S.O.S.

How exactly did women used to take care of three, four or more children, clean the house, wash the clothes and make several meals a day? I can tell you that I’ve been in the house with only my two children for less than a week now and by the time my husband gets home around 7 pm, I am on the verge of hysterics, the house looks like a disaster area and as far as I’m concerned, it’s each man for himself for dinner.

I had all these visions of lazy, sunny days spent building castles from recycled milk bottles and toilet paper rolls, and the three of us frolicking on green lawns in the park or trekking on adventures through the neighborhood. So far we haven’t made it past our driveway and the kids are lucky to get out of their pajamas by noon. I only signed them up for one week of camp all summer and now I fear that I may have made a strategic error.

I don’t understand. What am I doing wrong? I mean, I never expected to be Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart but surely I can do better than this. I have several post-graduate degrees, for goodness sakes. I can figure this out, right?

How’s everyone else’s summer so far? Chillin’? Or are you ready to throw in the towel?

16 thoughts on “S.O.S.

  1. This has probably been the busiest summer of my life, regarding work and more recently, with helping out an extended family member. Luckily, I have a husband who is home with our children, and picks up where I leave off. I have to figure out a way to reinvest time just taking care of my kids, playing with them, daily baths :(, etc.

    Tanji

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  2. I hear you, Nazie!!! “All joy, and no fun,” pulled from a recent New York article on the topic of parenting, describes it pretty well; it also made me laugh. It seems our mothers and grandmothers reveled more in the joy, and better tolerated the absence of fun.

    The UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families is conducting a study on American families; even though it’s not yet concluded, they reported that in general, families in which responsibilities were clearly delineated between parents, even when one parent (read: the mother) did more, were happier. I don’t know about you, but when I’m home with the baby, she’s not necessarily the only thing I’m responsible for. I’m also still responding to emails, managing mail, making appointments with exterminators, managing my career, and dealing with things outside just taking care of baby and home. My hunch is that when women used to stay home, that’s just what they did: they stayed home! And they took care of the home. It was a huge job; but all the other stuff that zaps your energy? Dad was taking care of that. Our mothers and grandmothers may have worked damned hard, but the lines were less blurry; I think that is part of what makes it more difficult on us today.

    “Changing Rhythms on American Family Life” also found that all parents spend MORE time with their children than parents did in 1975, even despite the increase of women in the work force. Which means less personal time for moms–a full 5.4 fewer hours per week. It sounds crazy, but then I think about how much time I spend being home with my child, as well as the quality of that time: it is SERIOUS time. She’s not sitting in her playpen, or playing in her crib. She has all of my attention; I literally follow her around the house and play with her, so eager am I to “give her everything she needs so that she can grow up to be happy and successful!” I think our mothers may have been home with us, but that they weren’t necessarily catering to us the entire time; sometimes, we just had to sit in the crib while they did other things. And we were fine. My daughter, in contrast, ONLY sleeps in her crib, and doesn’t spend much time in her playpen either.

    I think our mothers also had more help than we do. They lived closer to family; they had closer networks of friends. My mother had you’re-not-my-mother-but-you-helped-raise-me type of help; it essentially amounted to us being taken care of by a grandmother. Those things matter. We don’t have any family in the immediate area, nor are any of my close friends from high school and college around. I know if they were, my life would be a lot easier.

    Finally, I think expectations were different, especially for mothers who went straight from home to married life. I, on the other hand, know what freedom was! And on some days, the loss of it just piles on top of the exhaustion of the day.

    As for my summer, I’m just trying to make peace with what is. The house is a disaster, something to which I’m unaccustomed. But I have a 13-month old, darnit!; it’s just the way it is. The baby still isn’t on a schedule, and I’m rollin’ with it; last night, bedtime was 9:30PM; tonight, it’s expected to be at 8:00PM. And I keep reminding myself to find the joy, even if I can’t find the fun.

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  3. I agree with ORJ’s post

    Things changed because we have changed. Society has changed. Women back then could rely on other women who were in the same position they are. They got together, let the kids play together, and vented to each other the frustrations, the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of being wives and mothers. They had their own social networks/group therapy.

    I also agree about the idea of tasting freedom. There is nothing quite like being single with no real attachments or responsibilities. But then, there’s nothing quite like being a mom.

    Didnt a study recently say people with children are less happy than those without? Is that what you were referencing ORJ? I heard that in passing somewhere. I find that idea interesting…

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    1. Alright! Benee and I agree on something! LOL! 🙂

      Yes, the study to which I referred addressed that point: apparently, studies repeatedly find that parents (both married and single parents) are “unhappy” when compared to childless people/couples. At the same time, parents who are confronted with the studies consistently don’t believe the findings, or at least don’t believe it captures their experience. Moreover, people who never have children often regret having foregone the experience. The two major conclusions of the article were (1) parenting offers moments of intense joy; you give up the day-to-day happiness of your childless, carefree, life for these isolated moments; and (2) although no “fun,” parenting is intensely rewarding. There were also some great observations about married life with children (apparently, there’s a latency period between 6 and 11; hold on, Nazie; you’re almost there!!!).

      As I read the article, I found that it accurately reflected parts of my experience. When my daughter is refusing to do one of the many things she’s realized she can refuse to do (getting her diaper changed, eating her food, relinquishing my cell phone, going to sleep), I sometimes look at her and think, “you have GOT to be kidding me!” At the same time, observing her reach her milestones, and seeing her learn that she’s a person separate and apart from me who can control her environment, has produced moments of limitless joy and laughter. It has also been so rewarding to know that we’ve been the best parents we know how to be for her, nurturing the very growth and development that has brought us such joy.

