April 30, 2012
End of the Month Controversy - Parenthood and Isolation
This is something we don't like to talk about. We don't like to risk shaming our children, embarrassing our spouses, accusing our friends or families... but it's true.
As this ridiculous "Mommy War" continues, I feel that this is one of the biggest unspoken issues.
Stay at home parenthood? It's lonely.
You're surrounded by your children, who you love. And you get to be there for them in an incredible variety of meaningful ways. But you lose something.
You don't get to have meaningful conversations about the things that interest you. Rather, you spend hours on end singing the alphabet song, or arguing over whether or not somebody can have waffles for every meal of the day.
You spent nearly all of your time surrounded by people who are not only totally self involved, but who's job it is to be essentially self involved. You want them to learn, you want them to improve their skills, your whole day centers around them, and they therefore learn (rightly) that as far as things in your house are concerned, they're the most important people around. Always.
You lose opportunities to make other adult friends. You lose opportunities to see your old adult friends.
And all the while, as you slowly realize that there just isn't a lot outside of the house and family for you, you begin to find ways to come to terms with that sort of loneliness.
Some parents craft, some parents join clubs, some parents decorate and decorate and decorate...
And more and more, parents are coming to find community online, with people who don't judge them for having a "life" that exists only on a computer screen- with friends and accomplices as real as any who might live down the block.
Stay at home parenting has always been lonely. It's why certain stereotypes about housewives developed. Moms who hide cooking sherry in a kitchen cupboard, and are drunk by dinner. Wives seducing the mailman. Moms who abandon their families and run off to be a showgirl in Vegas. Sylvia Plath with her toddlers sleeping and her head in the oven.
Nobody likes to talk about how hard it is to be a stay at home parent in these terms. They talk about how moms work 24/7, how they literally LIVE at work, how they are responsible for he incalculably difficult task of turning children into functional adults, how they have to be everything to everyone all at once...
They talk about the job of the stay at home mom as being one of a moral backbone. Of being the most important person in their children's lives.
They don't talk about how rarely they get to interact with another adult. How difficult it can be to arrange a schedule for a stay at home parent AROUND the schedules of their children for them to have their own playdates, how rarely they get to enjoy a simple adult interaction.
Other people make fun of stay at home parents for watching bad daytime TV, for bringing purses that double as wine coolers to the park, for dedicating so much energy to whether the living room furniture is done in a Mission or Mid-Century style. For leaving the house in yoga pants with your hair pulled back in a greasy ponytail. For "letting yourself go."
But when you're the stay at home parent, you need distractions.
This is one of those problems that gets better as the children get older. The older they are, the more time you can take away from them. By the time they're in high school, you can actually have a real conversation with your children. But only on their terms. They, rightly, understand that you just aren't as important as them. You've spent their whole lives making this fact abundantly clear.
There are no promotions when you're the stay at home parent. There are no comped lunches, there are no sick days, there are no vacation days, no coffee breaks. There is no retirement.
And nobody can do the job but you.
Parenthood is amazing. It is wonderful, and rewarding, and provides a kind of job satisfaction that people without children simply can't understand.
But it is lonely.
Stay at home parents get depressed. They get angry and frustrated. They find themselves in need of help. And they do not ask for it.
Because somewhere, there is a voice in the back of their head that tells them that this isn't "work," that they don't have "real" problems, because they love their kids. Because they love being a parent. Because they have the most important and rewarding job in the world.
What they don't understand is that these aren't mutually exclusive. You can love being a stay at home parent, you can love your kids, you can love your life... and you can still be lonely. You can still be depressed. You can still feel... isolated.
There are almost no solutions, and those that exist simply can't work for most people.
You can live in a neighborhood filled with other adults that you like who have children that your children like. This is a tall order.
You can find a group of like-minded parents who share your ideals and live close by enough to have regular get-togethers and playdates with their kids who your children like. This is also a tall order.
You can live nearby your siblings and cousins and their children, who are family and your children are therefore obligated to like and love and play with happily. This is extremely difficult as well, and you certainly can't force your family members to have kids.
You can spend a lot of time on the phone or online.
But mostly, you just get used to spending a lot of time essentially alone. Doing the laundry, the dishes, cooking, making lunches, giving baths, applying band-aids, chauffeuring, going to practices, living your life on somebody else's schedule.
There is no shame in being lonely. And yet, we as parents are ashamed. Ashamed that the company of our children is not good enough. Ashamed that the incredible job satisfaction is not good enough. Ashamed that we ourselves must therefore not be good enough.
But this is nonsense. No one thing is enough for any one person. People with "real" jobs require hobbies, and friends, and diversions.
They seek out company after work and on weekends, they spend time away from the jobs that they love in order to have a separate, "non-work" identity.
They go home. They leave work at the office.
We, the stay at home parents... we don't have that.
We must learn to be everything at once. To be simultaneously at work and at play, to be responsible and to be able to abandon responsibility responsibly. To find hobbies that squeeze into our day. To never ever stop working, even in our sleep.
There is no shame in loneliness.
There is no shame in asking for help.
There is no shame in acknowledging that this is hard, and that you are often doing it alone.
There is no shame in taking measures to take care of yourself.
Stay at home parents: Do what you need to do. For you. Don't be afraid. Don't be ashamed. Don't let your own doubts about the inner workings of the minds of other parents get to you.
Nobody knows how to do this job. We're all flying by the seats of our pants.
We must all learn, eventually, how to balance being an independent and being a parent. They don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Take care of yourselves, parents.
You have the hardest job in the world.