Thursday, November 27, 2014

The mom standard

"Sometimes the best way to serve others is to know our season"

Why would the woman in that picture above ... yes, that's me with my two little boys under 9 months apart ... why would she be trying to do more than just being a mom?

And yet, that's exactly what I did. 

After years of childlessness, I suddenly found myself, seemingly overnight, in a totally different phase of life.

And I had no idea what to do in that phase of life.

No longer was I working woman. I was, instead, a stay-at-home mom of two little boys with a husband in medical residency. And I found myself attempting, and quickly impossibly so, to attain a certain standard.

A stay-at-home mom standard.

And who, you may ask, sets the standard for these moms?

Why that's a very good question.

The answer is: other moms.

Yes, you heard correctly. We moms do this to ourselves by making other moms feel inferior.

So, like many women, I observed women around me. I observed women I knew. But even more dangerously, I observed women that I didn't know in real life.

And what I saw was woman staying home with their children while making things like rosebud magnet party favors made with craft foam:

While pictures can be intimidating, what the women who share these pictures say about them speaks even louder: "I made these magnets last week very late one night because the birthday prize and treat we had planned to give each of my daughter's 2nd grade classmates suddenly looked very small."



But ... it's only an iceberg tip.

I stumbled upon a blog from one woman who threw a first birthday for her daughter. This picture below was sort of the "muse" for her party.

She writes of her daughter's first birthday: "I knew I wanted my daughter's milestone first birthday to be extra special and packed with personal details and style. My best friend and event stylist ... is a party genius so I enlisted her help and couldn't have been happier with the results."

She went on to write ... "we had access to an outdoor kitchen, plenty of lounge room for our 80 guests, and a refreshing swimming pool. It couldn't have been more perfect for our special day."

I'm not sure what concerns me more in that statement above. The fact that she called a first birthday a milestone ... the eighty guests in attendance ... or the fact that she hired an event stylist.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

I could go on and on with examples from online of women doing things I could only dream about.

Scratch that.

They are doing things I wouldn't even bother to dream about.

These women are on their school's PTO and they are class mother and they are maintaining part-time jobs and having birthday parties with petting zoos. They have nurseries that look like this:

And if they don't, they are pinning these on their Pinterest page or creating do-it-yourself blog guides for how you too can create this picture-perfect environment for your little cherub.

All right so you get it. A standard. Someone, somewhere, is setting these standards for moms that I truly believe is not possible to live up to.

And so without further ado, I present my standard. 

My philosophy is this:

Something has to give. Say no. Stay home. And spend REAL time with your kids.

There is no way that you can have time for a picture perfect nursery and reading to your kids every day and brushing their teeth three times a day and taking them to mommy-and-me yoga and preparing healthy meals and keeping your house neat and tidy and documenting their every move in the scrapbook of their dreams.

It's impossible.

But what happens is that these moms keep posting pictures and pinteresting and blogging and pretending that their entire world is as neat and orderly as their playroom photos appear to be:

Sorry folks, but I don't buy it.

And not only do I not buy it, but I refuse to pretend it exists.

And not only do I refuse to pretend it exists, but I refuse to even attempt to meet the standard.

Not me.

Not this mom.

I'm not doing it. 

And I'm going to be encouraging other moms to join me in this crusade for non-perfection. Let's be imperfect together, shall we?

I've decided that this is a season of my life. My children will only be young one time, and I am determined to spend that young time with them -- not creating cute things that they can have around them.  I'm not going to fool myself into believing that running around with them in the van from activity to activity is in their best interest. I'm not counting that as quality time.

I am a better mom when I am at home with my children.

I am a better, more patient, more kind, more hands-on, more sweet ... when we are not running around from place to place doing every single activity offered to children in the 3 to 5 age group.

I can honestly say that my kids are getting more of me when we are just in the living room hanging out with us.

There is no doubt that if I was taking the time to create a closet that looks like this:

that something else has had to suffer in order to achieve that level of perfection.

Now don't get me wrong. Things have to be done. If I don't stay up on the dishes and vacuum the living room regularly and make food for my children and keep their rooms organized, it will effect our living.

And that isn't good either.

But, and here is where I get to my point ... we, as moms, are doing WAY TOO MUCH.

I've been reading Crystal Paine's (from book: Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. 

In her book, she encourages you to write down your personal priorities/goals from each of the following five categories (you can edit these categories if they don't fit you personally.)
  1. Personal (personal growth and physical health)
  2. Spiritual and Emotional (relationship with God)
  3. Family (husband, children, and extended family)
  4. Career/Ministry (finances, business projects, volunteer opportunities)
  5. Friendships 
For me, I added a number:

     6. Homeschooling

Every single time you are asked to do something, decide which category it fits in and whether it meets your priorities and goals from that category. If it doesn't SAY NO!

I think it is utterly ridiculous how many things we as mom agree to do that we don't have any desire to really do. If it is not one of your goals for the appropriate category, you should NOT BE DOING IT!

I made a decision when we moved back to America that I was not going to do agree to a single thing that required a weekly commitment from me. It has now been around six months since we returned. How am I doing with that? Fantastic! 

