I live with my mother-in-law. It is true- I am not just trying to scare you.
For financial reasons we needed to live with family when we moved back to California. I thought it would be horrible. And it has admittedly had its issues, emotions, breakdowns, hurt feelings, and the like. Last week though we had even more family come to stay with us. I was a little surprised at the result.
Let me first say that I have always had difficulty and felt inadequate in my dealings with family. In fact it was one of my biggest fears about getting married. How could I possibly function in a marriage relationship if I couldn't even manage it with my own parents?
So, moving back to my home town and in with my mother-in-law was a little scary for me.
I have three young children now and I stay home with them. My husband is gone much of the day and has been for the last few years, especially when he was in school. I often felt deeply inadequate because I was so frequently tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, and basically feeling like I was getting nothing done even though I was home all day with my kids. How did women do this 100 years ago without birth control and even more kids?!
Guess what- I am not the only mom who feels like this! Being a full time mom is overwhelming. It is a monetary sacrifice to start, not to mention the sacrifice of your time, talents, desires, and needs. Plus, people in the grocery story look at you like you are insane or incapable of figuring out how a condom works.
But back to my point. Last week we had more family stay with us. A mother and father and their three kids, 16, 12 and 9. My kids are 5, 2 and 9 months. Instead of being totally overwhelming, everybody was pretty happy. The kids loved playing with their older cousins. My kids did not fight with each other at all. They did not give me any grief over anything. They had constant stimulation and play companions. Somebody was always there to play or entertain or teach them something.
And that was not even the best part! My baby is a sweet heart but likes to be held a lot. I don't mind this, but I just can't hold her all the time. She is too big to put in a sling 24/7 and I have to feed the rest of the household and keep some degree of order, and try to fill some of my own needs for human contact and intellectual stimulation.
So- I am a fan of attachment parenting, but in reality, it is very difficult to do all the time with lots of little ones and only one person to care for them and little or no help.
Not so when there is lots of family around! That baby never got put down. She was played with, fed, loved, walked, talked to, kissed, and just basically spoiled the entire week. Aunt and uncle loved to hold a little one again. All her older cousins soaked up every minute they got with their littlest cousin. She was such a happy baby. She hardly fussed at all.
All of this got me thinking about what stay at home mom's and attachment parenting advocates expect from mothers these days.
We expect a mom to hold and love her baby. We (those involved in natural parenting) expect that mom to not let her baby cry it out. We expect her to breastfeed. We expect her to be a good wife and mother. We expect her to carry her baby when needed. We expect her to avoid all these artificial baby soothing devices. I myself look down on these things. I want my babies to be comforted by human hands.
But the reality of our modern nuclear family, with dad gone to work much of the day, is that this is a pretty tall order. Attachment parenting, plus lots of little ones and keeping your sanity is hard to do. It is simply hard to do it all. In fact, I think it is impossible to do it all perfectly.
This experience reminded me that not too many years ago, families lived together in larger family units. There were aunt and uncles, cousins, grandmothers and grandfathers around to love on a baby.
There was no talk that week about letting the baby cry it out. There was no stress about getting her down for her nap. There was no listening to her scream while I scrambled to fix dinner. There was no panic attack when I realized I did not know where my baby had crawled off too. There is really no need for all these baby gadgets when there are simply more people around to help.
I realized that part of the reason some of our modern parenting techniques exist (the cruel and unusual ones) is because we place a huge burden on mothers who are doing it mostly on their own. Frankly, I am not surprised that mom's are tempted to just let the baby cry at the end of the day. By then they are exhausted. They don't have anybody to help them during the day and they don't even have anybody to teach them how to parent.
We need a little family help. If we don't have that we need to reach out to each other. Being a stay at home mom right now is incredibly isolating. On top of that, those who want to do it really well, hold a high standard for themselves that is difficult to reach
I hate to say it, but it does take a village. We need each other. We need to show up and take that new mama dinner. We need to pamper her. We need to hold her baby for a minute. We need to take her older kids to the park. We need to share our mama wisdom or just a listening ear. And, we need to let others do the same for us.