Wednesday, February 09, 2011

If I've Learned Anything . . .

I have loved reading all the comments, advice, questions and emails you've sent with your own thoughts about reaching middle-age and while I don't know that I've got a book's worth of information on the subject (give me another 20 years and a lot more wisdom) I'll give you a few tender tidbits of things I have I've learned.

Be Content
I remember the nights of getting up with the babies or the torture of potty training (I'd go through childbirth again twice over if I could avoid potty training) but I didn't appreciate what it was teaching me.  Patience, organization, humility, perseverance . . . all things more valuable to my life than a degree or certificate but I tended to constantly think about how great things would be once I was onto something new.

But all that wiping and cleaning and teaching gives life a great deal of purpose--in fact, when people ask that question, "Why do so many bad things happen in the world?" I tend to think it's simply to give us all something to clean up.  If everything was smooth-sailing we'd all be very bored. Trust me on this one.

Be Brave
When I was expecting my second child and felt as attractive and mobile as an air-craft carrier Andrew was going through law school (as in completely absent) and I was managing two 30-unit apartment buildings.  I cleaned the empties and rented them out, managed the tenants, collected rent and generally did whatever it took to keep us afloat (again there's that boat metaphor).   As my due date approached I decided to quit the job "because I couldn't possibly handle two children and a job."

And now I just laugh at that.  Seriously . . . two kids and a job would seem like a vacation compared to what I was able to handle later on but parenthood is like any muscle: the more you exercise it the better and stronger it becomes until you're amazed at what you're able to handle.

What I'm trying to say is that it's perhaps unwise to base your decision on the size of your family on how you might feel at a particular given moment. I mean, if I based my decision on how many kids to have in those 15 minutes after delivering a child I'd have got my tubes tied right then and there.  Think in the big picture, taking in the whole scene of what you want your complete life to be rather than during a particularly trying and hard day where you say, "I'm never having another because I can't handle any more." You may feel differently as your abilities (and your children) grow and you might find that you'd wished you'd prolonged your motherhood experience when it's too late.

Of course this is a very personal decision between you and your spouse and unique to every situation but human beings are pretty amazing creatures and most likely you're pretty amazing too and can handle more than you think you can.

Be Fair
There were lots of times when I dealt with household or children's issues and got a little resentful of my husband. After all, why wasn't he getting up with the babies at 2 am or having to deal with the messes I did? I was easy to look at whatever it was he was doing and expect him to do more of what I was doing but that wasn't at all fair.

Because we'd chosen the divide-and-conquer technique for family management where he supplied the income and I kept the house running I was wrong to expect him to pick up the slack on my job simply because he was home.  Now don't get me wrong, he's a great guy whose philosophy is "let's all work until the job is done" but there were plenty of times when he'd come home exhausted from a long day at work and I'd inwardly resent him for not jumping up to take care of something I didn't want to do myself as if I were the only one working.

The honest reality is that our work was different and therefore our work hours were different.  I might have had to get up with the babies in the middle of the night but then I also got long "lunch breaks" in the afternoons when kids were napping or at school.  I might have had to be on the job until all the kids were asleep but then I could often grab quiet minutes here and there when he was still grinding away at the wheel in his office, desperate for a break. The older the kids got the more luxuries I had that he didn't get so to try and compare our jobs and demand that things be equal was completely unrealistic.

So here I am, 40 years old and facing retirement. My career as a mother (and again, I say "intensive mothering" because you're never absolved from your job as a mom) only has a few more years before I need to decide on a second career while he's got another 20 years of providing for the family and doing whatever it takes to keep the money coming while I can look at doing whatever it is my heart desires most. Of course this is all different if you're both responsible for income and the house but according to the way our family divided the labor it was impossible to try to make things completely equal and I wish I'd been less selfish here and there.

And this all just goes to make me wonder what lessons I'll have picked up by the time I'm 70?


Janel said...

"And this all just goes to make me wonder what lessons I'll have picked up by the time I'm 70?"

Seriously. You and me both.

Jenn said...

Although I'm in a different season of life, my kids are all 10 and under, I really needed to read this post today. Thank you.

Flea said...

I like what you've learned. Mostly because it's a lot like what I've learned. :)

Headless Mom said...

I love this post even more than the first one...Especially the 'Be Fair' section. You have put into words e.x.a.c.t.l.y what I've been trying to for years! Although I will say that some days I would love the extra set of hands, because some days I loan mine to him. All in all though, it's a pretty fair trade.

Roo said...

