BLS 385: American Motherhood is a pretty unique class in that some terms it is as much a support group as an academic exercise. While there is still ample acknowledgement of the warm fuzzies of parenthood, much of our time is focused on the social and economic challenges (above and beyond the exhausting physical and emotional challenges) that can make motherhood such a difficult institution. In our discussions of these challenges, we learn as much from each others’ shared experiences as we do from the scholarship we study. Among all the insights shared, the wisdom of our late student Lenora Speller (gleaned from raising 5 children who were an enormous source of pride for her) has sharply stood out to me these past two years.
Two major themes that reappear throughout the course are the question of choice (why should we care about the frustrations of the stay-at-home mother or the overburdening of the working mother when they’ve “chosen” these roles?
See http://www.anncrittenden.com/about.htm) and the importance of self-care (what kind of support do mothers need, from their families and from society, to stay healthy and sane, and how do we go about getting it?). On the first topic, Lenora’s contributions were inspiring; on the second, her ideas and actions were pretty revolutionary.
I think anyone who is juggling school with some other role (working and/or parenting) can relate to the desire to just be done, to be free to not have to focus one’s energies in so many places at once. This is something many mothers of young children can sometimes relate to as they find themselves putting aside other goals and desires (like enjoying a professional identity outside the home or maintaining interests they had before becoming parents) in order to manage the all-absorbing tasks of parenting. These postponed desires frustrate us when their fulfillment is blocked by the ‘choices’ we’ve made- for example, to give up careers due to the exorbitant cost of childcare or the lack of flexible work options. It can be hard to enjoy the place where we are when we are constantly struggling toward the place where we want to be or where we think we should be.
But the calm that characterized Lenora’s posts on this subject clearly came from a woman who, though she juggled many roles and ambitions, had made her peace with these desires and did not let their as-yet-unfulfilled status discourage her. She wrote, “I had always told my family/community that I saw my own life in ‘seasons’, and that when the ‘season’ of rearing the children to kindergarten age was over, I would begin to do other things outside of the home.“ It is possible to ‘have it all,’ she counseled her classmates, maybe just not to have it all at once. Appreciate this season, where you are and what you have now; all of these experiences are meaningful and critical to our growth as human beings, too. That may sound obvious, but it is something frazzled parents (and especially parents who are also students) frequently lose sight of.
This kind of clear-eyed vision is best achieved, though, when we have some way of finding balance in our lives and managing the physical and emotional stress that comes with juggling so many roles and often neglecting our own needs. Lenora’s radical solution?
“I decided to start taking a personal vacation. ALONE. Once I even stayed in the same city, but in a hotel for a night, and it didn’t take a whole lot of money. I began to look forward to these times and began to feel refreshed, little by little… Then I got a great deal and began to take cruise vacations!…[She took some criticism outside her immediate family for this, but] I ignored everyone else’s opinions and now I am a healthy, happy, whole and “not too tired” Momma.”
A mother of young children taking a vacation alone, without her children- who does that? Someone who values her health and sanity, that’s who. Someone with the sense of self-worth to say, “I can do this for me.” Someone who had let go of the guilt we often feel when we try to take time just for ourselves.
Now, practically speaking, in these times, I’m not advocating A Cruise for Every Mother, but the lesson is clear: do whatever you can to make time for yourself, to take care of yourself. It’s the only way to make it as a “healthy, happy, whole and ‘not too tired” parent and/or working student.
At another point in the course, Lenora wrote that “becoming a mother meant to me – creating a nurturing environment of peace and stability in a very uncertain world.” I’m very grateful Lenora chose to share some of her peace and stability with all of us in the American Motherhood course. The words and example of this exceptional mother and student will not be forgotten.