Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Overly Capable Women, Part 2" or "Stay-at-Home-Mom Glass Ceiling?"

  It absolutely perplexes me that Americans will pay virtual strangers really good money for childcare, housekeeping, laundry,  and even a chef but if a woman chooses to stay home and do all of these tasks for her own family, she is labelled as a non-working woman.  This so called non-working woman is often souly responsible for all meals, housekeeping duties, laundry, errands, financial management, childcare, volunteer obligations, taxi service, personal assistant duties for each family member, records keeper, appointment scheduler, drill sergeant, cheerleader, disciplinarian, activities coordinator, party planner, home nursing care, emergency handyman, lawn service pro, personal shopper, interior decorator, personal tutor or full-time teacher multiplied by the number of children in the household, spiritual guidance counselor and faith instructor, life role model, playmate, last minute assignment rescuer, pet care provider, family communications director, professional organizer and clutter removal service, re-location specialist, and any other duties that are not listed above but that may come up in the normal (or abnormal) course of any day.

     Initially, I intended on gathering statistics regarding the number of "working" mothers in the U.S. compared to the same in other countries and I even considered throwing out the theory that the feminist movement, a la burning bras, led us to this place in time where a woman's value is measured by her paying job status.  I was going to point out how when a mom does take a job outside the home, she is more often than not, still responsible for and expected to perform most if not all of the duties mentioned in my opening paragraph.  A mother, any mother, is all in...24-7...everything she does has an effect on every other member in her family. She knows and understands this and hopefully, acts accordingly.  Wow!  In that scenario, it sure seems like the man of the house is enjoying a tad bit of  having his cake and eating it too!

     Now, don't get me wrong, my intention here is not to judge any woman's decision on whether or not to work outside the home.  Certainly not!!  Whether a woman works because she has a career she loves or because she needs the income to support her family is absolutely not an issue!  My intention is to help broaden the spectrum in which the stay-at-home mom is seen.  Often, I think there is the vision of a woman in sweatpants sitting on the couch eating bon-bons and watching Oprah all day!  I wish!  Or do I?  Hmmm...but, I digress.

     Okay, maybe I will get a little heavy and go out on a limb and ask, "Has society's attitude toward the SAHM effectively devalued the noble endeavor of committing oneself to the soul and complete purpose of taking care of her family?"   I am imagining a Catch-22 situation.  Let me explain, no it will take too long.  Let me sum up.  Those of you who really know me will understand what that was all about.  Anyway,  picture a woman who has been devalued as a productive member of society because she has chosen not to take a paying job outside the home but rather she is there for her husband and her children at any time and at a moment's notice.  Now, picture the same woman but this time she has a successful career that she enjoys but that requires her children to be placed in a before and after school care program.  Good.  She is now a productive member of society and worthy of accolades and respect, right?  Okay, fine.  Let's say that one of her sons decides to branch out a little on his own and goes on a small crime spree.  You know, a little graffiti, maybe some petty theft or maybe something bigger.  Maybe he joins a gang, sells drugs, hurts someone.  I ask you to be honest, what will be one of the very first questions on most people's minds?  Come on, you know it is true, the question will be, "Where was this child's mother?"    AHA!!!  There's the rub!!  She was at work being productive, of course!  Darned if she does, darned if she doesn't.  Now, do not freak out on me here.  I did not just suggest that all children with working mothers will become criminals!  That is absurd!  Just as saying that all children whose mothers stayed home with them will not become criminals is equally absurd!  I am also certainly not qualified to pose the nature vs. nurture debate!  YIKES!  No, no, no.

