How Much Is Enough?

I recently heard about a mother who felt resentful about “having” to give up her corporate job in order to stay home full-time with her two small children.  She was giving them “150 percent” of her time and energy, and was contemplating returning to the outside work force full-time.  She characterized her husband as “loving, but uninvolved.”

Hhhhhmmm.

Homemaking and parenting can be rather daunting tasks for many women.  Many mothers transitioning from working outside the home to staying find it difficult because their time, and even their bodies and their personal space, no longer seems to be their own anymore.  It all is shared with their small children.  This is part of the sacrifice of parenting.  Sacrifice is a thing that is not popular among many parents today in general, but necessary.

However, I am certain that devoting “150 percent” of ourselves directly to solely and only our children is not a wise idea.  Much like the child who has everything done for him or her, who is always told what to play and how to play it, who continues to be treated like a 2 year old when they are now 7, this is detrimental.

The idea of a mother giving 150 percent of themselves to her children, at least to me, brings up the notion that they must be hovering, micromanaging, and list-making the daily lives of  her children.  Parenting is different than working outside the home.  We cannot approach our lives and the creation of peace at home the way we approach a meeting in a boardroom. 

A dear friend once pointed out to me that being home is difficult because of lack of immediate gratification.  In other words, a three year old is not going to say to you, “Gee, mom thanks for trying to model how to be a good human being today. I am so glad you showed me how to be calm under stress when I was screaming, I saw how you folded that laundry and will try it soon as well!”  This can be wildly different than working outside the home.  The results of our work as homemakers often cannot be seen for years until our children are out on their own and raising their own families.  Too many times it seems that a parent is looking for that immediate gratification of parenting in seeing immediate results – behavioral or achievement- from their small children.  Children, for lack of a better term or analogy, are a long-term project that does not always require direct hovering, but rather occasional stirring and a presence in the kitchen.

Children have the need for your presence.  It is not okay to take your interests and exclude your children from your totality of life, or to hurt their rhythm and well-being under the guise of your own interests, but everyone certainly needs something that they can call their own.  Many parents work this around their child’s nap or bedtime schedule. It is okay for an older toddler and preschooler to see your interests, and also to see the things you do around the house that does not directly involve them, but that makes your home a wonderful place for all.  Many mothers who love to sew or garden report that this comes out in their children’s play and what they want to try in their free time.  This is healthy and wonderful.

Another healthy and wonderful thing that children also need to see is a mother-father relationship that is intimate, respectful and loving.  Parents who spend time together provide a sense of security and stability so important for the child to see and take into their subconsciousness for their own future relationships.

Many mothers I meet who stay at home do it all.  Their husbands never have the children alone, without the mother, at any time on a consistent basis.  This is a shame and prevents a child from developing a relationship with the father that does not include the mother’s thumbprint.  One mother wailed to me, “Well, he doesn’t do it the way I do it!!”  Um, exactly the point.  A child needs both a mother and father, and thank goodness we are different. 

And this leads to an interesting Other Observation.  What other trusting, caring, loving adults does your child consistently spend time with?  A small child under the age of 7 needs his mother or a loving, kind father to act as a “filter” for the events of daily life.  However, in some cultures it is interesting that it is not just the mother or father acting as a filter but an entire extended family whom the child spends time with daily. 

I had an interesting experience not too long ago.  I have many, many Hispanic friends whom I love.  One of my dear friends was having a birthday party for her little girl who was turning three years old.  Her mother was handling much of the party and I observed several times when her little girl wanted or needed something and was always interested to see that nine times out of ten a close family friend or relative would take care of what the little girl needed or wanted before my friend could even get there.  And nor did she try to get there all the time.  At one point, her little girl fell, and her mother calmly saw that her best friend helped the little girl up, smoothed the little girls’ dress and fixed the little girl’s hair.  My friend went over after all this was done and gave her daughter a hug, but she felt safe in knowing all of the wonderful adults in the room would take care of this small child as if she were their own. These family members and friends were people the child saw on a daily or almost daily basis.  And they did care for this child as if she were their own, and reacted with an almost group consciousness to situations. 

How very different from the American experience were many time a child will only be satisfied in their mother’s lap or arms.  I am not saying this is bad at all, my children have been that way, but it is certainly very different than the “village” mentality taking place across much of the world.  I am in contact with friends from many different Central and South American countries, Iran, Germany, the Netherlands, China, France and several African nations who can attest to this truth!

“But Carrie,” you say.  “I have no one.  My family lives far away, my parents are crazy and I don’t really involve them in my child’s daily life.  See, no one but me.”

I know this is a Waldorf-related blog so we don’t watch any movies at all :), but have you all seen the Ben Stiller movie “Meet the Parents”?  In this movie, there is an entire (very funny) line about “The Circle of Trust”.  So let me borrow that for a moment. Who is in your own Circle of Trust?  Some mothers honestly don’t trust Dads with their small children.  Is that you?  Who is in your child’s Circle of Trust?  Do you have a friend?  A mother whose parenting you admire and could trust?  Could you start by cultivating a close relationship that your child could see and perhaps over time you and your child would come to see this other mother as part of your community?  It just a thought, it takes an effort to find people whom you trust, who parent similar to you and share your values, but it is worth the effort.

A child over the age of 7 still needs you deeply and needs your help in “filtering” situations, especially things above routine and simple.  But your over 7 child, and certainly your child over 9,  needs safe situations with people you love and trust to practice this important life skill – being able to be connected to people outside of you, and to experience that good things happen with caring adults.  Are there elderly neighbors, a teacher of an outside class your child is taking, other mothers,  whom you trust?  We want our children to feel safe in the world and to have them know that other people are good and kind besides just their own immediate family.

Consider how you feel about things such as the loving adult relationships your child has with other family members and friends.  Think about how you feel responsibilities and privileges should change over time for your child within your family.  Think, ponder and meditate on what you “do for” your child every day, and what your child sees you do for the child’s siblings, yourself, your spouse and your home.

Perhaps the mother who is giving “150 percent” to her children would benefit from some inner work focusing not only on the spiritual side of homemaking that maybe remains hidden within her “to-do” list, but also on letting her children soften and relax into being themselves and  what role she and other trusted adults are playing.  Perhaps then, instead of being a resented chore, parenting would become the wonderful part of life it is meant to be, a means for not only raising moral human beings but a tool for self-growth, self-discovery and contentment.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

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