BEHIND DOMESTIC LINES
★ ★ ★ ★
WHAT CAN GO
By Jami Ingledue
The beginning of the New Year is a good time to do a lot of dragging into the light—we (mamas) have been in frantic overdrive during the holiday season. It’s the time of year when the pressure is on (mostly) moms to make everything magical and create wonderful memories. So it’s not surprising that our egos go into overdrive (I will make this the perfect holiday and by god family you’d better ENJOY EVERY MINUTE) and we can go a little overboard.
Why the workload of the holidays is overwhelmingly the domain of the moms is another huge topic of its own—but there’s no denying that on average, no matter what time of year, moms take on the bulk of the burden. This is part of the huge “mental load” of a mom that is, thankfully, being discussed more openly now.
The mental load moms carry is real, absolutely, and it is a heavy and mostly invisible burden. But we must pause and ask: how much is necessary, and how much of it are we bringing on ourselves?
Because we don’t really HAVE to have perfect Christmas cards with professional photos, taken months in advance and edited to perfection. We’re not going to die if we don’t make elaborate cookies and decorations. Nobody will be offended if we forget a few birthdays. It will really be ok if the dishes aren’t loaded in the dishwasher in the absolute best way. Our kids do not have to be in a million activities that require us to drive them all over. Kids will have just as much fun at simple birthday parties without perfectly themed goody bags. Store bought Halloween costumes are fine.
Now, if you enjoy doing these things, by all means, do them. Make that Halloween costume, bake those cookies, take those photos. I myself insisted on knitting a beautiful Christmas stocking for my son. (It’s been in progress for three years and he is now 5, but that’s beside the point.) I enjoy doing it, and I know it will make me happy every year when we unpack it and hang it up (if I can ever get the heel finished).
But that’s the key: I’m doing it because it feeds my soul, not my ego.
Our culture is finally having a conversation about equality in the home workload. But if we are asking dads to rethink their roles in the home, doesn’t this mean we should too? If we are asking men to leave behind the gender roles when it comes to household duties, we need to do the same. How much of the work that we are doing is actually to feed our own egos? To make us look and feel successful? How much control are we holding onto for these reasons?
This is a particularly hard examination for stay-at-home moms, for one major reason: we have no avenues for achievement besides our kids and our homes. Caring for them is absolutely a full-time job; indeed for many of us the hardest we’ve ever had. But it’s thankless and invisible and never-fucking-ending. I found it nearly impossible to feel like I actually accomplished anything as a SAHM.
And this is likely why we go into mom overdrive, and stay up till 4 am making over-the-top Halloween costumes or little signs for every snack at birthday parties (that the 3 year olds can’t even read). We are striving to fit that role of the perfect mom, the ones we see on TV, on Pinterest and Instagram. Or, even more—the one in our own fantasies of motherhood, the perfect mom we always dreamed we’d be. And deep down, we so often feel like we’re failing at that, failing at parenting, failing at balancing it all.
So it’s all too easy to spend so much time and energy on things we feel like we MUST do in order to be a good mom. Because that’s the only way some of us can fulfill our need for achievement. That is what society sees and praises us for, and we already spend so much of our lives as mothers completely unseen. Moms who work outside the home might have other avenues for achievement, but they also feel huge pressure to show the world that they are still great moms, because our culture still tells us otherwise in many ways.
And with that drive for perfection can come what we call “maternal gatekeeping”: dad doesn’t do anything good enough for mom, so mom doesn’t let dad do anything. Eventually dad stops trying. This is the only power that stay at home moms have traditionally had, the home being the only domain over which we have any control. So it’s understandable that we would exert our power in the only way we know how, the only way we have been allowed. This is especially true, I think, for SAHMs who lack the validation of a wage or a positive work evaluation.
So how do we start to get ourselves free from this? A good place to start is to ask this question: Is this feeding my soul or my ego? Am I truly doing x for the health and happiness of myself and my family, or to show the outside world I’m a good mother, to impress people?
And maybe our ego needs a little TLC, and that’s ok, we can dive into that and figure out how to better fulfill our need for achievement. Killing ourselves at home and being controlling? Not likely the best way to do that.
So when you find yourself spending all your time and energy on a thankless task, ask yourself: am I feeding my soul, or my ego? Is this contributing to my family’s health and happiness, or is it just to look good for the neighbors? What can we let go of and stop doing if we prioritize happiness over perfection?
Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 4, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms (dancingbeefarms.net). She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.
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