The year I got married motherhood was NOT considered a noble profession.
In June of 1982 The Equal Rights Amendment had been ratified by 35 states, and the campaign for equal rights for women had been fierce. Women who stayed home to raise their children were ridiculed. Living in Connecticut was particularly difficult as many of my neighbors were commuting to Manhattan, scrapping up the corporate ladder.
I was scorned because I had not used my college education to excel in the workforce. My neighbors considered it a waste of talent to stay home and wipe bottoms and runny noses.
Choosing motherhood was hard enough in the first place, but when everyone around me ridiculed my choice, it became doubly hard. I longed to dress up in panty hose and high heels and leave my children in day care. I was bored at home. I wasn’t good at decorating or crafts. My particular talents, it seemed, could not be exercised with toddlers around. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I was affected by the opinions of my peers and daily I schemed for ways to get back into the workforce.
I finally put my unrest to rest after listening to President Benson’s pivotal talk, “To the Mothers in Zion.” He told us in no uncertain terms that a mother’s place was in the home, and we should not be in the boardrooms. I swallowed hard at this counsel, humbled myself and ceased networking.
Parenting young children still wasn’t easy for me. I adored my children, but I also adored adult conversation, and challenges to my mental abilities. Though I obeyed the prophet’s counsel, I often drummed my fingers or tapped my foot, impatient for my children to grow up so I could get a real job.
My perspective now is entirely different than it was in 1982. My own children are grown and I have two grandchildren. It would have been extremely helpful to know in 1982 what I know now.
Now I realize full-time motherhood doesn’t last all that long. The years when you are so busy running around meeting one child’s needs and then another’s to the point where you can’t even take a shower until your husband comes home from the office, don’t last all that long. I figure that on the average, a woman won’t be steeped in motherhood for more than 10 years at best.
Let’s say you were truly a super mom, and you had four children, one in 1990, the second in 1992, a third in 1994 and a fourth in 1996. Your youngest child will enter pre-school in 2000. That means that in ten short years you will have four hours a day all to yourself. In a couple more years you will have seven hours a day all to yourself. You could go play tennis. You could get a part-time job. You could curl up on the sofa and read a good book. You can take a shower without little fingers pulling open the shower door.
Ten years is not much time to be entirely devoted to such an important career. Sure, motherhood itself lasts more than ten years, but the years where you can’t do much besides mothering barely last ten years. If you have fewer than four children, your career as a full-time mother won’t even last that long. If your children are not as close together as in my example and you have fewer children, the years where you focus virtually all your attention on your children will still last approximately ten years. (If you have more than four children, you probably don’t mind those all-consuming toddler years as much as I did.)
During my ten years as a full-time mother I didn’t think I could stay sane amidst the Cheerios and He-Man figurines, without doing something that prepared me to re-enter the workplace. I slipped in some classes now and then, and I continued to hone my writing skills. Although, I don’t believe it harmed my children to do a few things for myself on occasion, I think it would have helped me be more content if I had been more focused on the present. Had I known how soon all the children would be in school, and how soon I would have entire days all to myself, I don’t know if I would have worried so much about my future.
Today the social stigma of motherhood has disappeared. Motherhood is actually considered a noble profession, and those women who are financially able to stay home are considered privileged. Nobody looks down on an educated woman for choosing to be a full-time mom. Women don’t leave their children to enter the work force simply because it is more socially acceptable to work.
Although the social climate has changed, the job description has not. Moms still spend their days sopping up spills, and changing soiled diapers. Many moms still get bored in the absence of mental challenges and adult conversation. In 2012 moms may not feel pressured to enter the workforce like we did in 1982, but many will still do whatever they can to avoid motherhood. Those who don’t particularly enjoy young children will leave their children with babysitters, or grandparents, or simply complain incessantly about the tedium, monotony and hard work of caring for young children.
If today’s young mothers could appreciate how soon it will all be over, I wonder if they would resent the diapering and dishes quite so much. I wonder if I had known how quickly these demanding years would disappear if I would have daydreamed about the future a little less. I wonder if I would have been more patient, laughed at my situation a bit, chuckled at the antics my children invented, and relished the most important job I have ever had.
Knowing something about what’s ahead reminds me of what I experience when visiting the temple. To get to our closest temple I have to drive on an awful stretch of road called I-4. A driver never knows if he will be able to make it through this gauntlet. It seems that construction, accidents or simply heavy traffic will clog up miles of road and delay your progress to a crawl. Sitting in traffic used to infuriate me. “What if we miss our session?” I’d ask my husband. “Will we make the next session?” “How long will we be stuck here?” “I can’t believe this always happens.”
The State of Florida came up with a simple idea that seriously reduced my frustration. They put up electronic signs that inform the traveler just how rotten the roads are that day. “Delay next 12 miles.” The signs say.
“20 minutes to travel 10 miles.”
These signs help me tremendously. The traffic doesn’t disappear, but my bad attitude does. In the first place, I know what to expect. I know I’m not going to have time to stop at the bookstore before we reach the temple. I know I won’t get two sessions in that day. My expectations are more realistic. I’m disappointed but I’m not mad. It doesn’t ruin my plans. It just changes my plans.
When we apply this principle to motherhood, we learn to expect delays, or temper tantrums (as the case may be) diapers that erupt, breakfast that doesn’t stay down, nightmares that we need to console, and accidents that trump everything!
We learn to expect that for approximately 10 years we won’t cross one thing off a ToDo list. There will be too many interruptions, too many unexpected eventualities. When we learn to expect the unexpected we stop writing the To Do list all together, and we don’t feel disappointed because, once again, we experienced a day where, “I got nothing done.”
The other way the State of Florida has blessed me with their signs is, I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I can sit back and enjoy the ride. I might pull out a book to read, open my laptop, or do whatever I can do while trapped inside an automobile on an crowded expressway. I can accept where I am and be in the moment, rather than always looking where I am going in the future.
When moms remember (or it is pointed out for us) that those ten years of constant chaos will come to an end, we can treasure where we are at the moment. I can’t get out of the car, so I might as well enjoy the ride. Thinking back, it was kind of a luxury to spend entire days in my pajamas, eat peanut butter for lunch, soar through the air on a playground swing, sit for 20 minutes in front of the gorilla cage at the zoo, paint each tiny toenail a different color, finger paint with chocolate pudding, bob our heads under water at the neighborhood pool. Since I made the choice to be a stay-at-home-mom, I could have also chosen to love it.