kids as my first pupils.
    I look at my daughters now, both SAHMs and they do many of the same things we did together with their children. (Although the Internet makes research and learning much easier than I had it when dragging all 4 of my kids to the public library to check out books!)
    I miss my children now that I have an empty nest. I live for the times our children, their sweet spouses, and our grandchildren can be here, even when they spill blue paint on the beige carpet or tear up some of my books.
    I have a profession now—I teach children, I mentor young teachers, I teach classes for teachers. But, I have never in my professional life had as much joy as the times when my little children learned to pray or bear testimony or speak about gospel topics. As Ardis said, family is the only thing that really matters.
    Hang in there, Tracy. All too soon these challenges will be gone (and others will take their place).

  25. Boy Tracy, did your words ever strike a chord with me today! There are many moments when I revel in the role of SAHM. There are other moments when I feel so much like you. I remember when my husband blessed my one and only girl (after having 3 boys) and blessed her to be a wife and a mother. And part of me felt a loss. You’ve articulated what I haven’t dared say.

  26. I am a mom of 4 girls–9,7,4 and 2 all with distinct personalities and challenges and BELIEVE me, I’ve can relate to your breakdowns! Here are a few things that have saved my sanity:

    –A cleaning lady once every 2 weeks ($10 an hour) someone who cleans with me all day while I’m organizing so that at the END of the day, EVERYTHING in the house is cleaned. I don’t care what I have to do without to afford her. She is my sanity.
    –A good preschool. If you don’t live in the south where all the churches have amazing programs, I’d look for a program for the 3 year old–not a day care, but a good program where you get at least 3 to five hours of time alone, even if it’s to come home and clean and do laundry in a quiet house.
    –A night just for you to work on a talent. Two years ago I lifted my head and thought of auditioning for a semi-professional choir. I almost didn’t try out, thinking it would be too hard on the family to rehearse every thursday night. Everything changed when my oldest said a prayer at dinner that included the phrase ” Please bless that Mommy will CLEAN well” . That decided it. I auditioned, made the choir, and haven’t looked back. I can’t tell you all the growth and joy that has come from the choir. Last year I sang in the chorus of an Opera!
    I suggest taking a class, joining a group–SOMETHING that is organized and that you are committed to attending. Now all my daughters know that mommy is a “singer” and that Thursday nights she is at rehearsal.
    –A great babysitter–even a 11 or 12 year old you can pay ($3 an hour) to come WHILE YOU ARE HOME to play with the kids in the backyard and help them clean their rooms while you are happily making dinner, on the internet or doing a project. I think I would have been in a mental hospital without my 12 year old twin sitters! It’s not a lot of time–just from 3-5:30. It’s worth the money.

    After my fourth child was born, I called a community college’s art education department and asked for the best student to teach my kids art. She ended up being my after school nanny 3 days a week and I was able to (for $6 an hr.) be the type of mom to my older ones that I wanted-I went on adventures with them, helped my oldest with her dyslexia, taught them photography etc. I would come home after family reading night with my oldest to a clean house where dinner was made and cleaned up, floors mopped, baths given and the younger three put to bed. If you can set something up like that, even once or twice a week, it will change your life.

    –Now I’ve got to go put my kids to bed for the 16th time while my husband sits in meetings. It’s 9pm and he’s been at church since 10:15 this morning. It’s never ending, isn’t it?

    Hang in there!

  27. Tracy, I know how you feel, but the man version. You know, I work and kill myself in a job of drudgery, so my kids can grow up and work and kill themselves in Jobs of drudgery. The question becomes what

  28. The question becomes what do I do to break that chain, end the drudgery, start a cycle of Joy. I don’t know the full answer yet, but I believe the church is at least part of the andwer, and that’s why I go to church.

