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.


ThrowingMarshmallows said...

Hey Alison. I came over to check out your blog and thought that I would jump in and comment. :o) I have been home with my kids for 6 years now (worked p/t the first two...had a career as an IT consultant). And I guess that you could say that I have taken the SAHM thing to the next level...I have been homeschooling for the past 3 years.

What I have truly found is that by being home I feel more connected and more part of real life then I ever did when I was working. Having kids and choosing to stay home with them has afforded me the opportunity to really look for my passions. I have become more involved in my UU church, I have found that I really enjoy helping new homeschoolers get started and am starting to really stretch my wings in that area. I have become more politically active. In short, I have not let staying at home in any way limit me...I have used it to help set me free.

Free to focus on what I really want out of life. I love having the freedom to explore areas of myself that I did not have time to even recognize when I was working. I honestly do not miss my old job one iota.

For me it is about redefining my definition of "success" to what is important to me, rather then what society says I should be striving towards. Having an intellectual life is not dependant on having a job. It is dependant on making it a priority. And yes, with very young children it might need to be put on hold awhile. But speaking as someone whose kids are growing up and who has been able to carve more time, it does happen. WHo says that we have to have everything all at once? I love that can have it all...just not all at once. I realized quickly that if I tried to do it all at once, I would wind up not doing any of it well. THere is nothing wrong with having some patience and faith that in the end, it will balance out.

Nice to meet you and sorry to go on so much!

Rob said...
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