      My intention is to point out the maddening assumptions and labels society puts on people, again from the outside, having no idea what life is like for a particular family.  How could you?  Each family is unique and each set of parents has the absolute right to choose how to manage their family.  What is so much worse, so hurtful and harmful to a woman and to her family as a whole, is when her own husband cannot see his wife's worth and chooses to demean her value to the family based on the monetary contribution she makes.   If the description of all the duties performed by a mother, working or not, did not make your head spin then I will go back to my opening statement and offer the monetary benefit of having a wife and mother perform the duties many pay strangers to do daily.  Go ahead, add it up!  Childcare times the number of children in the home, a housekeeper, lawn service, accountant, shoot...just childcare costs alone!  Personally, I have worked it out for my own family and if I had chosen to go to work before my oldest child could stay with the younger two after school, I would literally, literally have been working just to pay those childcare costs.  Work only to barely be able to pay someone else to be with my children and experience all the cool stuff?  Huh?  Now, I find myself in a situation where I can become a monetary contributor to my family but only because I have crashed through the SAHM Glass Ceiling!  This, I have decided, is the point when a SAHM can effectively shift some of her duties to the children.  In my case, I just need my oldest to be at home with the other two until I can get home from work.   This is my time to take up that career I set aside when we started having children, it is my time to start helping  build our nest egg in preparation for my husband's impending retirement from the military.  Yee Haww!  This is something to celebrate all around.  We have chosen what is best for our family and done it in a the time frame that is in our family's best interest.

     In conclusion, I chose to leave out the hard numbers and statistics about working women and child-rearing.  I will leave you to choose for yourself a reason society seems to have developed the attitude that women are supposed to work outside the home as well as manage the children and the home matters.  Gone are the days of June Cleaver.  While our culture looks to Mrs. Cleaver as the wholesome "every woman" of well-rounded and perfectly adjusted children in a nostalgic light, the same society has sadly decided that there is no longer any room for her.  Why?  The feminist movement?  Economic pressures?  Social pressures?  Male chauvinism , as in he couldn't possibly be expected to do laundry (HA)?  Of course, this is not to say that women should be held to the June Cleaver model..oh no..I love that my children have every opportunity open to them regardless of gender.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  I am merely suggesting that there is room and most importantly, a right to respect, for everyone from the June Cleavers to the Danica Patricks and the Sarah Palins of the world!

    As with everything, I humbly suggest that you take a moment to look around and really see the people in your life.  See him/her, the person.   See how they bless you simply by being themselves and for loving you.  Resist looking at anyone and thinking first and foremost, "What can this person do for me?"  I encourage you to look at your spouse and take notice of the wonder that is how he/she picks up where you leave off.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Curse of the Overly Capable Woman, Part 1

     There seems to be an epidemic sweeping across our nation, an epidemic that is very specific in choosing its victims!  I am not sure what the correct technical name of this affliction is, but I have dubbed it the Curse of the Overly Capable Woman!  Picture a movie trailer a la Alfred Hitchcock with the postcard housewife in her polka-dot dress, starched white apron, perfect pin curls and make-up; hands on cheeks, eyes wide, and mouth open in a terrified scream!

     Now, picture the modern reality...a woman dressed in yoga pants, running shoes, and a t-shirt covered in sponsor logos from the last not-for-profit fundraising event she chaired.  Hair in a pony tail, dark circles under her eyes and possible traces of some child's most recent meal somewhere on her clothing.  She is carrying several backpacks and lunch boxes, a science project, a birthday treat for one class, and a party project for another while barely clutching onto a dog leash and shooing children out the door in an effort to get everyone to school on time without attracting the unwanted attentions of the county sheriff.