  29. molly bennion says:

    I do not believe Heavenly Father is the architect of a societal organization that results in the common pain you describe so powerfully, Tracy. I do not believe women were divinely cursed with the extra burden or blessed with the extra blessings of SAHM commitment. I can imagine a society which would allow for a much more equal opportunity for both fathers and mothers to realize all their potentials using flexible workhours, shared positions, a fresh attitude regarding interrupted careers and the value of home and volunteer work. I can even imagine it would please Heavenly Father.

    But it would take a major reorganization of the workplace (and I am not talking about or making any judgment of daycare) absolutely not in the cards anytime soon. We will only inch closer if fathers and those with workplace organizational power clearly face the pain and its negative consequences, understand it, and quit excusing it with “this will pass” or “this is your destiny” or…., and simultaneously come to appreciate the benefits of using more of the talents of all and of sharing the childcare burdens and blessings. And, of course, poor human choices and regret, unequal opportunity, structural impossibilities (a soldier parent abroad, for instance) and other realities will always make my ideal impossible for all.

    Margaret and others gave wonderful advice above. Breaks, plans and work squeezed in for the future, and lots of other things, prayer, perspective, knowing you are doing something important, exercise….you know the lists, all help in a real way. Sometimes, though, you must feel permission to own the pain and rail at the universe.

  30. Julie M. Smith says:

    I have never had and will probably never have the kind of budget that SBK has. Here are some cost-less things that I have done:

    (1) trade kids with other moms for dates with my husband in the evening and free time during the day

    (2) have a set times every day for TV for the kids, so that I know and can look forward to a time when there will be no demands on me and I can do what I want

    (3) have quiet time each day, where each person has to be in their own room doing their own thing. Quietly.

    (4) lower my cleaning standards and get rid of clutter so that there is less stuff to be messed up.

    (5) parks. Thank God (literally) for parks. My kids can get their energy and noise out while I daydream or read or whatever.

    (6) Mommy time. I’ve attended classes, taught classes, done Girls’ Nights Out, etc. etc. I think it is not only good for Mom but good for the entire family if mom gets OUT one night per week.

    (7) Child training. It is a royal pain to train a child to do any chore, but there is nothing that compares to the payoff.

  31. Molly, thank you for your kind words. I hope for your vision, as well.

    Julie- I know you’ve written about training your kids- will you email me with links/suggested reading?

    SBK- I appreciate your lists- and know they certainly will be helpful to others- for me, however, my husband has been out of work for 13 months. The idea of having a sitter or a housecleaner or a preschool right now is so far beyond impossible I can’t even express it.

    Matt- clearly the issue faces mothers and fathers. I think Molly’s comment touches on that. I agree with you, Church is part of finding the Joy, even if I can’t figure out the rest.

  32. I didn’t read all of the comments yet so apologize if I’m repeating what’s been said.

    Yes, parenthood and especially motherhood is hard, often thankless work. Maybe a trained monkey could do dishes and laundry, but they could never dispense the type of love that a mother can. And in the end, it’s only the love that matters.

    Someone had probably said this, but the hardest thing may be to enjoy them now while they are young. All too soon they’ll be grown and you will wish that you had that time back.

  33. Tracy, I’m not a mother and will never have that opportunity (I guess I dodged that one), so I guess my comments can all be instantly disqualified, but you know, I think that one day when your children are older, you’ll know exactly what to do to get that sweet sense of satisfaction.

    I know my mom knew. Whenever I’m home (even though now, since I’m at school, it’s just for winter and summer break), she has me do the family’s laundry, my brother do the sweeping and mopping, and my other brother and sister help out with anything else. She makes sure to get all of her mass home cleaning lists prepared in time for spring, summer, and winter break — and of course, she makes sure we do it to her standards or else. (When mom’s not happy, no one’s happy.) So she’s come to dislike the idea of us being out of the house now that she’s gotten this system set up just so.

