Homemaker Boot Camp

One of my sisters just got engaged. And I’m very happy for her. I hope that this is the love she has been waiting for. I hope that this marriage lasts (her fiance is a double-divorcer, just recently annulled). I hope that she is happy. She will be moving from New Mexico to LA and, between the time that she moves here until she gets married, she will be living with one of my other sisters, in what she happily calls “homemaker boot camp”.

And I am scared. My sisters are all very much older than I and I frequently feel that we grew up in different centuries, not just different generations. It is very difficult for me to watch my sisters, all of them college graduates, act like unwashed babymakers. And the fact that #5 (yes, we do refer to each other by number) is so anxious to learn from #4 how to “make dinner, clean house, and change diapers, all at the same time!” really creeps me out.

Only one and a half of my sisters have succeeded in convincing me that they chose, of their own free will (like feminists) to be mothers. Of them, the whole number (that would be #3) is a do-it-all soccer mom. She has four kids who each have their own activities and she somehow manages to deal with them without losing her personality. I don’t know if she has any hobbies or if she does what they might be, but she seems to be the kind of person who would pursue her hobbies if she wanted to. The half point goes to #4, who is my favorite sister and always seemed to me to be the manifestation of Mary (the Mother of God). So I suppose it should be no surprise to me that she became a mother. But occassionally, I see a sadness creep in when she thinks about what might have been. I’m sure she would no more trade for my life than I would for hers, but I wish her happiness.

The remaining sisters, #s 1 and 2 (who are both really #1, but for our purposes, we will give them numbers) rarely seem to have a personality apart from their children. And that scares me and that makes me sad. One (#1) was convinced by her husband not to finish her dissertation and so never completed her doctorate in one of two subjects I’ve ever known her to be excited about (the other was Shakespeare). Now, it might well be argued that she would have no use for a degree in the Classics, but that’s not really the point from where I’m standing. The other (#2), while she completed two post-collegiate degrees, also seems incapable of having a conversation about herself without hinging her feelings on her children and husband. Maybe it’s because I’m a selfish whore, but when you ask me about my life, I will tell you about my life. If you ask me about my husband’s I will tell you about his. Now, of course, they overlap. But not everything I do has to do with him…

#5 is the sister who told me, after confessing that she just discovered the hideous expression “metrosexual” (which my husband and, really, my “type” most certainly is), that her ideal man is the Marlboro Man. I hope that she is truly happy being the Little Woman to her Marlboro Man (and he really is, ex-Marine & all). I hope that she understands that this will curtail her world travels (she’s still got two continents on me) and that she’s okay with that. I hope she’s as good a mother as she is a sister (except, you know, less susceptible to teasing); she always was a good babysitter.

I had brunch with #2 (Ms. I’m So Glad You Quit Your Job To Focus On Your Marriage, Isn’t It Great To Have Food On The Table When Your Husband Comes Home) yesterday. It was very “there but for the Grace go I”. Few of my sisters (and certainly not my mother) ever seem happy with the lives they have chosen. Since I am, I feel that I should help them somehow…but I don’t really know how. Maybe the best is to be an example.

18 thoughts on “Homemaker Boot Camp

  1. Makes me glad I have no sisters. But are you sure that they are not happy, or are you projecting that you would not have been happy in those situations?

  2. Interesting story Miko…

    For one of my sisters it seemed the thing she wanted most in the world was to be a mother, but fate has complicated that dream for her in so many ways and it still hasn’t happened despite her many valiant efforts. I, OTOH, was supposedly left infertile from my cancer treatments. Which turned out to be totally wrong. And this was crazy given the fact that I had always planned to pursue a career, knowing that children would probably not be in my future.

    But I have no regrets about having my kids and everyday I am grateful for being their mother (except, maybe, those days when I think that they deserved a better Mom than me). I guess for me, though, I never saw motherhood as preventing my career aspirations. It just delayed things awhile. And even in the busiest days of their toddler years I was still enriching my own mind in preparation for my return to academia. But while this has been the right path for me, I don’t begrudge women their choice of being full-time Moms. If it’s what they most want to do, who am I to tell them that they are wrong or benighted?

  3. I’ve always hoped that my sister can walk the path of happiness. I don’t pretend to know what that is for her, but she seems to have an inkling. Can any of us really know more than that?