      In any event, for those of you interested in reading the article, I hyperlinked to it in my original response.

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  4. The first week when I was home with the kids all day was rough. I didn’t think I’d make it. We’ve worked ourselves into a groove now. We have the backyard space, so my first thing is to say “go outside and find a friend.” They do that until 11, which is swim lesson. Then lunch, then a nice long nap. They usually don’t sleep, but I don’t care – just stay in your room. You don’t have to go to sleep, but you do need to stay out of my face!

    Seriously though (although I am serious about the staying out of my face for at least 2 hours for quiet time, I don’t say it like that though), your kids need to play together, and make their own arts and crafts. We have crayons, markers and paper. Create. We have toys, legos and blocks. Build. Setting up art projects?? Anything more than putting some playdoh containers on a table is too much work. I think kids need to be creative about how they spend their time. I let my kids make anything out of anything, as long as it’s not dangerous – laundry baskets become boats, puzzle boards become ramps for cars and airplanes.

    As far as mommy doing more than taking care of the kids – yes, yes, and yes! I also take care of all the finances in our house, and it’s a pain in the arse. And takes a lot of time and psychological energy. And it’s very stressful. I have segregated my “home” time from my “work” time though – the two do not mix, because neither is done well when they do. I only do my own work when the kids are at nursery school, and after they’ve gone to bed. Which means in actual number of hours, my work is seriously short-changed this summer.

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    1. Latoya, I am really impressed that as an academic you manage to seperate your home time and work time. I find mine always bleeds together and that I really have created a climate home where everyone is always on a laptop, ipad, blackberry, or something, “working,” even the baby. I said that I was going to go in to work an additional day when I am not holding office hours, to get more of my work done at work. However, I also feel quilty “leaving” my husband home so much with the kids.

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      1. The only reason I don’t feel guilty now is because I’m at home with them all day now, during the summer. And I am so stressed when I try to combine them – my kids just don’t get that mommy is trying to work. And when I work, I feel like I need total immersion – my mind needs to be totally into what I’m doing, or I lose my train f thought and get really frustrated. And then I find myself lashing out at the kids – “get off of me” is a common refrain, or “please leave me alone” and I don’t like saying that so much to them.

        But again, that work time is really limited, because I also know the consequence of not being home and spending quality time with my husband. If I leave as soon as he comes home, we start passing like ships in the night, and our relationship deteriorates quickly. We need that after kids go to sleep time. So at most, I get 2-3 hours after he gets home from work to do my work. So believe me – my scholarship is suffering.

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  5. TOTALLY understand what you are saying here! I’m finding that if we have a defined activity–even just one for the day–things go much better. Leaving the house is also key. It takes up time, plus if we stay inside all day I want to rip those cute little heads off. I also had visions of laughing in the sun with my children, but instead there are days when I’m just screaming for them to get back in bed for naps so that I can have one uninterrupted thought. Someone told me that his mother used to freeze a gallon jug of water, sit it outside in the morning, and tell the children not to come inside until the whole thing had thawed and they drank it all. Hmmm. . . .
    Ultimately, I’m betting on the children remembering the days when we finger-painted or played hop scotch rather than the heaping pile of nothing that we do on too many days. In any case, the summer’s almost over!

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    1. “I also had visions of laughing in the sun with my children, but instead there are days when I’m just screaming for them to get back in bed for naps so that I can have one uninterrupted thought.”

      That’s me. Glad I’m not the only one…

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  6. I know I might get flack for this, but this is one of the reasons 1. I dont want more kids 2. I enjoy being the “secondary” parent and 3. Why I work.

    I have to assess myself and realize my limitations and strengths. I’m good at making decisions, paying for things, and teaching/building valuable lessons. I’m not good at sitting around being jumped on, listening to bickering, dealing with tantrums, etc.

    I have both kids about once per month and believe me, that one weekend drains me and feels like it takes a week to recover. I’m just not cut out for this. But, I do what I gotta do because I’m here now and it is what it is. Gotta make the most of the situation and keep the kids happy.

    Now that I dont have the support of their father, it is even harder. Its one thing when you can take turns responding to every thud, bump, cry, and scream. Its another when you have to respond to every single one by yourself. When he has them, more than likely he is around family or his girlfriend, who also has kids. So he rarely does any of it alone.
    Thats why I told him, I cant do this more than once a month. Sorry.

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    1. “I know I might get flack for this…”

      Flack?? Not from me. I am happily anticipating September 8, which is when nursery school becomes full-time. Staying at home was never my ideal. I’ve grown closer t my kids with this time we have together, so I’m cherishing it, but when it’s over, I won’t be sad. And if I couldn’t turn them over to their father to get a break at the end of the day, I really don’t think I’d be cherishing it as much as I am.

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  7. My sister sent me the perfect joke for this post:

    A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and 20 wrappers strewn all around the front yard.

    The door of his wife’s car was open, and also the front door to the house. There was no sign of the dog. Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.

    In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.

    In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

    He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened.

    He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door.
    As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor.

    Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.

    As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel.

    She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.

    He looked at her bewildered and asked, ‘What happened here today?’

    She again smiled and answered, ‘You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?’

    Yes,’ was his incredulous reply.

    She answered, ‘Well, today I didn’t do it.’

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    1. Classic! I just sent it to my husband. My kids are in camp this week and I cannot begin to tell you how much stress levels are down and sanity levels are up. And Benee, I’m WITH YOU.

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