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Look Before You Sleep

I'm a stay-at-home mother of two young kids. Come Saturday, I want nothing more than to fade into the back bedroom with a 2-liter of Pepsi and the remote...leaving my saint of a husband to handle requests for food, more food, different food, a checkers partner, a Lego partner, and someone to read "Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb" for the 40th time since breakfast. My husband's 14 hours of kid-wrangling pale in comparison to my 70, and although he gives me no grief (saintly, remember?), I feel guilty for wanting alone-time so badly, and taking it on his only off days.

--Tapped Out

The parental "no" has officially joined the ranks of chronically missing items like The Holy Grail, Atlantis, and Britney Spears' underpants.

You're supposed to be your kids' mom, not their full-time birthday clown. This means meeting their needs, as opposed to falling prey to their ransom demands; i.e., "Send in the chopper and the cupcakes or I'll scream my lungs out until spring!" If you're keeling over from reading "Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb" 40 times, it's because you didn't say no 39 times. "No" is also the correct response when besieged with requests for a chunky peanut butter sandwich with all the chunkies removed. But, children can be such finicky eaters! Correction: American children can be such finicky eaters, because their parents tend to confuse parenting with working room service at a five-star hotel. In France, on the other hand, the kids' meal is whatever the parents are eating; brains, livers, kidneys and all. And while the kids can pick out bits they don't like, their choice is clear: eat or starve.

Saying no to your kids will not turn them into meth-smoking, liquor store-robbing carjackers. Actually, throwing up a few boundaries might even serve to prevent this -- and less dire but extremely annoying outcomes (just what society needs, another 35-year-old snot who was denied nothing during childhood). Kids need to feel loved and secure -- and that doesn't take hours of mommy-and-me Lego. In fact, psychologist Judith Rich Harris writes that "anthropological data suggest...there may be something a little unnatural about adults playing with children." Anthropologist David F. Lancy notes that, beyond Western society, one "rarely" sees it. Regarding this apparent lack of a parental instinct for parent-child play, Harris writes, "This implies that children do not require play with an adult in order to develop normally."

I know, I know, that's not what The Cult Of The Child tells you -- when its proponents aren't too busy checking Amazon to see whether anybody's published "The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Children." The reality is, your family is better served by a stay-at-home mother than a stay-at-home martyr. Take the advice of the late British pediatrician Donald Winnicott, and avoid trying to be the perfect mother -- micromanaging your little darlings' every move ("Harvard or bust!") -- and just be a "good enough mother." Your kids can entertain themselves -- and will, if you suggest they do. Likewise, forget going for the Good Housekeeping Seal and just resolve to keep the health department from sealing up your house. Your kitchen counters don't need to be operating-room sterile. Just see to it that nothing walks across your lasagna.

You're probably not the only mom on your block who lives for the moment she can go catatonic in front of the television. I think we care for children all wrong in this country -- in nuclear families instead of in a more efficient, tribal way where there isn't so much weight on the stay-at-home parent. My suggestion: Five families with kids band together in a child-care collective, with one parent (and maybe one consistent nanny) staying home with all the kids each day. Kids will be socialized together, and parents will find that having children feels a little less like a punishment for having sex.

Sex? Surely you remember sex. (Presumably, your children weren't dropped off on your porch by a giant cartoon stork.) From the sound of your schedule, if you fantasize about anything these days, it's sleep, sleep, more sleep, and maybe a half-hour to read a book about somebody who isn't four-legged and purple. Yeah, you need alone-time, as does your husband, and, of course, family time, but you two are also in dire need of regular date nights. And not just for your benefit, but for that of your kids. Marriages tend to last longer when one or both partners' preferred bed position isn't snoring into a pillow. Get any elements of aspiring supermom in you under control, try my commie child-care suggestion, and pick up a copy of Esther Perel's Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic + the Domestic. Eventually, when you find yourself really looking forward to getting in bed, it shouldn't be with a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi.

Posted by aalkon at December 5, 2007 1:31 AM


So she spends 70 hrs over the week taking care of kids, and he spends 14 hrs on saturady

Odd how she didnt mention the time he spends working to provide a home, or whether or not(which I'll bet he does) he help once home from work durring the week

Boo fucking hoo, you shouldnt have had so many kids, I agree Amy when exactly did people stop using the word no

Posted by: lujlp [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 4, 2007 9:58 PM

Any chance she could get the older kid to read to the younger one? Then she gets a little rest at the same time as developing reading skills and a bond between the kids.

I don't remember being read to as a kid. I was the one reading to my parents. I'm pretty sure it let them do other things while they mostly listened and helped out if I got stuck.

^ - About her complaints: she does mention twice her husband's saintly nature, so it would seem she understands his sacrifice.

Posted by: Not the usual mike who comments [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 4, 2007 10:20 PM

Two liters is a lotta fuckin' Pepsi.

Posted by: Crid at December 5, 2007 12:31 AM

It does sound as if these children are taking up too much parental time.

There's some difficulties with kids in the US in that often people's homes are so far apart that young kids cannot go to visit their friends unless their parents drive them. In Europe, people live in much smaller communities so the kids where I live can gather in the street to play or (if they are older) to drink, intimidate passers-by, cause a nuisance, and check each other out.

A change in organization is in order. Kids should not be getting fed all the time. There should be mealtimes, and no snacking between meals. If you think the kids must eat between meals, get self-serve food like fruit. There should not be endless demands for food.

