Motherhood, fulfillment and careers

I’ve been reading a series of blog posts about Catholic motherhood and careers (at Words, Words, Vox Nova and Sarahndipity to name just a few), and it reminded me of something I’ve often felt: it’s tough to be a woman these days.

Physically, of course, it’s much easier than it ever has been. But spiritually, mentally, I think we really bear the brunt of the drastic changes that occurred in first-world countries in the 20th century. As I’ve said before, I think that the impact that the breakdown of small, lifelong communities has had on society — particularly women — cannot be overestimated.

For all of human history up until recently most people lived in the same place for their entire lives. Family and friends were close by, and in many cases women got together every day and shared tasks like washing, food preparation, water gathering, etc. The kids ran around and played together and the women interacted while they worked (I recently came across this comment by Essy that nicely illustrated this point and the impact it had on women’s satisfaction with “drudge work” like laundry). This sort of living situation provided women with:

  • Adult conversation

  • Breaks from the 24/7 care of their children
  • Community recognition for accomplishments and talents (i.e. if you were the best seamstress or the best piano-player in the village, everyone recognized it)
  • Clear, important goals and challenges (i.e. women’s work was far more challenging, time-consuming and critical to survival)
  • Stability in case of emergency (e.g. if a woman’s husband died, left, was abusive, etc. her parents, siblings, and other extended family were nearby and could provide support and a place to live)

I think that when a lot of moms talk about wanting a career or express frustration that men can so easily “have it all” (meaning have both children and a career), it is these things that they yearn for. These five elements that have always been a natural part of human existence are now very hard to find outside of the workforce.

For some, of course, wanting a job is purely a financial issue. But I’m thinking here of the many women I know who love being mothers yet are surprised to find themselves aching for something they had in the workforce, even though they don’t necessarily need the money. We’re designed to live in small communities, and I think it’s really hard to feel content with daily life if you’re on your own little desert island like most of us stay-at-home moms are today: you have no adult conversation; get no recognition for your accomplishments since nobody has any idea what you do all day; have little emotional or physical support other than from your husband; and can’t even banish rowdy kids outside to play since there are no other children around and most of the people in your neighborhood are strangers anyway.

Those of you who are familiar with my other site know that all of this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I see so many women conflicted and guilt-ridden because they really want to stay home with their children but find themselves feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled at home. I strongly believe that this desperation so many modern moms feel is not inherent to motherhood, but rather a modern phenomenon caused in large part by social isolation.

A lot of women contact me through my other site and ask for my help finding alternatives to working outside the house. They desperately need those five elements I listed above, yet don’t feel that getting back on the career track is the right solution for their families.

To be honest, I struggle with answering these questions. The short answer is: it’s hard. Personally, my husband and I made huge, 180-degree changes in our lives and our mothers’ lives to be able to put down roots and live close to one another so that we have our own little community (as I type this my kids are playing at my mom’s house down the street), and I use my background as a web developer to do various projects for an intellectual challenge. But I know that these options don’t work for everyone, and I’m eagerly searching for other suggestions to offer the women who contact me.

I’m interested to hear what you readers think about all this. I know that the feelings of being overwhelmed and unfulfilled staying home with children are epidemic in the wider culture, but I’m not sure if it’s as much of an issue among serious Catholics and other Christians. What do you think?

Also, I’d like to hear any suggestions from those of you who may have struggled with any of this. Other than getting a job, how can you find a way to get things like regular adult interaction, breaks from being the sole person in charge of the children, intellectual/academic-type challenges, a sense of community, etc.?

It might not be easy, but I really believe that “having it all” does not have to involve having a job.

Like this post?

Sign up for my updates and you'll never miss another post.

Comments

  1. Kate says

    Letsee…

    I suppose in a lot of ways I had all of it before we moved…but no financial security.

    Then we moved, and I found we finally had financial security, but no community, friends, babysitters, etc.

    Here is how it stands now:
    1)Adult conversation : Once a week, on Thursday nights, my husband comes home a little bit early and I go out for a ‘girls night’ with some single friends we met here. These aren’t bosom friends, but we have a lot of fun and I get to talk about non-kid stuff and blow off steam.

    2)Breaks. Well, I don’t get many of these. But my husband is wonderful about letting me have some time in the evenings for a bath, or a walk, or just to read my blogs. And then there’s those thursday nights. But I could really use more of this, especially for running errands (not looking forward to taking a two year old with me to the DMV for a new license).

    3) Community recognition. Well…I’m starting a newsletter for young Catholic wives and moms. It was originally just a way to stay in touch with my college friends, but I’m really enjoying the compliments and recognition that come with using my talents this way.

    4)Goals and Challenges.
    I make my own goals and challenges. Now it’s the newsletter, making yogurt and homemade granola. In the past it has been mastering baking recipes and trying new dishes. I do a lot of the budgeting in our household, even though that doesn’t come naturally, and the challenge has been good for me.

    5)Stability in case of an emergency. Well, if it were a short term emergency, we’ve probably made enough friends here and in our parish to sweat out a couple of weeks. If it were a big or chronic emergency – back to Michigan, where our family and friends and community await. Knowing that we both have large and supportive families has made the decision to stay home much easier.

    Now if we could only afford to move back there permanently, I think I’d have all the pieces! All I would still need for perfection would be to live next door to my favorite sister-in-law and her husband. 🙂

  2. Melanie B says

    Since my husband worked from home when we were married and only just started a new job that requires a daily commute, I am really coming to terms with this list for the first time this summer. (I just wrote about this topic on my blog.)

