Education and the stay-at-home-mother

Education and the stay-at-home-mother

Sophia Kramskaya Reading

As a society we have changed. In order to secure a livable wage, one must have a college degree. In order to advance in one’s field and make a greater than livable wage, one must have a master’s degree. These wages can be earned without the degree, but often they involve some great physical strain or peril in the type of work required. It is all too common in this modern American society to trust that he who holds the degree has the knowledge to judge what those lesser individuals can judge. He is held on a pedestal. He has this mysterious knowledge others do not have. My goodness, he is licensed in, something. It doesn’t matter what.

So they form the elite class. If Mrs. Obama doesn’t know how to feed her children, is there any hope for the uneducated masses?

 

They form the meritocracy. Instead of an aristocracy, where one is born into a privileged position, these intellectual higher-ups have used their merit to become the ruling class. They determine what our children should eat (Mrs. Obama’s lunch program), what they should learn (common core applied nationally), how many children they should have, even if they live in Africa (a la the cultural imperialism of Melinda Gates). That a person should be Ivy League education makes him or her the greater judge is absurd, especially since determining the needs of any human person requires creativity, flexibility and risk, and students at Ivy League schools are showing less and less of this.

What does this have to do with stay-at-home-mothers? The title of this post suggests a relationship of some kind. I met a mother once who advocated I become a stay-at-home-mother. I told her I wanted to work with clients in a therapeutic setting (I didn’t use such fancy words then). She told me I can use the skills I gain from any degree with my children. True enough. I can. I can be reflective, use smart words, guide and mold their development with appropriate rewards and punishments, but I will hopefully not be working with victims of trauma in that setting. Ordinarily, there are lots of more advanced skills and learned judgment that just simply are not used day-to-day in the rearing of a four-year old, two-year old and infant.

So what’s a mom to do? Study, I say. Read.

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Imagine that. I tend to spend more time on the internet than is healthy simply because I do not have to hold my computer. I can hold my infant and use my eyes without requiring my hands, except for the periodic mouse scroll. I see Moms’ groups leading lovely bible studies focused on motherhood, but hear less about Moms’ groups engaging in academically rigorous study together. We do not need to be engaged in formal education or work in order to advance intellectually.

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Perhaps it’s too hard to find a topic of interest. One mom may be deeply engaged in the field of psychology, another in politics, another in theology, another in art. Or a mom may have hated school and be deeply engaged in the rearing of her children, not interested in academics. All these mothers come together either out of values or necessity. They are stay at home moms.

Here I would propose a new program that can bring mothers with diverse backgrounds together, and assist in their personal and intellectual development: a book club, an intellectual, deep, stimulating book club. If interests are too diverse, I propose a book club focused on good literature (aka, not Fifty Shades of Gray or the Twilight series, unless you’re focused on the cultural impact of so many children reading the Twilight Series, and yes, I know this was, like, 7 years ago).

No time to read a book?

Then I say:

Our personhood does not stop when we have children. Sometimes we know this. “I need alone time” and whatnot. Some mothers practice this with greater gusto and determination than others. Some mothers judge the practice of it in others as being selfish.

The reality is, just as we need to maintain our health as much as possible by sleeping and eating, so we also need exercise, physical and mental. As human beings we need to push ourselves. This could be by creating a schedule that masterfully manages five children, homeschooling and an infant. It could be by applying coping skills, psychotherapeutic techniques in the home while still managing to get dinner on the table. It could be playing delightfully with little rascals while keeping the house clean. It does not have to be academic. But for many, we need it in some way. Read a book. Create a schedule. Play. We need it all. And we need to prioritize it.

Moms come together: relational development.

They read: intellectual development.

They do so without toddler interruptions: emotional coping by taking a break from chaos.

They learn: professional/personal development depending on the topic.

If reading great literature: empathy develops, which makes for a better mother.

If the topic is spiritual or good literature, the application of the topic/reflections to one’s life: moral development.

The deeper the reading the more we flex those brain muscles, the better adept we will be to meeting the chaotic and never ending needs of the little people in ours lives.

So start a book club! Make it a priority as you make sleeping a priority (which means sometimes other things take precedence, but by and large we maintain the effort to do it).

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Thinking about ambition.

Thinking about ambition. I grow eager to move on to the next thing once I feel the challenge of the present has been met. I may still have room to grow, but I no longer feel stressed or challenged by the present circumstances. What is the next thing? I shared feelings with my mom like this when I was a senior in high school. That was the first time she seemed to fully understand. She was just the same. Ready to move on, to a new field or up in the present one, but on…anywhere…on. I would experience this again and again. What is the next thing? Ever ready for diversity. Missionary work, college, Minnesota winters, marriage, full time work, Virginia, graduate school, a baby in graduate school, one baby, two baby, three babies under age four, low income. What is the next thing? What challenge can come next?