    A family in my old ward is pretty large (something like…13 children). Everyone asks the mom how she does it *and* PTA, Relief Society/YW, etc., but she says that once your kids get a certain age and you’ve taught them well, they can practically be trusted to take care of themselves. So I guess your seven-year-old better watch out — those days are numbered! :-)

  34. You know, I’m not wishing my kids away. While I may gripe about the chores, what I’m really struggling with is how what I’m sacrificing is benefitting human kind. How what I am doing matters, especially if it only serves to provide the next generation of women to do the exact same thing. I guess I didn’t express that so well.

    I really do enjoy my kids- and am not in a hurry to see then grown.

  35. I think you have a good point about giving your life for them, day after day. I think it’s another way parents (especially mothers) emulate the Savior.

    Of course the Atonement overshadows all gifts He gave us, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the day-to-day gift of sacrificing whatever hopes and dreams he had for Himself to make Himself worthy to perform the Atonement.

    You never hear anybody complain that Christ wasted His daily life by not having a full-time job, almost certainly because of the huge gift of the Atonement that came at the end. Unfortunately, successfully-raised, happy children don’t seem to be viewed as a gift anymore, so the role of the mother and father is minimized.

    You’re right, motherhood is hard and you can do it. Best of luck!

  36. I think that no matter what profession you pick, you have countless other talents that are left undeveloped. Whether I am a teacher, an accountant, a musician, a counselor, a photographer, or a mother (all things that I would be good at) the more I pursue one path, the less time I have to devote to the other paths.
    Whatever path I am on, I find limitless possibilities to grow my talents and pursue my interests. After 11 years of motherhood, I see it as interesting and full of personal growth. Is it because it has been 11 years so now I view the diaper changing as a mere blink in time (my youngest is 10 months so I am still doing it but it seems not worth even mentioning since it is such a small part of what I do)?

  37. So many good suggestions. However, my mileage was pretty poor with the praying to know what I should be doing with my life–for 20 years the answer was basically, “You’re doing fine.” Then, when I was 45 and all my kids were teenagers the answer suddenly changed–to, of all things, go to grad school!

    President Packer may have spoken about seasons of life; I don’t remember. But I do remember a similar talk given by Sister Holland when I was a newlywed, and have kept it near my heart ever since. If it’s any help, I don’t believe our talents are wasted; the Lord knows who we are and what gifts we have, and somehow allows us to have the opportunities we need.

  38. re: 34
    Tracy, what you do may not seem to matter in the moment that you do it. Think of it this way: every day, every moment you are helping to build the future. You are preparing your children for their lives. No one else can do this like you can.

    I’ve been out of my parents home for over 20 years now, and as time passes, I gain more and more appreciation for my parent’s and especially my mother’s influence. So changing diapers, etc. now isn’t glamorous and may seem so inconsequential, but it is anything but that.

  39. what I’m really struggling with is how what I’m sacrificing is benefitting human kind. How what I am doing matters, especially if it only serves to provide the next generation of women to do the exact same thing. I guess I didn’t express that so well.

    I think you have expressed yourself very well — it’s just easiest to respond to a slightly different question than the one you’re wondering about.

    Millions upon millions of mothers have done some variation of what you’re doing, and God willing, millions more, including your daughter, will do it in the future. What any individual mother does may not benefit human kind in a monumental way, but that’s not the role of mothering. Each of us experiences mortality only once, and each of us needs a mother, or someone else in that role, and each of us experiences the benefits of being the child of a good mother individually regardless of how many millions of others have the same need. That is, it is irrelevant to your children that you are one of many millions — you are THEIR mother, raising THEM, and that’s the whole world to them.

    Even so, I’m not convinced that your individual good mothering, including the drudgery, is of use to your family alone. I have a stake in this world, too, and the quality of my life, and the life of everybody else, depends in part on the fact that millions of mothers have raised their children to pick up their socks, avoid breaking eggs in anybody’s bed, and in general to function in society. I need doctors and clerks and policemen and seamstresses and bus drivers and plumbers; I need overwhelming numbers of people around me who have been raised not to rob or murder me, who have been taught to call 911 if I have an accident, who will cooperate with me in electing good leaders and financing clean water delivery systems, and who will drive on the right side of the road and stop at crosswalks.