Here's a few examples to illustrate how I have done this.
  • (Category 3) I want to celebrate my childrens' birthdays. But this year, when it came time for Hannah's first birthday, a big party became obviously too much. So instead, I opted for picking up a big cupcake at the local grocery store, buying one gift, hanging a few streamers that I already had in a bag, and being okay with that. It was not easy. The mom in me wanted to have a big party. But I knew this was the best thing for our family, and I was a better mom at a small party than I would have been at a big party.
  • (Category 6) I really wanted my children to get some sort of musical education. However, it is not something I can teach (for obvious reasons). I found a wonderful weekly music class that allows us to pay as we go. It is very inexpensive ($10 a class for all three kids) and I do not have to attend every week. If it is a tough week or if something else comes up, we skip it, without any guilt involved! I found a few other activities just like this including daily story times at the library and a Lego club for the kids. All are things we can do but none require us to be committed. 
  • (Category 2) I believe that volunteering in the church nursery is important if you have kids utilizing the services. But with JB working many weekends, I could not commit to being able to be in a certain service on any given week. I decided to be a sub for our church. Whenever one of their regulars can't make it, they text me, and I can decide whether I can help that week or not. 
  • (Category 4) I enjoy the public speaking opportunities that avail themselves but know that I really can't take very many of them. I therefore only accepted a very small number -- about 1 every other month -- in order to make sure this was not detracting from my family time.
  • (Category 1) Working out is very important to me, but with four small children, and a husband who works odd hours, committing to a program just wouldn't work for me. I found a gym down the road that is a 24-7 workout facility. I can go whenever I want and there is never a shortage of a machine I would like to use. This allows me, whenever JB is home, to run over there and back within one hour to meet my physical needs without sacrificing too much family time. I have also set my goals on a triathalon for the spring that is shorter than what I would like to do but a very "doable" goal.
The only thing I was not able to avoid committing too was Isaac's weekly speech appointments. He needs to do this and it is not something I can avoid committing too. However, I have enlisted my father-in-law for help in driving him now and then, and I have also given myself permission to cancel a session ahead of time if it is going to cause us too much headache to attend.

I also cut A LOT of corners. Some examples:
  • My house is clean and organized but not picture-perfect. The kids have rules regarding toy usage but on any given moment, they are strewn about the house. Whenever I get overwhelmed, I enlist the three older children to help me pick up all toys for a monetary reward.
  • I have kids help me with anything I think they are capable of helping with.
  • I put laundry away in the right places but I avoid folding many things. An example is the boys socks and underwear drawer. I put the underwear and socks in the drawer with no rhyme or reason and let them find a match when it is time to get dressed.
  • I have recently enlisted the help of to help me with meals since I have never really cooked, and my husband's schedule doesn't let him cook as regularly as he once did.
  • I buy a lot of "quick healthy foods" and keep them at the kid's reach so that they can get something to eat when things are too crazy. (Cheese sticks, applesauces, raisins and granola bars are my favorite.) 
  • I buy ahead on many of our staples and things like diapers and wipes. We have a huge "second kitchen" in the garage with a big shelf and an extra freezer. When I find things on sale, I buy them and store them so that I can avoid running out of things all the time.
  • I do NOT stress about what my kids are wearing. If we are dressed for the elements, we are good to go. If the shoes don't match the outfit exactly or the lines on the shirt go opposite of the stripe on the sweatpants, I don't worry about it. As long as we are clean, we are good.
  • I don't do things like baths every night. They don't need to be done every day (especially during the winter when the kids aren't outside as much) and cutting down on them means one less thing for me to do in the evening.
  • I put devotional books in each bathroom so when I get five minutes I can sit and read something positive without devoting a lot of time to it in one sitting.
These are just a few examples to give you an idea of ways I have attempted to make life easier and less stressful. 

But beyond a doubt the biggest thing I attempt to do with my kids is STAY HOME!

I try to make it a goal that we only leave the house half of the week. The other half we stay at home and don't go anywhere for the day. I instead try to come up with exercise opportunities in our backyard or in the driveway. And if we do go out, I attempt to keep down the number of stops. Two stops is plenty for one afternoon!

My Blog is going to be transitioning as we move to the farm, and I really see my ministry shifting. This idea of helping moms stop feeling guilty and instead just being is a big one for me.

In summary:

1. Prioritize your goals.
2. Stay at home more (say no!)
3. Find corners you are okay with cutting.
4. Use all that extra time to be present with your kids.

Do it!



A collection of articles I have found discussing the topic of perfect motherhood and how it can't and doesn't exist:


Rebekah Storey said...

I loved this post!

Hannah H. said...

It's so encouraging to read what you're doing! I loved some of your ideas and it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who is cutting back to stay home. Sometimes it's so easy to get pressured by the culture to do more... But I love having time to move slowly with my kids and go for walks and do art. Thanks!

Nancy, Jeremy, Jack, and Julianne said...

Great post Wendi!

Trisha said...

Amen...and THANK YOU!!!

AW said...

YES! Amen! So many good things about this article. Love it. You and I are kindred spirits on so many things...

While I'm thinking of it...I also re-wear clothing. If my boys outfits from yesterday are not that dirty? We wear them again! If our plan today is to play outside and get dirty, yesterday's clothes are fine, even if they ARE dirty. Cuts down on our ridiculous laundry. (And I have two less children than you. Eeps!)

AW said...

I WILL say one thing I have to be careful with is judging those who DO those things I never could. Some of my girlfriends are super crafty and girly and totally enjoy doing those crafts or party-planning. (I would rather poke a fork repeatedly in my right eye, but whatever...) BUT...bringing that point up because while it's easy for them to judge me for NOT doing them, it's just as easy for moms like me to judge them FOR doing them. And that kind of defeats the goal of all of us mothers encouraging and supporting one another...which isn't done enough, IMO.

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Andi we DEFINITELY rewear a ton!

And I totally agree. There are moms who CAN do those things but I think the thing is, if they are diong those things, something else has to give. To pretend you can do it all is not accurate.