Do you spend time picking up in the kids' rooms? Don't: just close the door. The place will get into a terrific mess but learn not to care. Every month or two, the kid will get motivated to clear it up. You can offer to help, but don't nag. It's not your problem.

Show the kids how to work the washing machine and get them laundry baskets. Each kid gets to wash clothes once a week.

Toss them out into the garden with a hose or a spade or a dog. Make a bow and arrows. Light a bonfire. Invite their friends over.

Expect life to be a mess. Concentrate on giving your children memories of a happy childhood. But remember, you are their mother, not their friend. You can't operate if you are exhausted from "kid wrangling" for 10 hours a day. Organize things for your own survival. You have rights too.

(I'm a father of two, now grown up, with all their limbs intact, and not addicted to anything.)

Posted by: Norman at December 5, 2007 12:48 AM

I don't have kids yet, but I have had experience with others' kids. Saying NO is remarkably refreshing both for you and for the kid. No, I don't care about your toys. Got anything more interesting? Ooooh, you got a nice science encyclopedia about astronomy. Let's look at it, for about five minutes, and one planet at a time only. Now go play with your brother!

Kids will try all kinds of moronic tricks on you, will try to pile all of their kiddie likes and dislikes on you. By saying No to annoying squeaky toys and silly games, you make them wrack their little brains and actually find something that will please you. Kids can be resourceful and resilient. Make them develop those skills.

My mom kept us silent and occupied for hours with 300-piece picture puzzles.

Posted by: Hipparchia at December 5, 2007 1:50 AM

Heh. My favorite line to my daughters, when they whine about being bored, is "it's not my job to entertain you. Please go get the laundry." Boy they disappear fast! (When they were little, up until they were, oh 4 or 5, I'd engage in a little bit of play with them, just enough to distract them from focusing on me, and then I'd be off doing what I needed to do, whether it was housework, or a break with a glass of wine and a book.) o_O

Posted by: Flynne [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 6:02 AM

My mom worked nights when we were younger and played w/ us during the day. But she also did housework and I remember full well being able to entertain myself. I also remember exploring the woods - there was a pond and a little rock thing we'd (little sister and maybe a friend) climb and pretend we were pioneers. We'd pack little picnics and build fake fires. It was a lot of fun, I wish I still had that great ability to make-believe! It's hard to remember what it was like to feel nearly tricked into believing it was real.

My parents also loved "no" when we were little, and they've mentioned that we didn't really put up a fight. We grew up able to occupy ourselves and we weren't fat blobs - we enjoyed t.v. but when mom turned it off...that was it. And then we'd go sneak around the neighbor's yard and try not to get "caught" while playing FBI. Yuppppp, I was a pretty cool kid.

Posted by: Gretchen at December 5, 2007 6:33 AM

Sometimes parents can be buddies and friends. Sometimes parents have to be jerks. The rest of the time, they need to be parents.

It's interesting when you're a new step-parent that believes this, and enter a relationship where the mother BELIEVES it, but doesn't necessarily practice it consistently. It's challenging, and a rude awakening for the step-kid. In her mind, she's never been grounded or had to deal with real consequences until I came along. Because it's just the first time she's had parents working together as a team and things're been applied consistently.

Mind you, I'm generally a pretty nice and generous guy. I don't like being a tyrannical jerk. However, I also have to take my responsibility seriously and take the long view. What is most beneficial to my kids in the long run? Being their buddy, or being a parent? "Buddies" that constantly appease their kids are taking the short-term view. What will make their kids happy NOW, rather than what will help them grow into responsible heathens.

Posted by: Jamie at December 5, 2007 6:56 AM

There is a lot of wisdom in the "It Takes a Village" idea but I always shudder when I hear it said anywhere a government entity might overhear.

Other parents are THE resource for the exhausted parent. Not only can they give you an hour's rest to go to the coffee shop and pretend you are a single adult who doesn't know all the words to "Elmo's World" but they can share their survival tips.

Some parents want to make their children the center of the Universe and these little vortexes (vortices?) of need are only too happy to go along. A few days of isolation from adults and constant fetching of toys and paper towels will bring anyone to genuine psychosis. My own mother tried to do the June Cleaver thing and wound up depressed, angry and drunk (thanks mom.)

I am happy to live on a street where I can scold the neighbor's children and they can scold mine. We have bonfire parties where the adults can enjoy a beer while the young'ns race around and exhaust themselves. Trying to do it alone is a mistake. Unless LW made it a practice to hole up with a gallon of soda before she started a family, it's probably a symptom of a real problem.

Posted by: martin [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 7:34 AM

The LW says she has "kid(s)." Children. Plural. Great, they can play with each other!
From as early as I can remember, my sister and I (2.5 years younger). would get annoyed when my parents came in to "join" us while we were playing. They ruined the fun. The imaginary world we created (along with the little girl next door) was so rich and complex, any adult would get lost in it. I wish I could go back there...hell, we managed to have hours fun in our dirty, unfurnished basement with a battery-operated radio.

Posted by: sofar [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 8:51 AM

I have twin girls who are teenagers. We would read to them once at bedtime and they picked the story. They learned early on what "no" meant and are very well-adjusted teens for it. They never bugged me to play with them because I always had a list of chores for them to do. In addition to working at their school, I was their girl schout leader and soccer coach. They definitely got enough "mommy time"! This mom needs to stop letting her children run her house.

Posted by: PJ at December 5, 2007 9:26 AM

Self care is one of the most important factors in successful parenting. Without it, you become less and less capable of actually doing the parenting part.