    I’m an introvert and he’s my best friend, so for me just having him around during my pregnancy and the first year of my daughter’s life satisfied most of the needs on my list. I’m still not sure how I’m going to fill in all the gaps; but for me the internet and the phone are both important ways of connecting to other adults and intellectual stimulation. Here’s how it broke down before. I’m still evaluating how it will work out in the future.

    I had adult conversation at my disposal most of the time. Now, I can still email him or ichat if I need to. I can call my parents (semi-retired) or my sister. I can blog and read blogs.

    I had breaks when I needed them. I could run to the store, take a nap, etc because he was right there. And evening time didn’t always have to be our “us” time so I could read, work on projects, etc after the baby was in bed. This is obviously much harder now. One thing I do is encourage my daughter to be very independent. She’s quite capable of playing by herself for an hour while I read or do housework.

    Community recognition isn’t so big for me. I guess I could say that for me finding all sorts of blogs by stay-at-home and homeschooling moms made me feel that there are people in the world who understand and value the choices I’ve made, who are going through the same things. And I’ve found an appreciative audience for my writing via my own blog. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me, now it’s a positive way of making connections, developing a community of like-minded Catholic moms who really care. I discovered this last part especially during my miscarriage and cancer scare. I received a number of personal emails that really touched me as well as many promises to pray and expressions of concern. My blog readers aren’t anonymous strangers, they’re real friends.

    For me goals and challenges have been something I’ve made for myself as well. The life of the mind is really my highest goal and it’s easy to have with a load of good books and blogs to provide an intellectual forum, a virtual bookclub, etc. Also, one of my passions is education and so I’ve focused much effort into learning as much as I can about homeschooling. That effort has given me concrete goals and a satisfying outlet for my passion.

    As far as stability, I’m lucky in that my husband’s family is all local. I have a sister-in-law who’s also a stay-at-home mom who is now just ten minutes away. She can watch the baby when I have a dr.’s appt or an emergency and we try to get together at least once a week for play dates. Through her I’m also meeting the members of the local Catholic homeschooling group. I’ve tagged along on one of their outings and met other moms and their kids at her house.

    Is it completely satisfying? No. I’d still love to know my next door neighbors and the people across the street and to have my mom and my sister live close by. I have a hard time getting out of the house because I’m an introvert and find it takes effort to get things done.

    I don’t have many suggestions for anyone else, though.

  3. Anna says

    When my oldest was small I got Adult conversation by going to a playgroup once a week and spending a LOT of time at the bookstore across the street which was run by a very friendly woman. While my son still napped that was my break from the 24/7 care since he was a good sleeper who took very reliable naps. I have never felt much need for community recognition but I have had strangers complement me on my parenting which does give me a boost. My goal and challenge was (and still is) to overcome my natural laziness and actually become a good housekeeper. I also did needlepoint projects etc.

    Then when my son was older I had to go back to work part-time for financial reasons. My husband has finally found a career that enables me to stay at home full time again so I am finding myself facing these issues again. With older children the playgroups don’t work anymore but I have found my adult companionship and challenges in my decision to homeschool my children.
    I belong to a homeschooling group that meets once a month and at other times whenever someone feels like getting together.

    I am finding that being with my children 24/7 is becoming more of a challenge. I could definitely use more breaks since my youngest does not nap well and is at the age that she needs constant supervision. I know that this will improve as she gets older and also as my older children settle in and make friends in our new neighbourhood.

    And of course I have a large and supportive extended family so there is always someone I can phone and talk to. My mother and two of my sisters are also SAHMs and at least one is always available to talk to.

    Anna

  4. Denise says

    Wow! Great topic!! As a military family we move frequently, but thankfully we often move into areas where we know someone from a previous location, so that helps somewhat with always being new on the block.

    Some thoughts I had upon reading your post—I do think that the feeling of isolation or “is this all there is?” is common among all stay at home moms, religious faithful for or not. I base this on talks I’ve had with women in a variety of moms’ groups.

    As for ways to encourage adult interaction, I would highly recommend MOPS groups (Christian based, childcare offered, a time to mentor and minister to the mother!) and MOMS groups where there is a calendar of events each month.

    I think one of the most important things Moms can do is find something they are passionate about —reading, a craft, volunteering–whatever, but something that is meaningful to them. Once you know what you enjoy, you simply have to find some time to do it. Being a mother is wonderful, but it isn’t the only thing that defines me. I love my vocation, but I also love to read and write and volunteer. Having a chance to do these things helps me to be a better mom.

  5. Leticia says

    This has been on my mind a lot lately, as my blog has led to a lot of other worthy projects, establishing a home-based career of sorts. I have become involved in: writing a book on special needs moms, and how their Catholic faith helps them, a screenplay on the life of St. Patrick, starting an EWTN affiliate radio station on Long Island, promoting the pro-life movie “Bella”, promoting Hollywood-homeschool dialogue with Walden Media, advocating for the right to life of children with Down syndrome by promoting DS awareness (I have just posted on this)and my freelance writing, recently for “Faith and Family”, and soon in “Celebrate Life”. Whew!
    I love these projects, and thanks to summer, I can devote much more time to them, since homeschooling is over for awhile, and I’m not teaching English as a Second Language at the college till fall.