  4. Miko, it’s good to get to know your family a little better. :)

    Amber spoke the first thought to cross my mind as I read this post. Jana and I are aware that there are LDS friends and family who are waiting for signs of our misery for having left Mormonism, and I’ve heard people at Church describe the unvoiced but certain sorrow of non-Mormons they’ve encountered.

    At the same time, I am troubled when women (and it is mostly women) make the choice to live entirely for and through their spouses and children. I remember when Jana first pointed out to me that men tend to describe themselves by what they do, and women often describe themselves through their relationships.

    Jana, I think that we reached a consensus early in our marriage (even in the depths of our conservative Mormonism and traditional gender roles) that it was better for the kids to lose some of your attention and time as you pursued education and other pursuits. I think there is a fallacy that children gain more the more that parents sacrifice for them. There needs to be a balance–the children should model themselves on parents who are whole people with their own interests and passions.

  5. Miko – this is sad to me. I can relate a little growing up in a Christian community with similar perspectives on a wife’s role in society. Luckily, my parents never bought into this mentality, even though many others in our community did, so my sister will never fall into that trap – she is well on her way to pursing her PhD like my father. I make sure to give her a balance view of marriage to keep her at least somewhat content that she is single :) I will personally kill her husband (when she gets one) if he makes her quit her degree. :) I’m sure she would divorce him first if he pushed her too far. She’s a passionate person.

    I’ve heard, although I can’t verify this because my kids are too young, that they are more comfortable feeling part of some great thing, along side of it and taking part it rather than being the center of attention. This is the same with a spouse. I don’t want to be my wife’s center of attention, but rather a teammate or partner involved together in something bigger than ourselves. Maybe folks with older children can shed more light no this – A mother and father’s most important person in their lives are each other. The kids are second. The mother and father both have unique talents, gifts, dreams, and from my perspective, a God-given future to use those gifts. Child rearing is not a person’s main goal in life any more than making friends is a main goal – both are wonderful, but not one’s main purpose. But what a good place to raise children – in an environment where both parents are talented, excited individuals in their own spheres of influence in the world around them.

    This subject has always upset me within my Christian community. Again, it’s about something that bothers me when I see it abused – a person’s potential. So many women I’ve met are full of potential to be and do so much good in the world – be a great writer, engineer, thinker, designer – they have so much promise, so much potential, they could set the world on fire. My own wife is an example of this – what she does at her job as an engineer no one else can do because she is so good at it.

    But these other women, they were from a very young age told by their parents (sometimes without words) that their lot in life is with a husband and raising children, and all those other pursuits in life are not for them. This brakes my heart terribly, it almost brings tears to my eyes. When I was a teacher – I would always encourage young women to chase their dreams – for they are given by God Himself, and a husband should be one who enables them to better reach those dreams, not to end them. The husband and wife were meant to be a team together – to enable each other to reach each others dreams and potential when they couldn’t do nearly as well by themselves. But these women mostly didn’t do this in the end. One by one they got married, and live out their traditional-dictated lives. It was too late already for me to do anything, no matter how charismatic or convincing I was. The damage was already done – they had never pursued careers they really cared about in the first place, just ones that made getting married easier.

    Many of these once single women I still see around today. They were once very excited and happy – an exciting future ahead of them, and them full of talent and gifts. Although bummed out that they weren’t married, they were still happy – you could see it in their eyes. But now they seem somber and their earlier joy seems missing. Raising small children is challenging, but I can’t tell if it’s more than that. I think it is something more, but I might just be seeing things with my colored glasses. I think life is so much more for women than just being great at home. Prov. 31 talks about a wife who’s influence reaches far outside of it because of her many gifts and abilities – meant for her whole community, not just her family. There it is – in the Bible. Argue with that!!

    Melissa and I are friends with a many other couples who have children and the wives are brilliant women with good careers, and we get together to share sad stories about how other Christians are constantly putting us down. An engineer? A physical therapist? An accountant? Well, that’s why your children are so mis-behaved, they say. Our ‘Christian’ babysitter told Melissa that our daughter thinks she is her mother, and misbehaves around Melissa because she never sees her and is desperately trying to get attention. (Our daughter is only at her place 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week, so I don’t think so.) The pressure never ends – they constantly feel the need to criticize us because the Bible says to tell brothers and sisters their sin so that they may be healed, but unfortunately, the only place that says a wife must stay home with the kids is in a patriarchal traditional system, not the Bible, so they are the ones who are wrong.

