Saturday, July 12, 2008

back from the beach

My mom and I have what has become an annual tradition of taking the kids to a rented beach house on the Jersey shore. We're back now, and my mind has shifted from the big concerns of a beach vacation: Is today a beach day? Will tomorrow be a beach day? (I decided they all were, unless it rained, and it didn't. Much.) Will we make it to the end of the week without going to the laundromat? (We did, although now I have a lot of laundry to do.) Will I have enough yarn to finish these socks? (No.) And, will it be the Tilt-a-Whirl or the Ferris Wheel tonight? (It was mostly the Tilt-a-Whirl.)

I've given my last post and the response it generated a lot of thought. (You know, in between playing frisbee and watching the surfers.) Just to reassure all of you who are my friends IRL, and who have expressed concern for my marriage and my/our feminism: yes, darlings, of course Joe and even the kids do all kinds of things every day, to help me, to contribute to our household and my peace. It was rhetoric, written in a hurry on a day when I was overwhelmed. It happens. Part of me wants to say SHEESH people, don't you know a rant when you read one? It was a VENT, not a position paper.

But I think I really was trying to say something, unbalanced though it was. So I will try again.

It turns out that holding all of this together is a lot of work. Being a SAHM is challenging, and part of the challenge seems to be that nobody (including myself) expects it to be particularly challenging. How hard could it be, really? You keep doing everything working parents do, but you have the major bonus of NO JOB. Or, for those of us who are freelancing in one way or another, no job that expects you to show up at a particular time. Your time is your own, to schedule as you choose.

There's the problem. Scheduling. There is a lot to do. You've got to get the grocery shopping done, the house clean to whatever standard you have chosen, the children clean and fed. Then there's the homeschooling, which (like every other job worth doing) can take as much time as you choose to give it. It's not like you're ever 'done.' Add to all that an old house with projects that never seem to get completed, and then throw in an avid interest in reading or sewing or knitting or spinning.... poof, your days are full.

Now, tell me what it is you do to feed yourself. Everyone agrees that it is necessary for mothers, working or not, to take care of themselves, right? And for me, personally, it doesn't count as 'me time' unless my children are elsewhere, out of earshot and being taken care of by someone else.

So... what's it going to be?

You need a walk every day? A half hour of yoga? Meditation, tennis? Great, when are you going to do it? There's no money for a babysitter (you don't have a job, remember) so you've got do it when there's another parent at home. At 6:30 in the morning, before your husband leaves for work? After dinner every day, when you're already bone tired from the aforementioned never-ending list?

Do you see how sometimes, some days, it can be just a pain the ass to get that so-called 'me time?' How some days you're just going to blow it off and sit on the couch, or (more likely) get another load of laundry done or go out and weed the garden instead? Some days, it's just one more thing to put on the list, and since the list is endless anyway, why add another thing to it?

And yes, I can see that this doesn't make sense, that the most important thing is to take care of myself, before the laundry, before the weeding, before the damn dishes. But the reality is that it doesn't always happen that way, and on the days when I can't fit it in, the expectation that I find time to take care of myself feels like just another place for me to fall short.


Anonymous said...

Our lists do sure get long, don't they? A lot of people I know seem to be able to get up extra early in the morning for "me" time. I still can't do that, and so I end up staying up way too late every night, telling myself that blogging or whatever it is I'm doing on the computer is "my" time.

The catch is, I'm not so sure it's that rejuvenating for me. Definitely amusing and interesting, but does it really refresh body and soul and spirit? Not sure.

I think part of the problem is SAH parents have to do things alone, because the other parent has to be away working most of the time and we typically don't have other family members around. Oh for a spinster aunt or retired grandma next door!

Anonymous said...

I just went back and read the comments on the last post, which I hadn't read before.

Yes, SAH parents "choose" to stay home and therefore need to own the responsibilities that come with it.

But...yes, the rest of the family also has responsibilities.

I think we get into trouble when we get stuck in roles. Like, man goes to work all day so he gets to rest when he gets home, a la 1952. Like, if you don't have a job outside the home, then you should be able to handle all the work of the home.

I would rather look at it through something like Non-Violent Communication, in terms of needs.

If I need some time to myself, I should make the request of the rest of my family to help me achieve that. If I need help with housework, I should ask my family to do some of it. (These aren't exactly true needs as defined by NVC, but you get my drift.)

I discovered that staying home all day with my kids made me go a bit batshit, to be frank. I needed something that was my work alone, not related to my kids. I started freelance editing, my kids went to daycare part of the day (or day camp, or various other arrangements), and we all are pretty happy with it. Maybe my kids would be better off just being with me (though I doubt that), but it seems like a good way for me to meet my need, while the kids get time with other adults and children and do things I wouldn't normally do with them, which fills some of their needs.

I say this as an example of trying not to get stuck in either/or thinking, like "I either have to work OR be a SAHM". I also know families where both parents can somehow work part time, so that they both can be part-time SAH parents.

What it comes down to, for me, is not thinking about roles or structures or "the wife does this, the husband does that" but rather what do the family and the individual family members need? What works at this particular time and place?

Granna Judy said...

I read anthromama's comment "Oh for a spinster aunt or retired grandma next door!" and laughed out loud. I am the retired grandma to Big and Little, but I'm younger than your mental image of a retired grandma (or at least, my mental image of me is younger than my mental image of 'retired grandma') and I've got a pretty busy life of my own.

If a kid is, say, 10, his mama is maybe 40, but his mama's mama probably was a bit younger at first childbirth, so the retired grandma is maybe 65 or a bit more; I'm 67. That's younger than it used to be, and I've got a pretty busy schedule of my own. I'm not at all sure the spinster aunt or retired grandma is going to be much help.