    In our financial situation, I must help out my husband, so I’m praying that these projects do lead to some income, so that I can quit my job, and work from home. It is a bit overwhelming, but I believe firmly that, like my pro-life activism, involvement in these activities enriches my family life.
    My girls are very involved in all this, I brought my oldest Gabbi to Hollywood (she’s 14) for a movie premiere of a film about Down syndrome, “Mr Blue Sky”, and my middle daughter Isabella (age 10)and youngest Christina (age 5) accompany me to other events and social gatherings,( many of them in New York City, which they love).

    We meet with fellow homeschoolers twice a week for Tuesdays in the park, and Friday rosary/youth night, and my parents live an hour away, so there’s my support and safety net.
    I was happily anonymous at home for 15 years, but my frustration at lack of recognition from my boss at my teaching job, led me to start blogging(I’ve always wanted to be a writer) last October, and next October, I’m speaking at the Society of Catholic Social Scientists Conference on the impact of Catholic blogging.
    My life in the last 9 months is a testament to that impact.

  6. Liz says

    Great post, Jen.

    As Anna suggested, playgroup was the number one way I survived being at home with my very young children and meeting other women and engaging in adult conversation. I was lucky enough to find through my parish a group of great women who I am still friends with 18 years later. The playgroup is a huge benifit for children and makes transition to school so much easier for them. They already had good friends on the first day of school. My oldest is 21 and still is close to some of his playgroup pals.

    When my youngest started school, I started volunteering. First at school, and then the parish Women’s Council and the Ladies of Charity, where I met many older women who have raised their children and are now enjoying grandchildren. How wonderful to get that wise perspective from incredibly strong women who have weathered many family storms and celebrated many family triumphs. I’ve used my working skills in graphics/writing to write and produce newsletters, press releases, promotional brochures, etc. for pro life organizations, refugee resettlement, St. Vincent de Paul outreach, etc. I’ve gained leadership and administrative skills in holding various offices in these groups. And I’ve made friends with wonderful Catholic women all over the city and the state where we live. Several of my lifelong friends have formed a faith sharing group. We do bible studies and book studies and pray together, and friends who pray together stay together. I am so blessed to have so many faith filled holy women for my friends. The best benefit is that we pray for eachother always.

    I adore my husband, and spending time with friends in prayer and study and common charity work takes a huge amount of pressure off of him. I’ve found (and learned from older women) that men are just not all that interested in hearing the minute details of the day in the life of a woman and mother. I can confide all of the details to my women friends who completely understand, and spend time loving and adoring my husband when he comes home from work instead of burdening him with the small frustrations of my day. And if he doesn’t hear about the little frustrations I’ve had with boy number one, or two or three, he can be perfectly delighted with them, He is a great father, coach, teacher and playmate and they love and respect him.

    From my women friends I’ve found comfort in learning that life is pretty much the same in every home. And that behavior in my children that I’ve thought was so appalling is really quite normal and that is a great reliever of anxiety and guilt that is bred in isolation. The need to be the ‘perfect’ mom is just not there and my whole family is so much better for it.

    The volunteer work I do is certainly financially unrewarding, but I believe it is a huge investment for me and my family as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord. I am expecting a big payoff and the Lord does not disappoint.

    God bless you, Jen. I really enjoy your blog.

  7. P says

    Great post, Jen, but naturally we always tend to see things from our own perspective – partly, perhaps, due to pride, but also because it is really the only perspective we have.

    So that being said, I would like to offer some thoughts on the issue from the male side of things.

    To kick it off, I would note that our entire society is *obsessed* with women, and their point of view, which is treated as inherently infallible and in every way superior to men’s.

    Just consider how modern psychology essentially treats the words “sane” and “feminine” as synonyms. Note how “you need to get in touch with your masculine side” is not now, nor ever will be, a cliche in our society.

    Likewise in sociology a term like “patriarchy” is practically a swear word, while “matriarchy” carries no negative connotative whatsoever.

    I saw a bumper sticker on a car not long ago saying something along the lines of “If women ruled the world then there would be no more war and all of our schools would have as much money as they need” or some such nonsense. Just try to imagine a bumper sticker extolling, in all seriousness, the virtues of a male-dominated society.

    Illustrated in art, consider how the father character on any sitcom is represented, in comparison to the mother. He will invariably be powerless, incompetent, and generally clueless.

    All of these are just examples of the general societal view of male irrelevance. It is largely taken as a given in society (however blatantly untrue) that father’s are basically disposable. If a woman happens to want to have a man in her life, then great for her, but if she wants to have a family without one, through whatever means, than that is just as great, and anyone who tries to say otherwise is a bigot/homophobe/etc. In the family, as in all other things, the woman’s desires is uniquely and solely decisive. From the very life of the child to what sort of family, if any, that child will have, the man is highly lucky to even be notified of the decision, not to mention having any actual say in it.

    There is a great emptiness in “having it all” from the male perspective. A man may happen to have a family, but society will tell him every day that they don’t really need him. And a man may have a job, but as it turns out there are relatively few men who are that interested in money apart from the meaning and function it gives them in life. So the man is there with his job, but his wife probably has hers, too; she is as likely as not to make as much or more than he does, and if she doesn’t he is made to feel indecent about that, too – he should be for some reason ashamed at what can only be the result of “discrimination,” etc. that is somehow his fault.

    So to parallel your points re: women, let us take a look at what was offered men in “all of human history up until recently.”

    1. A station: men have had a place in most societies. It wasn’t always the highest place, but it was a place. Every man knew who he was and what was expected of him. The only role modeled for men in modern society is a sort of combination sperm donor/court jester-without-the-respect.

