Sunday, November 06, 2005

At home with an intellectual life

I enjoy Half Changed World, but this week Elizabeth posted a comment from a reader criticizing at-home parents. To be honest, reading it made my stomach lurch. If it meant nothing to me, I suppose I could have let it roll off me with the internal comment that Amy's insecurities cause her to criticize what she cannot manage to do (or something of that sort). But of course, it is a challenge to have an intellectual life while raising children full-time. I am insecure about my claim to an intellectual life – always have been, even before I had kids and that must contribute to my reaction to Amy's comment.

I commented at Half Changed World:
Next week I will start my sixth year of stay-at-home motherhood. I have three boys – figuring-out-the-world five and eleven-twelfths, figuring out his moving-into-boyhood-self three-and-a-half, and learning-how-to-talk and how-everything-works nineteen months. I do not feel that I am in a multiyear desert. In fact, I feel that I have grown considerably in my time as a SAHM. I am a better person – more patient, more able to see that little actions can add up to big changes, more thoughtful about personal relationships, more knowledgeable about how the world works for real people, and with more ideas about how to make it work better. I have fabulous smart and thoughtful friends, most of whom are also stay-at-home parents. I know that staying at home can be difficult for some people, but it isn’t for everyone. Some have found/created/tapped into wonderful communities of like-minded people who nurture each-other’s spiritual and intellectual growth in the time they can find for each other.

All that is true. Paradoxically, I think it has become easier for me over time (and as more children joined our family) – perhaps it's all about managing expectations. I think a lot of my feelings can be influenced for the better by managing my expectations. I just wish my husband had some energy for that! But there is also frustration in my life – it comes and goes. Yesterday morning the two smaller kids were up early and I muttered "stupid kids" which is something I would hate to hear coming out of my husband's mouth. Sometimes I feel frustrated at my lack of career, usually when I've been reading an alumnae publication of some sort. But generally I like this life, feel lucky to have it, and don't see making any big changes any time soon.

The arguments that others have touched on about an intellectual life being overrated touch a chord with me. I think there is a great opportunity for spiritual growth in parenthood. I think of all those spiritual writers who discuss finding yourself in the everyday tasks of doing dishes, gardening, baking bread. Of course, those who are identified as spiritual do it without interruption. We who parent have the larger challenge of doing those tasks with constant interruptions. But I am absolutely convinced that there is personal and spiritual growth to be found in that kind of life. I’ll even claim to have found a little of it.

I’ll speak in a classist way here, for those who have a choice, but I believe that there are some people whose work is important, and outweighs the needs of their children. I don’t think that anything I do falls into that category, and so the most important thing I can do is raise children who can make the world a better place. I think I can do that best by being with them, and by giving them the opportunity to learn without being in school. I hope they have revolutionary ideas about improving the world. And I hope I will work alongside them to implement them.

P.S. You know what? Forget all this and go read The Mommy Chronicles.