Don't let my SAHM status fool you. There are no nice, leisurely days at my house. I am a half-crazed, run-around-till-bedtime, driven-up-the-wall, you-rest-you-die, blur of motion.If you're the more relaxed type, you could probably give me lessons, but since I'm trying to learn this take-it-easy stuff the hard way, you get to hear my version of How I'm Looking for Zen.It's not that I can't say no to people (*Oklahoma song running through head*). It's that I don't want to say no to myself.This can happen to anyone. I've met SAHMs, WAHMs, full-time employed moms, single people, and category-defying wonder women who can't sleep because as soon as their heads hit the pillow, their brains start generating to-do lists. I've heard horror stories from people whose workaholism literally killed them (as in some Japanese people in the documentary Happy)
. It doesn't really matter whether you're trying to please your overbearing boss or the most demanding boss of all (you!). Too much stress is not good.I'm not dead yet (*Monty Python movie running through head*). But I have noticed some pain in my neck and shoulders, not to mention an increased level of anxiety that makes me certain that my children are going to get kidnapped on their way to school
or that flesh-eating monsters from Mongolia are living in the walls of my house.Here's what's helping me so far:
How do you keep your to-do lists from taking over your life?
- Since there's no such thing as "good enough", I get to set my own "good enough". Right now, that means I do one thing for my site/blog, one thing for the house, one thing for my kids, and one thing for me (usually exercise) per day. Anything else is extra and just for fun.
- I remind myself about my accomplishments, with no "yeah, but"s attached.
- I take lots of deep breaths and do some stretches or yoga poses often, even if it's only for three minutes each time. Relaxing a little is better than not at all.
- I've read enough self-help books to know that "shoulds" are usually not very helpful. But now I'm learning that their synonyms are just as harmful (have to, need to, going to, could have).
- Remembering that I can't change the past, even the past of an hour ago, and that regret doesn't change anything except to make me feel worse. So if I start thinking about the hour-ago or week-ago past, I try to catch myself and move on.
- Finding out what doesn't help or makes me feel worse (spending hours on Facebook, trying to save the world), and limiting the time I spend on those activities.
I think I spent just about the entire weekend online. When LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced
that the minimum ages for missionary service would change, it opened up a new range of possibilities for young people, and the blogosphere was talking about it all weekend long.
For those of you not familiar with the LDS Church or who missed this weekend’s announcement, many LDS young people serve 18- to 24-month missions for their church. It used to be that young men had to be at least 19 years old, and young women had to be 21. But after this weekend, young men can leave at the age of 18 and young women at the age of 19. And who knows? It sounded as if more changes may be on the way once everyone figures out how this change is going to play out.
I’m blogging about this because these changes will have an effect on work and education. This is especially true for young women, who may now be more likely to go with these much-more-convenient age changes.
I don’t think anyone can predict the results perfectly. But, when I think specifically about women and education/work, it makes me wonder. So, this is me speculating. I don’t know which scenarios are most likely, but here are several possibilities I thought of:
- It could be easier for women to finish their educations since universities would probably look more kindly upon an older student starting out than a student who wants to interrupt their studies. In time-sensitive programs, a mission could be the kiss of death. This change gives women more latitude in choosing when they go and fitting their educations around a mission.
- If women are going to school at an older age, they might want to get married in their early twenties (LDS people statistically are more likely to marry younger than their peers) and still have lots of college/university left. This could make it harder for them to finish.
- This could ease financial burdens for some. More could take advantage of the church’s loan programs for missionaries returning to school, especially internationally.
- This could make it harder for others to afford to go to school. Missions are usually self-financed, so some will come back from their missions broke and then they’ll have to figure out a way to pay for school.
- This could increase returning missionaries’ incentive to get an education. For me at least, I saw some serious poverty when I was out teaching people. It made me want to make sure I was never stuck in that kind of situation.
- Missionary work teaches values and habits that can help with work and education. Here are just a few: working hard, helping people, a new language (in some cases), speaking in front of large groups of people, social skills, getting along with difficult people, presentation skills, confidence…the list goes on.
I’m sure there are other possibilities I haven’t thought of, and of course, these are only speculative. What do you think will be the effect of earlier missionary service on women’s educations and working lives?
