Friday, March 2, 2012

The Internal Mommy Wars

Originally posted in May 2010, when I still lived in London, I updated this post after I found the Momastery post on the internal Mommy Wars:

Since I have started this blog, more than a few friends have asked how I have the time to do this with 4 little ones underfoot.  I am usually very organized, which is important, but organization skills only get one so far.   I also have help in the form of 2 part-time nannies and a part-time housekeeper.  I know what follows (not from my friends but from the other readers I hope to have): accusations that I’m privileged, not a real mom and/or don’t know how hard stay at home moms have it.   I'll accept the privileged part.  I am in fact very fortunate that I can have help.  On the other points, I could defend myself outright, claiming no family around and a traveling husband, nannies and I work in tandem, etc.  But a direct defense glosses over a fundamental problem in understanding modern women's roles. 

There are only two women archetypes commonly accepted today: the career woman and the stay at home mother.  One looks to her own needs, the other to the needs of her children.  For the career woman, anything she does for others fraught with angst.  For the stay at home mother, anything she does for herself fraught with guilt.  The tension between these two types colors how most women judge themselves and intensifies the expectations of motherhood

There is, however, a third archetype, a forgotten one: the housewife.
 She focuses not on herself, not on her children, not even--as some might bristle--on her husband, but on an entity greater than the sum of its parts--her family.  The housewife can attend to the needs of herself, her husband, and her children with relative ease (mentally speaking) because she always has a standard, the good of the family, by which to judge her actions.   In contrast, the career or stay at home woman is often at the mercy of the whims of herself or her children, or worse, the winds of public pressure.  Worse still, in her constant failure she tends, intentionally or not, to launch scorekeeping wars with her husband.  In short order, she can reduce men to the status of sperm donor, which wrecks marriages and wreaks havoc in everyone’s lives.

This is harsh, but no matter how much a woman phrases her angst as guilt over the inability to serve others, it is actually resentment at the lack of service to herself.  Distill it, and it is all about her.

JFK's "Ask not" quote has parallels in all aspects of life.  In this case, the threshold realization is to have more concern for the type of wife or mother you are, than the type of husband or child you have. (Somebody has to pour that first glass of wine.)  Once you realize that, then it matters whether you think, for example, a good mother is a helicopter, but a proper focus brings clarity.  When balancing your many roles, you quickly find that hovering is not possible.  (Then, when you stop, you wonder why you ever thought hovering desirable.)

The housewife’s focus on the bigger picture provides a hierarchy.  If the good of the family is the goal, then the health of the marriage is the primary concern.  If her husband also prioritizes the family as a whole, then they are a formidable force.  Rare, however, is the contemporary who asks how I manage my marriage.  They comment upon it, but seem to think it luck. No.

In short, a family/marriage centered enterprise simply bypasses much modern day angst.  

The answer, therefore, to how I can do this blog with 4 underfoot is that balancing my time is a practical exercise without much anxiety.  I have to do things for my children, of course, but I don’t fret that I should be doing some other modern mother thing whenever I sit down to type.  And whenever I am doing for them, I don’t fret that I could be doing something supposedly more meaningful than cooking dinner, dousing a tantrum, or changing a dirty nappy.  The good of the family directs me to spend enough time with them that they are well behaved, happy, and secure, but not to serve them so much that we are in danger of remaking Lord of the Flies and Heathers.  The practical results of this outlook give me a few hours a day, usually, to write.  My kids are still young enough that getting those few hours consecutively is a challenge--that's one of the main things I use the nannies for.

So what if I wasn't fortunate enough to have help?  I would have moved back home to be closer to family, American fridges and washer/dryers, and big yards.  I would have depended on crock pots more.  I would have been more sleep deprived.  I would have taxed all my organization skills.  And my return to engagement with the outside world would have started around now, instead of a year ago.  That is, it only would have changed the practical details.  I would have made do with what we had.  It would have been harder, but still possible.  


Anonymous said...

My god, that is brilliant. I have never read anything so superbly put about our roles as women. Your reputation as someone who explains things so clearly is well deserved.

Oh, and you are right, I did forget to mention the volume button that we seek to find on you Americans, but never do! You obviously have to eventually tune yourselves into us so I shall no longer cringe when in a restaurant because if you guys can live in happy and ignorant bliss of the attention you draw then why can't I?! Frankly, most of the time us Brits find American conversations to be highly amusing and educational concerning Brit-taboo subjects, and if we are on a dinner date will prob be sitting in mostly awkward silence once we have discussed the weather prospects for the next week anyway so the tabletalk across the room will help fill the gap......

Gosh, this blogging/ commenting business is such fun!

AHLondon said...

For those wondering about the volume button M&M commented upon, it was another post and we were new at having conversations by text, email, and comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this post. Somehow "housewife" is old-fashioned, and not a worthy goal. But SAHM is. So now we have husbands migrating to the couch and other related phenomena.
My 4 y/o practically dropped her nap, but I still enforce quiet time, which she needs. Sometimes she frets that her friends don't nap. Well, that's tough. I noticed that a lot of her friends have "child-centered" mothers, and that they stop napping by the time they turn two.

AHLondon said...

Feminists invented the SAHM mom. After they socked it to the patriarchy, burned their bras, and emerged as the no-bicycles-for-fish powerhouses, they couldn't "fall" back into housewifery when the pull of motherhood overwhelmed them. So they made domestic life to have nothing to do with a house or their status as a wife. They made it about the children. It's obvious with respect to husbands, but also note the general state of SAHM houses. Those who can afford housekeepers would never scrub their own floors. Those who can't afford help live in, well sometimes, filth, and rationalize that housekeeping is a lower priority than child rearing. It is, but not so much that it doesn't matter at all. I have a good quote on that point, which I used here:
BTW, keep that quiet time as long as you can!

Paul said...

After many years of living as a bachelor, I am now trying to adapt to having a wife and a teenage (step)daughter. It is a challenge and family life can be stressful!