    My friends and I sit there, and with each cut, we get angrier and angrier. One day if I loose my patience, I will probably lash out. I hate fighting bad religious tradition, because it cannot be battled by logic, since logic did not usher it in. So instead, I remember that these women are misguided, enslaved by the encrustation of thousands of years of man-devised tradition and unable to see past it. Instead of anger, a better response would be pity, and sadness – to watch their potential waste away in ignorance while they criticize my wife who is valiantly trying to reach hers with all her heart and God’s blessing.

  6. Amber: as I said, one of my sisters is completely happy with what she’s chosen, and I applaud her for it. Another, often seems happy (and I used to want a marriage just like hers until I started seeing the darker side), but occassionally, I recognize sadness and I wish I could make it better. The other two are constantly complaining, though often in a round-about way that if you ask them point-blank, they would say they were happy. It’s a fine line, I agree. I support every woman to choose her life (and to change her choice if she decides it wasn’t the right one), but it doesn’t seem that all of my sisters are actually happy with their choices, and that’s what makes me sad.

    I know my mother didn’t intend to be a mother so quickly…or at all if she’d thought about it. I’ve never seen her so happy as when we all moved out. It also strained my parents’ marriage to the point that I used to pray that they would divorce (talk about an oxymoron). My mom always had a career, and growing up I never felt that I should “only” be a mother, but I did feel that, since I had a uterus, I would end up being a mother. I was very excited when I discovered that this was not necessarily the case. So I’m concerned that this last sister is still bound by the expectations I know we grew up with. I know her husband expects her to be stay-at-home. I don’t know if that will include additional children. Maybe she found the perfect man because she expects to be cared for. I hope so.

  7. I have always felt driven toward a career. And I am pursuing that now. But I want kids someday, too, and in the back of my brain I’m regularly thinking about how to mold my skills and my career into something that will allow me to be the mom I want to be and the career woman I want to be simultaneously.

    I wish it was easier to be a student/parent or employee/parent. I can’t imagine working the hours I do now, with a commute, and spending enough time with kids. And maintaining my relationship with my husband. I couldn’t do it. But, with more universities offering night, weekend and online classes, school is becoming more convenient. And with larger companies offering onsite daycare, flexible schedules, and work-from-home-options, working while parenting is becoming more convenient, too. That’s the position I want to be in when I have kids – one where I am skilled/valuable enough to demand a flexible schedule or job-share. I’m glad to have a husband supportive in this endeavor – I wouldn’t have had one any other way.

    Great post, Miko, and I loved all the replies. I pretty much agree with everything that has already been said.

  8. Jonathan: something you said resonated with me. It’s about fulfillment.

    At least two of my sisters believe that life is about suffering so, even if they were happy they would be unhappy, if that makes sense. But #3 really seems fulfilled (and that was italic but we seem to be having issues with that at the moment) by being a mother and a wife. #4 seems content, which is often good enough.

    #s 1 & 2 rarely seem content at all…and when #1 told me she wasn’t completing her dissertation, she acknowledged that she was giving up what she wanted to do for the benefit of her husband/children. But, then, life is about suffering. Yes, sacrifice is noble and has its place. But I don’t think there is anything noble about giving up fulfillment for the sake of homemade strawberry jam. And that is how I see it. I know these are very intelligent, capable women (hey, they’re related to me!) and certainly could raise children and have careers. But so many of them seem to be choosing to give up potential fulfillment (whether as an artist, a nurse, or a scientist) so that they can make pies and dinner and, well for #1, organic strawberry jam. And sure, the strawberry jam will give their kids great memories. But my memories of my mother are more colored by the fact that she was unfulfilled by it than by the fact that she made strawberry jam. Which, well, I liked her raspberry jam better.

