Growing up the oldest daughter in a very conservative household, I made it well known that I intended to blaze a different path. Ambitiously and outspokenly progressive, I saw homemaking as an antiquated career for someone of my generation. It didn’t help that my mother, a stay-at-home parent, ran the home so naturally, her level of skill seemed almost invisible. It’s fair to say I am still the progressive one, but oh, has motherhood humbled me in many ways. Though it’s hard to admit, in the end, I’m not immune to age, and experience dulling my edge a bit. If I could warn my younger self of a handful of blindspots, I gladly would say:
I wish I’d started younger
God, I hate saying that, but all things considered, the little old ladies at church had a few good ideas. I started my family a full decade older than my mother had, having my first baby at the age she'd had her fourth and last.
Sure, I loved my twenties, and would hate to trade them in. On the other hand, having that whole decade of independence gave me a taste for self-centeredness that really can’t be sustained after kids come into the mix. It’s been hard to walk it back.
Now every time my daughter wakes in the night, my bones remind me how much excess energy I had ten, even five years earlier. And the silly things I would do to burn it off! Dancing, training for marathons, working double shifts, studying all night. Now, as I wonder if I’ll be able to give my daughter a sibling or how my body will handle it, I realize we all probably would’ve had an easier time if we had started a family sooner. We could still have managed to accomplish our scholastic and professional goals.
I’ve become the noise police
Not too long ago I’d bike through the streets of Boston with a pack of friends, blaring singalong tunes from a mini boombox and filling the night air with our giddy reverie. In the moment it felt like we were acing life. Now I want to go back in time and punch myself in the face.
Who knows how many babies I woke up! Why don’t drunk college kids think about that? Why don’t motorcyclists think about that? Why don’t door-to-door canvassers and landline survey administrators and leaf blowing landscapers think about nap-resistant toddlers and sleep deprived parents before ambushing strangers with their maddening noise?? Doesn’t anyone have any manners???
I’ve made my peace with gendered clothes
When I found out I was pregnant with a girl, I made it very clear that gifts were not to be gendered. No pink, please! Orange is good. Mint is fine. Grey is great! But wait, once that girl got old enough to choose things on her own, it was nothing but pink, pink, purple, pink, gold, and pink. Her room is a nest of tutus and faux pearl jewelry. Baby high heels? Oh, hell yeah.
Somehow, I’d convinced myself that the gendering of kids’ clothes and toys was 100% marketing, but once you actually spend time with real kids? You notice they do have personal tastes and they aren’t afraid to assert them. Far more often than not, boys and girls are drawn to different things.
Which isn’t to say that my girl doesn’t also love trucks and dinosaurs, she does, but what I’ve learned is that she mainly avoids boyish or unisex clothes and décor because she wants to be a princess. To her, “princess” means “powerful girl,” and she’s happy being a girl. It’s not “less” than being a boy. Why would I want to interfere with that?
Old school sexism is not completely sexist
Complications from my pregnancy forced me to learn a lot about my body, specifically how female reproductive anatomy is unique. As it turns out, much of the traditional etiquette that I took to be condescending toward women: men carrying heavy things for us, discouraging us from certain athletic activities, spoiling us when we’re pregnant, is based on something more substantial than a belief that women are the inferior sex.
For example, routinely lifting heavy objects and sustained high impact activities create intra-abdominal pressure in everyone, but the differing design of male and female bodies yields differing consequences. The female pelvis is crossed with several types of ligaments, allowing the uterus to fluctuate in size throughout the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy.
Anytime we strain in a way that makes us hold our breath, we stress these ligaments, which can cause the uterus to shift from its ideal position, compressing nerves and neighboring organs. The effects may be subtle or long delayed, nonetheless, women with overtaxed ligaments needlessly suffer from constipation, frequent urination, excessive PMS pain, hormonal imbalance, and/or sexual dysfunction.
I’m much gentler with myself now than when I felt I had something to prove. Now I have no problem asking my husband to carry the groceries in, and you can bet that if I’m ever pregnant again I won’t be going for long jogs on concrete or working late, nerve-racking nights.
I see the value in staying-at-home
It doesn’t have to be the moms, it doesn’t have to be the same person every day, but I’ve come to the conclusion that American parents work outside the house far too much. It may not be under our control – we do what we must to make ends meet – but we’re missing out on so much of our kids’ lives, not to mention the interactions with friends and neighbors, which comprise our community. And they are all missing us.
Traditional skills that once ran our households have been taken for granted, largely forgotten, and outsourced, often to poorly paid immigrants and other parents trying to scrape by. Rather than make and mend, we buy and replace, at great cost to our planetary home.
Without adults in the houses, our streets feel less safe for kids to tentatively explore, so inside they stay. The parents who do stay-at-home are increasingly far-flung and lonely. I know it can be better because I was raised at a time when parenting was considered legitimate work. It still is, and it always will be, we just can’t let ourselves forget that.