I'm excited to introduce everyone to my next guest blogger--Heidi Doggett. Heidi graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in Theater specializing in Makeup (the kind where she makes prosthetic vampire teeth and demon horns). She minored in Anthropology. She have two kids, spends most of her spare time writing, and just moved to California.
Heidi is determined to help other moms be realistic and open about their child-rearing goals and experiences through sharing her own on her blog, No Dead Beetles. She's close to finishing a book, and hopes to start holding seminars and firesides soon, addressing subjects such as postpartum depression, perfectionism, and how moms can find time to be themselves through re-prioritizing and delegation.
“It became increasingly clear to me that the shame and guilt that my ambivalence engendered had made it extremely hard for me, as a young mother, to come to terms with my limits. And I began to see that this was true for most mothers.”
Barbara Almond, The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood
I first noticed the guilt while my oldest child was in utero. I don’t remember when I realized exactly how constant and contradictory it had become.
I felt guilty for not getting enough exercise. No matter that I walked 20 minutes each way two and from classes at least once a day. I was still a slug who was gaining too much weight.
When I started, er, leaking a lot of liquid off and on, my mother convinced me that my refusal to hurry to the doctor might be killing my baby. My panic brought on stronger contractions, which made me think I was going into labor early, which landed me in the hospital, where they informed me the baby was kicking my bladder. Then I felt guilty because I was sure the stress of college and work was hurting the baby (it was certainly hurting me), so I quit my job and started taking the elevator instead of the stairs between classes.
Then I felt guilty for not bringing in income, and for exercising even less.
For women, and for moms especially, the expectations society has for us are set up so that we fail no matter what. Guilt is inevitable, unless we can teach ourselves to ignore those expectations.
I used to work for the LDS church at a Distribution Center in Orem, Utah. Working nine to fifteen hours a week at an evening job is dangerous living for a Mormon mommy. Most times when I’d mention my little girl to another employee or to a customer, their eyes would fill with concern and they’d say,
“Well, who is she with right now?”
She’s with her father. He’s, you know, fathering. In a non-biological sense. And then they would look surprised, or maybe make a comment about how he was “watching the baby” or “babysitting”. Some of them looked genuinely worried. What, do you think he’s going to drop the baby on her head? Blow up the house while trying to heat soup? He’s not a child himself, and he’s fully capable of putting our child to sleep without accidentally setting her on fire. He might even, you know, clean up a bit afterwards. And everyone will still be alive when I get home. Mom gets a break and some cash, Dad gets time with his kid, everybody wins, no guilt required.
But we seem to like guilt. Without it, we’d have to deal with that fact that life--that the right thing to do--can’t be the same for everybody.
Sometimes the customers got awkwardly aggressive about my family. I always felt like I had to explain myself: oh, I only work a few hours a week. My husband’s still a student. She sleeps most of the time I’m gone anyway. One lady told me I shouldn’t be taking classes while I had small children. One older man advised that it was time for me to have a second child. My pregnant supervisor had it even worse than I did. Customers constantly asked her why she was working. I remember her ranting in the back office, wild-eyed.
“Because we, oh, I don’t know, need the money? Because I FEEL LIKE WORKING? Because I LIKE IT?”
I quit that job while pregnant with my second child. You’d think the guilt would have stopped there, but no, this is where the no-win comes in. Someone always thought I could be doing better. A lot of times that someone was me. Because it’s not good enough if you’re at home 24/7. You have to want to be. You have to enjoy every minute of it, or you’re doing something wrong.
I’ve looked into this. I’ve asked around. Let me tell you, no one enjoys every minute of it. It’s okay to need a break. It’s okay to need a break at an ofice. People tell me, there is time for careers and hobbies later. Now is your season to be at home. To sacrifice everything, even when it’s not necessary. Like if I spend a minute doing something not directly related to children, they’ll somehow disappear, or grow up to be crack dealers.
But the opposite is true. The time I spend away from my kids makes me a better mom. It gives me a chance to recharge, a chance to miss them, a chance to be the woman I was before I had kids. I didn’t spend my pre-mom years sitting around waiting to be granted a purpose upon conceiving. I am a whole person, and being a mom is an important part of that, but it’s not the entire story.
