I am a housewife. A stay-at-home-mom. It happened almost overnight, although I had some pregnant weeks to freeze food and daydream in preparation. I drive an SUV and live in an apartment with a guard at the desk, behind a gate. Granted, some of this stereotype looks different when you consider the crime rate of the city I live in, but I am sure the people who live behind gates in all parts of the world use the same argument.
I need to be very careful I do not give in to the stereotype and start to see myself differently.
To begin, I tell myself that I am on maternity leave, that I have fashioned my current life choices around the Canadian norm despite my Americanized life in Guatemala. In Canada, working moms are entitled to one year of paid maternity leave, with job security. However, considering my request for a ‘leave of absence’ from my current job was met with as much comprehension as if I’d demanded to teach next semester from the moon, it was necessary to resign, reducing the ‘maternity leave’ designation to title alone. Plus, this mental name game could cause future problems because we do not know how long my current status will last. One day at a time is the housewife/stay-at-home-mama/kickass-woman-doing-her-thang mantra as far as I can tell.
Words matter when it comes to how we see ourselves. The titles we give, the ways we describe ourselves, carry weight. They bring forth schema and prototype data, images and feelings based on who else we’ve seen in these roles, and how we believe/imagine/know from experience the characteristics society ascribes them. Maybe you’ve met some version of the woman who stayed home ‘too long’ in the family opinion, or needed to get her own thing going again. However, after so many years of taking care of others, it seemed she’d forgotten what her thing was, and lost her confidence to look for it. In my experience, the family does not value this person’s opinion, and may laugh at her attempts to change. She is stuck, and stuck in any place, any time, is an uncomfortable predicament to say the least. Will I get stuck? That depends I guess on how much value I place on the title, versus how much value I place on the ‘important’ work I am doing as a mom.
I couldn’t type important without the quotations. Clearly, I still need work.
Why do I struggle to see the mom role as important? Well, partly because I could hire a nanny, and where I live for rather little money, to do the same job. How easily money devalues good work, and inflates what’s not as important. Also, the work itself is so damn repetitive, bringing forth other low-wage work like factories and mines. Of course, I am learning that good parenting, as good teaching, requires consistency and predictability. At least 60% of the time. I get that. I get why I would want to make sure that my child knows what to expect at bath time, meal time, when he cries, when it’s time for bed. It makes him feel safe and secure, which is what I’ve come to believe is my most important role. But as you can imagine, it is rarely very interesting for me, doing the same thing over and over. Repetition does not evoke what I consider important, which in my early 30s had settled on a definition that included anything different, creative, or outside the norm.
I am writing this in the middle of the night. I am wide awake, as is my son, lying in his cot, amusing himself until the point when he is tired again. He stares at the wall: I needed to type on a bigger keyboard than my bedside phone. I can nap tomorrow. Hopefully. Or the day after most likely. I cannot count on anything to be on my schedule, or in my control, but I can usually eat and nap during the day, and often get something else done, like dishes or laundry. Sometimes, I get an hour for my own personal growth and reflection, but not always. This is not my normal view of what a ‘successful’ day looks like. This is part of what goes into the ‘mourning period’ of adjusting to motherhood: my old life, self, demands of my day, all are ashes to ashes right now, dust in the wind. Just one more thing I need to adjust to survive both the label and the reality.
As always, it’s an exercise in mindfulness really. For example, today I looked around my apartment and found 10 places where the contrast was visually high. Highly cognitive work for my little 5 week old, whose vision only recently expanded to include more than triple the distance he could see at birth. What a change for him, and I wanted to feel it, too. Are visual contrasts valued by society? Maybe if you’re using them to sell something, or to create art, but I am not contributing to society at large by being able to see them in my own apartment.
I most certainly am contributing to society by slowly, painstakingly, mindfully shaping and influencing a human being who will be well-adjusted, healthy, and independent. And I am determined to do this, singing, looking silly and learning along the way, because the truth is that the real work I’m doing will be invisible to almost everyone but me.
Could society value better what I am doing? You bet. And that’s a fight I may join slowly, as my world begins to expand again, as I am able. Right now, I need to fight the battle in my own mind. I need to know where my important work lies, where my time belongs, and that it’s going to take all of my physical and mental capacities to stay with it, focused and mindful. I need to vigilantly see myself, and the work I am doing, with kindness and compassion. I need to know, in my heart, that it’s important so that I can get down to the work itself without distraction from labels, stereotypes, or my own schema. I need to get out of my own damn way so I can focus on the slow, repetitive, very important tasks at hand of protecting, loving and raising my son.