ALTHOUGH if I lived next door to Big and Little, I would certainly love having them at my house for an hour or so every day that I'm home, to give their SAHM a chance for some "her" time. Too bad I'm an hour away, isn't it, Elsie?

Anonymous said...

I don't know you IRL so this isn't a comment on your particular situation (just to be clear), but I've read a lot of stats and studies about housework and who does it. And it is very very common for men whose wives are not employed at all (or even employed part-time) to do MUCH LESS housework than those whose wives are employed. The best explanation is that it gets defined by the couple as "her job" and thus he "helps".

Hence my comment on the last post about the M in SAHM, being about mothering. Which, as you so rightly point out, takes a lot of work. I know some SAHMs who consider themselves off duty on the mothering front almost as soon as their husbands walk in teh door in the evening. She might go start cooking supper, but if kids are screaming/crying/whatever, she ignores it. It is now his call. Similarly weekends are his opportunity to have a good chunk of time doing stuff with the kids. Maybe even stuff mom wouldn't do with the kids. The driving factor is dad wanting to be a participating dad. But it turns out that mom gets a chunk of time to herself while he is doing that.

But I'm also getting the impression that some folks are doing way too much laundry. Not just you, but others are talking about almost daily laundry in a house of 4 paople. How often does stuff get worn before being washed? And is that realistic. Don't just think about your own time. Think about the water, electricity, detergent, etc. I bet there is a lot of stuff that could just come off the list.

shaun said...

I'm awful at taking time for myself so take these comments with a grain of salt.

First, the Miracle of Mindfulness has some interesting and challenging thoughts on the idea of "my time." I return to them often.

Second, the people in my house have to be trained to respect my space. It doesn't come naturally , no matter how well intentioned they are. I have had children walk up two flights of stairs, right past dad, to come ask me for something (like a drink) while I am in my office with the door shut.

Something about mothering babies gets everyone in the habit of seeing mom as available 24/7. The more babies, the more time they have to develop that habit of thought. My kids and my husband both need me to be kind and direct in saying, "I am doing something else now." When I'm reading over my breakfast cereal and the kids want me to hear everything on their minds, I say, "I'm going to read this now, we'll talk later." When I really need 30 minutes after dinner to just flop on the bed with sudoku I say to my husband, "I really need some alone time right now. I'm going upstairs." They seem fine with this, they just need to be told directly. This isn't the same has having a regular time everyday -- it's more like carving out your own space in the household energy field, so to speak, so that you don't have to limit your "me time" to 30 minutes a day.

I don't try to do *anything* every day. Then it's a chore and a chance to screw up.

Anonymous said...

I am a SAHM who also homeschools our kids, who range in age from 1.5 to 14. My DH works at home so our situation is similar in some ways to other parents and different than others. When DH is working, he is off-limits to everyone unless his door is open and then anyone can go in to talk to him - much to his chagrin when he forgets to shut the door tight! LOL

We have agreed that between the hours of 8:30 and 5:30, DH can do whatever he wants, whether it is to exercise, read a book, work, or help out with the boys' math (he is in charge of math in our house and usually does it first thing after breakfast with the two oldest kids, ages 12 and 14 in his office). Sometimes he even goes out to eat with a friend.

It can be hard, watching him take time for himself and knowing I can't do the same and I try my best not to get jealous. I tell myself that it will get easier when the youngest doesn't breastfeed on demand - love it most of the time but.... I don't make him breakfast or lunch unless I want to - he is happy to take care of himself and sometimes he'll cook for us all, and he does make dinner 3-4 nights a week if I give him the dinner plan. I really can't complain about that. But finding time for myself IS hard.

I try to take walks with the little ones (ages 1 and 3) and sometimes that helps. I try to knit or sew at night after the little ones are in bed. I am off work after dinner. I don't do laundry, housework, or clean.

I'm working on teaching my oldest boys to cook (I've taken to recording cooking shows on tv, previewing them, and then having the kids make parts of what the show makes for dinner. We are making cookbooks with those recipes.) I have taught my oldest kids to do their own laundry, clean a bathroom well, vacuum the stairs, and dust. We all try to work together with the chores to get them done quickly. I do the shopping but the boys know how to put things away correctly when I get home.

But still, having uninterrupted time for yourself... a dream! Don't get me wrong though, I love my kids and the fact that I can stay at home with them.

Cathy T

Tara said...

I kind of thought people got a little to riled up about the whole thing. Gosh, who doesn't feel overwhelmed at times? Why was the "Calgon, take me away!" campaign so successful? Support, alone time, partnership, nurturing... they are basic human needs, I think, and worthy of discussion without having a hissy fit.

Right now I'm in a reading and photography phase. Well, maybe I should say "snapping pictures" phase because nothing is really worthy at the moment. But I don't care. It's fun anyways.

I love your take on one's mindset during beach times. Glad you had a nice vacation.

Anonymous said...

I've been pondering this. I am wondering if his request for a behaviour chart is really just his way of asking for help in controlling his outbursts. It may well be that they upset him, too, but he doesn't know how to act differently. He has limited experience from which to choose helping interventions so he's asked for a behaviour chart. Does that make sense?

I think the suggestions everyone else has made are excellent if you do stick with the chart. But if you continue to feel uncomfortable maybe you could try to talk to him about whether he feels bad afterwards when he has one of these outbursts (I assume the kicking, hitting thing comes in outburtts). If so, maybe you could agree a word that you would say, calmly, to make him aware in the moment and agree an action (like removing himself temporarily, not as a punishment but as a way to break the cycle). Then you could go from them to help him work out how to react differently. I have a copy of an e-mail from a list I'm on with a longer description. I'll send it.

Also, folks on that list found a book called The Explosive Child (I think) useful. I've not looked at it, but it might be worth having a glance at in the library to see if there are any good suggestions.

Good luck.