It’s so easy to say, “Don’t have guilt about working for pay.” It’s just as easy to say, “Don’t feel guilty about being a stay-at-home-mom. You do so much work, even if you’re not bringing in money.” But it’s a lot less easy to make yourself believe these things. I still work on it every day. When I’m with my kids, I could be earning money. If I play with them, I could be doing chores. If I’m doing chores, they want to be played with. If I go to work, I should be at home. No matter what I do, I can’t measure up to all the things I’ve been told I should be. It’s physically impossible. No wonder I’ve spent half my life feeling like a failure. According to my own standards, I can’t be anything but.
So I’ve stopped caring (well, not really, but I’m trying my best). Whatever I’m doing right now is good enough. There are days when I repeat this while writing, while scrubbing toilets, while enjoying a moment just sitting with my kids.
Whatever I’m doing right now is good enough.
Let yourself say it. I promise this won’t end with your children sitting neglected in a pile of filth while you run around getting pedicures and taking college courses.
Saying it will actually make you a better mom, and of course, a happier person.
“The day I realized that the cultural ideal of femininity was, quite literally, unattainable? The day I realized that women are supposed to be sexy and chaste, undemanding and seeking commitment, meek delicate flowers and strong backbones of the family? The day I realized that if you're tall you're supposed to look shorter, and if you're short you're supposed to look taller, and if you're fat you're supposed to look thinner, and if you're thin you're supposed to look more voluptuous, and that whatever body type you had you were supposed to make it look different? The day I realized that every woman is insecure about her looks... including the ones we're supposed to idolize? The day I realized that, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked, I would always, always, always be a failure as a woman?
That was the day I quit worrying about it.”
--Greta Christina, Alternet
I'm annoyed.Background: Soon, I'll be adding two new sections to my site, and I'm very excited about them. The first is Women and Business, and the second is Women and Education.As I've been researching how parents attain an education, I've been learning about different child care programs. Guess which university doesn't have any kind of child care facility?BYU. This makes me mad.I'm not anti-Cougar. I graduated from the land of blue and white. But to me, this seems backwards. Of course BYU student parents have other options besides on-campus child care. And yes, they might have to get creative with their schedules or their finances. But is it so unreasonable to ask a university that so actively promotes marriage and families to show a little support? To make child care affordable and convenient for the students who are trying to take of children and go to school at the same time?
(Here's another article
about BYU's lack of child care if you're interested). Child care is expensive. And when students who are poverty-stricken (i.e. most of them) have to choose between tuition and books or child care, something's got to give.
I'm sure it's not always the case, but I would bet that in most instances, the wife is the one whose education is sacrificed or delayed since she's the one who's pregnant or breastfeeding.Yes, BYU students value families. And they get married and have children at earlier ages than most. But they pay a hefty penalty for their actions. If BYU is truly committed to families, it just seems logical that they'd provide the students the resources they need. The message seems to be, "Great! You've gotten married and had kids. Now you're on your own. Good luck!"I've posted before about how Utah isn't family-friendly and how its workplaces act as though employees don't have family obligations. I'm working to change that. But I think LDS Church
messages about workplaces becoming more family-friendly
should apply to universities, too, especially when they are owned by the Church.
I know I do plenty of complaining about how little society values motherhood, and how that needs to change. I've talked a lot about how difficult it can be for mothers to find family-friendly work that is fulfilling and will pay them fairly. All that is true, and needs to change.
But I also think that sometimes, the best changes come from within.
I quit my job as a recreation therapist when my son was born eight years ago. At the time, though I was worried about being bored at home, I thought that I'd be constantly worried about him if I left him, even for a few hours (I had more energy for worrying in those days).
I did get bored, but not in the way I expected. It wasn't like there wasn't anything to do. It was that I had too much time, while doing all the motherhood and household tasks, alone with my thoughts, and I had no productive channels for those thoughts.
So I had to rediscover myself. And that's been a much greater gift than I imagined.
I kept my recreation therapy license for many years, just as an emergency measure, but I knew I didn't want to go back. I liked working with the residents, but I didn't feel like I could make the impact I wanted to or use my talents the way I wanted to. I wanted something creative, something that paid well enough to be worthwhile, and something that could make a difference in the world.