    I guess what I’m trying to say in brief is that what you are doing leads to everything good within the walls of your own home, and contributes to human kind in ways that are obvious and yet so subtle that you aren’t even aware of them. At least you’re not aware of them in those moments when you’re teaching your children not to tie your tights to the bedposts.

  40. I think the heart of the issue, really, is that if families in which both parents work typically manage to raise healthy, successful, functional children, that raises the question of what is being gained by staying home. I’m sure that in lots of families, much is being gained, based on their particular needs and preferences. But maybe it would help you to put your finger on exactly what the benefits are, or are not, for your family. Good mothering is a great thing, but lots of women who work are good mothers and raise children well, so that doesn’t really answer the question of why stay home.

  41. What Ardis said. The joy in knowing your children when they get to be mostly grown up, happily functioning, awesome people is so, so sweet.

  42. Wow this really resonates. I have four kids and also a full-time job (from home) and it is has been killer lately on the sanity. I get on a conference call and my brain doesn’t function because ten seconds prior I was making a meal while trying to use love and logic to prevent physical violence over who is going to sit in a particular chair or finally got a baby to sleep after a long crying bout.

    However, I have realized that as humans our memories are very short–I must have felt this level of insanity with each of my babies but I apparently forget it each time I am gearing up to have another. I know that in a few years I will be back to having relative freedom and I will wish I would have found more “joy in the journey” as the last several RS lessons/talks/Sunday Schools have been emphasizing.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and I think the most poignant and thought-provoking question is “do I want my daughter to have this life?” The alternative doesn’t sound nearly as chaotic but perhaps not as fulfilling either so I guess the answer would be a resounding yes.

  43. Thank you Ardis.

  44. Ardis, I’m quoting you (#39) if I ever have to give a Mothers’ Day talk again! Really, that was lovely. Thank you.

  45. I have decided that I’m not sacrificing for the sake of humanity. It’s all about me. As much as I hate the drudgery of my job, I don’t want to go out and get a different one. As often as I think I can’t stand another minute in this house with these people, I don’t want to leave them for very long. If I were a different person, I’d be making different sacrifices. But I’m me, and I’ve chosen to sacrifice sanity because I want to be at home. I like it here. Even though I sometimes hate it.

    My daughter has a lot of big dreams for herself, but she says, “Of course I’ll be at home when I have babies.” Which I think is cute. I always knew that if/when I had kids, I would be at home with them. When the thought of being at home with children was repulsive to me, I didn’t want children. By the time I wanted children, I also wanted to be home. It started out as a feeling of duty, like I owed it to them. But as others have pointed out, mothers who work outside the home also manage to raise decent kids and have good relationships with them. I’m doing what I do because it’s what I want to do. It’s only a little bit for the kids (and indirectly, for humanity). Mostly it’s for me. It’s for my education and my enjoyment. I know it’s worth it because I know myself. Theoretically, I have the rest of my life to apply my talents and gifts to other, not-child-related pursuits full-time. If the rest of my life turns out not to be very long, I will still have spent the most important years doing what was most important to me. I hope my daughter does the same.

    Of course, I can only be so sanguine about this because all my kids are asleep and I’m intentionally not going into the kitchen, where the dishes and clutter and filth await me.

  46. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks for this, Tracy.

  47. Ardis’ #39. Wow. And amen.

    There are a couple of things that stuck out to me, besides the fact that I think it’s so NORMAL to feel this way!

    – I think the more we tie the worth of our work to our children’s immaturity and need for growth, the more difficult this role becomes. I think it’s important to be patient with them and with ourselves, and with the process of teaching and learning.

