I recently read a very interesting article titled, "Dear Stay at Home Moms: Shut the Eff Up." Let me preface this by saying that I agree with so many of the author's points; her article was extremely well-written and I really like and respect this particular writer. (Like, I seriously love Susannah Lewis. She's super-talented and very real.) I too feel that if a SAHM is so miserable with her life that she is constantly wallowing in negativity, she should most definitely consider pursuing part-time or full-time work, volunteering, getting a mother's helper or babysitter if she can afford one, or just making some time for her personal needs like exercising or having a regular girls' night. (Stop laughing. It could totally happen.)
There is certainly a line between some relatable whining and being a flat-out Debbie Downer. I am a strong believer in trying to find some goodness and beauty amidst whatever chaos or stress you might be dealing with. I have a daily gratitude practice. I'm not a complete a-hole. But it likely won't surprise you to hear me say -- not for the first or last time -- that I think complaining is a completely healthy practice.
I am not a stay-at-home-mom. I work part-time, which is equivalent to both the best and worst of both worlds. I work out of necessity -- my income is not disposable. But that being said, I don't think I would choose to stay at home. I'm not built that way. I would be the mother encapsulated in that article: a giant bundle of angst, frustration and negativity. So please believe me when I say that I have tremendous respect for moms who stay home with their young children; I truly believe it is the hardest job of them all. I have several close SAHM friends, and I know that in their hearts, they are thrilled to be staying home with their kids -- they chose that life.
And yet, I absolutely never begrudge them their tirades about their lack of personal space, failed attempts at dinner and self-imposed "Mommy time-outs" because they have reached their breaking point. I never, ever think, Why on Earth don't they get a job if they hate this so much?
There was only one passage in Lewis's article that bugged me:
I'd just like to hear one of these SAHMs say to me, "I am so blessed. I have a faithful husband, gorgeous and healthy children, a beautiful home, and I am fortunate enough to stay home and enjoy my blessings." Just say that to me once per a instead of continually moaning about the dust accumulation on your furniture, the temper tantrums in Target and the gas you burned hauling your children to baseball, ballet and soccer practice.
I get the frustration with spending time with constant complainers, I really do. But for me, honestly, I hear plenty of that "I am so blessed" BS every single day on Facebook, and it rarely gives me the warm fuzzies. I once saw one of my Facebook friends' posts that read, "I live a charmed life," and I almost threw up in my mouth. Really? A charmed life? That's wonderful, really, but all the #blessed propaganda thrown in our faces these days is giving many of us a complex.
We read a mushy, heartfelt status update showing a gigantic bouquet some woman's husband gave her for the anniversary of the first time he cooked her dinner, thanking him for being her "best friend and soulmate" and we wonder why our husband doesn't bring us flowers. (Mine just did, for the record, for our wedding anniversary, lest someone think I'm throwing him under the bus. I'm speaking generally here, people.) We see photos of gorgeous mothers laughing with their matching-dress-clad, golden-haired twins, as we look at our own offspring, facedown on the kitchen floor, simultaneously screaming about the wrongly cut pizza and licking the tile in her filthy, too-small, mismatched outfit. We are constantly bombarded with sound bites and snapshots of families who are "living the dream." I don't know about you, but I'm not really feeling a lack of this type of gratitude from the SAHM community.
In fact, I would so much rather hear the wry commentary of the dirty house, unwashed hair, Caillou-hating Mommy. It makes me feel normal, like less of a failure. I know, I know, everyone in the world is so. freaking. tired. of hearing parents complain about parenting. I mean, how many times can we joke about how much we love our yoga pants and how all we want to do is watch Orange is the New Black after bedtime? Mommy-complaining is becoming so passé.
But, you know what? It's not. It's normalizing. It's a relief. It's how women really reach out and connect with one another when they are struggling with parenting. I am confident that there are a whole slew of perfectly content mothers who seamlessly transitioned from a single career-focused life to their dream job of staying home with a baby. I'm not so worried about those ladies. I'm more concerned about the moms who thought that motherhood would be the answer to their feelings of emptiness who are now perplexed as to why the hole in their lives, their hearts, hasn't gone away.
The mothers who used to feel important and needed by other adults, who used to have first names, who used to dress nicely, stay organized and have their sh*t together. The ones who cry in the shower because they are lonely, or bored, or exhausted, or feel like they are failing at the perfect mother thing. The mothers who can't understand what's wrong with them because, while they love their kids, they don't always love being parents. The mothers who feel like whiplash victims because they simply can't adjust to the rapid downshift and role changes brought on by motherhood.
For a SAHM like that, it would be easy to fake it and happily nudge the mom next to her at the soccer game and say, "Man. I'm living the good life. My husband is so helpful, and I couldn't ask for better kids. I am so blessed." But maybe she'd feel less alone, more connected and more like her old self if instead, she said, "Don't you wish they served alcohol at these games? My kids are driving me crazy, I haven't had a minute to myself all week, and it would be great to pretend we were really at Happy Hour instead." Isn't it better to save the deep, meaningful gratitude for your meditation, prayers, or personal reflection? I'm probably the wrong person to ask, but I'm pretty sure there's even something in the Bible about praying in private rather than making a spectacle of your gratitude.
I think that for many of us, we feel that we are failing to embody the maternal image we envisioned when we were children, and that stirs up feelings of deep shame, loneliness and pain inside us. Every time I hear another mother confess that she is floundering gracelessly through motherhood as I am, I feel stronger. The deep truths of my dear friends build me up, bit by bit, until I feel less alone and less abnormal.
I don't believe that in any other profession adults are chided for complaining about their jobs. After a tough day at the law office, you'd never hear a man scold the attorney next to him at the bar for complaining about the high-paying job for which he should be thankful. Coworkers bond through their shared struggles, contempt for clients or coworkers or the demands put upon them by their unreasonable boss. I suspect that, in spite of all their bluster, they are grateful to be employed. By no means should you let yourself slide into depression or pervasive negativity, anger or anxiety. I am all for moms making changes in their lives so that they can feel whole, happier and ultimately, be better parents. But go ahead and be real, SAHMs -- you'll never get anything but a sympathetic ear from me if you need to air your dirty laundry (both literal and metaphorical) next to me in the Target Pharmacy line. I feel you.