     Seriously, the Overly Capable Woman absolutely exists!  We all know her.  Maybe you are her!  Let's take a little test, shall we?  Mentally check off any of the following descriptions you can personally identify with:
  • Often first awake and last to go to bed
  • Always able to meet any deadline no matter how ridiculous or who it is for
  • Can juggle every family member's individual schedule and manages to successfully make sure that everyone is where he/she needs to be when he/she needs to be there and with everything they need to have
  • Seems to diffuse and manage any crisis in the blink of an eye (she's starting to sound like a super hero...)
  • Always available for her friends in good times and bad, even the ones that are classic takers and energy suckers
  • Keeps up with fads, faves, and friends of her children
  • Knows exactly where everything is from car keys to that one special minuscule Lego that MUST be found NOW to avoid the total demise of the greatest Lego robot E-V-E-R!
  • Somehow manages to squeak out just enough from every single fundraiser from every single school, club, activity for every single child to be able to come home beaming with a brand new can of Noise Putty!  Oh joy!
  • Schedules and attends all appointments for every family member (2 and 4 legged) with the least amount of disruption to school schedules
  • Keeps up with birthdays and holidays for family members and friends
  • Struggles to find personal quiet time or even more rare...time with a friend
  • Is a homework tutor, checker, and grade policewoman
  • Often is the Mom, teacher, and principal all in one
  • Handles interactions with the children's schools...teachers, administrators, other students, etc... good, bad, and ugly
  • Holds side jobs as a nurse, plumber, general handyman, pest control, chef, housekeeper, personal driver, personal shopper, lawn pro...(insert many other descriptions here)
  • Faithfully attends church and shares her faith with her children and volunteers when and where she can
  • Volunteers at each child's school, scout troops, sports clubs, etc
  • Supports her husband's career and just rolls with whatever comes ( huge for military families since we NEVER know what's coming!)
  • Sometimes she even finds time to squeeze in some extra schooling for herself, you know, for the "someday when the family doesn't need me so much"
  • Very often she also...ALSO...works outside the home
     Ah...that last one is a doozy and is the statement that actually sparked this entire blog.  Not this blog post...the entire blog site!  "She also works outside the home!"  When I consider the attitudes I have encountered regarding the stay-at-home-mom, my mind just reels!  The fact that a family's personal choices regarding this matter is such a hot button for society in general is a bit confusing but the spectrum of opinions and the backlash regarding the choices is enough to make me dizzy!  It is a true catch-22!  If a woman decides to stay at home with her children she is often seen as a non-working woman (um, okay) but then if this same woman does go out and get a job and then her children are latch key children and said children end up getting into trouble or not doing well in school, society often will jump in and say it is because the mother wasn't around to guide them.  Well, she is only one person!!!  Damned if she does...damned if she doesn't!  AHA!

     As I sit here writing, it occurs to me that in my typical tyrannical fashion, I have taken on one topic and ranted, raved, and churned things over in my head at such a rampant rate that I have actually melded two topics into one.  No wonder I have had such a difficult time making myself sit down and put these thoughts together in a coherent form.  So, while my statement regarding the Overly Capable Woman also working outside the home is a very valid statement, I will resist the urge to segue into the global attitudes toward women and their "value" as members of society and save that topic for a part 2 of this blog.

     Alas, back to our over-tired, over-stressed, over-worked, but Overly Capable Woman!  If you identified with 5 or more of the afflictions listed above, you just may be a victim of this epidemic!  Oh come on, let's be real here, how many moms do you know that do not fit these criteria?  Sure, there are a few out there who are just super needy and whiny and either pay someone to do their dirty work or badger enough that a completely afflicted friend will do whatever it takes just to make this needy one shut up and go away (while muttering things like; 'never again' and 'life-sucking lazy troll' under her breath) but no, the majority of American moms fit the parameters set forth in this blog and have fallen victim to the disease.

     I will just say it...American women are simply over-achievers!  We are products of our surroundings, of our history.  Some advancement is good, great even and I love that when I tell my daughter that she can do and be anything she wants I know that this is the absolute truth.  She will not be held back because of her gender.  But, you knew it was coming, there is a flip side to all of this opportunity and achievement.  The ability to juggle home life, family, and work without assistance has created a superwoman complex and the superwomen in our country are being run into the ground without any acknowledgement that she truly is simply human.  We are all guilty of looking at a family from afar and making judgments about their lives.  We make assumptions, good and bad, but can we ever really know what their reality is?  We may look at a family and assume that their life is "perfect"; everyone is happy, healthy, helpful, and kind.  Yes, they have a superwoman mom that always has it together, she is efficient and creative, has great kids, makes superior and healthy meals every night, always looks her best, is always smiling and kind...on the outside.

     Inside, she just may be quite lonely and a bit confused.  She always makes time to check in on her friends, especially if she knows they are struggling with something.   People often come to her for advice or help with a task and she is always willing to help with the kids or make a meal, visit someone in the hospital, whatever needs to be done.  This is where the Curse of the Overly Capable Woman comes in!  Duhn duhn duhn duuuuuuuuuhn...

