Yesterday, I read a post at BabyCenter by Betsy Shaw called Stay-at-home guilt can get me down. As I read about her guilt when her tired husband gets up to go to work while she stays nestled under the covers, I nodded my head in agreement. When she said she felt useless for not bringing in a big-enough income, I knew exactly what she meant.
“I FEEL THIS WAY!” I shouted in my head. And then suddenly, my head told me, “You felt this way.”
And I realized my head was right. Somewhere in the past year and a half, the verb “to feel” shifted from present to past tense. As this realization sunk in, I began to wonder why I no longer feel this way and how did this blessed thing happen. I realized three significant things changed in my mind and my marriage to help me feel satisfied in my current role as a mother.
But first, let me explain how I reached the end of the road of discontent.
When I quit my job the day before my first child was born, I found myself with loads of time. It was disconcerting. There was plenty to do in the house (as there always is), but I didn’t want to do it. And it certainly didn’t bring me satisfaction. But I felt so gosh-darn guilty if I couldn’t complete all those household tasks while my husband was working. He’s gone for 12 hours every day! Why can’t I keep the floors spotless, for crying out loud?
Out of necessity, I taught piano for extra income. I managed well, teaching a few hours a day and spending the rest of the day with my daughter. But as time went on, and I still had all those “free” hours, I felt I needed to do more. Eventually, I was teaching piano, writing for two beats for a local newspaper, and doing freelance writing and editing.
Now I spent the mornings with my child, the afternoons with the computer and other people’s children, and the evenings again with the computer. I was making a lot of money, I was earning recognition in the community, I was producing.
But I still didn’t feel happy. Every time I carved out a few minutes to read a book, or each time I took my daughter to a museum exhibit I really wanted to see, I felt guilty that I had the ability to make my own schedule — guilty I wasn’t working — while my husband was bound and shackled to his job.
This was a miserable way to live, but I couldn’t give it up. I carried the burden of work + mothering + house managing around like a badge of honor, but the badge was really a weight that sunk me to the depths of the sea.
It was so suffocating, it became a part of who I am. So as I read Betsy Shaw’s article yesterday, I wondered, “Where the heck did this boulder of guilt go? How am I really above water, breathing freely and happily?”
Looking back, these are the three things I did:
1. I had several open discussions with my husband about our expectations of each other
This was tricky, but 0h-so-necessary. I needed to know what my husband expected me to do all day, and I needed to tell him what I expected him to do all day.
He was incredibly hesitant to tell me he expected anything of me. It’s so very anti-feminist to say, “I expect you to take care of the kids,” and I am blessed to have a husband who is very respectful of my feelings. But I needed to hear it from him, because until we could discuss what my job was, I felt absolutely no validity in what I was doing. This is why I felt I had to fill in my life with paid jobs: I didn’t see the value in motherhood.
When my husband told me in delicate, careful language that he wants me to take care of the children, I felt power.
We continued our discussions and laid out more specific expectations of each other. Once these discussions were out there, I was finally able to stop looking for monetary compensation to feel valued.
2. I saw my role as valuable and equal
I had to change my opinion of stay-at-home motherhood. I had to realize that equality is not measured in hours logged in a profession. Equality in marriage is both partners working towards the same end-goal, but being able to do different parts of the work without feeling that one part is more important than the other.
It’s fine that my husband works to make money to take care of my children and me. It’s fine that I use that money to keep our house running and our children fed and clothed. It’s fine that he leaves the house to do his role, and it’s fine that I stay in the house to do mine. Without me, he would crumble. Without him, I would fall apart. We support each other and help each other so that our goals for our family can be met. This is equality.
3. Goals. I make goals. Lots of them.
I have two and a half pages of lined-notebook paper filled with my goals for this year. They range from financial goals to fitness goals to travel goals to writing goals to I-just-want-to-do-this goals. It brings me satisfaction to work towards these goals, and they give me permission to work on myself. Many are for the good of my family, but some are just for me. And I believe these two and a half pages trump everything else.
One of my just-for-me goals is to perfect and memorize three piano pieces this year. Because this is my goal, I see nothing wrong with sitting down to practice while my children play happily together. Instead of straightening a corner of the house during the magical moment of good behavior, I sit down at the piano and work on a section at a time. No fewer than five people stopped by last week and saw my living room cluttered with toys. But I didn’t care — my Beethoven Sonata is finally picking up speed… and that makes me feel good.
I want to make it clear that I don’t believe the responsibilities of life should be divided this way in every marriage. For some, it isn’t possible, or even desirable — and that’s OK. But I want to be a voice for women who want to find satisfaction at home and can’t. It is possible and it’s worth it.
See the random bits of stuff on my bottom step? I don’t care.