    -I think often about how much repetition our Father in Heaven uses with us. How many times have I realized that, once again, I am not getting even the basic things I *should* be getting. I think the drudgery of our lives is one way we can appreciate (and slowly, ever so slowly, develop) the kind of patience needed to be like God. You, imo, are still thick in a really hard stage.

    – I’m not that much beyond where you are, but I am just enough to say hang in there! Your kids are still really young. For me, the reward, of motherhood really starts to come as they get a little older, when the role includes more spiritual and mental work — teaching and talking and connecting and playing and reading and chewing on life. When it’s 99% physical needs, it’s hard not to feel like you are going to lose it a lot. But it gets better, imo. I am loving it all more now because I’m able to see more how I fit, and why mommahood is so important. I see that they are learning, and developing their minds and their spirits. And I can feel that it matters that I’m here. You are building a foundation by BEING THERE.

    – I think of motherhood as like any other element of gospel living — I see it as almost like a gift of the Spirit to develop, not simply a role to fill. I think it takes a GREAT deal of faith to be willing to sacrifice some things now for promises that it will make a difference, even if we can’t see it now.

    And I think given how much you care about this role, and how committed you are, that your investment and whatever sacrifices you have made will come back to you. My experience has been that over time, the seed of faith in this regard has grown, and its fruits are sweet and good, even if there are days I want to pull my hair out.

  48. p.s. To avoid Kaimi’s mockery, I will avoid including the quotes here, but reading this post brought to mind some quotes that have helped me a lot when I’m feeling the way Tracy describes. So, fwiw, here is a link to a post where I share the quotes.

  49. I should note that I actually wrote the original post a couple of years ago. I went back and read it tonite and thought it was applicable, so posted it again, with a few edits. Again, fwiw.

  50. Tracy, what a great post. While Vaimoni and I can totally relate to being ready to walk out the door and call in the wolves, your issue related to your daughter is something to think through.

  51. Eric Russell says:

    At the suggestion of hired help as the solution, I am reminded of this Caitlin Flanagan article.

    I tend to see the identification of full-time motherhood as “sacrifice” as a rather privileged position, even if we sometimes feel anything but privileged.

  52. I think these Mother blogs are great! I know my Mom had to go though her “pain”, in silence, with a smile, and never able to say the words she felt.
    I am somewhat saddened by the “model” some of you have to live by. I took an early retirement as I could see, as a grandfather, this dysfunction in the families of my children. Now, I am school bus driver, , homework adviser, “Dad, could you watch the girls for a while..”, house clearer, etc., for my daughter and five kids living across the street from me.
    My daughter knows I always “covers her back.” I think a model like this is common in my town, but I don’t understand why it’s not “pushed” more in the Mormon world? (It once was).

  53. All of us — as parents, spouses, employees, etc. — end up specializing and therefore sacrificing some part of us, or our talents, to pursue priorities.

    I believe parents’ most important responsiblity is to teach their children how to be happy, which I believe is best accomplished through example. I hope that by choosing the life that will make us happy (which does not necessarily mean stress-free or easy or exciting or even different from traditional gender roles), we will be better parents for it. I don’t think my boys have to have an example of a working father, nor do my girls have to have an example of a SAHM. But they all need an example of happy, healthy parents who love them.

    So, to the questions in the OP, I think what we are trying to accomplish, although unsuccessful at times, is joy. We are that we might have joy. Now. Amid the chaos. If we can figure that out, I think our children have a good chance at figuring it out.

  54. Motherhood is so stinking hard.

    Yep. My wife and I raised nine kids (combined families) together; they’re all gone now (yippee!) and we have 12 grandkids and counting. I have profound sympathy for young parents (or, more accurately, parents of young kids) everywhere, and at this point I wonder how is it that our species manages to propagate at all.

    Here’s something to hold onto. When Sandra’s oldest daughter, the oldest of all our nine kids, left on a plane for college, Sandra went home and just wept in a way that I had never seen her cry before. When she was composed enough to talk, she told me, “I remember so clearly when I brought Chase home from the hospital. I set her in the crib, looked at her, and felt overwhelmed that I was going to be responsible for this child for the next 18 years or so. That seemed like an eternity.”