I’ve compartmentalized my life. Here is my work, my professional life. I’m looking for networking, for opportunities. I want to progress, want to do more, want to be more. I’ve honed my skills, ready for the next challenge. But I can’t. I’m stuck.

I’m stuck because I have three little miracles under three feet running amok in my beautiful home. The youngest does not yet run, she merely reaches, but she’s definitely on her way, ready for the next challenge. I’m stuck because I am living the greatest call imaginable. We came together and made little people in the overflow of our love and they have to be raised, reared, taught the ways of the Lord and civilized society.

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I’m stuck and I compartmentalized. But I was wrong to do that. If I feel like I’ve overcome the difficult, stressful part of my wonderfully important job, isn’t that a blessing? Because the constant challenges of parenting tell me I have not yet overcome that battle.

So some things will have to wait for now. If I can see my life as a whole, integrated, the waiting will not be so difficult. I get up, get dressed for work, dress little people before work, go to work, meet with clients, come home, nurse a baby, put a toddler down for nap, eat something delicious prepared by my debonair husband (actually, geeky-awkward-amazing husband), go back to work. I stop at home before going to meetings in order to nurse the baby. I work only two days a week and I will not work back-to-back days.

My life is one. My vocation is one. I do not need to separate them into two separate lives and think one is utterly challenging and I’m failing, and feel “what’s next” in the other. If I see it as one, there is enough for me to apply myself. I can love those children better. Good gracious, I could start cooking again. That’s challenge enough.

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“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” Matthew 6:34

Challenge enough.

Life in Balance

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For me, life is about balance. Just as in family systems therapy, I see life as a child’s mobile. Each piece is weighted strategically to create harmony as a hole. Were one piece to take on additional weight, or be robbed of its proper weight, the entire mobile would wobble and shake, attempting to find it’s proper balance and proportion. It could adjust, but it might look disfigured. To remedy it, other pieces could take on additional weight, say if the wounded string was cut. Or perhaps if the wounded string weight more than its fair share, the others would have to sacrifice. This is life to me. A series of checks and balances. This, for me, since I struggle with anxiety, is the way to survive.

What are the components?

–       The physical – which includes exercise, adequate sleep, good food and emotional wellness

–       The psychological – which includes a well-formed conscience and rational thinking

–       The social – familial, friendship, and communal ties here

–       Intellectual – learning, the acquisition of knowledge and practice of creativity

–       The environmental – clean surroundings that have some bit of silence

–       And the spiritual – communion with God, living in a state of grace, practicing devotions, living life with a sense of wonder and awe of the beauty of God’s creation, being in nature.

If we had that we’d have it all.

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I am the mother of five children: three born, two in heaven (see my blog “The Madness of Miscarriage”). My first daughter will be four years old in October, my son will be two in November, my youngest reached three months of age yesterday. “Wow, you really have your hands full” is the mantra I hear repeated to me at the grocery store. I don’t mind it or see it as a sign of an anti-life culture because it’s just…so…true.

After our first was born, the physical weight was wacked like it’d never been wacked before. You can imagine. The social weight, however, was miraculously expanded by our becoming parents and learning to live for another person. It took creativity (the intellectual weight)

I see the same occurred as I reflect on the birth of our son. The social weight expanded and the physical deteriorated following his birth.

And what took place between the births? A slow, uphill climb to rebuild the spiritual, which needed a new location on the mobile because the social expanded so much, depleting my alone time and rigorous schedule; the environmental, learning to be a wife and mother with babies that have their own “stuff” and grow to make their own messes; and in time the physical . The psychological weight, for me, could be maintained by finding creative ways to support the physical weight (ha! In more ways than one, I had some weight to lose postpartum) and develop a routine for our family.

“Routine is beauty,” said Mark Berchum as he trained a new batch of missionaries to serve with the National Evangelization Team in 2003. Routine (a predictable order of events, not a schedule) gave me a sense of peace, expanded the hours of the day and helped me feel a sense of accomplishment. I had one chore a day. As a morning person, after cleaning up from breakfast, I completed my chore. My children learned to expect I would not be available for play at this time and seemed happily occupied while I worked.

Our routine was as follows:

–       Wake up and dress

–       Breakfast

–       Clean up

–       Morning chore

–       Lunch prep

–       Nap time – a project or more chores or nap to be completed here

–       Snack

–       Play time/walk with stroller

–       Dinner prep

–       Bedtime

 

My most recent pregnancy was the most physically difficult. I lost of my proactive chore schedule and was too tired to walk on most days. We also moved to a new environment that lacked signs of nature, felt unsafe at times, and was very noisy compared to our home in the country. Walking was unpleasant and tiring.