    2. A function: men have historically been needed. Most men, even the lowliest, could play the “It’s a Wonderful Life” scenario and see that their wife, their children would suffer from their absence. In contrast, our society, most especially the Cult of the Single Mother, has as its central dogma, “your children are just fine without you.”

    3. A norm: every society has had a rule which it held up to men as a standard for them to live up to. From Chivalry, to Bushido, to the more recent (yet already discarded) notion of “the gentleman,” men had something to compare themselves to and strive against. Men, as it turns out, are really, really lazy, but competitive, and will generally rise or sink to wherever the bar is set. Our society is notably rather lacking where exacting standards are concerned.

    I think it would be pointless and stupid to try to play out the ridiculous “War of the Sexes” and have the “who got screwed most in the destruction of Christendom” contest, because in point of fact we all lost, and badly, because at the end of the day the hallmark of the modern world is the continued delusional attempt to found a social order on any other foundation than Jesus Christ and the Truths of His Catholic Church, within Whom (and which) all of our lives, male and female, find the only true fulfillment and purpose of their being and without Whom all men, and all women, are doomed to an emptiness that is never filled, and a thirst that is never slaked.

    Not to derail your thread, but I would love to hear people’s thoughts thoughts toward addressing the sort of spiritual anchorlessness of men in the modern family. So as not to clutter things up here, feel free to direct your comments over here

  8. Kate says

    P,

    Considering that Jen’s post was directed towards the challenges faced by the modern stay-at-home-mom, to be truly parallel your discussion would have to be specific towards the work away from home man. If that were what you were going for, I would observe that what has been common and accepted in the previous century and a half – the man that works in a factory or an office and commutes to work, spending 50+ hours away from his family – is an aberration compared to the norm of men working where they live, either tending the land or running shops next to/under/over/near their homes.

    The context you mention – the ‘oh, poor men’ complaint – is based on perception and attitudes, not practical difficulties posed by modern realities, like Jen outlines for women.

  9. Sarah L. says

    One thing that helped me enormously with being a SAHM with three kids ages 4 and under was joining a Catholic Scripture Study group at my parish. CSS lasts about 30 weeks (to cover one book of the Bible). It gives me 2 hours each Wednesday morning to interact with other Catholic adults (mostly women at our group). Each meeting involves prayer, scripture study, song, usually a talk, and fellowship. The program also gives me structure for reading scripture throughout the week as there are study questions to prepare for our meetings.

    There is a wonderful children’s program that runs during our study time so our kids have a safe place to play with other children. The children are learning Bible stories in their own group, and the women who run the program are wonderul. I had never left me kids with anyone besides their grandparents, but the kids really like the program and I feel secure about leaving them for the 2 hours. I encourage other moms to get involved if your parish or a nearby one has such a program. I realized how much it means to me now that we are on summer break!

    Also, I have found that volunteering as a catechist can be a good thing for SAHMS, if it works into your family’s schedule. The classes usually require you to be away from home for only about 2 hours/week, but you can spend some of your “down time” during the week preparing your lessons.

  10. 4andcounting says

    I agree wholeheartedly that women need all of the things you listed. But I also think we are being told that we should feel unfulfilled in our stay-home roles and that there is something lacking, even when there may not be. We can all agree that our situations could always be better, whether working outside the home or staying home full time or some blend of both. I’m fortunate that I have been able to find ways to meet my needs in all the areas mentioned, but that is not the complete solution, in my opinion.

    I know I need to spend more time developing a sense of contentment and gratefulness for where I am right now, with or without improvement. I need to pray for the grace to truly and completely surrender to God’s will for me in raising a family. For me, I still haven’t done that and I believe that is where a lot of my dissatisfaction comes from. When I talk to women that I feel have done that more fully, I see true peace and happiness in them, regardless of how many breaks they get or how much support they have. Too many women are buying into the idea that we have to want more or that we need more, when in fact all we need is Christ. JPII, when speaking to youth, said something like this: That feeling of emptiness that you try to fill with media, money and other worldly things will never be filled by earthly things. That yearning is for Christ, and He alone can fill it. That was not a direct quote, more of a paraphrase, but the idea is there.

    One last thing, in my experience, our parishes have failed in many ways to reach out to the women of the church. Whether stay-home or not, our women have been overlooked in terms of ministry directed at them specifically. Same for men, in my opinion. How can we develop that peace in our vocation if we are not nourished and encouraged by our own parish family?

  11. barbfromcincy says

    I’ve been dealing with these problems through almost 21 years of motherhood…for most of those years I can say that there have been many times when I have been the only SAHM in the neighborhood..very strange knowing that my children and I are the only people home.
    The dear Lord has sent people into my life when I’ve really needed them to feel less lonely.
    Interacting with other homeschool families and blogging have helped a great deal.
    I do try to get out of the house everyday…going to daily Mass has been beneficial in many ways. I receive the benefits of daily Communion, and we get to interact with the other people there…you tend to become friendly with the people you attend daily Mass with.
    Many times, however, I have been lonely and I often think that perhaps our dear Lord has allowed me these times so that I turn to Him.
    I have often lamented how our society now has men away from home all day. When our society was agriculturally based, men were home all day or in their shop near home. My grandparents were dairy farmers and they worked together and my grandfather would be in and out of the house all day. My father grew up spending his day (except for school time) with his father. How I would dearly love for my boys to have this advantage! I didn’t think about it so much when my daughter was a teenager, but now that my boys are 15 and 13, I have a difficult time keeping them occupied in a useful manner, especially during the summer. During the schoolyear, much of our day is taken up with homeschooling; but in the summer, I wish they had some honest work to do each day. I think it helps to teach children responsibiility and even though our boys have their daily chores, they have way too much free time. They would gain so much by having their dad home guiding them all day (and I would benefit too!)
    God’s blessings on all!!