    Then she said, “I feel as though I blinked my eyes, and now she’s gone.”

    I’ll also note that each subsequent child’s departure was a lot easier, and Sandra thoroughly enjoys being an empty-nester. In fact, when we moved from DC to Colorado nearly 4 years ago, our stated intent was “to get closer to the kids and grandkids, but not too close.” Heh. ..bruce..

  55. Thanks, bfwebster. That’s lovely. My oldest just moved to Indiana–with her husband and MY three grandchildren. I find that whenever I have a trip ahead of me, I look to see if there’s any way I can make a stop in Indiana. I’ll be going to MHA in May–via Indianapolis.

  56. Rameumptom says:

    Sadly, science now shows that the portions of the brain that deal with logic do not fully develop until the child is about 21. IOW, just because you have taught a child what good behavior should mean, does not mean they have the brain development to remember and apply it. Their brain stems still control much of their actions: through basic emotions like fear, anger and hunger. It isn’t until the neocortex develops and they learn to use it that there is the ability to actually apply what you are teaching them.

  57. “But maybe it would help you to put your finger on exactly what the benefits are, or are not, for your family. Good mothering is a great thing, but lots of women who work are good mothers and raise children well, so that doesn’t really answer the question of why stay home.”

    I’m with Z here – I’ve observed great families where a parent stays home and great families where everybody goes off to work, and all sorts of variations in the middle.

    I don’t accept on its face that the mom should be at home beyond the baby stage, so it must all come down to individual revelation about what is the best place for YOU and of course that will be based on the particulars of our family situation and the individual needs of your children. And that is where you will know the value of, and reasons for, your individual sacrifice.

  58. Tracy, what’s your husbands field?

  59. Supply-side infrastructure. Urban and suburban planning, specializing in underground, supply, conduit and water.

    Great when building is booming, not so much when the ecomonmy tanks.

  60. Tracy, could you relocate for the right opportunity? I know of nothing, but I know some really good recruiters and will pass along a resume if you will e-mail one to me. Send it to the address I use to comment here.

  61. Wait, were you just describing my house? My kids routinely like to tie things up, build forts, knock down all the couch cushions (they’re funner to sit on when they’re on the floor, I guess). I told them yesterday I can handle one mess at a time, but NOT several messes! That’s when I stop them and they have to clean up, RIGHT NOW! We can’t always catch them, and it’s hard to stay calm while asking them to pick up their mess for the 10th time in 10 minutes. I recently read the book, The Mother in Me that the ladies from Segullah published. I highly recommend it. Let me know if you want to borrow it, I’d be happy to mail it out to you!

    Oh, and some other favorites of mine, Surrendering to Motherhood by Iris Krasnow, A Joyful Mother of Children by Linda Eyre, and 100 Promises to my Baby by Mallika Chopra. See if your library has them! If not, I do, and you can borrow them from me :)

  62. StillConfused says:

    When I was 17, I had naval orange sized ovarian tumors removed and that was followed by reconstructive surgeries to even be able to get pregnant. In addition, when I was 21, I was an air traffic controller. Those two things, and maybe many others, set the foundation to where I just didn’t get worked up over the normal stuff that happens with kids. To this day, my son (a junior in college) is one of the messiest people I know. But he has great knowledge, skills and abilities. I never got worked up about laundry and all of that little stuff either. I just don’t care about it enough to do so. My kids made forts and all of that stuff. I thought it was great. I did the same thing when I was a kid. I have 11 brothers and sisters so the house was always a bomb zone. But no one cared. We made forts, did experiments, you name it. Great times.