    So my concerns for #5 I suppose revolve around the fact that I know that she’s currently unfulfilled. She, too, gave up her PhD (but for better reasons, in my mind) because she realized she didn’t want to be a physicist, something that she (and I) both felt she had to do because our father loves physics. It felt like I was betraying him when I told him (in HS, mind you) that I didn’t want to study physics. It took her much longer to realize that she wanted to pursue a different scientific field. She loves her work as a geologist. She loves that it takes her to different continents. She thinks the wave patterns of earthquakes are “beautiful”. She loves that she works in a place where she takes 3 hour lunches to go mountain biking. And I know she feels that something is missing in her life. So I support her finding a relationship. But I’m concerned that giving up everything she loves for the one thing that was missing from the equation will unbalance it.

    Back to Amber & John W.: It is true that I would be very unhappy in the lives that any of my sisters have chosen. More unhappy than they are, certainly. But when I look at #3 and, often, #4, I’m happy that they’re happy. And I can look at those two and say, “although I wouldn’t want it, I’m glad that you have it”. So when I look at #5, I’m hoping that it’s what she wants…but I’m afraid that it won’t be.

    & Pilgrimgirl: I read somewhere that, whether you choose to stay at home or choose to have a career as well, it is important that you don’t feel guilty about the choice you make. That the children will be happy if you are; and will know your guilt if you aren’t.

  9. My mom raised my sister and myself all by herself since she was about 1.5 years old and I was 4.5 years old. During my lifetime, and I as I got older, I thanked her several times for all the sacrifices she made for me and my sister in order to be a good mother. And EVERY time I said this to her she insisted that she has not sacrificed anything, but that all she ever wanted was to raise her two daughthers as good, upstanding, and taken-care of people. It is really important for her to make this distinction. Her being was completely comprised of her desire to be a mother for her daughters.

    I don’t know if this would ever be my desire ( I don’t think it could), but I do know that for her it was genuine and beautiful and at least something I would like to consider.

    My sister and I are almost completely moved out of the house (my little sister is in college now and I moved 3,000 miles away) and I think that life is really hard for my mom because we were her world, and now she is being forced to face the world outside of direct motherhood. But I think as hard as it is for her to experience this new things, she lacks any guilt or regret about her choice to dedicate herself completely to being a mother. And I think that her life choices make her fulfilled and happy. It’s great to see her pursue new interests as she exists in her empty nest.

    I don’t think I will be the same, but I respect her for that and I appreciate that she never made me feel guilty about her choice to give so much of herself to me. I think in so many ways it just makes me want to give a lot of myself to others.

  10. Amber: yeah, it should’ve ended at the end of a comment if thta was all it took :-p But thanx for the attempt!

    Bonny: I’ve often felt that my desires as regards to motherhood (or lack there of) might have been different if I’d had rolemodels like your mother around. It’s kind of nice to know that my choices in this matter aren’t entirely shaped by the role models I did have. Your mother sounds like she’s lead a beautiful & fulfilling life. I think that society at large (and the government) should support parents like her in their choices.

  11. Does anyone have any idea what governments in other countries do to support parents like Bonny’s?

    I always wonder if there would be a feasable way to provide stay at home moms (and at the very least, single SAHMs) with social security benefits. I think of all the hours my mom spent taking care of us, teaching us and helping with homework, etc, and she deserves at least 40 hours a week attached to her social security number when retirement comes around. She started working once we were all in school, but at least for the five years before kids go to school, what kind of social security benefits could we offer?

    I know the entire SS system is already bankrupt, but still…..

  12. Thank you, John (#14)!

    Elise: I know that Germany has an 18-month parental leave program. It’s not completely SAH[P], but it assures that there will be a job for the parent to go back to after the leave at an assured percentage of salary. Additionally, the parent is assured a percentage of salary for the 18 months. Allegedly, this has made for children spaced 3 years apart with SAHPs switching off: this 18 months dad’s at home, next 18 months mom is…that was told to me by someone who thought this was creeping socialism and would eventually lead to The Demise Of Our Culture, so… other than that, though, I don’t know what other countries might offer in terms of parents who want to stay at home full time.

  13. Miko, I know that personal time is a finite thing, but I wonder whether identity really is as finite as you seem to thing/imply? Don’t we all have multiple roles that we play throughout life?

  14. Miko – thanks for the link. Very interesting and kind of sad how far behind we are. I’d like to get involved in some of the politics the movement for regulated/mandated leave for new parents. I’m excited to explore the additional links from your link more this weekend.

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