Maybe you've had this happen to you. Maybe it's just me. Well, no, I know it's not just me, because I've had other women share similar stories...
You and a friend decide to meet up for some coffee. For her, maybe this requires setting up a babysitter, maybe it doesn't. Either way, she shows up with the vestiges of her day written on her person. You both do.
The difference is that she has on her now-crumpled work clothes, or maybe the cute yoga outfit she just wore to the gym. You, on the other hand, are wearing yoga clothes not because you've just been working out but because you're in your first trimester and feel like crap--not to mention none of your regular jeans fit, even though the maternity ones are still too baggy, and wearing them makes you constantly afraid they're about to slip down around your ankles.
Also, you notice as you look down that the toddler has left a jammy mouthprint on the thigh of said yoga pants, which you failed to notice before running out the door. C'est la vie. Such is the life of a stay-at-home mom of littles.
The two of you grab your coffee. You feel a little bit like it's a life raft you're grabbing onto rather than a flimsy paper cup.
It's been a hard day. Hard week. Hard month.
Your new curriculum isn't working out as planned, and there's been some drama at the local homeschooling co-op. The baby is teething--or weaning--or both. You're hormonal from the new pregnancy, which you're not telling anyone about yet because of that miscarriage you went through two years ago.
You wonder if everyone thinks you're just getting fat. And lazy. And anti-social, since every time someone calls, you're either in the bathroom or helping someone else learn to use it, and you haven't answered your phone in two weeks.
Your kids are going stir-crazy because you don't have the energy to walk them to the park (and you are not going to throw up in one of those public restrooms!) and you haven't been to a play date in a month. Also, you're worried about the budget because you didn't get a chance to freeze meals before the morning sickness set in and you've been ordering out a lot. (At least the kids are happy about one thing. "Pass the fries, please, mom!")
So, anyway, you sit down--you, homeschooling pregnant mama, and your dear friend who has (understandably) a rather concerned crease between her eyebrows as she asks you how you're doing.
And then you let it all out.
How hard it is. How awful you feel. How ugly you feel. How much you miss your old career and how easy it seems sometimes to think of shipping all those kids off to the free neighborhood school for someone else to deal with. Your friend smiles knowingly (as if she's actually been precisely in your shoes and she knows just how you're feeling).
"I'm so sorry," she says, and for one split second, you feel validated. You knew you picked her as your friend for a reason.
But then she keeps talking, and the moment explodes right in your puffy, bleary-eyed, tear-stained face.
"You know," she goes on, "lots of women end up feeling that way. Is there any chance you could put the kids in school?"
Bam. Like a big bowl of Christmas candy and a slap to the face all at once.
Because part of you does want it, that ease. To stop reinventing the wheel that everyone else seems so happy to run in all day. And part of you knows that you've just been egregiously (if unintentionally) insulted. Do you see it? Maybe not.
Let me put it another way.
Think for a minute about the last time you sat down with a working friend at the end of a long day. Did she beam at you and say, "I love everything about my job! I even love the hard stuff, like the rude clients and my overly demanding boss and having to walk around in heels for eight hours a day! It's amazing! I have absolutely nothing I dislike about what I do all day."
Maybe. We all have those days where it seems like a dream that we get to live our own lives. But, I'd bet most days that working friend just wants to flop down, throw on some sweats and complain about her aching feet and what a headache her latest case load has been.
If she starts in with these sort of your complaints, what is your response? Do you immediately suggest she quit her job? No, you don't. Because you believe that what she's doing (earning a paycheck for one thing) is important.
So, you don't tell her to quit. You give her some tea and sympathy, and then you encourage her to keep her chin up, keep talking to you if she has trouble getting through it. You tell her you'll be praying for her.
Why are homemakers/homeschoolers/stay-at-homers/what-have-you so rarely given the same courtesy?
Most women do not become homemakers--and I don't know a single one who becomes a homeschooler--simply by "falling into it." You don't just stumble across this way of life. It's way too counter-cultural! It takes vision, effort, prayer, and a lot of hard work to even start making it happen.
So, when we complain about a legitimately hard spell in this life (and who doesn't have those in every line of life and work), we're not looking for you to suggest we quit.