  63. I wish I had a magic answer (I was hoping someone would in the comments, but alas). I agree that no matter how much you love your kids, how much you enjoy playing in the snow and going to the park and teaching them to cook, it can be mind-numbing. Especially if there are things you long to do, or if people around you don’t understand the restlessness within you. Or especially when your child/ren seems perfectly happy in the care of other people. I think there are some good thoughts in the comments for keeping your sanity on a day to day basis (babysitters/swapping kids, regular breaks, summer), but they don’t address the larger question–does it matter if I’m home with them or not? For me, I’m home for now. Its hard and it drives me nuts sometimes, but it seems “right.” When it no longer seems “right,” I’ll make a change. That’s what gets me through my days. Good luck!

  64. I had a breakdown about these very issues last week — I stay home with my kids 8, 5, and 2, so Tracy, I am right there in the thick of it with you. To add to the mire, I’m pregnant with my fourth, and I have had many moments thinking, “What am I doing? I have no capacity for this.” At the end of a long hard day, I have to pat every pocket I have for one last ounce of compassion for a child who is sitting up, calling out for me, wanting a drink of water. It’s a much more agonizing struggle than “I work and I slave and what thanks do I get” and yet, it seems that’s all I can whine to my husband when I have reached utter exhaustion. He’s the one who read your post first, and it brought an understanding to him that I’ve been unable to explain, and he told me to read it. It was so helpful for me to have him reach out to my agonizing heart in this way, and I have you to thank for that. I loved your post — the far reaching questions that roll around in all our heads, and yet only a noble few know how to put it into words. And I have wept reading all the comments, so loving and helpful. The previous posts boiled down all the commentary to the question of “Does it matter if I’m home with them or not?” I guess I have learned through these comments, and my own introspection: It matters to me right now, and it will (hopefully) matter to them someday. Some days that’s just not good enough, and those are the days that I will give myself permission to sit them in front of the tv for the longest kid movie I have on DVD and stick earphones in my ears and too loudly listen to my old favorite music from college while I make dinner. But overall, this new perspective gives me a sense of peace and yesterday was a better day, and I have hope for a new day today.

    My favorite Paul Simon line from Slip Sliding Away:
    I know a woman became a wife
    These are the very words she uses to describe her life
    She said a good day ain’t got no rain
    She said a bad day’s when I lie in bed and think of things that might have been.

    Let’s focus on the good rainless days. Good luck!

  65. I’m a SAHM now, but I was a law student and lawyer for 10 years before then. On bad days, I felt the same way about lawyering that you describe about mothering. What was the point of anything I was doing? I was helping rich people get richer, and helping people who probably ought to pay up to avoid their responsibility, and settling squabbles among people who ought to be old enough to know better.

    My lawyer wardrobe was much better than my SAHM wardrobe. But billing hours was more unending than laundry. If I worked efficiently, it meant I had to find more to do to fill the billable quota. At least I can ignore housework, but I could never ignore the billable clock as a lawyer.

    I quit lawyering when I got married and got pregnant. Looking back on my career, I did see two meaningful contributions I had made. I told myself that those two contributions were the reason I could be proud of my lawyering years. I went back to visit my old firm not long ago, and found out that both of those meaningful contributions completely unraveled after I left.

    Anyone with a law degree could have done my job, and there were dozens of candidates who lined up to take it when I left.

    When I have hard days as a SAHM, I remind myself of how useless I sometimes felt as a lawyer (just sometimes – I had good days as a lawyer too). Any career has its “trained monkey” days, and I wondered what I was contributing to the good of mankind more often as a lawyer than as a SAHM.

    Hang in there. You could have a career instead, and still feel just as much like a hamster on a wheel!

    Was that encouraging? I’m sorry. It sounded encouraging in my head before I wrote it.

  66. DH had me read this. I can see why; he knew I’d relate. Tracy, there is some great advice and perspective here, esp #39, #47, and #53. Those resonate with me.

    I hope you realize you are making a difference with this post. The comments show how many of us are yearning to understand and know that what we do really matters. You have given us a place to express our frustrations, fears, and hopes – and to know we are not alone.

