10 February 2014

Other People's Yardsticks

Looking at myself, at my day-to-day, it is difficult to not see everything that happens or doesn't happen in terms of black and white, success and failure. There are toys all over the floor: failure. The dishwasher hasn't been unloaded yet: failure. The to-do list is piled high with phone calls to make, emails to send, and I haven't managed to accomplish any of them: failure. Successes don't show up often on this list, and they are always so thoroughly outnumbered by failures; it's hard to keep from reaching the point of crying from frustration, because there's no point to even trying because there will always be more things that go wrong than go right.

Surely staying home all day long, every single day, should give me enough time to have a clean house? Prepare a decent supper each night? Make three whole brief phone calls in the nine and a half hours that my husband is at work? The math just doesn't make sense. I cannot tell you how much I hate the question, "What did you do today?" (or this week, or recently), because... What did I do? Nothing, clearly: there is play food and a solitary snow boot on the living room floor, a stack of books waiting for packing tape first aid on the desk, half-frozen pork chops languishing on the counter, and a screaming toddler clinging to my skirt. I didn't do anything. I can't do anything.

But if I sat around and did nothing all day, why am I worn out by the time Matt gets home from work? Because I didn't do "nothing;" I'm looking at it wrong.

Parenting is hard, no matter how many kids you have, no matter how old they are. But as a young mom with just one very small monster in the house, looking at moms with more kids and more experience, it can be so hard to give myself permission to admit that what I'm doing is difficult. All of these other women have more kids than I do, and their houses are cleaner, and their lives are more orderly, and their husbands are probably happier, and their kids don't hang on them crying for attention while they try to cook supper... And they have so much more to deal with! So I'm clearly just doing a horrible job.

But what if I tried to describe what I do all day without comparing myself negatively to others? I spend my day caring for and playing with and reading to a very small human being who is completely dependent on me: food, warmth, comfort, sleep, entertainment, learning to talk and reason and interact with his environment... He relies on me for all these things, for everything he needs and wants. With no siblings yet, of course I'm the one he looks to all day every day to interact with him. That's what it means to be a mom of one toddler: total, constant attention.

That's my main job, isn't it? If I'm asked what I do, do I say that I'm a mom, or a housekeeper? A mother, or a cook? Cooking and cleaning and taking care of everything else that winds up on my to-do list are important, very important. But they are not more important than being a mom and interacting with my little boy all day. It's not that he won't go play by himself so that I can get things done; he doesn't know how. I need to find ways to involve him in my chores, and help him learn to play with something on his own for five minutes when I really do need him not attached to me so I can make a phone call.

It's so tempting, so easy, to compare ourselves to others, and we just can't. It doesn't matter what my home and life look like compared to my friend's, or my neighbor's, or my mom's. The only thing that comparing my life to someone else's will ever do is distract me from living my life, with the joys and challenges that God has given me in this moment, the way I'm supposed to.


  1. I read a great article about a mom of many, who said that it was just as hard with one as it is now with all the kids she has. And also, heard from many moms about how the first five years of parenting (so until Jude is 5, regardless of having more kids, although I'm sure having young kids in general is difficult) are by far the hardest. And I can totally understand that. My life now, with a 3yo and a 1yo, is actually kinda easier than it was when Andrew was 1.

    Also, I totally sympathize with the not doing anything all day. I do a couple chores a day to keep the house clean, and I do it on a schedule. I actually timed myself once, and it's about 10-15 minutes worth of cleaning per day. But sometimes (a lot of times!) it's SO HARD to find those 10 short minutes to clean! Because if I go upstairs, Peter may try to follow me and fall back down the steps. Or he'll just sit there and scream. Or I'll bring him up and Andrew will start yelling that he doesn't want Peter to touch "his" things. Or I just feel guilty dusting around the kids when I should play with them. The list goes on and on. I can understand how you feel. I think you put it well, that you're taking care of another human being, and really that's the most important thing. Try not to compare yourself, ESPECIALLY to those who have older kids.

  2. Having 1 child was the hardest thing I have ever done. 3 in 3 years, second hardest. 7, seems like cake compared to that.