Meaning beyond motherhood, part two

I'm not sure how to view this mothering work of mine with its workday that never ends, its workweek that never ends. The rhythm of a stay-at-home mom still feels odd and unfamiliar to me: the ebb and flow of a day with no punch clock, no boss over my shoulder, no coworkers to shoot the shit with (okay, that would be you all).

This is not my job. This is simply my life.

I mentally fight every day to allow my children to be people, separate people, not projects of mine that I get to hold up as examples of what I've accomplished in my life. I can take their issues, behavior and general comportment a little too personally. This messy house and these sticky children are what I have to show for my days and when sometimes they just don't measure up to anyone's general standards for cleanliness or civility, I can't help but feel like a complete failure.

They are not a product I am making. They are not a craft project that I can post on a wall and say "See all the macaroni perfectly in a row? I did that".

I bask in their glow when they shine. Their joy and successes are some of my most precious memories in my life so far.

I am also reflected in the pools of their misery. I have never felt so low or despondent as I have sometimes as a parent.

Have I emptied myself out into a shell of a person? Am I just a vehicle for my children's development?

Sometimes at the end of the day, I'll ask Z what her most favorite and least favorite parts of the day were. After she tells me about the yummy snack at school and the tragic loss of a favorite marker, she always asks me for my report and more often than not, I list things I've observed her or E doing.

MY favorite parts of the day are usually about watching someone else do something.

When did that happen?

Of course, there is undeniable joy in watching a baby's first smile or a toddler's first steps and you would have to have a heart of stone to not have that be a highlight of your day. But lately, I've noticed that my highlights are rarely, if ever, things I've done. And that just doesn't seem right.

Next thing you know, you'll ask me what my favorite TV shows are and I'll give you a treatise about the relative merits of Sid the Science Kid vs. Caillou. And then you''ll have to shoot me.

Can I find a way to be a whole, fully realized self and an observant, caring parent? Why is this so hard for me?

Baby steps are the only way I know how to approach this.

Today, when the girls were drawing with chalk on the driveway and I was watching them and cleaning up leaves from the flower beds, I put down my bucket and sat with them in the driveway. At first I watched them draw flowers (Z) and try to eat the chalk (E). Then I took pictures of their beautiful, fleeting faces.

Then I drew my own picture.


Amy said...

Wow. This is one of those posts where I should just say "ditto" as my comment. I am sometimes overwhelmed by how important it is to be a mother and yet I see others doing it well and doing other self-fulfilling things alongside. And I wonder why I am so consumed by this.

Marie Green said...

I've found that as my children have gotten older, bits of me that are mine alone have come back. I'm reading regularly again. I take photos for the art and practice of taking photos, not just to email grandma, I have evenings with friends and... well, just TIME for some of these things, ya know? I totally TOTALLY hear what you are saying about being lost in life as someone's caretaker, but I wonder if much of what you are feeling is simply because of the season your are currently in. In three years, when E is 4 and Z is 7, your life will have more room for you.

Marie Green said...

(The problem I face in finding this extra "room" in my life, is what EXACTLY to do with it? I have lots of things I want to do in life, lots of desires, but I don't have quite enough room for some of them now (like getting a Master's), and others I don't have the MONEY for, and it's just hard to prioritize the time/money thing. What do I really want to do? Is THIS the time for it?)

Hillary said...

This is not just hard for you.

I don't mean to diminish your struggle. I just want you to know that we all are struggling with you. I am working outside the home. I have a "real" job and I still find myself entirely wrapped up in my kids. Just today, my boss asked me how I was doing and without thinking I answered that single parenting was going OK with the husband away -- didn't realize until I was mid-sentence that he probably meant how was my work stuff going. SIGH.

I hope Marie Green is right.

grammalouie said...

Always, always draw your own picture. You have it right there. That is key.

GratefulTwinMom said...

Well, I'll tell you one thing. There are some pretty interesting posts out there from mom bloggers, but I anxiously await yours. So while you're feeling like you're trying to find a part of you in your day that is about you, rest assured, in fact, please revel in the fact that for your readers, your posts are a glimpse into an insightful and reflective that I, for one, aspire to be.

I do want to echo Marie Green's point too about the space that will be created as the girls grow. It IS coming, I promise. :)

Whimsy said...

Can I ditto Amy's ditto?

And then add: this was wonderfully written, as always.

Cortney said...

Yes, yes, yes...

As Grateful Twin Mom said, I too, anxiously await your insights. I am feeling the same most of the time and can't put my thoughts into words as eloquently as you. Thank you for being so honest. I feel less alone on this journey.

Sarah said...

There is an underlying sadness to your posts of late. They are always beautifully thought out and right on target. But, I (as someone who doesn't know you in real life) wonder if maybe you should consider trying some work outside of what you are doing with the kids 1 or 2 days a week? It seems like it might be good for your spirit and give you a break from the hard job of parenting. Don't know if it is possible, just a suggestion to change things up a bit.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Marie Green- I know this is a season of my life and not forever. Sometimes I fear that when this season is over, I'll be left empty.

Hillary- It helps to know that we all struggle with this, no matter how or where we work.

Sarah- I appreciate you reflecting that back and I totally understand why you would point out the possibility of me working, it has come up often in our house as a possible solution to my identity struggles. The problem for me is this: what type of job? The one I used to do, that I'm not sure I want to do anymore? The ones I dream about (and would need more education for)? Who would care for my kids? (I actually posted an add on care.com for three hour once a week childcare and interviewed several women who were less than impressive and I just couldn't do it.) How would any of the things that need to get done in our house, for our family, get done?

I'm not saying it's impossible, because it isn't. I'm not saying I won't do it eventually, because I most likely will. But we're working through it slowly and haven't found the right situation so far. And until then, I'll probably continue to struggle with how to be a stay at home mother and stay sane.

grammalouie said...

It was really hard for me to stay sane during those years. I found that if I got out one or two evenings a week, that was really helpful. The daytime involvement away from my children was nearly impossible for me until you and your brother were both in school all day. And, as you know, I did go back to school (twice) and did go back to work. But it was gradual. I had already set certain standards for myself as a mother and I continued to want to maintain those standards regardless of your ages and my outside commitments. Fortunately I did not have to work full time so we mostly always sat down to dinner together and there was mostly always homemade bread and cookies in the house. And mostly always I was around at important times - or so I think! You can tell me about the times I wasn't!
Hey folks, here's a revelation: there's no such thing as a perfect parent. Just erase that word "perfect" and replace it with "good enough". We all strive to be the best we can be and that has to be good enough. And there will never be a more important "job". Ever.

Joanna said...

I can't get over how beautifully you put this. I wouldn't trade the lucky circumstances that give me the chance to stay at home with my kids, but I get a shiver down my spine when I think about losing myself in the process. I get to the point some times when I don't even know how to answer the question, "so how are you doing?" I have started meditating again during nap time the past two weeks and I feel a bit more whole and full.

Sam said...

As a mom of a toddler and a teen, I agree with Marie. You do get more back as they grow up and no longer need everything from you. You won't lose yourself forever. I promise.

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