How would you feel if you had to "prove" how much you loved your job lest every person you know and love suggest you give up on it, go back to school, and find another line of work?
Wouldn't you be insulted? Especially if it's something you worked very hard for (being an actress or a lawyer, for example, which both require lots of training and dedication)--something you care about deeply, that is an ingrained part of your identity?
Wouldn't that hurt? And wouldn't it be hard if you felt you had to keep up a false front with everyone you know just so you don't have to be hurt that way?
Maybe it's not your friends who say these things. Maybe it's a sister, mother, father, mother-in-law, or even your husband. To all those well-meaning loved ones, please let me give you a bit of advice: Don't. Just...don't.
When we stay-at-homers open up our hearts to you, we are looking for validation and encouragement, not a brush off. We are venting, just like you do. This is not (at least in the vast majority of cases) a release of pent-up hostility toward our lives as stay-home-mothers. We have not been "faking" it for all those other weeks, storing up anger and bitterness for the "hand we've been dealt" or the "oppression" of our situations. We're just having a hard time right now. Don't try to fix it. Just listen, pray with and for us, tell us to keep our chins up. Like you would for anyone.
Or don't you believe that what we're doing matters as much as a paycheck?
Home-making, home educating, mothering--this is our job. More than that, it's a vocation. A calling. A life goal, choice, purpose, and course all rolled into one. Please respect it as such.
We do not need suggestions on how to make our vocations easier (unless you share our vocation and have some helpful perspective, then we're all ears!). If you were a teacher, would you suggest how a doctor make her job easier? If you were an artist, would you give vocational tips to a construction worker? Please don't assume that because you have done some of the things we do (cook meals, do laundry, birth children) that you know "exactly what it's like." I don't presume to know what a chef's, maid's, mother of triplets, or classroom teacher's life is like. Just saying.
When I'm having a rough day, I don't want someone to tell me to quit my vocation and find a new one. Believe me, I've considered other options. I still chose this one. I don't plan on quitting just because the going gets tough.
What I need is someone who understands that being a homeschooling mother is as demanding and difficult as being a CEO. Who can accept that I have down days and frustrating seasons and who believes in me and my work enough to comfort, encourage, and inspire me to persevere, knowing--believing that the darkness will soon dispel.
Because what I'm doing produces something far more valuable than a paycheck: wholly healthy children. As their mother, I can see to their emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual needs better than anyone else.
Can children be "raised right" in a public school setting? Yes, often. Though not always. For some women, there is no other option, and in those cases, you make do. And you do what you have to put food on the table.
Other women have no qualms about letting their kids spend their days under the guidance of other adults. That's a perfectly legitimate option. One that many make. But that's their choice.
It is not mine.
To address the common stipulation that usually gets raised at this point: Yes, I am blessed that I don't have to work to put food on the table. I recognize that. But that doesn't mean I have infinite resources.
I thrift shop. We live in a much smaller house than we might have. We have old cars and often fix them ourselves. We rarely hire services, have no cable, go on fewer vacations, and do fewer paid recreational activities than most people we know--even people who make less money than we do annually. We prioritize and make sacrifices. If you have different priorities, fine. I won't judge you. Please don't decide that my priorities are a waste of time or effort.
We homeschoolers are not drudges, draining society and their husbands' paychecks while we sit around eating bon-bons and watching soap operas all day. We prioritize, we work hard, and we make sacrifices. They may look different than your priorities, your work, or your sacrifices, but that does not make them "less."
I sacrificed my career for heaven's sake! And, yes, that was hard. Sometimes I even throw myself a pity party. But when I do, please don't imply that all my effort and sacrifice have been for nothing by suggesting I throw in the towel.
Unless, of course, you do believe that earning minimum wage to perform Shakespeare for strangers is, in fact, more valuable than give my all to attend to my children's best interests and well being. Then, suggest away. I'll gather up my battered ego on the way out the door.
Just don't expect me to invite you to coffee again.
I won't, however, turn the tables and suggest when you have a hard day that you quit your job and come home like me.
But if, instead of a "quick fix," you can offer me some true friendship and real sisterly encouragement, then thank you.
I'll be sure to return the favor the next time we grab lattes.