So, I wanted to put this on my other blog, A Stitch In Time, but it’s not about needle arts and it would be a strange fit there. I read Sahar Abdulaziz’s blog this morning, and was a tad freaked out, because she wrote (with much greater eloquence) what I started writing in a draft last night. You’ll want to check out her blog as well. She’s a wonderful writer and shares insight and beauty every week on her blog.
For the last few months I’ve been on a sort of “give up on whatever is not of value” trip, and the realization I have had is that I don’t create much of value. Hear me out before you start sending me the gushy Facebook and email encouragement bits. I’m not looking for affirmation. I’m talking through a situation.
I have been a writer for two decades. I’ve written hundreds of articles, essays, blog posts, and three books. I love what I do. I’ve taught English and writing and History. I love that, too. But I have also been a mother and I’ve spent those same amount of years choosing myself last, because my family–husband and children–all came first. Even when I’m exhausted, sick enough to be in a wheelchair, or really needing time to myself, I come last. It is what happens when you are a decent mother. You can’t say to baby, “Change your own damn diaper!” Though, you often want to say just this thing. You have to crawl out of bed at 2am and change the foul smelling onesie, you have to soothe the unsootheable baby down to a dull roar, and then you have to remain awake for the next 12 hours, playing with a toddler (or toddlers), cleaning an uncleanable house, and preparing seven or eight plates of food by the time the day is over. And you quickly realize that when you choose to leave the extroverted workplace outside the home for an introspective career like stay at home motherhood and writing, you can easily become one of the forgotten. This is especially true in those early years.
It’s not easy being a mother, and it is especially not easy being a stay at home mother, because your value is miniscule. Yes, your family loves you. People who are busy and childless tell you to shut up about your so-called “hardships,” because they’re working to so hard to work hard and have babies and you have too many! Society tells you that you’re a dump, a slob of rumpled and worn-out clothes that should be relegated to only bathroom clean-up, and the bill collectors remind you that if you had gotten off your ass and worked full time (like self-respecting, better, women everywhere!) you would be able to pay all the bills that cause you live paycheck to paycheck.
Those Ivy League universities on your resume’ don’t matter. The books you’ve written don’t matter. The holiday jobs you’ve worked to buy Hanukkah and Christmas presents don’t matter. Nothing much of what you’ve done matters when you add up all the years and the hours, all the untouchable joys and the unsoothable pains, because you’re a mom and what is a mom? A woman, and what is a woman–not a man.
I have always felt secure in what I have chosen to do, in choosing to stay home and take care of my family and to squeeze out time for writing and freelance work only after all their daily needs have been met. But now I am in my 40’s and I have come to realize that I’m of little value outside my own mind. Yes, the bills are my fault. Yes, the weird food budget is my fault. My husband works 40+ hours a week for a large and prestigious corporation. He does his part. I just clean up messes that get remade in moments, and make bad dinners and I write articles for a few bucks a week and slave over novels that take years to publish. I blog about dead writers, genealogy, knitting, and faith. Who cares? When you think about it, only God. And what is faith, but trusting in Him to have your best interest in mind, to take care of all those little and big things that terrify you. Motherhood is often a lesson in not throwing yourself off the bridge, because there’s a threat that cannot be stopped without God’s intervention. This is especially true for the middle class/everyday mom whose husband is not a chemical engineer or a neurosurgeon.
When you become a parent–mom or dad–you start to worry incessantly over this little world you’ve created, protected, and nourished for years might he harmed in some way. So, when the babies start sleeping, you still can’t. It’s a double-edged sword, and it either grows your faith or shrinks it. Mine has grown, and I sometimes wonder if that’s because I’m a tad insane. The more it hurts, the more I trust Him to keep me going, so I can wash more clothes, drive to more after-school activities, make more weird cheap dinners, balance rail thin budgets, and write novels about war torn Berlin. Why? It’s the big question a lot of mothers ask. Why can’t I get paid for all this effort? Because, dear, you’re not giving back to Uncle Sam, so you’re invisible. You certainly did not enter this field thinking, “I know how I’ll make a quick million! I’ll stay at home teaching the ABC’s to two year olds and making mac and cheese seven times a week for a picky 10 year old!” Stay at home moms are not the only invisible people, however–so are the homeless, the elderly, and the disabled. You’re within a wide bracket of people who are not on the top of list for the most chic and the most wanted in American society. If you don’t contribute, you don’t matter. At least, this is what the tax and social security systems tell you. But don’t believe any of that, because value is not completely comprised of nickles and dimes. It would be helpful to know this when you get deep into the fray of mommyhood, but unfortunately, you only realize this truth after you’ve plodded along for many years and lots of parent/teacher meetings. You only realize this after you begin to believe it. No one else can convince you.
And then your children begin to come into their own. They begin to get accepted to prestigious colleges, they start to live out their dreams. They call and text you to tell you when they’ve started reading that author you suggested. Their faith becomes their own and not yours. Their politics, too. Their ideas and opinions take on shapes you couldn’t possibly have devised. They stop agreeing with all your big ideas and they have their own.
Your writing resume’ begins to get heavy. It holds weight and you get calls every few weeks, “Will you come in for an interview? You have a strong writing history,” and you have to reject the offers, because, you say, “I homeschool my brilliant 11 year old, and I tutor some of my friends’ special needs children in their Language Arts work, so I don’t really have time to work for so little pay for such little value.” Well, you don’t exactly say that, but that’s what you mean.
And the stay at home mother who chose to write indoors, rather than go outdoors to get that little bit of money (that really only serves to allow her to write another day), has some value. People are sad when you decline their work offer, because you simply don’t have time to assist them with all the other important work you do and you’ve been doing.
It is when you look at your babies, when you see your books on the shelf, that you realize all that head-down, straight into the plow, efforts you’ve made all these years are starting to pay off. You kept at it–the mothering, the writing, and your work has accumulated in joys, rewards, faith growth, and four solid individuals who know exactly who they are, because you knew exactly who you were when you stayed home and wrote in the corner.
You didn’t get a paycheck every month. You have no monetary proof of your efforts, but you’ve brought beautiful people into the world and you have remained present for them the entire time. You’ve–for good or bad sometimes–not allowed others to cultivate their daily existence at daycares or a brick and mortar school (not that either of these things are bad, sometimes they are the better alternative). You’ve done the cultivating and supporting yourself, even sometimes homeschooling them for their own health or emotional well being, and you’ve finally started to see the results. You know who you are. You’re reading this, and you’re thinking, “That’s me.” And you know if you aren’t this, and you’re thinking, “Who cares about mothers! I’m so sick of reading about the struggles of stay at home mothers or working mothers or mothers!” Well, if you’re a writer, at least, you can take away the rock steady idea of this. You can take away the idea that writing big or little is less important than writing consistently. Motherhood is the same. Consistency matters more than quantity. Define that as you like.
Sometimes, I have to remind myself that this is why I chose to stay home in the first place. Yes, I knew I it was not the smartest financial move. We would have twice the income, at least, had I been as ambitious out of the home as I have been inside it. But this is me. This is who I am. The introverted mom who never abandoned her children or her writing. When I die, that’s probably what people will remember about me–that I had a lot of kids and I wrote stuff.