I loved the BE FAIR area. I am not married, nor do I have kids, but I've seen many others struggle with this. You're absolutely right about the work and the hours. One point of dissension though is if both parents work outside the home. Then it is not right for one parent to be solely responsible for home duties. Again BE FAIR.

I'm glad to hear you got some good coaching from your readers.

claire said...

Beautiful post.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog, and this is perhaps my favorite entry. You have articulated much of my own experience with mothering and have caused me to take a second look at my attitude towards all in my family. Thanks.

Kim said...

Oh so timely. My husband and I were just having one of those me-whining-about-his-job-keeping-him-absent-from-home conversations. And now he's all frustrated 'cause I "get to" stay home with the kids.

Thanks for the perspective adjustment! He will say so too in about 20 minutes. :)

GR said...

Sounds to me like you've learned quite a bit for someone of a tender age, just beginning their most productive years. My advice now is to realize that the nest is never really empty, and as you continue to provide the tools for your children to thrive in the world, find a way to teach them by example ways to embrace fully the many decades you have left to enjoy. Target the happy eighty year old you would like your children to know and emulate, then set off on that path if you're not already on it. Selfishly, of course, I hope you continue to share what you've learned.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog searching for "alaska, blog" and I just keep reading...
But now I have to comment - thanks for this post.
I am a mother of four (12, 10, 6, 4) and sometimes feel get tired of my life. You gave me now faith and energy again...
Thank you!
Liz (from Hungary, but lived in Alaska and wish lived there again)

J at said...

You may wish that you were less 'selfish' in the past, but you can't do anything to change what has happened. You can only go forward. And really, I think when you're in the thick of that intense child rearing, esp with diapers and teething and potty training and so on, it's easy to look at someone who gets predictable hours and adult conversation with some envy. And as the parent who was working, while my husband was home for some of those hours, the envy sometimes goes both ways. I envied him his down time with her napping in the afternoon, going to the park, being there for all of those wonderful moments that I wanted to be there for. Marriage and kids is so much compromise and missing out on wonderful things.

The other thing is, one thing I love is how families make all of these things work. All of us in different ways. You chose to stay home, and your husband work. Some do it the other way around. Some have support systems with families and friends, some do it on their own. Some couples work opposite hours, so that one of them can be home with the kids if they can't (or choose not to) make it work on one income.

I love how many ways there are to make it work in this world, and I think the best thing we can do is support each other in our decisions and our lives.

J at said...

And I forgot to mention, in my comment, that I agree with your points here 100%.

Being content is a huge factor in happiness. Not only for yourself, but also in modeling life for your children.

Being brave is perhaps the most difficult thing. There are so many times that I thought I couldn't handle more than I was handling. And yet...I was given more. I have been given so much more in parenting than colic and potty training, and only standing up and facing it head on has been enough.

I think my first comment was mostly to the 'be fair' aspect. Which is difficult, when we all have expectations that we didn't even know about, going in. Being fair in marriage is difficult, and important. You can't keep score. You can't tally my chores/your chores. But you can support and love each other, and value each others contributions to the marriage and the family. I suspect this is true in any marriage, and that having children just brings it into sharper relief. And if you're not being supported, loved, and appreciated for what you're contributing, you need to look at your marriage and talk to your spouse about how to make things better.

Mrs. Ohtobe said...

My youngest set of twins just turned 18, so with five kids ages 18 to 23 I have found that this is the time of their lives I am mothering them the most. And this is the time of their lives they listen the least! ;)

Wonderful post!

Aly said...

First of all, Michelle, I just want to say thank you. I am reading your book. I found it on amazon and bought it. So now I am reading it with my Kindle App on my Android phone. I have say, I am so glad the book is on my phone because I always take my phone with me every where I go and I just can't seem to put the book down. So every spare moment I get I am reading it.

You have such a wealth of information that I have found forever valuable. I have only been blogging for my business about 2 years now and I still consider myself a beginner. But I am hoping to become a better blogger as I implement all of your tips and advice. Thanks again Michelle! You're amazing! I hope you have a wonderful day!

Nancy / Two Mountains, QC said...

As always a very thought provoking post (as was your previous one) and right-on, too.
Whatever you decide to do with your life, I hope you keep us in the loop so to speak. I've enjoyed reading your comments and perspective on family & life in general. Reading your blog has always been a special time for me (a short but much needed break away from my hectic schedule). LOL
You are a remarkable woman Michelle.

Stephanie said...

Thank you for writing all of this out, Michelle. Thank you for inviting us into your heart...and offering your advice.

RE: your second point. Do you wish that you had had more children in hindsight? I'm curious.