I filled those hours by learning what mattered to me. And when there weren't any spare hours, I'd get up early. It made all the difference in the world to my day if I could write, blog, or read. I felt as if parts of my soul were sighing in relief. "Oh, yes, we do love to write and create something out of nothing," it seemed to say, or, "That's right, these issues matter to other people, too, and we can do something about it."
Honestly, I don't think I would have gotten into writing or women's issues the way I have if I hadn't spent some time away from the working world. I needed those several years of trial and error to figure out what mattered most, and I had to find it in the quiet spaces that didn't seem to exist in the world of school or work. If I were to go back to school now, I certainly wouldn't study the same things I was interested in before the kids came along.
I also think that having children changed me, too. Once they were born, I had to consider what lessons I wanted them to learn and the legacy I wanted to leave for them. These little people changed my priorities.
Apparently I'm not alone in this. 95% of women don't want to return the same employer after having children. I don't know whether it's because their interests and priorities change or because they have less time available for work, but things become different somehow. And while it's often true that it's more difficult to be taken seriously as a working mother, I know this: parenting has a way of reshaping your values. Employers would do well to see how women, and especially mothers, could help their companies.
But I also think that parents would do well to embrace the changes that come with children. Allow your children to change you, because whether you fight it or not, your life will never be the same.
And that's not always a bad thing.
I ran across a survey
today where LDS (Mormon) women were interviewed about their perceptions of what an ideal Mormon woman should look like. The study's authors compared the results of the survey to what was actually said by church leaders in print and in conferences.They broke the study down by age and marital status, and they found significant differences in attitudes among these groups. For example, women who were over 70 were more likely to think that homemaking skills, food storage, and physical fitness were important than younger women. And younger women (15-29) were more likely to believe in the importance of a college education. Married women thought that a college education was less important than single women did.Some of these differences might be because of the respondents' life situations. For example, older people who have lived through times of scarcity might think it's more important to store food than those who haven't gone without. And younger people who have grown up in an age when women are more likely to go to college would naturally be more likely to go themselves. It didn't matter how frequently they heard
certain messages--women didn't make a connection between how often they heard a message and how important it was to church leaders. Here's the scary part: "Instead, they perceived that nearly everything was very important or important to their leaders." In other words, they didn't think that one thing might be more important than another. They thought that in order to be the ideal Mormon woman, they had to do it all. Another interesting number: 46.2% of women perceived a difference between what was doctrinally, or officially, expected of them, and what the culture expected of them.I think we do this too often. We take all the messages that we hear, whether those messages come from church, from school, from work, from the media, or from our families. And they all seem like good ideas, so we try to do it all. Maybe we could make our lives easier if we focused our efforts on a few priorities instead of scattering them into every single thing we think the culture is telling us to do.
Today's guest post comes from Marie Leslie, who has been a serial entrepreneur since the age of 13. She has a degree in journalism from San Diego State University and has been a writer and photographer for more than 30 years. In addition to being the chief blogger for Modern Molly Mormon, she currently owns Marie Leslie Media in Aurora, Colorado, and specializes in website development and social media & marketing management, training and strategy for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also a mother of four children.
I am a working mother. No, it’s not an oxymoron. Yes, I know that all mothers work. I happen to be one of those mothers who has another job in addition to being a mother and homemaker. I have worked pretty much my entire life.
When I was 11, I started babysitting for neighbors and church families. By 13, I was an entrepreneur with a lucrative business making macramé pot hangers (yes, I am a child of the 70s). I also worked as a private swim instructor, ran a summer day camp/mother’s day out program and then finally got my first “real” job working in a local market.
After college, and after our first child was born, I worked part-time for a while as a textbook editor and when that dried up, I landed in insurance. Not exactly what I planned, but it paid well and a regular weekday schedule meant I could be home when my husband was home so we could have family time, something that was very important to us. I wasn’t thrilled with a full-time schedule, but it was the right decision for our family at the time. We were blessed with an amazing caretaker named Betty for our daughter and then later our son. She took care of our children with probably more patience than I had at that time in my life.
