Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Disappearing Act of Stay-at-Home Mothering

If you are wondering about the strange photos I chose to illustrate this post, they are every single photo I took in the past eight months that did not have the children in it.

Have you noticed how so many mothers replace their own Facebook profile pictures by one of their children? Especially if they stay at home?
Of course you have, it's everywhere! 

Not me, I'm on my profile picture. If you strain your eyes, you can make me out behind the boys. Totally bucking THAT trend!

Now it's easy to chalk this up to the usual motherhood clich├ęs, you know, because stay-at-home mothers talk of nothing but nappies and poo. (Although, in my experience, people rarely ask me about anything else, so what am I supposed to do? Remind them that mothers don't shed their brains along with the placenta? Preposterous!).

Or you can simply point out that, hey, children are really cute! And people replace their profile picture with all sorts of stupid stuff (to which I will say, yes, I know, but I want to talk about something here, so we'll pretend it's nothing so easily explained away, you big spoiler-of-blogpost-intro!)

No, unsurprisingly, I don't think the self-deletion of mothers out of their own profile is something to merely shrug off. Or simply declare (like a childless woman who spent an hour explaining to me when it was appropriate to have children) "you are SUPPOSED to be ready to give up your entire life in order to have children!"

What if I don't want to give up my entire life once I have children? What if I don't think it's right? 

You see, the reality of it is that "society" (hateful, unhelpful word, I mean "everyone around you who buys into the secular worldview") will then say both that you should just go back to work already and that you brought those children on yourself, therefore they are your problem to deal with (take the Pill woman!) Which is, obviously, incredibly helpful: If you stay at home, you're a useless non-contributing, brainless member of society, and if you dare to complain about it, you're saying that your children shouldn't have been born.

Thanks society, I'm so glad we talked!

I happen to think that staying at home with my children is the most important thing I can be doing. In the whole world. I also happen to believe that just because something is hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing. And staying at home with my children is worth doing, not in a check-and-balance way of every poo incident against every "I love you", but because I am raising persons, and I don't think any job I could do could be more important than that (which is further helped by the fact that I neither have a career I love nor desperately need the money).

My faith also teaches me that dying to self, sacrificing for others is what I should be doing. That God sees me and who I am, even if no-one else does. I know I can be the cathedral-builder whose work is for God's eyes alone. 

And yet, and yet.

And yet I can't help but wonder whether I am simply disappearing behind the children, whether my thoughts and fears, all the whirling world between my ears will eventually dry up and disappear, or worse, explode. Is this the burying of the talents, or the dying to self? I want to be a stay-at-home mum, but I sometimes doubt there is even an I left to be.

Consider this:

You read an article/book, your form thoughts, opinions. Being a choleric type of person (hypothetically) you want to express them. But first you have children to feed, bathe, dress, amuse and repeat, a house to clean, tidy and repeat.
You meet some friends who, luckily enough, share your faith and situation in life, who will understand you, so you start telling them about the book/article, but then a child does a thing, so one of you stops and deals with it, then you start again, but another child does another thing, and repeat. There may be a gap at one point, in which case you pour out as much of your thoughts as you can, disregarding the exhaustion in your friends' eyes, and they try to answer, but a child does a thing. In this halted way the time passes, and eventually every one goes home. Where you can feed, bathe, dress, amuse, clean and tidy and repeat, until your husband gets home. But it's the dinner-bath-bedtime rush so you two are on managing mode until all is quiet and the children are in bed and you can talk, at last. 

Unless you're too tired by now.
Unless you need a woman or merely a third party's opinion.

And what if what you want to hear is "me too"?

I used to have weekly meetings with two friends, without our children, nominally so as to discuss The Imitation of Christ. But we often strayed into anything and everything. We would laugh, cry, discuss uninterrupted. And it was glorious. 

But then life happened and we stopped. And I know not everyone needs to express every opinion. Not everyone is willing to leave the children behind, not everyone can. But I feel like I am slowly being erased into silence and invisibility and although I do believe staying at home with my children is what I should be doing, I am considering outsourcing the most important job in the world and get any other one instead, just for the sake of some human companionship.

I guess what I am trying to say is, go get yourself a book club, people. 


  1. Yes. Yes. Me, too. Except that I've never had a group of other women I connected with enough to share my thoughts or get together with on a regular basis. Makes me wonder what's wrong with me, honestly. So I absolutely hear you. (I'm so glad it's not just me...)

    1. I'm pretty sure there's nothing wrong with you, we couldn't believe our luck! The odds of finding another woman, living close to me, serious about her catholic faith, in the same stage of life as I am and with whom I also get on very well were so ridiculously low I was pretty sure it would never happen, and then I found two! I used to pray for a friend so often before I met them.

    2. "I used to pray for a friend so often before I met them."

      That's probably what I'm doing wrong, right there. :-) My prayer life needs a little work.

  2. P.S. And also, what is up with the whole "Children are evidence of complete irresponsibility on your part, so don't expect any help or sympathy for any difficulty that results from making that choice, and if you don't hover over them ALL THE TIME you are a TERRIBLE PERSON" attitude from the world at large these days? I don't get it.

    1. Just setting women up for failure, in the name of feminism. Thanks, society!

  3. First off, I love these photos; they are so random and fantastic :) The timing of your reflection is pretty ironic, I think, because just minutes ago, I stood in the shower thinking about something similar. I was thinking about how the gift of motherhood is very exalted and beautiful (which it is and should be) but how so many women, on becoming mothers, suddenly see "Mother" as their only identity. And as the water poured over my head, I thought about how I am a mother, but I'm also a wife, and, obviously, I'm a woman. So while yes, it's great to chat with others about diapers and children, I also need to prioritize meeting my other needs-my need to nurture my relationship with my husband, my need to cultivate friendships with other women. Thankfully, I have some very wonderful Catholic female friends who live in my city and have rather flexible schedules, so a few times a month I'll be able to meet with one or two of them at a coffee shop to chat. A book club would be great, though-I should really make this happen. Thanks for a splendid post, Isabelle!