I admit I am sometimes guilty of being an obsessive-compulsive mommy. The first week of Preston’s life, we took him to church so that he could receive the traditional LDS baby blessing with my whole family in attendance. I’d been told that babies should be kept at home for their first month to reduce the chances of contracting an illness while their immune system was still immature, but this Sunday was the only day that my whole family could be together to celebrate Preston’s blessing day. Well, the whole time we were at church, I was a nervous wreck. Every time someone around us coughed or sneezed, I thought, “If Preston gets sick because I brought him to church, I’m a bad mother and I’ll never forgive myself.” I was positively Monk-ish in my anxiety for him.
Well, Preston didn’t get sick, and I eventually forgave myself for taking him out too early. He’s happy, healthy, and growing at an astonishing rate. Yesterday I took him in for his two month check-up, and he weighed in at 13 lbs. 9 oz. (90% percentile) and measured 25 inches in length (97%). I’m finally starting to loosen up, and not be such a basket case over Preston’s health and happiness. It’s probably natural for first-time mothers to suffer from SuperMom Anxiety for Children syndrome (or SMACS, I made the name up) for the first few months because of the fear and doubt about their abilities as a parent. What’s not healthy is for moms to stay that way for the rest of their child’s young life and with all of the other children. Over-protectiveness and constant anxiety can cause a child to become co-dependent and anxious himself. A member of my extended family has SMAC and her adolescent children are nervous wrecks just like her. Holidays are a burden because she feels like she has to deprive herself of sleep so that she can make everything perfectly decorated, wrapped, and color-coordinated.
The SMAC-suffering mothers described in the Mommy Madness article fall into two categories: working moms trying to balance careers and motherhood, or stay-at-home-moms going crazy with boredom and lack of fulfillment. I think the major problem with these women is that they want everything at once—fulfillment via a challenging vocation and a traditional home life with adorable, perfect children. If they don’t obtain these goals, then they blame themselves for not doing enough. What women with this problem need to realize is that they can’t have everything at once. You can do one or the other thing, but you can’t do both at once and expect them to be the best. It’s just not humanly possible. Some people can make both work for them and not be basket cases, but one area will suffer and that’s just the way it is. If family is what’s most important, than focus on that and let the vocation slide and vice versa.
In my case, I was unable to have children right away due to health issues, so I opted to work on a Ph.D. for a while. There’s no way I could have had children and worked on my doctorate unless I let someone else raise them or got zero sleep. What would be the point of that? Since family is so important to me, I decided to give up a potential career in research so that I can stay at home and raise Preston. Later on when he goes to school, I may take my Ph.D. and work part- or full-time, but I’m content to wait and see. I don’t feel deprived; I feel fortunate that we have the means so that I don’t have to work. I do miss the intellectual stimulation of an academic environment sometimes, but I’ve found other ways to keep my brain nourished. I read a lot—books, magazines, blogs—and I enjoy watching the news and some favorite programs like CSI. The History and Discovery channels are a good diversion when I’m breastfeeding or folding laundry. I also try to keep up on my hobbies like playing the piano and writing. But I’m also trying to develop some new talents, like sewing and cooking.
Of course, most of my time is spent caring for Preston, but I make sure to set aside some time for me as well. My faith and my family are the two most precious things in my life, as I suspect they are with most people. My faith helps me keep things in perspective. My church encourages women to stay at home with their children if possible because we believe it’s important for their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development. Some mothers have to work due to financial circumstances, and I feel blessed that my husband makes enough money to allow me to stay at home. There’s a great article in the March issue of Ensign (a magazine published by my church) entitled “My Stay at Home Education” (this issue will be available in PDF format in March) that outlines things a stay-at-home mom can do to improve herself physically, intellectually, and spiritually. I’ve paraphrased the main points here:
1. Develop new skills that can come in handy caring for kids, e.g. first aid.
2. Read good books.
3. Develop talents with worthwhile hobbies (I guess this leaves out collecting Elvis paraphernalia).
4. Accept callings in church (or volunteer in your community).
5. Use community resources e.g. plays, concerts, education courses, book clubs, museums etc.
6. Take time for personal scripture study, prayer, journal writing, temple (or church) attendance etc.
7. Set goals and work towards them.
I’ve tried to follow this advice as well as get involved in a playgroup, and I’ve found that I feel very happy and I don’t get bored that often. These suggestions are good for stay-at-home moms even if you’re not part of an organized religion. And of course, remember to go easy on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect and your child doesn’t have to be the next Mozart. The important thing is that you and your family are happy and enjoy being together.
There’s another article in the same issue of Newsweek called "The Good Enough Mother" that sums up what I’m trying to say perfectly.
There's the problem with turning motherhood into martyrdom. There's no way to do it and have a good time. If we create a never-ending spin cycle of have-tos because we're trying to expiate senseless guilt about working or not working, trying to keep up with the woman at school whose kid gets A's because she writes the papers herself, the message we send our children is terrible. By our actions we tell them that being a mom—being their mom—is a drag, powered by fear, self-doubt and conformity, all the things we are supposed to teach them to overcome. It just becomes a gloss on that old joke: Enough about me. What about you? How do you make me feel about myself? The most incandescent memories of my childhood are of making my mother laugh. My kids did the same for me. A good time is what they remember long after toddler programs and art projects are over. The rest is just scheduling.