All was well in the world of motherhood and work--almost. My husband and I felt comfortable with our decision. Since I needed to help provide for the family, I was happy to be able to put my college education to work and secure a well-paying job. I was happy with our children’s care arrangements, they were happy to spend their days with Betty and I never worried about them while I worked.
There was just one little problem. Many of the women from church seemed exceptionally bothered by my lack of “mother guilt.” When I worked as a textbook editor, I would attend Relief Society board meetings where the main topic of discussion was my apparent lack of commitment to motherhood. I remember coming home from one such meeting in tears, wondering if there wasn’t something wrong with me because I DIDN’T feel guilty about working.
When I later needed to work full-time (primarily because of the lack of part-time work that paid more than minimum wage), I was chided for choosing a career when I “could have chosen something part-time or worked nights and weekends so [my] children wouldn’t have to be in daycare.”
The thing that made working so hard for me wasn’t being away from home. It wasn’t the crazy things that being a working mom did to my schedule, trying to squeeze in family and homemaking and church callings and a relationship with my husband around that 40+ hours/week. It wasn’t even leaving my children with another mother every morning (she was a working mom, too). It was the lack of support and the censure from my fellow mothers, some of whom were working moms themselves.
As women, we need to support one another, not tear one another down. We are all in this together. Every woman needs to be prepared to help support her family financially, whether by working from home or working away from home, should the need arise.
Instead of looking down on those who are working, would we not do better to help one another build critical skills, to support one another in finding creative ways to earn and to help our sisters who do work by easing their guilt instead of adding to it?
We never know what life will bring or what our circumstances will be. Someday you may find yourself on the other side, being the mother in a position you never imagined being in. How much easier would life be if you knew your sisters had your back and would be there whether you were at home or away? Let us support our sisters in their journey, wherever it may lead.
Some women obsess over their weight. They weigh themselves daily, count calories, and starve themselves because they hold themselves up to the magazine models and think their lives are meaningless if they don't look exactly like the airbrushed, photoshopped, rake-skinny ladies they see everyday. I don't mean to make fun of people who have this problem. It is a serious affliction. But I am lucky in that respect. Fortunately, I have never had a huge body image problem. I also have never had an eating disorder. I don't hate my reflection or waste time despairing about how many calories I've eaten that day. I have a different disease you may not have heard of.
It's called housorexia.
This is what I do: I look at the staged clean countertops, the perfectly coordinated couch cushions, and the unstained carpets in the glossy ads and think "Why doesn't my house look like that?" The children in the ads never have poopy diapers or holes in their clothes. The mommies are always smiling. And their kitchens are always immaculate! And instead of thinking something intelligent like "Those pictures were taken on a photo set where no children live," I think, "My house could look like that if I cleaned it up every night at midnight."
And how is that any better? We teach teenage girls that they don't measure up if their waists are more than twenty inches wide, and we teach grown women that they don't measure up if there are more than two crumbs on the floor. And the silly thing is that we fall for it.
Instead of thinking that I'm great for what I've done that day (kissed the kids, wrote a blog post, got the kids dressed and fed), I think I'm deficient for what I haven't done that day (didn't have dinner ready, didn't clean the toilets, didn't dust the picture frames). That's what makes it so pathological, just like the anorexics who are never skinny enough. The house will never be clean enough, no matter how clean it is. The distorted lens we see it through keeps telling us we can stop cleaning after we dust just one more shelf or scour just one more bathtub. But we never get to rest even then, do we?
My body is not starving, but my house is starving for some serious sanity. Next time I think something like "I'll never get all this housework done", I'll make sure to mentally add, "So what?"
That's a good question, by the way. So what? My house won't make the cover of this month's Better Homes and Gardens? My child's friends will go home and tell their mommies that I have a messy house? Or (gasp) someone might come over and see the squalor? I'm not going to be a slave to anyone else's (imagined) judgment of my housekeeping skills.
I've got other things to do. Like have a life.
Today's guest post comes from Lecia Langston, currently a Regional Economist for the Department of Workforce Services. Ms. Langston has been an economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services and its predecessor, the Utah Department of Employment Security for more than 20 years. During her service as an economist for the State of Utah, Ms. Langston has served as a president of the Wasatch Front Economic Forum (the local chapter of the National Association of Business Economists). She staffed Governor Bangerter's Workforce 2000 Committee and is a past advisor of the Governor's Economic Coordinating Committee. Ms. Langston is the author of several studies and the winner of several awards from the Interstate Conference of Employment Security Agencies for excellence in labor market information publications.
