Saturday, October 27, 2007

then and now

For some reason I've been remembering my twenties lately and comparing me then to me now. I got married at nineteen and ten months later had my first child. For the next eight years I was either pregnant or nursing. Or so it seemed. I did not work outside the home. I tried to finish college in fits and starts.

I enjoyed my babies very much. They were all beautiful. Really, I challenge anyone to show me four better looking babies than the ones I had. They were even pretty when they cried. Their eyes snapped with intelligence and high spirits. And funny! J and I have often asked each other, "What did we laugh about before we had kids?" I loved watching them grow and mature. It was an exciting adventure discovering the world again through their explorer's eyes.

But. I remember my twenties as a dark time. To be honest. I was often overcome with feelings of inadequacy. I struggled with insomnia. My children were up a lot at night and once I was awake, I was awake. Now that I look back I see that I sometimes came very close to the edge. I never had enough hands, but much more troubling was that I often ran low on heart. I felt terrible guilt about the occasional apathy I felt toward my children. Whenever I had a new baby I loved being needed so desperately by that tiny, helpless being. However, caring for that baby seemed to use me up physically and emotionally and my other children had to fend for themselves to a large extent. My babies were high maintenance, but a lot of it was just me. I have never been good at multi-tasking. I've always been easily distracted and over-sensitive. I could not tolerate the sound of a baby crying and I would do anything to stop it. I'm not saying I was a perfect mother.

There were other weird ideas I had about what I "should" be doing. The whole perfectionist thing, but in addition to that, thinking I had to accomplish things that I had no real interest in. I was always craning my neck around to see what other mothers of young children were doing and thinking "Oh, I should do that. I will do that." Occasionally I would wake up enough to realize that I was harming myself and shout, "No!" For example, it was the vogue thing in my ward to make up these involved Family Home Evening packets. You would make enough for 8 or 10 families and then exchange. I did it once and then realized that the hours I spent making up those ridiculous packets would be better spent doing... just about any other thing. Like staring at my navel. (I don't mean to deride FHE packets. I'm just saying they weren't my thing.) Scrapbooking definitely wasn't for me either, but it took me longer to come to that conclusion. I don't know why I didn't realize earlier what Mama Ava commented on my last post: "Knowing what you stand for and what your family is about and doing things you truly love that furthers those aims is what it's about!" I don't know why I didn't realize that I don't have to do what everyone else is doing to be a good mother or a good person, for that matter. I often felt that my life was not fulfilling, but I didn't understand why.

Lately I've been looking back and wondering, for example, why I didn't get a part-time job. I think being at home with babies all the time was a little too intense for me. Now that they are older I really like to be at home and I have no desire to get a job.

I do wish I'd been wiser before I had children, but maybe I would not have learned as much as I did in my twenties if I hadn't had them then. Maybe it would not have been that beneficial to wait.

Last night I asked J, "Why is it that I'm so much happier now than when I was in my twenties?" We decided it must be a combination of things. I sleep more. I don't feel trapped. My children are old enough to leave at home while I get a hair cut or pick up some milk. I can take a shower without fearing someone will electrocute himself. My kids can do so many things now for themselves. They can entertain themselves for quite a while. More importantly, I've figured out what I like. I don't waste time on things I don't like. I pursue my passions. And I care less and less what people think of me.

One thing I love about having older kids is that we can do more things all together as a family. We've started studying history together every day. We read from Wise Bauer's The Story of the World. We pour over our new Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and books we get from the library. We all look forward to this as a highpoint of the day. This is the first time we have an opportunity like this. In the past not everyone has been old enough to participate and I've learned the hard way that if I do something with just the older ones, the unattentive little ones run off to see what mischief can be made. Even little Bernie loves our history study. She was excited to take books about mummies out of the library. (Although it seems she had a nightmare about Anubis, god of the underworld.)


Auntie Lee said...

The best and happiest times of my life was in my 20's until I got married and had kids at 25. I think marriage is difficult and small children are difficult, that is not to say unimportant or that I have regrets but marriage and small children are hard.

I know lots of people say when they were first married, or pregnant, or when their children were small it was the best time of their lives. I am not one of them. I did not like being pregnant. I did not like the first 10 years of marriage (still questioning it now). I did like it when the kids were small and cute but it was the hardest work and the least acknowleged work.

I don't want to sound negative or be a downer but lots of worthwhile things are hard. I guess if they were easy we wouldn't appreciate them so much.

Michelle said...

