Jillian is a wife and a mother to four busy girls. Her home is her office; her family is her work.
I did it again. I’ve caught myself way too many times, and still it slips out when I don’t think before I speak. Someone asks, “What do you do for a living?” and I immediately answer, “Oh, I’m just a homemaker,” or “I’m just a stay-at-home-mom.”
Shame on me. I love my family, my kids, my husband, and my home. So why do my words not prove their priority over all else in my life? I mean, if I devote every waking minute to my job and never see a penny from it, it must be important to me, so why can’t I make it sound that way?
The Typical Chaos
There are certainly days when these blessings feel more like a burden. In fact, many days make getting dressed or taking a shower feel like real work, not because I am lazy or I have nothing for which to prepare myself. On the contrary, these days are exhausting, a total fight to feel like a human being, much less like an adult or a woman of valor.
On these days, I wake to someone’s immediate need for me to fix their problem. Okay, I enjoy being needed! The days of a toddler needing help in the bathroom are not going to last forever (even if it feels like it), so I handle my duties with the idea in mind that these small issues are temporary. No big deal.
After toddler duty I check on my firstborn correcting her homework. Good girl. A small feeling of success ensues… that is, until I realize my third kid is nowhere to be seen. #2 turned off the alarm when she got up early, so #3 stayed asleep! I run downstairs, wake up a frustrated girl who now wakes up with angst and anger toward her sister before the day even begins.
Passing through the laundry room, I quickly start a load of laundry on to wash. Then, since someone is using that bathroom, I run back upstairs toward the other.
Before I can get to the restroom, there is one child who has not prepared her lunch and is begging me to do it for her. Alright, I’ll be happy to help you get to school on time, so let’s pack!
While I’m doing that, I notice two other kids are making themselves late and have not eaten yet. If they go to school hungry, all hell breaks loose, and I have to pick someone up for a migraine later, so now I really have to pee, but I’m making a lunch, prepping two breakfasts, and reminding a 10 year old that freezing temperatures require bare legs to be covered.
Quick break. Run to the bathroom. Someone waltzes in while I’m on the toilet, of course. She finishes her hair while complaining of me being in there. I wash up, answering at least 3 more questions and dealing with a sibling quarrel all the while. I drink some water on my way to change, with someone yelling at me not to forget to start the car because it’s freezing outside.
My husband sees me faltering, so he runs to start the car, while I argue with the same child as to why she should not wear shorts for a day barely above freezing as I throw on a pair of pants and shove a bra under my T-shirt. As I slip on my sneakers I sign a last-minute school form and remind two other kids for the second time not to forget their asthma and allergy medications…again.
My eldest suddenly realizes she is missing a pair of socks in her soccer bag and asks me to wash them before her game this afternoon. I think, “Ugh, sure thing.”
While everyone is headed out the door with full gear to the car, I force the tired, angry, whining preschooler to get dressed, get a coat, and eat something so she won’t be car sick.
I finally get everyone in the vehicle, but before I can put it in drive, someone has forgotten a folder, even though I’ve already put it directly into her hands once or twice this morning. So, I tell everyone, “Don’t move!” and run back up the stairs to get it.
Where Does That Leave Me?
There is no need for all this chaos. In fact, I am quite good at organization, if anyone chooses to listen. All but one kid can read, so I have made specific to-do lists for each child and laminated them. I have set reminders and tell them multiple times every evening to do what is required by morning. We have even tried making each chore worth an allowance. But still, I end up spending every waking second in the morning fixing that which was forgotten, broken, or avoided.
How many full minutes did I spend putting on my own clothing or brushing my own teeth, or eating breakfast? Zero.
I get home at 7:52am, and by 8:10 am I have helped a carsick kiddo over her “ickies,” taken out the trash, pulled in the dairy box items, started that dark load of soccer laundry, made another breakfast for the little one, helped her brush her teeth, and I am now making some sort of hot breakfast for my husband, who also works from home.