I would seriously wonder how her husband feels about it all. Personally, I look forward with great anticipation to the weekends. I get little enough time during the week to play with and generally explore the world with my son. Saturdays are the best, because we get to have our papa/son fun time. Sunday's the day that we help clean up the apartment, together with momma - the type of cleaning that goes beyond light tidying. Note; since he was two, he has been required to help with the household chores - in spite of the fact that at the beginning, his help was more work than doing it ourselves. On the up side, he is quite used to helping and doesn't even complain about having to very often.

I disagree on the whole reading thing though. While we won't read the same book over and over, we are very big on reading. It is even more exciting now that he is reading with us, but we have always spent a considerable amount of time reading to him. As such, he is very literate for a five year old and is likely as not to pick up a book instead of a toy, during his (read our) personal time. The rule in our house has been, that we read to him when he asks (unless we have something uber important to do). Now the rule is that we will read with him whenever he asks.

Play time is also very important. We each give him at least a half hour every day, where he is allowed to direct our activities. This provides children with the opportunity to engage up on his terms in his world. We have found that since we started using this tool, it is easier to get him to follow our directions, when it is required.

I definitely think this women has taken the catering to the child to a extreme that is unhealthy for both her and the kids, but it is important not to go too far in the other direction. Kids need to have time where they are in control too. Without it, they never develop the understanding of why they have to follow our directions. They also never develop the notion that they are also important, that their needs and even their desires are just as valid as mom and dad's.

Parenting is a balancing act and all about sacrifice. It's also a lot of work. Striking the right balance also makes it loads of fun, excepting the occasional need to be a oppressive dictator - just have to keep reminding oneself that when you have to play the dictator role, you are actually making your child more confident and secure.

Posted by: DuWayne at December 5, 2007 9:38 AM

I'm continually amazed at the number of parents who have no concept of what parenting means, and how important boundaries are to their children. This means set bed times, set meal times, set punishments for misbehaving - and every time, not just because the 9th time little Johnny did X was finally your breaking point. My mother-in-law laid into me the first time she saw me put my then 2-year-old son in time out because he was "too young to understand". He spent 2 minutes on the couch and endured similar "punishments" any time he behaved in an inappropriate way. And shockingly enough, I very rarely, and I mean rarely, have to discipline either him or his sister. Maybe that's because my husband and I have been sure to let them know there are consequences for bad behavior, and rewards for good behavior. I don't mean cash and ponies, I mean playing a board game or letting them have a friend stay over. Since she's let this go on for long long, she's going to have to call a family meeting of some sort, or whatever is age-appropriate for her kids, and explain that some changes are on the way. And then STICK TO THE FREAKING PROGRAM! It's the only way to raise good kids who you can actually leave your open purse around and don't embarass you in public.

Posted by: Angela [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 9:58 AM

Why are so many parents guilt-ridden these days ..... OTHER PARENTS (*please note that this rant is coming from a woman who has not slept through the night in 6 months thanks to baby no. 2) and those (evil) parenting magazines.

Those magazines where the antecedent of my downfall. You begin to wonder who the fuck these people are that have all of this time to handmake halloween costumes and three tiered cakes, while grocery shopping, coupon clipping, and screwing their spouses.

Then you go in the office and your colleague boasts she only feeds her brats organic tofurkey, she just finished hand assembling their birthday invitations and she has investigated the best colleges in northeast ... when you (meaning I) only managed to scrape together fish sticks and mac and cheese, grabbed some invites of her favorite TV show (gasp!), and are just happy that you managed to successfully enroll your child in elementary school.

Everywhere you turn you get smacked in the forehead with the BAD PARENT logo. You don’t buy organic! Bad Parent! You let them watch TV! Bad Parent! You only play one game instead of caving to their every whim and desire!! Bad Parent!

I was a victim of this guilt for a loooonng time. Working full time, not feeling like I was doing enough for her (there was only one child at the time), exhausting myself cooking three dinners, being a playmate, doing crafts (ick!). I had no peace, the child would follow me to the bathroom. Granted I was probably hiding in there with a glass of wine and an (evil) parenting magazine.

So I had to start saying NO ... to myself. I was not her maid or her friend or martha stewart, I was just her mom. I think someone said the other day, parents are like guard rails. I like that analogy, not interfering, but you know that they are there. So I made limits for what I could and could not tolerate. And I made a (flexible) schedule. After work we did “homework” (practiced ABC’s, etc.) Then I cooked dinner. (if it were especially adult like I would throw some chix. nuggets into the microwave - guilt free). Then we had movie night, game night, craft night, etc. She chose which night - instead of doing all of them every night. No more letting her stay up until I went to bed just because I worked, etc. etc., etc.. It really let me AND HER see how much I did do for / with her. I was able to praise instead of berate myself. And we both got the time we needed to be independent.

Yesterday morning I looked at the clock on my bedside table, 7:45 a.m. My daughter gets on the bus at 7:40. (Bad Parent! lol). I get up and look, she is not in her bed, her book-bag and coat are missing .... here comes the panic / guilt, but no, wait ... my six year old got dressed, brushed her teeth, even packed a snack and got to school on time ... all without me. She knew I was there if she needed me, the point is she did not. I must be a pretty good mom.

Posted by: dena [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 10:11 AM

Dena, I wish my mom had been more like you when I was younger and maybe I wouldn't have so much trouble dragging myself out of bed every morning. She woke me up every morning, and she used to lay out my clothes every morning until I was like 12, even though I wore a uniform. It turns out none of the stuff she used to do for me, which was everyhing, was actually good for me in the long run. It's hard enough becoming an adult without having to figure out how exactly one keeps one's room clean.