     This lady has it all figured out, life is good, everyone goes to her for help but the curse begins with the fact that nobody ever stops to check on her!  No one ever thinks to ask if things really are okay.  Popular opinion is that she could not possibly need anything! This opinion can and often does also exist in her very own home.  This, in itself, creates a vicious cycle for our superwoman because now this go-to woman for all finds herself in a position in which she is actually afraid to show any weakness for fear of letting everyone down.  So, she just keeps forging through.  She has adopted her mantra from a beloved Disney character, "Keep on swimming, keep on swimming" while, in fact, she is drowning.   She will not ask for help, she will not admit that she may be in over her head, she will not slow down, she does not know how to say "no".  *Sigh*

  Now, here is my challenge to women everywhere:  Take care of one another!  Take a moment to ask your friends how they are and mean itSTOP!  Wait for her to answer and hear her!  Ask questions, dig deeper if something doesn't sound quite right.  If possible, make it a point to spend a few moments with her in person (novel idea, I know), look her in the eye...SEE her!  Let her know and make her believe that she is not alone, you are there for her.  I know it is a crazy busy world and, personally, many of the people I care most about are literally strewn across the world but we have been blessed by insane amounts of technology, use it!  Make it a point to really check in with your friends on social sites, send a message at the end of the week and ask how something they posted about turned out.  Technology can be cold but it doesn't have to be.  Instead of just skimming through posts of friends and clicking "like" here and there, really read it and check back if it is warranted.  Choose a day and a time as your 'caring for my friendships' time.  Notice I say caring for my friendships, friendships are relationships and must be treated as such!  Communication and caring absolutely must go both ways!   No time to social network on a computer?  Okay, let's say that the next time a friend crosses your mind you stop and just take a few moments (less than a minute) to text her a simple message, 'thinking about you'!  This simple gesture could make all the difference in the world to your friend.  There must be a reason she popped into your head at that moment, don't you think?  Whether you believe in God, karma, or just human intuition...listen to yourself.  Your friend is calling out to you.  

   May you be blessed and be a blessing!


        Tuesday, October 25, 2011

        Designer Social Causes??

             The fascination with celebrities and the tendency to allow them to choose what is important in life just boggles my mind!  Simple as that!  Why do people jump on bandwagons to save children or support causes in far away places that they have never heard of just because some celebrity has chosen that place to put their efforts and mass millions of dollars toward that particular cause?  Now, don't get angry, I am not saying that we should not have international aid, and I am not discouraging you from adopting a third world child or from buying Toms shoes.  No, absolutely not!!  I have a few causes far from home that I feel pretty passionate about myself!   All I am asking is that, as a nation, we stop and take a look a little bit (okay, a whole lot) closer to home and spread the wealth.  While you are on your way to the post office or local charity office to donate school supplies to children in Afghanistan take a quick detour to the school closest to your home and make a donation there, as well. Without even knowing where you live, I feel completely confident in guaranteeing that there is no shortage of children in need of supplies (clothing and meals, too) in your neighborhood school.  Maybe even right in your own child's classroom.  For that matter, I can absolutely guarantee that every teacher in every school across the country routinely uses his/her own money to subsidize basic supplies for the classroom!  Think about it, when you were little, do you ever remember taking paper towels to school as part of your supply list? 

             Many jump to send money to causes or organizations that a favorite celebrity has deemed worthy.  Why?  Because this cause is now on their radar due to the media coverage available to said celebrity.  These same people tend to turn their heads and lift their noses at the homeless person they pass on the way to work every morning.  Maybe the recent jobless/homeless fiasco here in America will help open eyes and soften hearts to the plight of those struggling right here at home.  No, not all homeless are mentally ill or social outcasts that choose to live that way!

             You may even be shocked to find that children in your local schools are, in fact, homeless.  The latest numbers I can find suggest that 1 in 50 or 1.5 million American children are homeless.  They and their families struggle to keep an appearance of normalcy for the social sake of the children.  All they want is for the children to receive an education in a safe and non-judgemental environment.  We all know that schools can be an extremely hostile environment due to bullying so can you imagine what that environment would be like for a child who is known to be homeless?  Oh my!