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So now with three babes in tow, I’m still trying to learn. Instead of walking as my exercise I try to do some exercise routine first thing in the morning. I’m gradually coming back to doing chores and keeping the house clean (difficult though, because we moved and are still settling in). We have a beautiful, albeit small, yard and my parents’ house with their almond orchard is only two miles away (so we have some nature). Silence is the most difficult to come by these days, and probably the area that makes my husband and I suffer the most. I put a lot of my energy into making this house our own, making it beautiful by painting and decorating…for my sake and my family.

 

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So life is always a work in progress. I believe if we’re living right, our life will keep changing and we’ll have to keep balancing. With each step, I ask God for guidance and grace. We’re getting our flow again, though I wish I could help my husband more with cooking. We’ll get there. Salads help.

What do you do to maintain balance in your life?

 

 

 

 

 

In medio stat virtus

In all things moderation.  Jealousy in moderation, particularly.

A study (link: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0069841) shows us we’re less happy when see people’s picture perfect lives on facebook.  We can probably generalize those findings to other forms of social media as well.  I see the home she bought with her banker-husband all set up.  I don’t see the toys lurking behind the couch in the current favored hiding spot of her three-year old toddler.  I see the new hairstyle, the fancy dinner, and I think, oh, they have money or they have time and freedom to either make or cook such a meal.  Ah, to be a newlywed!  And I feel a little bit less joyful about the life I’m living.

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And then what happens?

I either defend my lifestyle by defending my undone hair, baggy clothes, laundry mountain, my tired expression and say all that matters is my children are not starving and are loved.  Or perhaps I internalize the messages sent to me via facebook and multimillion or billion dollar marketing strategies to make me believe that truly, my life should be spotless, my face should be spotless (then painted with make up), my wardrobe complete and my cooking completed with the ease and flavor of Rachel Ray’s 30-minute meals. Then I will put endless amounts of pressure on myself and hate myself when my life does not measure up, when I don’t sleep well enough, when pregnancy prevents me from doing anything other than holding a horizontal position.  Is there some middle way?

According to Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II) vice lies on either side of the virtue.  It is the extreme, the excess or deficiency. Virtue lies in “the golden mean.”  In the Summa (Question 64) Aquinas says this is consistent with Christian morality.  In medio stat virtus.

Why should I dismiss the idea of a life well ordered, presenting myself as put together and working on a house maintained, just because it can’t be perfect?  Why is it I hear that message so often from women on social media?  “Don’t be my friend if you can’t handle a messy house.” Comments then follow about how clean her house looks in the photograph.

My guess is it may be a response to guilt.  But is it guilt over not fulfilling one’s vocation or guilt over not meetings one’s standards of perfectionism.  In medio stat virtus.

We have to find the middle way.  We have to allow ourselves to have an ideal that is realistic. I can dust, but I should not expect the toys to be carefully concealed in a toy box for the duration of the day.  I can vacuum, but should expect to see crumbs, pasta sauce and yogurt on the floor beneath the highchair one hour later. I should expect that I will clean again.  I can shower, do make up, and dress very chic, but I should expect to see my tired face again in the morning after spending a few hours up with the baby.  And I need to know that this is okay.

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Where is the lie?  We go can go on social media every moment of the day.  I go just when my life is look the most bleak in my ill-fitted pajamas, gray robe, stuffed nose and messy hair.  At that moment I see that everyone else’s life looks put together and perfect?  Of course that is only the moment he or she chose to photograph.

Perhaps it is not that people only post attractive pictures of themselves, but that the time I am most likely to access those photographs is not during a coffee date but at 5am after the baby just went back to sleep and I can’t sleep because my nose is overrun by allergies.  So the fault is with me.

Should I then dismiss any aspirations towards beauty and order?

I should not!

I should rather take stock of my position in life, find ways to make the most of the situation, make a realistic plan and implement it accordingly.  In my plan I should include consideration that things will not go according to plan, but expectation that I will not chuck the plan when that occurs.

We’re called to know our weaknesses and our strengths.  We aren’t called to be the wife of Proverbs 31 literally. But we aren’t called to dismiss her either.  In medio stat virtus.  We’re called to find the middle way, the golden mean, and live our lives to the full.

I won’t claim and special insight here.  I would like at add the conviction I found in this weblog: http://www.organizinglifewithlittles.com/2014/01/26/for-the-unappreciated-mom/

What’s really happening, whether I obsess or dismiss perfection and the call the perfection, is the focus on myself deepens.  I lose sight of the love I am called to give those in our lives.