I do think that this particular mother should aquaint herself with a phrase that my parents used with me a lot when I was a kid. "But Mommy, I'm BOOOREd."

"Tough Rocks."

Posted by: Shinobi [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 12:25 PM

I am enjoying the posts and ideas by the parents here, and agree the LW's kids could use a healthy dose of independence and learn how to entertain themselves. She needs to assert herself like the grown woman she is and not be bossed around by those little mini-tyrants.

What's with kids following their parents into the bathroom? I hear this a lot. My parents always locked the bathroom door, and I don't remember ever being in there while one of them was using it, or even wanting to. If that happened, I was too young to remember it.

Posted by: Pirate Jo [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 12:31 PM

Pirate Jo -

My son learned to use the toilet by watching me. He is inclined to leave us alone when we are on the toilet nowadays, but when he was smaller, he was a bathroom enthusiast. Even today though, he likes to hangout there when we are showering (I suspect because it gets really warm and cosy). He even occasionally showers with us, rather than having a bath.

We never really had to set firm limits, the only time I really care if he wanders in or not, is during my morning "quality" time. He really doesn't have an interest in coming in then anyways. The same is true of his mom. We don't really discourage it, because we are trying to raise him to not have body issues. At the same time, we have made it clear that it's not really appropriate to just wander in on anybody in the bathroom or when they are getting dressed.

Posted by: DuWayne at December 5, 2007 12:43 PM

Another little note - what works best with my daughter (7) when she's whining? "Sounds like you're tired - let's take a nap!" It's an instant mood improver since she hates to sleep (she says sleep's boring). Find what works best for your kid and use that. For my son, we grounded him from his stuffed animals and now we take away his guitar. Daughter, that stuff didn't work so we had to find what did. It's trial and error and only you know your kids (or at least you should).

I agree with Dena that the competitive nature of parents is stomach-churning. I'll narrow it further to moms. We are so our own worst enemies. You stay at home? Oh, how nice, I wish I had that luxury (meanwhile I hadn't eaten out or had a haircut in a year and 90% of my conversations were with a 2-year-old). I've been on both sides and they're brutal to each other. You work? I'm just so worried to leave little Timmy at daycare. I mean, who can love him like his mother? The clique-behavior of the stay-at-home moms (generally speaking) rivals any exclusionary tactics you'd find in Junior High.

Posted by: Angela [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 1:14 PM

Angela, I saw the same thing between men once, at a place where I worked. One guy was pretty religious and had a very traditional approach to family issues. His wife stayed home with the kids, and they drove old cars and lived in a small town outside the city in order to afford it.

The other guy and his wife both had higher-powered careers and lived a nicer lifestyle materially, but put their kids in daycare. I remember Guy #2 trying to pound into Guy #1's head that kids in daycare developed better teamwork skills and blah blah blah, based on something he read somewhere.

Really, who cares? I think most kids tend to turn out okay whether they are in daycare or not. It just boils down to what the parents want to do and what they can afford. I have read that a lot of the stay-at-home vs. working-outside angst comes from guilt. What in blazes are these people feeling guilty about? Their kids are growing up just fine.

Once in a while I have gotten the sense from some men that they like to brag when the wife can afford to stay home and not work, but in the same breath these same guys will gripe about how much money the wife spends. It's all just keep up with the Joneses nonsense, I think.

Posted by: Pirate Jo [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 1:27 PM

"... a Lego partner ..."

Urgh. Lady, your job as a parent is not to play
Legos with them. Your job as a parent is to buy them the dang Legos and let them play with them, BY THEMSELVES!!! That goes for all their toys. Buy your kids the toys (lots of them but a lot of not very expensive ones). Then leave them alone to develop an imagination, to figure out how to make them work, and to learn how to care for something they value. Probably one of the best moments in a kid's life is when they drag their mom or dad into their bedroom to show them what they just did with their toys. Did on their own, or with their friend, or together with their brother or sister. And the simple praise they receive probably does more for them than almost anything else they hear as they grow up. Leaving your kids alone with their toys benefits both of you.

Posted by: David Crawford [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 2:08 PM

Well said!

Posted by: PJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 3:16 PM

D'oh! I just realized we've all completely glossed over the most important part of Amy's brilliant response - sex! Date nights are fab and a huge part of keeping you grounded as a couple, not just 'Mom and Dad' but the people you were before the babies started popping out. I think most parents let that slide - I know we did at first, mostly due to finances. We couldn't afford a night out even without paying for a baby sitter. This is where the buddy system comes into play. Find other couples you can stand to be around for more than 5 minutes that also have kids. If their kids are your kid's ages, then so much the better, it helps with trading nights out and even couple activities. And there is nothing better than being a 30-something and introducing your husband to car sex (he'd never had it!) once you really get into your date nights. And it may sound boring, but scheduling at least one night a week as a "date" night works wonders for your bedroom life as well. We send each other naughty emails all day, leave little notes that tonight's got a couple of surprises in store, and make sure the kids don't miss their 9:00 bed time so that by 9:15 our door is locked and we're on the other side of it! Rowr!