             I often wonder about adoption trends.  I say wonder, because I certainly do not know anything about the true plight of a family wishing to adopt a child.  Is it difficult to be approved as adoptive parents in the United States?  Too expensive?  Why do so many couples turn to foreign countries for adoption?  Is it because there are more infants needing a home? We have all heard the rote propaganda that people want to adopt babies, not older children.  I really, honestly do not want to be cynical or judgmental and jump to any conclusions about adoption from overseas being "trendy", certainly the subject is much more sensitive than that!  I mean, we are talking about children here, not designer dogs.  So, again I say, I simply do not know the answer to these questions.  I could spend hours and hours looking through adoption statistics and even try to interview adoptive families, but I have an inkling of doubt that I would be able to even scratch the surface of what all truly...truly...goes into such a decision and journey.  I do believe it must be quite a journey.  If I am to be honest, which I obviously want to be since I tend to put my hand out there where it can be chopped at by popular opinion, my real question here would be, aren't there enough orphans right here in the United States who need families and forever homes?  Again, no judgment intended...just wondering.

          Here are a few statistics from FY 2010 regarding children in the foster care system in the United States.  These numbers were taken from the following site: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/trends_june2011.pdf

        The number of children in foster care: 408,000
        •            new to the system in FY 2010 including re-entries  254,000
        •             children that exited the system :   254,000
        •             children in the system waiting to be adopted:  107,000 (this number does not include       children 16 years or older or that have a goal of emancipation)
        • children in the system due to the termination of parental rights: 64,000
        • children with public child welfare involvement that were adopted: 53,000  (no private adoptions included)
        • estimated number of children served by the public child welfare system in FY2010: 662,000
        662,000!!!!!!!!!!   American children that needed help, some even needing rescue from their own parents.  Sobering and sad beyond words!

             My frustration with the American fascination with saving the world while our own citizens are hurting, homeless, and hungry only grow exponentially with the current political and economic climate.  Politically, our government falls over itself trying so hard not to offend and to aid foreign governments, many of which would just as soon see the collapse and complete demise of the United States!  Why do we bow to our enemies?  These countries, very obviously, have one hand out while holding a gun to our heads with the other.  The world does not want anything to do with America until they need something from us.  Truly, how many countries are accepting aid in various ways while simultaneously plotting our demise?  This goes against even basic playground etiquette.  Even a 5 year old will quickly understand that the kid who acts like your friend then steals your lunch money is really not your friend at all.  The United States of America is the greatest and strongest country in the world with a short but very rich history, we may be hanging on by our toenails at the moment, but that does not speak to the tenacity, strength, or dedication of our citizens!  Why oh why does our government insist on acting like the geek that will do anything and give anything to gain favor with the school bullies that torment him everyday?

             Let us stop saving the world and save AMERICA...one child, one family, one neighborhood, one school, one city at a time! 


        Saturday, October 22, 2011

        On motherhood....who knew?

        October 2010...

             Could this really be happening?  Am I truly about to embark on a second round of experiencing my adolescence and young adulthood as I watch and try to guide my pre-teen daughter through the next 6 years of school?  Is this some cosmic punishment or simply another bold testament to the realization that due to the lack of true mothering I received in my life, I am once again finding myself extremely ill-equipped to deal with middle school issues?

             It seems so unfair to have reality thrust upon you at such important moments!  How awful to realize that you have no clue how to be a mother while holding your perfect newborn in your trembling hands.  Admittedly, there is no tell-all step by step handbook to being a parent but I imagine that many of the skills required are normally passed down through example and a bit of hands-on mentoring from one generation to the next.

             Ah, not so in my case.  This is not meant to be a statement of blame or negative statement about my mother, she did her best with what she had.  Honestly, I have actually tried to conjure memories of my own rearing that would help guide me in raising my own children.  I come up blank just about every time.  Nothing.  So, where does that leave me?  Making it up as I go, that's where!
             You've heard the expression, "it takes a village to raise a child", well that doesn't work so well when you keep moving from village to village because your husband is in the military.  Basically, it is a village of one...me...trying to hold it all together.