  12. Amber says

    I feel like this has become much less of an issue for me. I’m not sure how much of it is my awakening to faith and my deepening relationship with God (which was nonexistent when I left the workforce) and how much of it is because I’ve found my stride and settled into this life now that I’ve been out of the workforce for five years. I think both aspects have a lot to do with it, really.

    In faith I found an awakening to the greater good of what I’m doing, and the strength and encouragement to turn away from selfishness and pity.

    I don’t feel like I need the same breaks and such that I used to, because I instead can turn to the situation and commit more deeply and engage more fully, which generally completely changes the situation. I tend to get my breaks by waking up early, so that I can spend some time reading the Bible, chatting with my husband (who is a real early riser!) and eating breakfast by myself.

    I don’t feel like I need all that much in the way of adult conversation – my husband, blogs, and a weekly opportunity to chat with friends at our park day works quite well for that. I used to want more, but now I am quite content with this.

    As far as community recognition, I’m not sure how important this is… but come to think of it, perhaps that’s why I blog. 🙂

    And for intellectual stimulation, well, if that’s a problem then I think it shows a lack of imagination! I have my own projects to keep me intellectually busy – more than I have time for, really. I read a lot, and widely, I’m learning Latin, and I’m studying the Catechism and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa. Keeping engaged intellectually has never been a problem for me!

    As far as stability goes, we’re currently living in the same town as my parents (which is not without its own difficulties!) and we’ll be moving soon to an area where we’ll have more family, but on my husband’s side. I’m really looking forward to it – we’ll even be living within walking distance to my in-laws. If something were to happen to my husband’s job we would be in a bit of a tight place, but I think we’ll be able to make something work.

    Generally I find that when I’m feeling overwhelmed, unhappy, or full of pity for myself it means that I need to engage with my kids more on their level and stop trying to do my own thing quite so much (be it cleaning, computer stuff, or whatever). I only have two, and they are pretty far apart (5 and 18 mo) so perhaps it would be different if there were more or if they were closer together. But I find that doing something like taking them outside so they can run around and bring me “treasures” changes everything.

    I was so much more unhappy about every aspect of my life before I became a Christian, and while things certainly aren’t perfect I have so much more in the way of tools and understanding to help me along.

  13. Christine says

    Many of the things that other women here have listed are very helpful. Like the others I think getting out for playgroups/moms’ groups/MOPS/etc is extremely important. So are volunteering in your circles and making time for yourself at home, etc. But I think the feeling you are describing goes further than that.

    It is funny that you posted this today – I was just talking to my husband about it this morning. Maybe I am spoiled but I do have many of the things described in the comments – good community, outside the house activities, family stability and living nearby, and ways to volunteer.

    And yet I feel like something is lacking. I keep talking about possibly wanting a job. I wonder if part of this is because it is summer and I am looking for the routine of the school year (my kids aren’t school age yet – but the pattern adds stability and some business to our lives) I also wonder if I simply am not listening well enough to something that God might be calling me to do, because I am so focused on me and feeling like I want something else.

    I don’t have an answer and even feel presumptous typing this. We are so blessed in so many ways. I always come back to the thought that my heart is restless because it is not fully resting in the Lord (paraphrase of St. Augustine). I would guess that even men feel this way – like there is something more they were designed for than the everyday stuff of life.

    Maybe I’m totally off, but I wanted to contribute. It seems like even when I have gifts aplenty I want more.

  14. Sarahndipity says

    Thanks for blogging me, Jen!

    There’s a lot of good points here. I think you’re right that the reason many stay-at-home moms feel unfulfilled is because society has changed and we no longer have the communities we once did.

    I have kind of a different perspective from a lot of the commenters here, because I’m a working mother out of financial necessity. And let me tell you, it sucks. I would love to stay home. In a couple of years we should be able to afford to have me work part-time instead of full-time, which will be wonderful. Don’t take it for granted that you can all afford to be home!! Leaving my 3-month-old to go back to work was pure torture. If I found out tomorrow that I could stay home, I’d be on cloud 9. I could never take it for granted, having experienced being a working mother.

    My day job is not a source of fulfillment for me. I completely understand the need for recognition by the larger community, but in my case, the thing that fulfills me the most is writing poetry, which is something that I can do from home and makes very little money, if any at all. I would find it more fulfilling to stay home, because I would have more time to write and seek publication. (Not to mention the fact that I would have more time to do the laundry, grocery shopping, housework, oil changing, and other five million pieces of random minutia that are now relegated to weekends, crowding out much of our “fun” time.) As it is, it’s very hard to find time to write poetry. It’s hard to find time to take a shower. We literally go months without vacuuming sometimes. But I digress…

    I also realize that I’m in a unique situation; for a lot of people, the thing they really love can’t be done as easily during naptime. As I said in my post, the workplace needs to change so that more types of work can be more easily integrated with child-rearing.

    I suppose in the past times women got more recognition for being good at housework or whatever; that wouldn’t really cut it for me. I guess I’m more internally motivated, and the only recognition that really matters to me is recognition for doing something that I love well. Being recognized as the best at doing laundry would not make doing laundry any more fulfilling to me, because for me it’s inherently unfulfilling. Getting a raise at work is nice, but only because it puts me one step closer to being able to afford to not work as much. Getting a poem published is so much more fulfilling to me, even though it doesn’t pay anything (usually).