    In terms of the drudgery, what has helped me the most is learning better what it means to simplify and to lower my expectations. It has taken years for me to even begin to come close to being able to do those two things. But when I manage to get there for brief moments, my life suddenly becomes less stressful and more meaningful.

    The other huge thing for me is the shift in perspective as my kids are getting older. (Their ages range from 20 to 6.) When I have days like you shared, they are quick to remind me that I’m not a failure, that I am making a difference, that they love me even though I’m not perfect.

    The most important thing that helps me realize that what I do makes a difference is hearing them tell others what they have learned from us, and watching them choose what their values are and what they want to do with their lives. My oldest kids are involved in church, friendships, service, and other activities that bring them joy. I see them succeeding and being happy, even though I “failed” them so often when they were younger. My efforts may be small ripples, but they ARE making a difference for our family and for those around us.

    Tracy, your efforts, apparently rippling out so sluggishly, ARE and WILL make a difference. IMO, you are teaching your kids about what is important to you – the things you are willing to sacrifice to do what you know you should be doing. You are showing them by example how to make it through tough days, how to balance a multitude of responsibilities, how to enjoy the good and cry through the bad. The day will come when your children will tell you thank you for your time and love.

    In the meantime… As you deal with the sock-wads and the endless weariness and frustration, please continue to write posts like this. It is therapeutic for more than just you.

  67. Tracy,

    I also have some people I could send a resume to.

    My email is a hotmail, username mulling_and_musing

  68. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    A note to everyone sick of the drudgery:

    It’s worth it to teach your kids the kinds of things that need to be done. I know someone whose mother was “not domestic” and I love this person dearly but her house frightens me. Because I love her, I will not detail what I find frightening about her house but I can assure you, it is not the lack of doilies or Martha Stewart Anything. There is just so much about basic hygiene and nutrition that is missing because her mom “wasn’t domestic.”

  69. Just wanted to echo the comment about the drudgery of work that repeats itself with every other generation. Somewhat because of the examples of my father and grandfather, I’ve opted for a career path and accommodations that allow me to spend as much time as possible with my children and not sacrifice much salary. Because at the end of the day, my wife works too darn hard, and I hate being away from my kids… They are way more interesting than the jerkwads I work with…

  70. Tracy, for what it’s worth, I understood your question each time you said it, because I have thought that same thing. I know what you mean that it is not about motherhood per se or about the love of children, it is about the fact that the way it is set up, old age for me effectively started at the birth of my first child. The hope and promise I had of my skills are now just stories. The pattern repeats itself so quickly or it wouldn’t seem so bad. We had 25 years (give or take) with the promise of our skills and then start the next cycle of giving someone promise of their skills. They are halfway to sacrifice their skills by the time we realize we have sacrificed ours and that it is over! I am, already, an old woman telling stories of the past and my oldest is eight years old.

  71. If you ever work outside the home, you will doom your children to a lifetime of slovenly habits! STAY HOME OR DUST BUNNIES WILL EAT YOUR BABY WHEN SHE’S 40!!!!

    Come on, people. That’s not a real reason to stay home. Working women teach their children cleanliness just fine.

    I wonder, I really do, what stay at home mothers think they’re accomplishing. It must be something or they wouldn’t do it. Or maybe they just like it better.

  72. Dust Bunny says:

    Sarcasm really helps in these discussions. Thanks, z, for putting it in perspective.

  73. Hellooo- if the still small voice tells you to stay home with your kids, then by all means you should do it. But not everyone will get that answer to a sincere prayer about whether or not to stay home, and the answer won’t neccessarily be the same each time for the same person at different points in her life. Seek for the revelation you have a right to receive. If it is time to find full time employment, then do it. God wants the best for each of His children and there may be things you need to learn somewhere other than home right now. Maybe the skills you have were given you for exactly this time.

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