Here’s a little fable about two working women in Utah.
Jane grew up knowing that she wanted to be a mother. She thought she would marry a rich man and stay home to take care of her adorable children. With that future ahead of her, she thought she had little need for an education or a career. She got married a few years out of high school to the man of her dreams and her family soon included a charming baby girl.
Time for a reality check. Most married women with children work, even in Utah.
To make ends meet, Jane found herself back in the workforce. With no post-high school training, she found a job at the local discount store as a cashier. After working very hard, she eventually earned the Utah average wage for that occupation—$9.00 an hour. She had few benefits and no retirement plan.
To make enough money, Jane had to spend 40 hours a week on the job—mostly when her husband wasn’t working so he could take care of the baby. Her low wages made child care quite unaffordable. She didn’t see much of her husband, but did contribute to the family’s finances. Jane grossed $360 a week—before taxes and other deductions.
Jane’s best friend from high school, Susan, also grew up knowing that she wanted a family. But she realized that she would probably be working outside the home like her mother and other adult women that she knew. She chose a high-paying career, finished college and went to work as a chemical engineer. She got great pay, received wonderful benefits, and could count on a retirement income—when that day finally came. Plus, she knew she was protected in the event that she needed to provide for herself and her family. After establishing her career, Susan got married and had a bouncing baby boy.
Susan’s employer valued her work skills and was willing to let Susan cut back her hours to spend more time with her baby. After starting a family, she worked only 20 hours a week earning the Utah average wage for chemical engineers—$45 an hour. So, while Jane was making $360 working a grueling 40 hours each week (on her feet all day), Susan worked only 20 hours a week and grossed $900 a week—two-and-a-half times more money than Jane for half the hours. Plus, Susan had enough spare cash to hire out her least favorite household duties.
You get my point. A woman’s career and educational preparation contributes dramatically to her ability to manage work and home—not to mention improve her family’s economic well-being. In fact, when it comes to wages, academic studies suggest that education is more important for women than men. And, remember, most women do work outside the home—yes, even in Utah.
Next Friday: Part 2 of this post about women's education and employment, with some surprising Utah statistics
Hot-button issue here. Some women who work put their children in some kind of paid day care. Others put their kids in the care of relatives or friends. Others work from home and somehow manage to keep their kids at home and get their work done.
No matter what kind of child care arrangement you've got, it isn't easy, and you might feel guilty about it. Maybe you worry about your kids getting enough attention or catching germs. Maybe you wonder if your kids are neglected when you stick them in front of the TV so you can send those urgent emails. I bet there are some SAHMs who feel like they haven't got it figured out, either.
Is day care all bad? All good? A necessary evil? A great way to educate your children? I don't think there's a simple answer because there are so many variables. So much depends on the age of your kids, on the teachers at the school, the teacher to child ratios, the pay rate of the teachers, the quality of the facility, the curriculum....I could go on.
Obviously, some families have little choice. And sometimes it's a matter of doing what works for everyone, not just whether or not children are starving. What's best for each family can only be determined by each family.
That's why I think we need to be careful with how we speak about child care. I'm not sure if I picked this up from someone else or from my own opinions, but I used to believe that putting kids in daycare was akin to entrusting them to Satan. If you were a mother and you dropped those kids off with someone else, that innocent-looking daycare provider would start growing horns and carrying a pitchfork as soon as your back was turned. Before you knew it, your child would forget who you were, scream when you came to pick him up, and beg to join a Satanic cult as soon as he was old enough to talk.
This, of course, was all your fault as your mother, even if it wasn't. Because all people who put their kids in daycare had their priorities out of whack.
Now that I'm a mother, I see things differently. Not because I think kids aren't as important as work, but because I've learned, as a parent, how much I don't know. What works for me doesn't always work for everyone else. Family time is vital (hence my website), but other things matter, too.
Do you love your children's day care/ preschool/ babysitter? Are you happy with how things worked out or would you do it differently if you had a choice?