A couple of weeks ago, my friend Adleen lent me a book called Happy Housewives by Darla Shine. It's billed as a how-to manual for stay-at-home moms. The cover says, "I was a whining, desperate housewife - but I finally snapped out of it... you can, too!" The author outlines her plan "in ten easy steps", each of which provides the basis for a chapter:
1. Please stop whining!
2. Be proud! Being an at-home mom is the most important job.
3. Stop looking like a housewife.
4. Make your marriage a priority.
5. Bond with your home.
6. Get back in the kitchen.
7. Keep your girlfriends.
8. Make time for yourself.
9. Don't take it all so seriously.
10. Don't wish for someone else's problems.
Now, I'm no Stepford Wife; I embrace my inner slacker. I pretty much have this at-home thing down to a (crazy and chaotic) science. But my friend found the book entertaining and helpful, so read it with an open mind. And although I agree with much of what Darla says, this Slacker Mom took umbrage at some of her suggestions. For example: Never leave your house without lipstick, even to go to the schoolbus stop - get up early and put your face on. Really? I've taken my kids to school in my jammies. And walked them in. Or this one: Never wear sneakers with your jeans because it's too "frumpy dumpy housewife - wear cute wedge sandals instead!" Seriously? YOU try supervising recess on a sandy playground in 3-inch heels. And my favorite: Buy new furniture with every new house, because it's good to change your look and your style. Sure, if you're married to a senior executive at Fox News. No problem. Me, I'm on my third house and I've had the same bookcases since college. Geez.
Additionally, here's a warning: Darla Shine is vehemently anti-working mom, an attitude that I cannot forgive - she's quite, um, opinionated about moms who choose to work, and a bit condescending towards women who have to work. To paraphrase, she writes that "unless you would starve or end up on the streets, what job do you have that is more important than raising your kids?" Uh, forgive me, Darla, but I am thankful for the working moms I know - my kids' teachers, their pediatrician, our school nurses, my best friend. I found it hard to read that part of her book, because Slacker Mom is all about supporting women and mothers, and never about judging and being catty - and besides, I've always felt that some women are actually BETTER moms when they work. But if you can get past her "quit your job and raise your own babies" rhetoric, she has some interesting things to say about being a mom and a wife. And if you are a stay-at-home mom, she makes some good points about being proud of the work you do - that we should embrace this stay-at-home mom gig and do a good job at it, since we really only get one chance.
But the part that most resonated with me was what Darla's mom said to her when she complained about being stuck at home with her kids - even though she had a maid and a nanny and all the material advantages that a wealthy husband can provide. She wrote about calling her mom, who was on vacation, and asking when she was coming home: "My mother told me off good. She said that I had a lot of nerve. What the hell did I have to complain about? I had a beautiful house, two healthy kids, and a husband who loved me, and I should shut up and count my blessings... She said that my friends and I were a bunch of spoiled brats, and we all should know how lucky we are."
I read that page and thought, "GO DARLA'S MOM!"
If we think we have it hard, we should talk to our mothers and grandmothers. My mother had three kids in three years, another one six years later, and a husband who made a good living but didn't lift a finger around the house. Men of my dad's generation didn't change diapers, vacuum, drive carpool, or cook. They made the money, and their wives did everything else. My grandmother had four kids in six years, and never had two in diapers at the same time - because she had to wash those diapers by hand and then hang them on the clothesline. She didn't have a dishwasher, a microwave, a crock pot, or a cleaning lady. She and my grandfather had ONE car - and he drove it work each day. She did everything that I do - by hand - and with no help. And, I'd argue, women of my grandmother's generation were, as a whole, happier and less stressed. No one took Prozac, no one ordered takeout, and no one complained. They'd lived through the Great Depression; they had no sense of entitlement. They knew something that Darla and her friends forgot: namely, that they'd CHOSEN to be moms, they'd CHOSEN to be housewives, and they were LUCKY that they could afford to feed and shelter and clothe their children. They knew something that we've forgotten: being a mom may be hard at times, but it's the best job we'll ever have.
So many of us complain about our lives - if only I had a cleaning lady, a new cell phone, more money, a pedicure. So many of us think we "need" certain things to be happy - a bigger house or newer car or nicer clothes. But how many of us take a good, hard look around us and think, "Wow. I have healthy kids and a loving husband. I live in a safe neighborhood; my kids go to a good school. I don't have to work to pay the bills. I have a car. I turn on the faucet and clean water comes out; I can put healthy food on the table." How many of us are grateful for the opportunity to be home with our kids, even for a few months or a few years, even if it means making financial sacrifices?
In the end, we CHOSE to become mothers. We CHOSE to quit our jobs. We CHOSE to be the one in charge of, well, everything. We made a conscious decision to be the at-home parent - and that means that WE are the ones who take care of the home, the kids, the chores and errands. That's not to say our spouses shouldn't pitch in; they should, and we need to train our kids to help, too. But is it really fair to expect the working spouse to do half? Or even a fourth? I have a stay-at-home mom friend whose husband works nine hours a day, with an hour commute each way. When he walks in the door, he'd like to see his kids, have a nice meal, and then relax. She, however, feels that when he gets home, he's on kid duty and she gets a break. Now, while I understand the need for time away, and we've ALL had those days where we need to hand over our kids for our sanity and their safety, it shouldn't be every day. Why not take her "me time" while her kids are napping? Or arrange a "kid-swapping" with another mom? That, or pop in a video and park them on the couch for a few minutes. (Don't judge; you've done it, too. It won't knock off more than a few IQ points.) She could let some housework go so she can enjoy that time with her husband before their kids go to bed. In my world, "me time" comes after the kids' bedtime - and I'm OK with that.
My sister recently called me "a 1950s housewife." She was mad at me when she said it, so I think she meant it as an insult. But when I thought about it, I decided to take it as a compliment. I mean, I don't work; I am a stay-at-home mom. It IS my job to get my kids up, fed, dressed and ready for the day. It IS my job to run the errands, do the chores, make dinner and oversee homework. I DO think my husband should come home to a decent meal after a long day at work. It IS my job to run the household as smoothly as I can. Sure, there are days it looks like a bomb exploded in my family room. There are days where I order a pizza and call it dinner, without feeling guilty. There are days where the dishes have taken over the kitchen and I'd be completely mortified if a neighbor stopped by. There are days where no one has clean jeans and the library books are missing and I forgot to pack snacks and there's no milk so breakfast is a piece of toast eaten in the car. And then someone drips butter on her shirt and cries. It happens. Life happens. But I'm not going to whine and cry and say that I have it so hard. You want hard? Talk to a working mom, a single mom, a military wife. My life is not hard. My life is a freakin' walk in the park.
Slacker Mom Says... why not just decide to be a "happy housewife" rather than a "desperate housewife"? We signed on for this gig; we can embrace it and enjoy it. It won't last forever. Before we know it, our kids will be gone and we'll have nothing but time on our hands. Then I'll have plenty of "me time" and money for pedicures and a cleaning lady.
But I'll still wear sneakers with my jeans and leave my house - occasionally - without lipstick on.