            My kids are great!  Truly great!  Smart, funny, strong, healthy, eager to please, polite and respectful.  You know, save the normal sibling stuff and boundary testing mostly by the pre-teen oldest child who happens to be a girl.  A strong-willed, type-A, dramatic, pre-hormonal, GIRL!  A girl I love dearly, a girl I have been terrified to "mess up" since the day she was born.  So, here we are almost 12 years later and all my doubts and fears are magnified by her pre-pubescence and flair for the dramatic.  How do we make it through this?  Is this normal?  I honestly have no memories of large chunks of time from my childhood, I have nothing to reach back and draw from. 

             My reactions to my daughter's plight at this juncture are frustrating to me and must be completely mind-boggling to her!  She is so emotional, crying at nothing at any given time, stomachaches (nerves? I don't know) and all I can think is, 'please, please make this go away!'  All I have for her is a mantra of 'this is normal, you'll feel better soon, eat right and drink lots of water'.  Who am I , her P.E. coach?  Seriously?  I can't do better than that?

             Life is just a mess, isn't it?  How do we make ends meet?  Financially, emotionally, personally, professionally?  Why bother asking the age old question, 'where do you want to be in 10 years'?  Is anyone ever remotely correct?  How do we get so off-track?  For that matter, which one is off track, the imagined future or the reality we find ourselves in after those 10 years?

             Is this what I pictured?  Oh, certainly not, but would I change it?  Oh, certainly not!  Maybe a tweak here or there...

             So, what now?  How do I cross the bridge to become the mother I want to be and my children need and deserve?  How do I accomplish those little tweaks without throwing my children's universe into a complete tailspin?  How do I meet everyone's needs, including my own, without becoming bitter and resentful? 

          Yeah, I don't know either...

        A few random ramblings I found in a drawer...

        A bit of a disclaimer...these first couple of posts are writings that I found in a drawer and as best as I can remember, are at least a year old.  The past two years have probably been the absolute most difficult and trying for me and for my family as a whole.  It is a true testament to the faith and commitment that my husband and I share that we are moving even closer to each other now than we ever have been.  Without those two factors, faith and commitment, we most likely would have fallen victim to the divorce statistics.  This revelation is probably quite shocking to just about everybody who knows us.  The concept that one never truly knows what is happening in another person's home will be one that I am sure to revisit many times throughout the life of this blog.  But, I digress, disclaimer...yes...these writings come from a dark and difficult time in my life.  Although I have experienced growth and healing since I put these thoughts to paper, I find that the thoughts are valid and relevant if for no other reason than simply to acknowledge that life is not always rosy and to emphasize the gravity of where I am today in comparison.  So, if you don't mind a bit of dank cynicism or if you can relate to a bit of despair regarding the plight of mankind...read on.

             I have never been one to enjoy trite expressions.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good pun or play on words but honestly, who has ever truly had their whole day instantly bettered by happening upon a bumper sticker covered in smiley faces and "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in bold orange letters?
             As I have gotten older and possibly more cynical, I find such bumper sticker philosophy to be extremely annoying and borderline insulting to my intelligence.  Think about it, how many times have you heard someone emphatically and obviously much to their own amazement declare that the lost item they had been searching for was in the last place they looked?  Really?  Well, aren't they the sharpest tool in the shed.  So many of us would have kept right on looking!

             Yes, cynical and maybe just a bit annoyed at the mass lack of common sense that seems to be sweeping over mankind.  Sometimes I wonder if we really ever think about or hear what we say, or do we just move through life repeating the same old conversations that are not conversations at all but meaningless banter used as buffers to avoid real engagement with another person. I once heard a friend ask, "Why do people bother saying, 'How are you?' when they greet you when they really don't care and never hear a response anyway?"  So very true, how many of us would answer that question with a true and honest answer?  By rote, we answer as if on auto-pilot...'Fine".  Too bad for us.  We have become a society that is afraid to engage, afraid to feel, afraid to show vulnerabilities so we hide behind the meaningless and trite.  I honestly feel that to say nothing at all is more respectful and heartfelt than to spout a line form a .99 greeting card.  Please, spare me the awkward moments and just remain silent.

             As I sit and contemplate my performance as a wife and mother, so many of these trite, over-used and under-felt expressions spring to mind.  Once a woman gives birth her heart lives outside her body. Okay, it takes a certain type of person to not feel a true connection to another human that she carried in her body for 9 months. Usually, a person with major issues.