My mother-in-law and I are very different people. Almost polar opposites, in fact. (The only reason I don’t say complete polar opposites is because that’s probably her and Seraphine, and I’m just most of the way to the Seraphine end of the spectrum). Nevertheless, we have come to understand, appreciate, or at least tolerate each other better over the past few years. She tries not to rearrange my stuff when she comes to visit (but she does anyway), and I try not to mind when she rearranges my stuff (though I still do sometimes).
Well, this week she has been visiting again, and it’s been pretty good. This has been helped by the fact that we’re temporarily living in a furnished place, with not much of our own stuff (and thus very little for her to rearrange that I actually care about). The only strange part of her visit (and luckily it’s something I am now able to laugh about and brush off, rather than get offended by) is the conversations we have had the last two days.
Yesterday we were talking and (though I don’t know how we got on the subject) she started telling me all sorts of anecdotal stories about mothers who worked, and how they didn’t have energy for their families when they got home, and how it was detrimental to their whole family. One mother only made enough money to pay the babysitter and pay for work clothes, but she chose to not stay at home because her mother had worked and she didn’t know how to raise kids. And wasn’t that sad that she’d rather trust a teenager to raise her kids instead of figuring it out for herself. Another mother started working when her youngest went back to school (only during the times her kids were at school), and she had no energy when she got home, and it hurt her family. One woman, who was a school principal, and a very “sharp” woman, told of how her daughter had just had a baby and was going to stay at home, and how proud she was of her daughter.
Today was a different set of anecdotes. The conversation started with the question, “Vada, what are your goals? When you’re about to die, and you look back on your life, what things do you want to have accomplished so that you can say you had a good life?” I said I wanted to have my family happy and healthy (though I can really only influence this so much), that I wanted to have a graduate degree and some books published, and that I wanted to have seen some of the world (preferably with my husband). This led to a spate of anecdotal stories about women who lived for thirty to forty years after all of their children were married and their husbands dead, and lines like “there’s a season for everything” and “you’ll have lots of time to accomplish all of your goals.”
I wondered what had brought on the spate of “you need to focus on your children and not on a career” stories, and I realized it must have been because I decided not to go to Old San Juan with her, DH, and the toddler on Saturday, but rather to stay home with the baby (who’s still breastfeeding) and do some writing. She’s obviously quite worried by the fact that I want to do something with my life other than take care of my husband, children and house. (It was quite clear that she thinks that these are the only things I should be doing until my children are all married, and possibly until my husband is dead as well. That part wasn’t quite as clear.) It’s a good thing she knows and likes my parents (my dad was the bishop of their ward when we got married). I hate to think what paroxisms of worry she’d be having if she didn’t know I came from a good Mormon family where the father is a good priesthood holder and the mother a stay-at-home mom. Not to mention how often I’d have to endure these frenzies of anecdotal evidence of the glories of not working.
Now don’t get me wrong — I’ve chosen to be a stay-at-home mom, and I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s important for my kids, and it’s evennice for me some days (if I’m having a really crappy day I can usually put Cars in the DVD player and zonk out on the couch for a couple of hours). But while my family is the most important thing in my life, it is not the only thing, and it’s never going to be. While I spend my time feeding kids and changing messy diapers my mind is atrophying, and it’s driving me insane. I have to have some intellectual stimulation. So I read, do our taxes (not fun, but definitely challenging), and have interesting discussions online. And I write. Not as much as I probably ought to if I’m serious about this whole being a writer thing, but I do write, and with the intention of getting published. I also intend to get published (and continue publishing) long before my kids are married. Hopefully it’ll happen sometime in the next few years, and after that I’ll probably spend more time writing, and need to meet deadlines, and I’ll hire someone to watch my kids part-time while I do so. I don’t feel guilty about this. I’m actually rather excited about the possibility. I guess it’s a good thing that my mother-in-law’s opinion about how I raise my kids doesn’t matter too much, ’cause I don’t think she’d be too happy about my plans.