Thursday, 16 December 2010

Stuck behind the kitchen sink?

Recently, I had my third child. It is understandable that the last few months have been hard work, physically, mentally, even spiritually. In addition to existing commitments with the eldest two girls, we now have to find time to schedule in clinic appointments, make sure we don't run out of nappies, and catch up on sleep while we can.

But, to an extent, #3 has to fit in. She grizzles her way through the wait at ballet class, and comes on the school run without complaint. She is washed enthusiastically by her big sisters in the bath, and sits up in her highchair at the table for meals, even though we haven't begun weaning yet.

And a truly great thing, is that she has fitted in with my work outside the home.

Now don't get me wrong (as the wonderful Pretenders once warbled). As I have recently blogged, I am a devoted servant to my family; it comes easily to me - I love to clean, cook, wipe little bottoms, and have my patience tested on a regular basis ;-) My husband and I enjoy as much quality time as we can together given his self-employed commitments (and my role in our company, from which I am currently on maternity leave). One might speculate that being a wife and mother 'completes me'.

BUT, although my primary role is with my family at the moment, I also know I have others to serve, both now and in the future.

I am a listening ear. I am a member of the Playgroup committee, and the church Women's Group committee. I am studying towards a Certificate in Lay Ministry, the end result of which will hopefully see me serving in a more pastoral role in my Church, while edging towards chaplaincy over time (if I'm discerning correctly...). I serve on the Baptism Preparation team. I regularly read from the Bible in church services. I co-lead the Pram Service for under-5s. I sing with an Ensemble, and bake cakes for their concerts.

Yes, that sounds a lot. Yet I don't strive to be what they term an 'Uber-Mom'. I have many years of practice of learning to say NO, firmly. Certain things have been shelved since Rebecca was born. I am most gutted to be too exhausted as yet to attend singing practice, which spiritually revived me, amongst other things, and church on a Sunday evening without kids in tow. If I can't make my study group on a Monday, I don't. I only committed to one slot selling raffle tickets for Playgroup this year, and sat with my baby and watched the nativity rather than serve coffee. I do miss meeting the families who are getting their babies baptised, but I am not sad to have put Baptism Preparation sessions on hold indefinitely. And I haven't even been to a women's night out since well before the baby.

Yes, some things have been easier to let go than others. I know God is with me on this journey, feeling my resentment at not being able to do everything I want to, and negotiating my acceptance that I simply cannot. But I feel fulfilled when I do a little of other things, as well as being at home. I can't imagine life without dipping my toe into the world of further ministry, being there for people in a wider sense, and finding spiritual renewal in spaces outside those I inhabit with the children.

I know the commitments I have are voluntary, but I believe I manage them well, and don't try to over-commit or over-achieve. One of the things that has sustained me through Rebecca's early months is that I have been able to continue at least one thing - the bi-weekly Pram Service for under 5-s - without missing a beat. OK, so she needs feeding and the other parents and carers are talking about her to me as well as their own issues and there might be children at the craft table trying to eat the glue but - for me it's been do-able. The simple joys of choosing a story which fits with the liturgical season, matching worship songs to the theme, having God throw out-of-the-blue craft ideas at me that I have just had to run with - that's been great. Yet, I know several people who have questioned why I have retained the commitment. Yes, perhaps I am ploughing on with it for selfish reasons - a sense of purpose, a way to be seen as something else than 'just' a mother, who knows? But I also feel it's where I'm meant to be right now.

SO.... how to deal with my total antagonism towards (probably well-meaning) people who are clucking sympathetically towards me at the moment, telling me that "now is the time to be with your children." Well, yes. For the most part. Every breakfast and dinner. Every weekend. Every bedtime, at the moment. Every illness. Every need in the middle of the night. Every homework time. Swimming. Ballet. Play dates. Outings. That's a given, that's the job I love.

But I took that job in agreement with God - I didn't have it foisted upon me, I was blessed with a choice. And although I love it and see it as my primary role right now, as a feminist, I don't believe our talents as women are useful only for nurturing our families. I was also gifted with an intellect, which I don't intend to sit and atrophy, however small my baby is and even if I am (at least) quite tired most of the time. I fully believe God intends me to use every gift He gave me in some capacity, at some time. In the build-up to this Christmas in particular, I have had my own realisation that this time at home is a type of advent, a waiting and preparation for the day my children no longer need me (so much) and I can serve others too. Skilling up as a mother and learning how children see the world, needing to be patient with them and serve their most basic needs takes me back to Jesus, and shows me how to be a disciple (if not an apostle!)

But anyway, to get back to the point of my mutterings - I was praising Advent, and being snowed in, as helping ready our family for Christmas, and how I was happy to cut down my commitments at this time of year. I was mainly meaning dance and swimming lessons, and rushing about to visit friends and family, as well as watching VeggieTales at home rather than getting the kids into Sunday School, and ditching the Baptism prep and not attending the evening services. "Yes," one of our ministers said. "You shouldn't feel bad about it. God will understand you can't do everything. This is your time, with your children, while they are still young."

Feel bad about it? DO I GIVE THAT IMPRESSION?!! I'm just really pleased I've got a balance! I'm not apologising for not being involved in organising Sunday school activities, or attending church meetings, for goodness sake. I'm stating my acceptance that I can't do everything. And people are telling me how right it is that I don't do anything much outside of the home. Do they want me stuck behind the kitchen sink? Do they regret their own time away from their young family? Or are they just saying what they think I want to hear?

Consider this. If I was a surgeon, a lawyer, a teacher, someone who actually used the university education from which she benefitted, someone who really needed to earn money to contribute to the household, or someone who would rather die than look after 3 kids full-time, where would that leave me? Would I be a Bad and Evil Mother for returning to work (even on a part-time basis) when my children were young? Are other church mothers who work outside of the home on a paid basis judged for letting others take care of their children?

Is it because I'm taking my children along on the job with me? Is it because they know how much ministering to others squeezes your own life into a tiny compartment and want to warn me off? Because they think I can't cope? Because they have know idea how challenging I need life to be to embrace it?
Justify Full
There probably are no answers and as I keep saying, only God knows His plans for me. But any insights from the blogosphere would be greatly appreciated. Do other people go through this? If people aren't vocalising their thoughts about our role, do we worry what they are thinking anyway? Do mothers vilify themselves for spreading themselves too thin, and think they should be always doing more to serve the family? I'd like to know!

1 comment:

  1. People will always have their opinions, and some are very vocal about it! I have heard my share of "you should" (many of them are connected to my being more involved in my husband's ministry, although I get plenty from my mom about how I shouldn't do anything except stay at home) and it is hard for me to sort out my own feelings between thing I am doing because I love it and I want to do it, or because I feel that I am "supposed" to. I think the most important thing is to do what YOU feel is best! You know what re-charges/inspires you, you know what drains you or drags you down. The tough thing is to act accordingly without any guilt! :)