Posted by: Angela [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 5, 2007 3:26 PM

Thanks, guys, for noticing!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 5, 2007 3:27 PM

I used to take a hard line on letting my toddlers eat between meals. They would cry and ask for food and I'd tell them they should have eaten all thier food at meal time. Then someone pointed out that I eat when hungry, as does almost every adult I know. Toddlers don't have the option to eat unless someone feeds them. I've softened my approach and now let my toddlers (2 year old twins) eat when hungry. They still must get mostly healthy treats, no substituting popsicles for a healthy meal, but when they are hungry I feed them. We are all happier now.

Posted by: Brett King at December 5, 2007 5:30 PM

We still have regular meals but they can eat between them. They, like me, are not always hungry at prescribed meal times.

Posted by: Brett King at December 5, 2007 5:31 PM

I cannot understand parents who cater to their kid's every whim, leaving no time for yourself. You are hurting everyone with that scenario. I raised a son (he is now 25) and am now raising 2 girls under the age of 10. We read together before bed, however, they play together or alone and have no problems with it. If they come to be saying "I'm Booooored".. I will find a chore for them! They tend to figure out something much more fun to do instead..LOL They have a set bed time.. early by most people's schedules, however, they get enough sleep and do well in school and are not crabby in the evenings. Kids are people and need to learn how to deal in the world.. we don't need a generation of "spoiled brats" let me tell you. When I tell my girls no, they don't argue. My girls are well behaved and well liked so I must be doing ok, yes? Oh yea,, and I also work full time out of the home, and they like day care, they get to play with all of their friends!

Ok, my 2 cents for what its worth.

Posted by: Melody at December 5, 2007 5:32 PM

When I was a kid, mom had her "me time". That meant that she, my sister and I each went to our own rooms and engaged in quiet solitary activity - usually reading, or playing, or even listening to music.

She got time away from us, and we learned to entertain ourselves. We never saw it as a punishment - it was each of us's "own" personal time without the demands of anyone else.

A parent isn't supposed to be 24x7 entertainer and concierge,they're supposed to be lifeguards and guiders. Helicopter parents are idiots.

Posted by: Ravan at December 5, 2007 5:47 PM

One of the best pieces of advice I got as a new parent (and people are willing to hand out plenty, good and bad) is to stop working at a certain point in the evening. Sure, it's much easier to do the million household chores always waiting for you after you put the kids down at bedtime, but you'll eventually collapse from exhaustion. I stop in the evenings between 8:30 and 9:00, pour a glass of wine, pick up a book, or even just mindlessly flip channels. Everyone needs decompression time. Is my living room spotless? No, but my patience and sanity are intact.

Angela, thanks so much for your post on competitive mothers...I laughed out loud! There are some of these types of moms in my husband's family, and I have struggled in the past not to feel inadequate next to them and their perfectly clean homes.

Posted by: maidmerrie at December 5, 2007 7:21 PM

You know, I see so much good advice here that I would love to impart upon to my husband's parents (who are currently raising his four year-old niece), but I have to ask... how can I do it and get them to take it seriously?

I hate trying to give parenting advice to them because it's never, ever taken seriously. There are always the same reasons... "You don't spend all of your time with her." (Because she's a brat and, besides, maybe you shouldn't, either!) "You've never had children." (That's a choice, and not one would render me incapable of making good, solid suggestions that might be taken seriously.) And, the kicker: "We raised your husband." (Yes, and I thank you for the good things you've given him; however, we are still working on getting him to get himself up on time because you were always his personal alarm clock, and I refused to be. [Any complaints he has to that are, and I quote, "I wish my parents had made me use my own alarm clock!"])

I know in the end that I could say "not my kid, not my problem," but I like her, and I like her grandparents, too. If there is any way I could figure out how to get them to "get" how this article applies to them and how to do something for themselves, I'd like to. There might be other people who feel the same way (isn't a parent, but knows one that could use it).

Posted by: Jean at December 5, 2007 8:54 PM

Angela -

I am doing a whole lot of work for an elderly women, who bought her current home to be close to her grandkids. She lives in a upper middle-class neighborhood, and is a favorite stop and visit point for the SAHM set. I also get a lot of work from aforementioned set, because I do a lot for her and they all know me now.

High pitched, talking to infant voices, even when they're not talking to infants. And I swear some of them actually get their kids to practice rattling off all the Exciting!, Fun! things they are doing, the more expensive the better. Failing the kids managing, they seem to figure out how to slip it into the conversation themselves.

I contrast that with the sahm's my partner (and myself, often enough) spends time with, in our much lower income lifestyle and just have to chuckle. Rather than bragging about what they spend, they brag about what they don't spend. They also have this wonderful habit of pointing out new and exciting discoveries of opportunities to do cool stuff that is cheap or free.

Pirate Jo -

Please, never take the fact that my partner is a sahm, to be bragging. I do not make the big money. We have to scrimp and save and sacrifice to make it on one income. The problem is that unless we want everyone else to cover the cost of childcare (and I am not sure we qualify), her working is not cost effective. That, and slowly but surely, we are not only managing to get by, but get ahead. Quite honestly though, it is exceptionally stressful on occasion, the certain knowledge that the sustenance of the people I love most in the world, is entirely on my shoulders.

