Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Double Life, Revisted

In an earlier post, entitled My Double Life, I wrote of a discrepancy between the kind of mom I wanted to be and the kind I really am. Since authoring that, I've had time to reflect more, so I must revisit the topic. Something someone said in the comments section really resonated, "A mother can only do and be so much." (Betsy)

It occurred to me that, although I'm married to a wonderful man who is an involved father, I essentially parent and feel as though I'm the one wholly responsible for how my kids turn out. How many of us conscientious (over-achieving) moms feel that way? By putting unreasonable pressure on ourselves, we burn out almost daily, then don't live up to our lofty expectations. Next, we sink into guilt, which robs us of our mommy-joy.

I decided to look closely at whether or not I was guilty of trying to micromanage, or steal parenting glory, around here. And if so, what heart change needed to occur to address it? I'm certain if I elevate my husband to his rightful place as a father, in the process I will get closer to being the mom I really want to be.

Referencing my other Double Life entry, here are my specific problem (guilt) areas:

- failure to create book-loving children
- letting my kids watch Sponge Bob
- failing to get on the floor to play with them
- sneaking away to check e-mail

Some of them I found I could effectively deal with by being more of a team player. My husband is so willing to be involved, and I wasn't asking him for input or assistance on much of anything, nor taking into account the ways he was already, naturally covering my weak areas.


Following my post, I did get on the floor and play with my kids more. And do you know what happened? I'll bet you busy moms can guess. Suddenly, no one had clean socks, and we were stuck wading through huge, unfolded piles of clothes looking for the pajama top we needed. It was stressful, to say the least, not having a modicum of organization.

Additionally, I realized that my kids really DO want the house to look decent. Two mornings after I started playing on the floor more, my older son noticed that there were still crumbs under the baby's highchair, from the night before. He said, "Mommy, it's dirty under Emily's highchair. You should clean that." This didn't annoy me, surprisingly. It was an eye-opening statement, which helped me recall an article I read about organized homes and their effects on kids' later success in higher education and in the workforce. Basically, they found that children who come from organized homes are better prepared for college and obtain better jobs.

As I reflected, I realized that letting the chores slip was not an answer to anything. All too soon, sometimes with only a half-day off from housekeeping, the house becomes a disaster, and I'm busier and crankier than ever, trying to play catch-up.

Ironically, I also remember a study that showed that kids' whose parents played with them had better overall social skills. So, if I play on the floor more and have a messy house, my kids won't get good jobs. And if I don't have time to play with them, they won't develop good social skills. It was this catch 22 that helped me realize that Betsy was right; I can't do everything and be everything to the kids. Moreover, trying to do so was really egotistical and selfish.

My husband plays on the floor with the kids EVERYDAY! So why in the world do I feel guilty that I don't? I needed to accept both that I'm not as good at it, and that I don't enjoy it as much. I also had to be honest with myself and admit that it bothers me not to be known, in the kids' eyes, as the FUN one. It should be okay with me, though, because I'm other things that Daddy is not. I know what tender-loving things to do and say when the kids are sick, scared, or unsure of themselves. Tender-loving comes naturally to me, but my husband has no clue how to even feign it.

May I add, lest you think I am a total bore, that I am more prone to turning up the music and boogieing with the kids? They do think my boogieing is hilarious, probably because I am otherwise serious. Daddy doesn't dance.

God brought my husband and me together and blessed us with children, not so I can shine as some kind of mommy-god, but so our kids can be blessed by the way we work together, and by our respective gifts. It was a humbling time, realizing that my heart was not in the right place, and that I was not being a team player.


As far as my checking e-mail, I honestly did need to curb this, as it had become a bit of an obsession, which irritated my husband as well as my kids. It wasn't as hard as I thought to change, because as I began trying, my boys developed a keen interest in using the computer themselves. We discovered the PBS kids website, which is fun and educational and always changing. Between the two of them, they log enough time that I can't check e-mail as often, and of course I'm surviving just fine.


