Friday, November 13, 2009

Bon-Bons, Mimosas & Soap Operas

I stretch out on the couch in my silk robe and slippers. It's nearly noon, time for my favorite soap. I arrange my box of chocolate truffles ever-so-carefully within hands reach on the coffee table, careful not to block my view of the 60" flatscreen. I pour myself champagne with a touch of orange juice (my version of a mimosa), don my Bluetooth, and dial up my BFF so we can discuss the antics of the sexy villainess while we simultaneously watch "The Days of the Nights." My laptop is balanced on my thighs, so I can track FaceBook happenings all the while. I am (dramatic music, please) a stay-at-home mom.

Right. Anyone who has ever been a stay-at-home mom (a phrase I loathe because no one in that situation I know ever actually stays at home) is laughing hysterically at the idea of watching soaps and eating bon-bons. And the idea of a mimosa at mid-day, while as intoxicating as that may be (both literally and figuratively), is not likely to happen any time beside Sunday brunch.

And really, no one I know has ever really accused me of eating bons-bons and watching TV all day (except my husband, once, when we were in a fight).

Oh, sure, I've gotten the well-meaning but patronizing, "Raising kids is the hardest job in the world," and "It's nice that you have the choice." I've also gotten the passive-aggressive "Good for you! I don't know how you do it--I for one couldn't sit around all day and watch kids." (said in a sticky-sweet voice, of course). But most people seemed genuinely happy for me, and respectful of the choice I'd made. And from my SATM (stay-at-home-mom for the uninitiated) friends, I hear similar stories of support.

So why is it, then, that the other SATMs I've known over the years are so dang hard on themselves when society is coming around to realize just how important the job of raising kids is?

It's a question I've given alot of thought. I know some fantastic women, many of whom have not only have BA or BS degrees, but advanced degrees--Masters, Doctorates, JDs, specialized certifications. They've left careers as lawyers, accountants, social workers, teachers, managers, tech support--you name it, and I likely know someone who put that career aside in favor of the kid-thing. I see them at the kids' school, running NCSA meetings (our school's version of PTA), planning exhaustive (and exhausting) fundraisers, organizing huge school events, busting their humps hour after hour, day after day, year after year, as if trying to prove to others that despite not being in the workforce, they're still a valid, contributing human being.

It begs the question, who are they really trying to prove it to? (And when I say "they," I include myself as well.) And what are they trying to prove?

My personal and strictly non-scientific observation of many dear SAHM friends over the years indicates that they are, by nature, overachievers. The same fervor they invested in attaining their various degrees and professional accolades are transferred, by default, onto their job as Mom. Somewhere in their deepest heart-of-hearts, they don't feel that "just" being a mom is enough, and they have to add more to their already brimming plate to feel complete.

This is a gross generalization, I know. There are many, many women out there for whom the epitome of womanhood is raising a family and being a wife, and I toast them. But it has to be acknowledged that some women--like me--love their children, love their role, yet feel a longing for more. There are only so many park days and zoo visits you can do. Only so many educational books you can read to them. Only so many nature walks you can take. The vague feeling of "something's missing" can be covered by sloppy kisses and enthusiastic hugs for a time, but it is still there.

And that's why, in my opinion, many SAHMs take on so much--to fill that small but possibly growing hole. The years between 2001 and late 2007, when I was completely out of the work-for-pay world (as opposed to the work-for-hugs world) I about killed myself volunteering, while raising two small children. I took on Moms Club President, running our church's Harvest Festival, co-chairing the school's Silent Auction Committee four years in a row, working in the classroom, running copies, hosting food drivers--you name it, I did it. I did it because I needed more. Playing dollies endlessly with two little girls just didn't cut it for me. And I felt guilty about it. So I invested what little spare time I had in volunteering.

I spent years spinning--until I finally came to the realization that it was okay for me not to be completely fulfilled by raising munchkins. Once I let go of feeling guilty about it, I was able to enjoy both my girls and my volunteer activities much more. And, though it seems counter-intuitive, I was actually able to "let go" of some of the volunteer activities that were killing me--like chairing the Silent Auction (a mind-bending exercise in coordination, planning and implementation).

So now I'm building a business from home again. Not having quite the success I'd like, but having some. And the best part is, that tiny hole in me, the hole that needed filling (and that I felt guilty about needing filled) is smaller now. I think there is a way to find balance. But you have to be willing to allow yourself to know that balance is needed. Make sense?

Ultimately, I wouldn't trade those one-on-one (or, when Nati came along, two-on-one) years with the girls for anything. But I do wish I'd acknowledged, years ago, that small, empty, gnawing feeling in my stomach that I was missing something. Perhaps then I wouldn't have driven myself so crazy trying to fill it by volunteering, and just accepted the fact that I need work to feel fully validated.

And what of the bonbons, mimosas and soap operas? I'll save those for when I'm retired...oohh, I can hear the hysterical laughter of retirees right now...

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