Posted by: DuWayne at December 5, 2007 9:00 PM

i don't have kids. i wasn't even a good babysitter, so i can't speak from experience of having or even taking care of kids.

that said, my parents never entertained us. we were responsible for entertaining ourselves and each other. if we got bored, they would offer suggestions, but would never do it for us. they did read to us every night, and would then each spend about 5 minutes with each of us telling us stories from their own childhoods to get us to fall asleep (it never worked, but it was still my favorite time of the day). i think reading to kids is pretty important, actually, if you want them to read themselves. not necessary every night, perhaps, but important.

anyway. i had the opportunity to sit in on a focus group for mothers, some of which were stay at home, some of which worked. it was disgusting how much the stay at home's would lord it over the working mothers and then demand that the state provide all these services that they couldn't afford because they chose to stay home. i'm all for people making that choice if it's what they want to do (although my mom worked, and i remember being ridiculously proud of her for it as a child, i thought she must be smarter than all the other moms) but then accept the consequences of that choice, as well as the consequences of working - you still have to come home and be a parent (not a buddy, a parent).

i also remember hearing "no" on a fairly regular basis. obviously it wasn't my favorite word, but it wasn't a big deal, either. i threw a temper tantrum once. got a spankin'. never did it again.

Posted by: kt [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 6, 2007 1:26 AM

KT, I'm with you on the lording thing that so many SAHM's do (thanks DuWayne, for that acronym!). When I'd get lucky and get off early I'd go to pick up my kid from school and my skirt, pantyhose, and high heels were a dead give away that I was just off work. Those women avoided me like I had the plague until I stopped trying to make small talk, and I'm not shy! And the schools are no better. I was on the PTO board when they launched one at my kids' school a few years ago, my attempt to show my kids how important education is and be an involved parent. It was clear pretty early on that working parents were not welcome. I live an hour from the city I work in (my choice, I'm not whining about my commute) so getting to a meeting before 6 was not possible, and most parents out here work that far away. I was actually LOCKED OUT of a board meeting for a board that I was PR Secretary for - TWICE! - because I got there 10 minutes after 6. Number 2 was my cue to resign my position. In the beginning, parents embraced the PTO and our first few meetings were packed. We had a suggestion box, and the only suggestion ever put in it was to have the meetings 15 minutes later. Did they do it? Hell no, they actually moved them up to 5:30, and then last year to 4:00 (my kids aren't even home by then!). And they whine constantly about the lack of parental involvement. I took time off for a Muffins for Mom breakfast they do every year a few weeks ago. The new PTO VP stopped at my table and asked me and another working mom about joining. The other mom was polite, but not me. How will it change if you don't speak up? I told her exactly why there were only 8 people at the last PTO meeting. And what do you know? They changed the meeting time back to 6! It pays to speak up.
Okay, my rant's over. It's been a serious peeve of mine for a while, in case you couldn't tell.

Posted by: Angela [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 6, 2007 9:03 AM

"When I'd get lucky and get off early I'd go to pick up my kid from school and my skirt, pantyhose, and high heels were a dead give away that I was just off work"

Angela = hot mom. Awesome.

Posted by: snakeman99 [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 6, 2007 10:38 AM

I hope you also directed this woman to Taubes book if her favorite escape is 2 litres of Pepsi! Not only is she knocking on the health issues door, the sex life will suffer from more than not just making enough time. "Letting yourself go" does not help in the boudoir!

Posted by: moreta [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 6, 2007 12:41 PM

When my kids were younger and whined they were bored I would ask them if they would like me to do a little song and dance for them! It worked. That lazy day makes you a better Mommy.

Posted by: susan [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 6, 2007 1:52 PM

it seems that every business expects its customers to be sitting at home all the time. the same place where i was disgusted by the SAHM's lording - it was a community health building - the nurses refused to work after 5 pm or on weekends, so the only people who received services were the ones where someone stayed home. as if the families who could afford to have someone stayed home were the ones who needed them the most. my vet's office yesterday was upset that no one would be able to pick up my cat after her spay before 5 pm. when we rearranged the work schedule to pick her up in the morning instead, they were upset that we wanted to pick her up before 10 am. now we're supposed to have sahm's for cats, i guess. i wonder how they think i'm going to pay the $323 bill. (VISA is my friend)
anyway. i didn't realize it was so bad that PTO's would actually work to kick out the working mom's. that's absurd.

Posted by: kt [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2007 1:17 AM

When I was growing up, my school not-so-subtly disapproved of working moms by claiming that they were difficult to reach in an emergency; those of us with two working parents (it was a private school, so there's no other way I could have gone there!) had to have more emergency contact numbers and procedures than kids with just one working parent. One day, the idiocy of their assumptions was beautifully illustrated when I got sick at school at the same time as one of the ultra-privileged kids whose mom didn't work. We were both at the nurse's office, and took our turns using the phone to reach our parents. I called my mom at work - she was at her desk and answered right away. Forty-five minutes later, she was there to pick me up. The other girl's mom was unreachable, because she was in her private tennis lesson at the country club. But of course, by not working, she was a much better a mom in my school's thinking. The school also had all sorts of crap like parents' association fund raisers in the middle of the day on weekdays.

Posted by: MD at December 7, 2007 7:12 AM

What a great response to this LW. I think parents nowadays are CRAZY when it comes to raising (coddling, spoiling, overindulging) their children. Before I left my job to have my son, I had a boss who made a huge salary (for our area), drove fancy new cars, wore expensive clothes, and lived in a nice, big house in the burbs, but she and her husband (who also worked full-time) catered to their toddler-aged son's every WANT (not just his needs). He had a million toys, brand new outfits all the time, and big birthday parties (when he was like 3). He obviously went to day care all week, which was my boss's excuse for spending every minute of her free time with him. She and her husband went out once a year, for their anniversary. The rest of the time, they did everything with their son. She used to complain about the expense of a babysitter when she whined about being unable to go out on a real date with her husband. Anyway, she constantly bitched and moaned about how the kid took over her life, and warned me that it would be the same way when I had a kid.

