Today’s Friday post is a guest post from the charming, clever and wonderful, Kim Reid. Kim is an Australian, who met her Irish husband in Johannesburg, South Africa, and they now live back in Australia with their two gorgeous, wee boys. You can find out more about her, and read more of her marvellous writing, over at her blog, KimLovesJozi.
In a recent article about the award winning author Anna Funder, Peter Conrad writes (in The Monthly magazine) that she often felt guilty for constantly thinking of her writing while busy looking after her kids. Funder herself describes this double life as “the psychology of the mistress”. And Conrad writes that Funder pretends “to be a dutiful wife and mother while itching to be back with the demon lover she has locked in her study.”
This is a remarkable explanation of the difficulties women (all? Some?) face when their lives are irrevocably, and wonderfully, altered by the birth (or adoption) of their children. Of course life changes for the fathers too, but it is arguably more profound for the mothers. For it is the mothers who physically bear and nurse the children, who take charge of the bulk of domestic duties and whose career is most likely to cease or be interrupted. In my own situation, now that my husband and I have children, my career has stopped dead while his continues on.
Sometimes I wonder if I am a bit like Funder, quietly reading stories or jumping on the trampoline while I fantasise about all manner of other things I could be doing with my time. I have decided to just be a mother, with nothing simmering away on the side. Unfortunately I’m not clever enough (or well slept enough) to do other stuff too. Lots of mothers who have put their career on hold to raise the kids still manage to do lots of other cool stuff, they garden and blog, cook and crochet, preserve and do pilates. Some earn supplementary income by starting a small business from home or working evenings. And it’s not enough just to do these things, one must excel with a capital E, and record it all on Pinterest.
I’m glad that lots of women are able to slip in and out of their motherhood disguise. I’m not trying to engage the whole debate about who should stay home with the kids, or what age kids should be put in full time care. These issues aren’t black and white, they’re effected by numerous variables and people are easily offended, myself included.
I just wish there was more celebration of motherhood. Not motherhood plus all the other cool things we can cram into our lives. Just the bareness of motherhood. It is an often tiring and lonely pastime, especially when kids are being naughty, not sleeping or sick. In the afternoons the dreaded boredom strikes. There is no psychological or mental stimulation that may come from ones career, nor are there work mates to relate to. There is no financial renumeration, indeed the Australian government gives more benefits to families whose kids are in full time care, than ones who are at home with parents.
There is so little encouragement out there for women who make the unpopular and poverty-inducing decision to stay at home full time with kids. And I think this exists within Christian circles as much as anywhere else. When I go to church I hear very little in sermons that applies specifically to my role. Throughout all of my sleeplessness I haven’t once heard about persevering with my difficult baby. After church people don’t know what to talk to me about. It’s like I have no thoughts or opinions beyond train tracks and healthy snack options. When I see old friends and they ask me what I am doing now I instinctively say “I’m just staying at home with the kids”, as if it’s a choice based on laziness or leisure.
I’ve decided to stay at home with my kids because I want to, and because my husband and I think it’s what our kids need most from me at this stage of their lives. I’ve seen in the lives of people close to me how traumatic it is to struggle to have children, and so we see our two as precious little gifts. I want to bask in their presence and enjoy their quirks, calm their worries and hold their grubby hands. I want to wipe their salty tears while they while they will still let me.
If I do have a disguise that I don during my day as a mother, it’s of reader. I read whenever I can. During naptime, while breastfeeding or if the kids are watching TV or playing happily together. I’ve read two things lately that have encouraged me to continue in my resolve to stay with my kids. I found a book on my dad’s shelves called “How to really love your child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. From the looks of the cover it was written in an era when every mother stayed at home and a standard pram didn’t cost $700. It says that kids, especially toddlers, need focussed attention, eye contact and lots of affection. Sometimes I don’t know what to ‘do’ with my kids, and looking for suggestions on the internet is always disheartening. I’m glad I discovered this book, because now I know how to fill the day.
The second is this article by Rachel Jankovic about the way society views children and motherhood. Jankovic writes that
“Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for. Christian mothers carry their children in hostile territory. When you are in public with them, you are standing with, and defending, the objects of cultural dislike. You are publicly testifying that you value what God values, and that you refuse to value what the world values. You stand with the defenseless and in front of the needy. You represent everything that our culture hates, because you represent laying down your life for another—and laying down your life for another represents the gospel.”
This is all the compulsion I need to continue to care for my intense, energetic, funny and affectionate sons. I just wish that the rest of my community, especially my Christian community would hold a similar stance.
In summary: motherhood.