    As far as adult interaction goes, I’m also an introvert, like Melanie, so I probably don’t need as much interaction with other people during the day. I’m also very lucky in that both sets of grandparents live nearby, in addition to nearly all our friends from high school and college. None of our friends have kids yet, since we married and had a child at a young age, but they all adore our daughter. With a 3-year-old, my husband and I can’t go out as much as we used to, but we have frequent bbq’s and other get-togethers at our house with our friends. So in that sense, we’re very lucky.

    One thing I will say is that as my daughter has gotten older, I find I need more breaks from her, whereas when she was a baby leaving her was like leaving my arm at home. It is pretty nice to get to work in the morning and sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee in a nice, quiet office where there’s no little person climbing on top of me. That’s the best thing about having to work. I’m not trying to say it’s all terrible. There are advantages and disadvantages to every situation; the grass is always greener.

  15. Anonymous says

    great topic!! when the kids were little a Catholic play group saved my skin… now that they’re older, homeschooling has filled my need for: hobbies, artistic expression, reading, shopping (buying curriculum can be as fun to shop for as clothes) scrapbooking (keeping track of grades and lesson planners)i could go on but, you get the point. cordelia

  16. Anonymous says

    My children are 18 and 15 and I wish I could go back! I have been where you are, Jen and everyone. I quit my job when my first one was born, and we halved our income. I had $100 for two weeks after the house payment! (really)

    I did what you all did: started a playgroup, joined the Ladies Guild, traded sitting hours with a friend.

    I think what I missed most was the competition and socialness of the workplace. I know that sounds wierd. . . I started playing tennis when the youngest was 2 and that helped fulfill that need. We all are the same but so different. Identify what YOU NEED and go out and make it happen!! You can do it!

    I decided early on that my husband wanted to see me happy. I needed to figure out how to make that happen. We had a deal: he bathed the kids on MOn&Wed, and I did Tue/Thurs. If I wanted a shopping trip/friends night/movie night, I planned it on Mon/Wed.

    I can’t tell you all how important a mother’s job is. It all adds up. Every little thing you do now will result in lots of memories and habits for the future. Start now making family traditions and rules and customs.

    I thought of something yesterday. . . a soldier lays down his life for our country and mothers lay down their lives for the family. We both sacrifice.

  17. Anonymous says

    Well, there’s a difference between “having it all” and “having it all at the same time”. I think you can have many things, but you have to realize you can’t have them all at the same time, and maybe not even in the order you’d like to have them.

    Secondly, it’s too easy to look backwards to the past and see only the good and ignore the bad. Yes, we had a built-in social structure. But our husbands could also beat the living daylights out without serious threat of accountablity. Yes, those who were creative seamstresses or cooks had an outlet, but those who were gifted with talents that lay in traditionally “male” areas were not so lucky. And that support system you speak of didn’t always work so well. People died younger — there weren’t always extended families for very long. Parents and siblings weren’t so quick to take in extra mouths to feed. Women were expected to suck up a little battery and abuse as part of their lot in life — and priests and ministers would send them right back to abusive husbands more often than not, too.

    Thirdly, enough women were not satisfied or content or fulfilled through this traditional community you speak of that they shook things up, rocked the boat, and fought for change.

    Now we have choices. It’s good that women with gifted minds and with specific talents can become lawyers and doctors and engineers and scientists and politicians and professors, and so on. This is good.

    Does having more choices mean decision-making and prioritizing gets a little more complicated? Yep. But it beats the alternative.

    Young mothers can take night courses, can stay certified/licensed in their area of expertise, can work flex-hours, can use their skills in volunteerism, and all this shifts and changes as children grow older and require less of their time.

    Also, stay-at-home moms aren’t the only women who feel isolated. Working women in high-power careers are just as isolated by long hours and stress and constant travel.

    There are plenty of ways to combine motherhood with personal development and fulfillment, and your way might not look like someone else’s. But it never was any of their business, anyway, so…

  18. Veronica Mitchell says

    I was a SAHM for about eighteen months before I discovered blogging, and it made a huge difference to me. Obviously it doesn’t provide a break from the kids, but it does provide a community where I felt respected, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with developing a new skill.

    The break from the kids came through a change in my husband’s work schedule so that he is much more able to take the kids for a few hours so I can get away. Unfortunately, that means I don’t very often get to get away with him, but we weather it.

  19. Sarahndipity says

    Yes, those who were creative seamstresses or cooks had an outlet, but those who were gifted with talents that lay in traditionally “male” areas were not so lucky.

    So true. This is what I was getting at in my comment. For me at least, it’s not just any kind of recognition that I find fulfilling; it’s recognition in something that I truly love. Being a seamstress or cook doesn’t fall in that category.

  20. KristineFranklin says

    We had to move far away from family in order to be able to afford to live on my husband’s schoolteacher salary. It was hard, but it was the right choice. We traded a house payment of $600 per month for a house payment of $180 per month. I’m not making this up. In our town you can still buy a home for under $100k. How much do you want to stay home? It seems to me that a lot of young couples are very set on WHERE they live – not willing, for example, to move to North Dakota or Iowa in order for Mom to stay home. The other thing I see developing in the culture (and I’ve read studies to support it) is that today’s young men are not willing, for the most part, to marry a woman who has no earning potential. If that’s true, how willing will he be to take on the burden of being the sole breadwinner? Hearts need to change, as well as attitudes. And young couples need to honestly ask themselves if they have truly done EVERYTHING they can to cut their living costs down so that Dad can be The Man. My two cents!