Well, guess what? She was entirely wrong. When I got pregnant, my husband and I planned out how we would live on just his (rather measley teacher's) salary so that I could stay home with the kid. We sold one car and bought a really old one that I could use just to get to and from town (we live in the country). We already lived quite frugally so we had no debt other than the mortgage. We created a budget that didn't give us any extra for fancy toys or new clothes (we're a second-hand family!!) or cable TV, but DID give us enough to hire a weekly babysitter and allow us to go out on dates - sometimes just to the local coffee shop! And we're really happy with the arrangement. And even though I'm home with my son, he still gets his "alone" time everyday. I take time to exercise, garden, cook big, healthy meals, etc. while he happily entertains himself in his bouncy chair. It just works out!

Anyway, I saw my old boss, and she's now divorced and still totally stressed out by catering entirely to her now elementary-student son. When she asks how I'm doing and I tell her great, she looks at me like I'm completely lying. I think it's just hilarious.

PS: the other thing that I think is GRRRREAT but so many others have problems with is putting a lock on our bedroom door. It gives me and my hubby the chance to do as we please without any worries, and I just tell all those critics that if he knocks, we'll hear him! It isn't necessary for him to be able to get access to us at all times of the night! Geez!

Posted by: cat [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2007 9:42 AM

Wow. Don't we give ourselves so many opportunities to make ourselves feel guilty about all the choices we have about parenting? Whatever we choose, we beat ourselves up over it. SAHP, Working Parent, Single Parent, Married Parent. Why don't we all give ourselves a little credit for just staying in there, doing our best?

This woman is a shining example of exactly why our youth is so discontented and greedy. Instant gratificiation - and this idea that "I must be constantly entertained." Boredom, folks, is a simple fact of life. We need to learn that at an early age. The best thing my folks ever did for me, the best thing I ever taught my kid, was that you have to learn how to entertain yourself, keep YOURSELF content. Parents are not the entertainment committee. When I professed boredom as a teen, my mother would quickly get out a bucket of hot water and Murphy's Oil Soap and I would spend about 3 days washing down the walls. That was a lesson I never forgot. Independence is the next lesson.

These kids are going to grow up expecting to be entertained and occupied by someone other than themselves. Mom needs to stop that now, and definately get some time to herself. I don't mean at the spa relaxing, either.

Is St. Husband working 70 hours per week? If he is, that's not a good thing for the family, either. Maybe he needs to cut back on his hours, spend some more family time to temper things out, and let Mom get a part time job - which will give her a little time on her own feeling a bit more like an adult and using her skills.

Posted by: RC at December 7, 2007 8:32 PM

Just an observation about St. Husband. Is he really working 70 hours a week or hiding at work to avoid having to deal with the little tyrants at home? The reason I ask that is because my sister-in-law works 100 hours a week and goes on a lot of business trips, and I suspect it's because she's avoiding my brother because he's let himself go since they got married and looks like shit.

It's a red flag one way or another and their relationship might be on rocky ground.

Posted by: Chrissy at December 8, 2007 7:42 AM

Since this a stay-at-home mom, who do you think is bringing home the bacon? It takes time to pay for a wife and two kids.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 8, 2007 8:08 AM

You know, I saw a quote on another blog - click my name if you want the link, but please don't go over there and say anything nasty about the original blogger, who is quite funny and is at least asking questions that many parents don't - that I found pertinent for this column. It is:

My mother made her kids the center of her universe, but she didn't TREAT us like we were the center of anybody's universe, if that makes sense.

I think that nicely describes how my parents viewed us. It's the difference between having the phrase "my kids are more important than anything else" mean that you'll go to marriage counseling even when you are sick of working on your marriage, and having it mean that you'll cater to your kid's every whim. To be fair, I think it can be hard for some parents these days to tell the difference between the two. Run into enough unhappy kids, or grow up as an unhappy kid, and you might well find yourself vowing that your kids are never going to be unhappy, damnit! But catering to kids' every whim really doesn't make them happy in the end. It just can be hard to see that when they're standing there with big eyes begging you to do something.

That having been said...this is what Mother's Day Out and preschool are for. Bet one of those kids is at least 3. My mother quit her job when I was imminent - but I was in preschool at 3, and in full-day kindergarten (or close to it) at 5. Did me no harm, and I was an introverted kid. This idea that kids and parents should be together 24/7 is a relatively new one...and by "relatively new" I mean post-1970s. The "stay-at-home" moms in my neighborhood had playgroups, Mother's-Day-Outs and early preschool. Also, that was in an era when kids were expected to entertain themselves to a degree. That was a vastly different scenario then this poor woman is facing today. I think it's worth remembering that the stay-at-home mothers from, say, the 1950s-1970s and those today are really facing different scenarios to some degree.

Posted by: marion at December 8, 2007 9:43 AM

Wise, Marion, and I don't remember who it was who did that to the Austin guy, but I thought it was pretty rude. He did a blog item about the person attacking him -- who, I believe, did it anonymously. One reason I post in my own name is to keep myself from being one of those people who behaves that way -- a way they'd never have the guts to behave in public. Hell, most people are too timid to tell other people to muzzle their loud cell phone calls, let alone comment on their lives.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 8, 2007 10:02 AM

I actually didn't know about the Austin guy getting attacked, but I think that's a wise policy, Amy. Especially given the insanity that can occur under the cloak of anonymity - such as posters occasionally wishing that people's children would be raped or murdered. Dan Savage was the target of one of these; I'm not sure exactly what causes people to behave that way, but I wish they'd cut it out.