I still haven’t even looked in a mirror. Yes, my hair is half-washed, and my eyes still have mascara under them from falling asleep while checking my kids’ accelerated math homework last night, which is getting more and more difficult by the day. Am I losing brain cells too? Yep.
This is just the first two hours of my day, and already I feel like I need ten minutes to breathe! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this is all “normal” for the vast majority of stay-at-home-moms: the rushing, the serving, the obligation to be responsible enough to remember every single thing for each person in the family, all because that’s our “job.” And since our kids are our job, if they fail, we are to blame. Therefore, we constantly must strive for perfection.
Being Last Isn't the Problem
We are event coordinators, cooks, cleaners, helpers, encouragers, nurses, counselors, teachers, etc. We value our homes, so we take care of them. We value our children, so we take care of them. We value our husbands, so we take care of them. What falls short is our value of ourselves.
We spend every hour helping others to be their best and accomplishing as many chores as possible to better our homes and families. The problem, therefore, is not that we don’t do enough, but that we put ourselves at the bottom of the list.
There is nothing wrong with putting others first. It is honorable. That said, when it is something you do constantly, you start wondering where you fit into your own priorities. The term “self care” is an absolute joke. You wonder if you’ll ever make time for your own needs. Or worse, you assume your needs will never be met, so you believe your needs are not worth meeting. You go on the back burner, to be remembered when convenient, which is…well, never.
Herein lies the rub: If we put ourselves last, it shows! Every time I minimize my role, my job, my career of choice to which I dedicate every waking moment by saying “just” a homemaker, it tells everyone that I don’t value my own time and effort. It says that all those times I let myself go or tend to someone else’s needs rather than taking time to care for my own body or mind were poor choices, or were things for which I should feel embarrassed.
Why do I not honor my work? Why do I not proudly defend all those constant choices I make to put my family first? If I am putting off my own needs and desires for the sake of something that I obviously value more deeply, then why can’t I explain my work in a way that makes others see my decisions are so worthwhile?
Changing My Perspective
Honestly, when I actually have time to sit and consider my contributions to the upbringing of my family, I do feel that not only is my job worthwhile, but also necessary. Children are not born with manners, an understanding of the ways of the world, self worth, respect, social skills, how to behave in public, etc. Moreover, don’t we all judge the actions of obnoxious misbehaving children while wondering what, if anything, are their parents doing to fix the problem?
I am not saying all parents could or should stay home from other jobs to raise their families. For some it is simply not an option at all. However, don’t think for one second the world doesn’t appreciate a mom who is able and willing to step in and correct her children, or teach them good, polite, discerning behavior for the betterment of our communities.
If the world expects us to do whatever we can to make our kids productive members of society, why should doing it full-time be anything to be ashamed of? It’s not! Yet, our very nature of putting others first also puts ourselves down. So when people ask what we do, we end up saying, “I am just a homemaker.”
I’m not going to start changing the way I treat my family. I am not going to refuse my children help or stop making them every meal and doing their laundry. As much as I try, I am not miraculously going to become one of those put-together people who has already been to the gym and applied her makeup by 6am. I’m going to continue using my time to better my family as a whole, which will continue to leave me at the bottom. This is not self-deprecation but rather a choice of priority; therefore, I should own it and stop apologizing.
So, what if I were to change one word in my reply to tell others I’m doing my best? What if I refused to minimize my contributions as a wife, mother, and homemaker? What if I described my job as if it were something worth all this time and energy?
It may sound silly at first, but if I expect to be valued, I need to believe I am valuable. So, let’s take the “just” out. Let’s forget the “only” word. I must choose not to give into the exhaustion I feel or the self-defeat that puts my priorities on the bottom of the list. I will revel in the thought that my home, my spouse, and my family are better because of me. I should feel all the satisfaction in the world that I have given my all to better my family. So, next time someone asks, “What do you do?” I will proudly declare, “I’m a wife! I’m a mom! I’m a homemaker!”