  21. Jennifer F. says

    It’s too easy to look backwards to the past and see only the good and ignore the bad.

    I didn’t mean to suggest with this post that everything was better in the past. I wouldn’t go back and live 100+ years ago if you handed me a time machine — ack, no air conditioner! I was trying to focus in on one aspect of life that has changed that has made it psychologically difficult to take yourself out of the workforce.

    Our husbands could also beat the living daylights out without serious threat of accountablity.

    I feel like just as people on one side of the debate accuse the other side of idealizing the past, the other side is often too quick to vilify the past. Yes, women were abused. They still are today. And while there may not have been as much governmental protection in place, living near family was quite a fallback. What sane father or brother would look the other way knowing that their daughter or sister was being abused? Yes, I’m sure it happened. But I don’t think that it was as widespread as it’s often made out to be.

    Those who were creative seamstresses or cooks had an outlet, but those who were gifted with talents that lay in traditionally “male” areas were not so lucky.

    I agree that it’s great that today both men and women have options for fulfillment outside of their traditional roles.

    Enough women were not satisfied or content or fulfilled through this traditional community you speak of that they shook things up, rocked the boat, and fought for change.

    But it’s interesting to look at *when* that started happening…about the same time traditional communities started to break down. Surely if it was so bad for women for all of human history it wouldn’t have taken us 10,000 years to do something about it.

    Also, stay-at-home moms aren’t the only women who feel isolated. Working women in high-power careers are just as isolated by long hours and stress and constant travel.

    I agree that probably everyone in our society feels somewhat isolated, but it is a BIG problem among women who stay home. When I was on the career track I traveled a lot, worked 70+ hour weeks, etc. and it was lonely in some ways. But I did have SOME adult conversation (even if many of my coworkers annoyed me). It’s different being completely alone all the time with not a single adult around to talk to other than your husband.

    Now we have choices. It’s good that women with gifted minds and with specific talents can become lawyers and doctors and engineers and scientists and politicians and professors, and so on. This is good.

    I think the intent of my post was not clear. My take is not “wouldn’t it be great if we could transport ourselves back to 1800!”, but that when women feel unfulfilled at home they too often jump to thinking “therefore I must have a career”, even though it’s not what they truly want. (For some women, yes, it is truly what they want. I’m not talking about them.) My goal is to offer alternatives to fulfillment for women who are frustrated staying at home but don’t necessarily want to get back on the career track.

  22. Anonymous says

    I was a SAHM all my life, did it for 22 years (just literally today signed the guarantor form for my youngest’s apartment in NYC for next school year – yay!! – we’re finally empty nesters for at least this August until next August), and I know how isolating it can be. I married young, had my first baby right away (got pregnant on my honeymoon), and stayed at home from the start. As a younger woman married to a considerably older man, I was living in an area with older, more established families, and it was more often than not assumed that I was the babysitter, especially since I had my kids one right after the other.

    It isn’t easy. But I did find that if you didn’t want to be isolated, you didn’t have to be. You just had to put yourself out there a bit, get creative, be flexible and make your own opportunities.

    And which came first — women’s rights or the shift from traditional society to current societal norms? Was one even first, were they parallel but separate events, or were they merely different facets of the same event? And where do you place civil rights in this shift, or evolution, or, if you must, “breakdown”?

    Anyway, as I said, there are great opportunities today for young moms who want more community involvement, or more creative outlets, or even more societal affirmation of their choices. I don’t see as bleak a picture as you paint. But then I live in a NYC suburb where more and more young women are having larger families and are staying home.

    BTW — you should read the Sunday Times article on Park Slope. Seems like this utopean community full of familes w/SAHMs exists. In New York City, of all places…

  23. lyrl says

    I don’t have any personal experience in this area, but this sounds like a great post to me.

    No comments on the post itself, but I wanted to comment on this: [i]Surely if it was so bad for women for all of human history it wouldn’t have taken us 10,000 years to do something about it.[i]

    I believe the position of women in society has varied greatly throughout human history. The situation in nineteenth century America when women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton began our modern women’s rights movements was not the same as that in earlier times. My impression was that women’s liberties in Western society have been expanding and contracting for all of recorded history. For example, from A History of the Wife:“In ancient Greece, a young woman was her father’s possession until she married. Then she was “given” by her father to her husband….But over time, in the Roman world, the notion of the bride’s consent gained legal and social weight… In practice, this probably meant that fathers consulted daughters on the choice of a husband and that it was difficult to marry them against their will.”

    “In many German towns and cities [in Medieval Europe]… women themselves were admitted to guilds as their husbands’ partners… In London, women with small businesses could also be guild members, and a few Parisian craft guilds allowed for “mistresses” as well as “masters.” Generally speaking, widows were allowed to continue their husbands’ crafts… Some women worked independently of their husbands, most notably in textile work and beer production…. Many married women were midwives, and a few practiced as doctors – that is, until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the faculty of such prestigious centers as the University of Paris… enforced the expulsion of women from the medical profession.”

  24. P says

    Kate,

    I partially agree, but only somewhat. You are correct that the challenges faced by men and women in modern society are not really parallel, but I don’t see any reason why we should expect them to be.

    Your comments noting that men working outside of the home is as much as a modern aberration (although a slightly less modern one) is right on the nose, and a fact less well known than it should be. Once the SAHD was as much a fixture of the normal family life as the SAHM. Of course, this seems to contradict what you said earlier when you said that to be truly parallel, my comment should have focused on the work-away-from-home-dad.