We solved this problem by calling the cable company and downgrading to basic cable. My husband watches college football, but other than that we don't have time to watch television. We were mainly paying for it for kids' programming. It made sense to downgrade and limit them to just PBS, which began running two more very good reading shows. Since there are only so many reading shows kids will watch, it isn't likely that TV is going to be abused.


I remembered that I did not develop a love of reading until the fifth grade, when I fell in love with Nancy Drew novels. Therefore, it is probably too soon to admit defeat and assume I'm not raising book lovers. The boys are beginning (word-by-word) readers, which is tedious for them. If they come to love reading, it probably won't be until they gain a lot more fluency.

My husband is going to begin reading aloud to the kids during the day, to supplement the reading I do with them before bed. (He works second shift.) He also has more patience reading to an infant than I do, so Emily will get more one-on-one time with books as well.

I also remembered, which is all too easy to forget, that kids have different learning styles, and reading aloud mainly caters to auditory styles. Visual kids can lose track of the storyline, if the pictures aren't plentiful and detailed enough. So Timmy, visually-oriented, is more likely to fall in love with books when he can read them himself, while Daniel (very auditory) will need and will enjoy read-alouds for much longer. I have started reading chapter books to Daniel, with the hope that he will get hooked on a certain series, as I did.

Together, my husband and I decided that one night a week, I should step away from the chores, for a time, to have a regular family night, during which we play games, do puzzles or play cards with the kids. Playing tag team as parents is appropriate, and necessary, but kids also need whole-family time too. In other seasons, we do this naturally, because we love hiking and birding. Now that it's winter, we just have to rely more on indoor activities to make family time happen.

I have found - Praise the Lord! - that blogging helps me take inventory of my heart and mind, holding me more accountable as a wife and mother. It does also steal time, as I found while trying to edit long pieces (I kept deleting extra lines and spaces, then finding them still there, no matter what I tried). As I learn how to use this site better, it will hopefully streamline things. And I will definitely have to learn how to be more efficient with my time, if I want to have a free hour or two to use for writing every night.

Lastly, lest you think my husband is a cad for leaving me all the chores, I should say that he does do at least one chore a day. He is more people-oriented and outgoing, while I'm more task-oriented and introspective. While I work on keeping the house half-way decent, I get to be somewhat alone and introspect. He really can't stand being alone, unless college football is on, and he wouldn't be caught dead introspecting. :)


Betsy Shaw Mackenzie said...

Me again. I would love to know how you curbed your e-mail habit. I've got it bad.
I also wanted to suggest audio books and soundtracks. We avoid the TV screen a lot by listening to books on tape, and storytellers etc. (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG are favorites.)
Esther, and sometimes Isla, can enjoy stories while Mummy is cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry. Esther also loves listening to soundtracks of her favorite movies, Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, etc.(That might be a girl thing.)

We also have these great Irish Folk Tales by Sharon Kennedy that I downloaded from iTunes. They really go a long way. Keep dancing.

momma's heart said...

Thanks, Betsy. Tomorrow is library day. I'll definitely check to see what audio stuff they have. Daniel would have an easy time following anything on audio.

I told myself I would only check e-mail right after putting Emily down for naps/bed. She takes a morning and afternoon nap and goes to bed around 7:30 pm. If there's no e-mail, I read a quick news story.

momma's heart said...

Betsy, I don't know if you'll see this or not, but I can't get back into your blog to comment. My computer keeps freezing when I try to get to the second page.

I love the piece. You are every bit as talented as Catherine. There's a refreshing honesty and humility in your posts. The comments will increase when people have had time to "get to know you". She blogged there a long time. I'll bet her comments increased over time.

If my child woke at 5am everyday, I'd have to shoot myself! How do you do it? Do you have to go to bed like 9 or 10?

When you wrote that I should start my own blog, I was at first confused and wondered if you were annoyed. I'm not very computer/technology literate and didn't know anyone could start their own blog! I just stumbled on to blogspot when I began Googling all things blog related. I was trying to research how to make an income from blogging. :) Suddenly, I found myself on this sign up page to start a blog.

Anyway, thanks again for the nudge. I am enjoying it very much, even if it never translates into any income.