Saturday, November 23, 2013

Essays on Motherhood - "Full-time Caregiver"

One of my favorite pictures of the boys and me. 
A friend recently told me about a conversation that she had.
It went like this:

Mom 1: I love being a stay-at-home Mom! I used to work full time with all the kids in daycare, but it's so much better being home!

Mom 2: I really enjoy being a full-time caregiver, too!

That's what she said.
A "full-time caregiver."
And, in case you're wondering, this woman is a stay-at-home mom, too.
She chose her words carefully, giving "full-time caregiver" emphasis. I wasn't there and I wasn't the woman speaking, so forgive a little inference here.
But it sure seems like she wanted it to be clear, she wasn't just a stay-at-home mom.
She didn't just sit around home with the babies she birthed out. She was doing something a bit more important than that label connotes, thank you very much. She was spending her time caregiving. All of her time. Full-time.

If someone asked me what my job is, and I said "I'm a full-time caregiver," do you know what they would picture?
A nurse. Yes. A nanny. Sure.
A mother? No.
Because a mother doesn't work full-time.
Full-time isn't really full-time.
Full-time in the work-force is 40-70 hours a week. Wanna know how many hours a week I am a mother?
Aka: all the hours. Full-time.
Oh, you may argue that I sleep.
First of all, if someone told you that: it is a lie. A bold-faced lie!
Twice last night, I got up with my children. In the middle of the night.
And just to clarify, I wasn't sleeping soundly during the (maybe) 6 other hours of the night.
Mothers never quite sleep soundly. Ever. Possibly until their children leave for college. (But let's be real, college kids still call their moms in the middle of the night. I sure did.)
I woke up last night and listened to my boys grunting, talking, moving and whimpering in their sleep about 10 times and I woke up and felt that new little life in my belly turning somersaults and also not sleeping.
I went to bed immediately after the kids finally fell asleep last night, and was up for the day at 6:45 when they climbed into bed with me, whispering those delightful words "Mom, I'm peeing!"
But even being asleep doesn't mean that I stop being a mother, or that I stop mothering.
I am not just lying in bed. I am lying at the ready.
Ready at all times, to leap out of bed and run to the aid of my children. To get up at midnight, and whisper comforting thoughts and promises to banish the nightmares. To wake up at 2am and strip puke-covered sheets off the beds. To get up at 4am and carefully measure out exactly 1tsp of Tylenol. To get up at 6am and make yet another batch of scrambled eggs and read "How I became a Pirate" for the umpteenth time.
Because I don't get to leave my job as "full-time caregiver" and go home and take a break with a little Dr Who.
I get to watch Dr Who on mute with subtitles while my children sleep, and I fold laundry and the bread for dinner bakes in the kitchen.
And at the slightest child's whimper, I shove the iPad out of sight (in the middle of an intense episode), so my kids don't think they can watch a show when they come out.
So yeah.  Full-time is a lie.
But wanna know what else is a lie?
Caregiver. As if all I did all day was give care.
Le sigh. How nice.
Sure, some times I am quite like a nurse (cleaning up poop and blood All. Day. Every. Day.) or like a nanny (making pb&js and singing The Wheels on the Bus). And sure, I assume that most caregivers love the people they're giving care to.
They may even occasionally lose sleep thinking about them.
But you guys. Mothering is so much more than caregiving.
I could make that list, right? That one we've all seen that says, "I'm not just a mom, I'm a chauffeur, a chef, a cleaning lady, a nurse... Etc, etc."
but that's not Mothering either.
Because being a mom isn't a list of tasks (Teach children to say please, check. Clip their fingernails, check. Do another load of whites, check.)
Sometimes Mothering is snuggling on the couch for hours on end. Mothering is loving your child. Mothering can look like nothing. Mothering can look like sitting still in a messy house.
But Mothering is important. Dare I say, more important that just being a caregiver? Even if you're just Mothering a baby who can't do anything but drool.
Anyone can be a caregiver to your child. Anyone. Sure, some people are better at it, and your child may love this caregiver more than that one. But only one person can be a mother to your child. And that person is you.
(Just to be clear, the same is just as unequivocally true of fathers. Kids need their parents.)
A full-time caregiver is not a mother, it is the person mothers send their kids to while they're working outside the home.
Full-Time Caregiver or Stay-at-Home Mom?
Hmm. I know which I'd prefer to be, and which I'd prefer to have.

Wait. I guess I better say something about that label "Stay at Home," hadn't I?
I will.
First, I will say this: all of the above applies to all mothers. Mothers, whether they work outside the home or not are all-the-time, 168 hours a week, never-ceasing Mothers.
Next, I will say this: If I didn't like being at home with my children, and wanted to work, I almost definitely would. I don't think that wanting to work is something women should be ashamed or upset by. And that goes double for single mothers or women who aren't given a choice in work at all.

But staying at home is often a hard decision, too. It's not like deciding on a new job. It's the opposite.
It's deciding to not have a "job," possibly forever. You're not giving up work. You're not giving up stress. You're giving up an income. You're probably giving up praise, recognition, and promotions. You're giving up a chance to associate with adults besides your husband and other women who also have spit-up on their clothes.
But here's the thing: it's worth it.
Because you don't just give up all those lovely things. You get new things in return.
You get to be there for every new and significant moment of your child's life. You get to be the one who's always there when they need a hug. You get to create a home that is a place of sanctuary, safety, peace, love, acceptance, happiness, knowledge, light, kindness, and every other good descriptive word you can think of. You get to nourish, uplift, and strengthen your family physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally through your constant love and service to them, and they get to do the same for you. You get to Mother all day. And sure, sometimes that includes a list of endless, seemingly thankless poop-related tasks.
But sometimes, it includes that blessing of having a baby fall asleep on your chest, with their hot, wet breath on your neck and their scratchy, little fingernails moving over your skin in their sleep.
And as hard as it is to believe, a little less money and little more occasion to just be still is probably just what you need to be happier.
(We all know that, deep down, right? But it's difficult to actually put into practice.)
But please, Moms:
When you describe yourself and what you do, whether to yourself, to other mothers, or to the CEO at the job you left to be a "Stay-at-home Mom," don't downgrade yourself.
Don't make up a new term to write on the form you fill out at the doctor's office.
Don't assume that the term "Mother" doesn't quite sum it up.
It describes it all perfectly.

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Polly said...

Bravo Becky! That was a lovely post. Thank you to the child(aka you) that wakes me every other day with an early morning text. love you. Thanks for being such a great mom.

mrs. [jeremy] bodtcher said...

I love this. Mother, what an amazing thing to be.