    Where I really disagree is when you say that my previous comment, “…is based on perception and attitudes, not practical difficulties posed by modern realities, like Jen outlines for women.”

    While this is entirely true, I find it largely irrelevant. In what way are perceptions and attitudes *not* practical difficulties? As though a person’s self-perception and perception by their culture is not exponentially more influential in their life than any material difficulty.

    I think this comes down to one of the major differences between men and women. Broadly speaking, I think women are much more practical than men, while men tend more toward the abstract. Therefore problems facing women, or at least those that they most keenly feel the effects of, will tend to be of a practical nature, while problems facing men will tend to be more in the realm of ideals.

    So to try rephrasing my original point, I think that Jen has accurately noted that there are many practical difficulties for women attempting to regain the normal role of motherhood in our society. However, I think that she is wrong when she says that women “bear the brunt” of the changes in modern society (which I cannot help but notice that you did not flippantly dismiss as an “oh, poor women” complaint). And while I agree that the impact of those changes on women “cannot be overestimated,” it is clearly apparent that the impact on men can be, and has been, wildly underestimated, to the point of near denial.

    And that denial is precisely at the root of the difficulty facing men who try to regain the role of traditional fatherhood. Because one of the greatest needs that a man seeking that role will have is the need to feel valued by his wife, a need that apparently will be dismissed by you as mere whining because it is supposedly not “practical.” And as long as that perception and attitude persists, we are never going to see the widespread restoration of the Christian family.

  25. Melanie B says

    My husband just pointed out a timely article in Franciscan Way, the alumni magazine of Franciscan University of Steubenville (he’s an alum). It’s about “Ministry to Moms,” founded by Kimberly Hahn, an author, stay-at-home mom, homeschooler, and wife of FUS professor and Catholic author Scott Hahn.

    It began when Kimberly began a women’s Bible study in her home. A few students in the group volunteered to help with her 3 young children. Later more students offered and Kimberly redirected them to her friends. The ministry grew to its current shape.

    Students assist mothers for about 3 hours a week in exchange for a meal with the family and access to their washing machine.

    Mothers benefit because they get a break they can count on each week, help in the home and adult company. The article also mentions that the students often become role models to the daughters of the family.

    Students get home-cooked meals, free laundry, and a rare glimpse into the vocation of motherhood and of Catholic family life that rounds out what they learn in their classes. In a way it’s an apprenticeship in motherhood. Girls learn real skills such as child-care, cooking, gardening, even painting and wall-papering.

    The article tells the story of a young woman who had not had a positive experience of marriage she was part of a generation whose parents never chose to marry. She was inspired by the relationship she witnessed and later married and became a role-model for her cousins.

    I know this model works best in a small community like a college town; but I wonder if it could be adapted to other situations.

  26. Kate says

    mel,

    There’s a similar program in the nursing school here in N.O., or so my neighbor tells me. “Adopt a student” they call it, and the focus is on giving the students a home away from home, but practically speaking I think it works like you describe.

    P,

    You have misread me, and, to judge from your closing paragraph, uncharitably so.

  27. Rebecca says

    Coming in a little late here, but 2 cents is 2 cents!

    I’m a SAHW, no kids. It’s hard. On my block, plenty of folks are at home and the average age is probably 75; thirty plus years on me. I haven’t met any SAHM in my neighborhood, because all the moms work.

    It’s hard to go out with friends who do work, because there is such a time crunch when they are home. They have to fit everything in I do during the day when they get off work. They can’t take off to go to the beach for a few days, because they only have two weeks vacation that needs to be saved for family vacation, etc.

    I think I’m a throw back to earlier times. I would love to be home in a neighborhood where we all got together to can food from our gardens or knit and just chat while the laundry dries on the line. Instead I stay home and do these things alone. And it does amaze me that people ask what I do all day. I guess I do what women use to do. I have a dishwasher, but don’t use it. I cook from scratch for the most part and don’t use the microwave. I plan meals and grocery shop. I garden. I clean. I knit and cross-stitch. I do laundry. More than enough to do before DH comes home and we spend the evening together. Now grant it, we don’t “share” chores. I’m home, I do them. We relax and spend time together. It’s been a huge gift to our marriage.

    I have found that taking classes at the local community college is a very social thing for me. I got a second degree doing that and really enjoyed the contact with others. Yet, even that, after a few years gets stale.

    I am going back to work as soon as I find a job. My primary motivation for this is to add to our retirement and pay for building our retirement home. I am looking foward to the daily interaction with other like minded folks, but that’s not why I’m doing it. That’s just a bonus. I will miss being home and the freedom that brings to support my husband.

  28. Milehimama says

    I didn’t realize how much this affected me until I read this post. I’ve just come off of two weeks without even internet or TV…and no community.

    When I lived in the Denver area, I went to a wonderful FSSP church. There were lots of women with lots of young children. There were play groups, homeschool groups, and the moms met and watched each other’s children during confession. It was a great spirit of “we’re all in this together”, for lack of better word. It wasn’t a formal group, but women were automatically inducted through the active Elizabeth ministry (casseroles and diaper collection for new moms).

    Now I live far away without any close, local friends. It is a dry desert and every task seems like a huge undertaking. There’s fatalism… no need to mop the floor this week, who’s going to see it? No need to unpack the tea and coffee service, no one to drink it. Even God seems farther away, harder to connect to. It’s a great desert of unsociability. Thank goodness for the internet, or else I might go crazy!