Thanks for this post. I love to hear other women's perspectives on these issues. It's great that you have come to and found and created a better place for yourself.

Since I got married when I was older and had my first child around 30, I have had the problem where I knew what I wanted but struggle with some kind of balance. Young children are so consuming (and the thought of being "consumed" by my children strikes terror into my heart, wondering if I'm just getting nibbled away, wondering how my mothering identity fits in to the rest of who I am.) My quest feels like finding a place for myself, or a phrase I read in a book--feeling at home in my life. Even though there is/will be a good amount of space between my kids, which has been really helpful for me personally, I haven't found it yet.

In a way, one of my first reactions to my pregnancy, which will probably be our last, was a sense of relief. I know it sounds terrible to say, but it feels great to have a concrete (though distant) end in sight to all the infant/baby/little kids stuff. As much as I love them, as much fun as they are, as great as it has been and will continue to be in so many ways. There's some definite ambivalence going on here...

Calandria said...

Auntie Lee, I think you are right that when things are easy we don't appreciate them as much. I don't at all question whether or not it was worthwhile to have children. I am even happy that I had my children when I did at such a young age. I think it was the right thing for me. What I question is the choice I made to stay home full time. Why am I bringing it up now? Why not forget about it and move on? For one reason, I think I'm talking about it now because I didn't feel like I could discuss it then. As an LDS mother I felt like I was pressured to stay at home. Like that was the optimal and only choice for someone who really loved and wanted the best for their children. Now I question that. I wonder if I would have been happier if I'd had, at least, some part time work. And if I had been happier maybe I would have been a better mother. I see that many women with small children do find a happy balance between work and family. I was taught that it was selfish for a woman to pursue a career because it would detract from the family. I see now that many families and women give evidence of the contrary. I even wonder if staying home full time was in some ways a selfish decision because it placed the complete burden of providing financially for our family on my husband. I know that he would have enjoyed spending more time with our young children.

I'm just throwing these ideas out there. I'm not saying I have the answers.

Members of our church believe very passionately that "no success compensates for failure in the home." Men are always told that their career does not matter in the eternities--their actions as a father matter. I don't see that fatherhood is less important than motherhood. I look back at the years we had young children. My husband worked and went to school. He didn't have nearly as much interaction with our children as he would have liked. I, on the other hand, would have liked some time away from them. How as that situation ideal considered from an eternal perspective?

One reason I puzzle over these things on my blog is that I want a record for my children to be able to read and know my thoughts.

Michelle, I don't think it sounds at all "terrible to say" that you are relieved to see an end in sight to baby/toddler stuff. I really identify with your fears of being "consumed" and "nibbled away."

athena said...

i married at 21 but because i had already been working since the day i left highschool i knew i wanted to stay home. olivier had already finished graduate school by the time we met so i didn't have to worry about needing to go to work to help him through school etc. in some ways i feel very blessed to have been able to work and then when we had our first child, to stay home. i enjoyed staying home but i can understand what you're saying about how many women in the church feel pressured to stay home. nothing worse than not being able to have that choice. having said that i hope our daughters do choose to stay home. i hope they will also be prepared to work if they need to and that they will be able to do something they enjoy. i love where i'm at (the children are older and more independent) but i've been doing some looking back lately too and feeling sad that maybe i didn't enjoy our children when they were little as much as i should had.

ave said...

I too identify with all of you. For me having a part time job has really been a great experience, especially since it is a job that I love. When my very intense son was born, I needed that job of mine to stay sane. I think my baby blues would have turned into depression if I hadn't worked away from home. Calandria, we do have very intense children, is it a wonder? JW and I were talking about it in the car last night, and marveling at how we have survived parenthood, and our kids are very young!
I often feel guilty and alone when those church talks come up with the whole mothers should only be at home bit. I think that each situation is so different, and I try to live with no regrets. I am looking forward to JW graduating and being able to stay home when my kids start school. Finally I'll have some time to get things done.

Calandria said...

ave, you do a tremendous job as a mother. i have always admired you for it.

Auntie Lee said...

The economics of the world we live in now is so different than in the past. To think that working women is a new phenomenon is incorrect. For hundreds of years women have had to work out of the home in all cultures around the world. It is pure economics. We can't ask if we made the right decision if we had no real feasible choice. The fact of the matter is that most families just can’t afford to have a stay at home mom. That is true today as well as in the past. Those who think one should stay at home at all costs is just spoiled.

If you stayed at home great. If you didn’t, that’s great to. Staying at home just does not assure happy children, being the best parent you can be does.