Of course, I said all that and didn't actually include the link! It's included now - just click on my name.

Posted by: marion at December 8, 2007 11:48 AM

So many insightful comments here!

I especially like this one from Angela:
my husband and I have been sure to let them know there are consequences for bad behavior, and rewards for good behavior. I don't mean cash and ponies, I mean playing a board game or letting them have a friend stay over.

If only all parents would live by this philosophy the world would become a better place.

I work with a team of people who were raised the old fashioned way (consequences and parents who said "no"). We have one 20-something teammate was obviously spoiled and catered to growing up. The rest of us cannot stand him. He's an attention whore and very obnoxious, though he obviously thinks he's clever and entertaining. If you raise this kind of kid his/her future colleagues won't be charmed. You'll send someone into the world whom common sense people will not want to associate with.

Posted by: jaylyn [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 8, 2007 12:01 PM

Reading over these comments, there isn't much to add that hasn't already been said (basically I concur that it's ridiculous to cater to your child's every whim and they don't learn to do for themself if you do).

It also struck me to wonder two other things:

1. why on earth does anyone who views kids so negatively (as something to get away from) have one let alone more than one? Yeah, we all need me time but this woman is out and out fleeing her kids. She seems totally selfish. I put in 70 hours a week, what's his 14, after she states he works full-time a week to support this sahm habit of hers. I can't help but wonder if she's paying the price of marrying a meal ticket.

2. All the points made about grownups who have trouble adjusting to life not revolving around them after their parents' did makes me wonder if that isn't what's really wrong in so many marriages -- that both parties are looking for someone whose life revolves them now that mommy's doesn't.

Posted by: Donna at December 10, 2007 7:31 AM

Donna said: All the points made about grownups who have trouble adjusting to life not revolving around them after their parents' did makes me wonder if that isn't what's really wrong in so many marriages -- that both parties are looking for someone whose life revolves them now that mommy's doesn't.

I'm not saying this isn't true, it's a great argument for why every person should live alone before they get married. But, the biggest problem I've seen in marriages or any romantic relationship is one (or both) partners expecting the other to be their everything. My brother went through this with his ex-wife. She thought he should be her best friend, lover, confidant, and all those things are great, but she expected him to be the only person who was those things to her. When I encouraged her to find some interests that had nothing to do with her son or her husband, take a pottery class or cooking or anything that would help her discover who she was instead of focusing all of her energies on the "men" in her life, she told me my views of marriage were completely wrong and that once you're married you shouldn't need anyone else. Meanwhile I've been married 14 years, do a night with my best gal pal at least once a week, happy hour with the girls at least once a month, basically have a life of my own and only expect my husband to be my husband and my kids to be my kids. They of course were divorced after 15 months. You can't expect any one person to be everything for you - not only is it unreasonable, but it's such a high expectation that no human could match it and eventually, they won't even try because failure is built in.

Posted by: Angela [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 10, 2007 10:16 PM

"Britney Spears' underpants" has to be one of the biggest laugh-inducers of the year. W00t!

Posted by: Rob McMillin at December 15, 2007 6:38 PM

About SAHM's:

I'm a married working mother with 3 children. In the last year my husband has been able to quit his job and be a stay at home dad. My older brother also stays at home, as does my cousin's husband. A lot of people find this strange, and ask me what my husband does all day. Like he just sits around "eating bonbons". These same people would NEVER imply a stay at home mom didn't work all day.

I also get weird reactions from some mothers, not fathers, at my childrens' school. When I was asked once by a certain woman why I couldn't volunteer for playground duty, I responded that I worked full time and there was no way I could get three hours off in the middle of the day once a week to drive from work to the school, work playground duty, and drive back. This woman, who knew what I did for a living (I'm an attorney) told me that I could get a part-time job at a dentist's office and then I would be able to work playground duty once a week.

At first I thought she was kidding, and didn't think anything of it. However, a week and a half later, when I was at one of my son's soccer games, she actually came up to me with a clip board and asked me what day I was available for playground duty. I told her I wasn't, and reminded her that we had already discussed this. Do you know what she said. She told me that we had, and wanted to know if I had found a part-time job yet! She wasn't kidding, not in the least. Are you kidding me!

No, I obviously didn't make the same choices she did. We come from completelty different places. I was just astounded that she thought she could actually determine where and how often I worked by virtue of her job finding playground duty "volunteers."

By the way, when I told her she could speak to my husband about volunteering, she told me she couldn't possibly bother hi about somethig so "trivial". Yet she felt at complete ease giving me orders I wouldn't take from my mother or husband in order to accomplish her "trivial" mission.

If you can't tell, I don't have the best relationship with this woman. Thankfully, none of our children are in the same grades, so I don't run into her very often. At a subsequent soccer game, she was bragging to anyone who would listen about her plans for her fourtieth birthday (a cruise). She noticed me, waiting in line at the concession stand, turned, and asked me what I was going to do for my fourtieth. I replied that I didn't know, I was still waiting to turn thirty. (I was twenty-nine at the time.)

I normally wouldn't be so snotty, especially around my children. But, the wacko hasn't tried to tell me how to live my life anymore. In fact, she pretty much avoids me.

Now, if I could only get the rest of her little clique to do the same . . .

Posted by: ejh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 25, 2008 8:20 PM

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