Thursday, December 22, 2011

What do you do with your time?

I never know what to say when people ask, “What do you do?”

Sometimes I say that I am a writer. I love writing for this blog, and I occasionally write for pay. But writing is so new to my life and such a side project that it doesn’t feel like an honest or complete answer.

The easy answer is that I stay home with my kids. But I dislike the label stay-at-home mom. My kids spend their morning at preschool, but how is it relevant to my identity that I don’t work while they are out of the house? Every mother is a mother, regardless of what else she does with her life. “Stay-at-home” seems to convey parenting and nothing else. Am I more committed to parenting than a woman who works for a living? More present, more attentive? I hardly think so.

Parenting is central to my life, but it is central to my husband’s life, too. He is a very active father, and he also learns Torah and works as a tour guide, musician and educator.

I am not a hands-on mother, as I wrote about in this post. My parenting style is a mash-up I call Victorian attachment parenting: children should be worn and not heard.

Parenting is a key parting of who I am, but it’s not “what I do.”

So what do I do with myself? When I look at my schedule and my weekly task list, what emerges is that I spend most of my time in two occupations: meeting the physical demands of our household and pursuing my own personal growth.

So I am definitely a homemaker, but it’s like this: I’m not a good homemaker.

I don’t mean that I’m not good at cleaning. I clean well and I even like doing it. But I am sorely lacking in many of the skills that might allow me to do my job well: I have trouble planning and delegating. I’m bad at prioritizing and delaying gratification. I’m lazy. I don’t like to have help because I don’t like having people in my space. I underestimate how long projects will take. I create good systems, but I’m challenged by maintaining them. I put off cleaning until the kids have stopped wreaking havoc, and then I’m too tired to do it. I have trouble completing jobs: putting away groceries, folding the laundry . . .

I could go on like this for some time.

What does it matter, though? I’m a homemaker, but not a successful one. If someone tells me she is a physical therapist, or a teacher, or a lawyer, I don’t raise my eyebrows and ask, “Are you good at it?”

I usually ask, “Do you like it?” And I do like being a homemaker. I am getting better at it all the time. Just this week, I finally hired a housekeeper, convinced that I can’t clean this little apartment on my own, even when I fully apply myself.

And check out this Shabbat prep chart I made.  A PDF would work better for sharing, but I can’t figure out how to add it to the site. Any ideas?

* * *

Okay, also, I spend a lot of time working on myself: learning how to be a better wife and parent; working on relationships and communication; examining my thoughts and actions; becoming aware of my emotions so I don’t try to be all stoic and end up as a knotted-up ball of ouch again.

I used to be embarrassed about how many hours in a week I spend on this stuff. It seemed like a New Agey version of being a lady who lunches. But I’ve decided to own it. I don’t want to go through my life on autopilot. Conversations with older friends and relatives continually confirm for me that it all goes by really fast. I want to be at peace. I want to connect to the inner dimension of myself and help my children and other people connect, too. I want to love other people and myself. I don’t know how to do that unless I work at it.

* * *

Now I want to write a little love note to my friend Nava, who is at home right now with her four children, including a NEWBORN, and two of mine. Our kids are home for Chanukah vacation, and I wouldn’t have had time to write this morning if she hadn’t volunteered to host my girls.

She came over this morning with her crew. We tried to carry on an adult conversation while our kids fought over a menorah puzzle. Her son snuggled against me on the couch and let me put on his shoes when it was time to go. Nava took my kids home with her.

The nuclear family is overrated. I’m putting my money on the tribe: My own parents and in-laws reading to the kids and playing music with them over Skype. My sisters-in-law guiding me through each step on the parenting journey. My sister sending care packages of American clothes. My mentor reminding me that it gets easier and cheering me on through the rough bits. My babysitter loving and managing my children with such ease, and letting me come home to a clean kitchen. The outstanding preschool teachers. The new housekeeper. The friends and neighbors who pray together and cook for each other and love each others children. The old ladies who remind us to put hats on our babies. Nothing I do makes sense without you.


Espresso Aroch said...

Thanks! Been looking forward to a new post from you =) More detailed comments will have to wait until after chanukah vacation...Shabbat Shalom and chanukah sameach!

Riva said...

How do you work on yourself? Classes/shiurim? Meditation? Just curious, if you don't mind my asking. You are lucky you are able to find a window of time for those sorts of activities.

Your ending reminded me of Hillary Clinton's "It takes a Village.'' None of us Moms, 'working' or 'stay at home' (I also hate those labels) can do it on our own! But it sounds like you have a particularly robust support group. Good for you.

Chaya said...

That's a good question, Riva. I should update the personal growth resources page, too. Among other things, right now I am: participating in Rabbi Aryeh Nivin's teleconference and reviewing the material with my neighbor; doing the work of Byron Katie with a group of friends; and part of a women's group that works on group dynamics and relationships.

Espresso Aroch said...

I'd appreciate hearing more about the group working on dynamics etc. Do you have a teacher / group leader? Is there a particular method or 'sheeta' behind the way the group works?

Chaya said...

My group is facilitated by the amazing Chaya Lester of Shalev Center. You can read about her work at

Espresso Aroch said...

Thanks - I had never heard of Shalev Center before.

Having asked myself similar questions to the ones you raised in this post, I'm interested in learning more about what other women are doing to find their own answers. Thanks for sharing.

Here is another question which I hope you will agree to answer: What are the goals your group set for itself? Or is just the experience of being in the group the whole point?

RochieO said...

Just stumbled upon your blog and read this post... I feel like someone else just did the hard work of writing my thoughts WOW!!! this blog is awesome!

yehudit said...

I just wanted to answer the question about how does one work on oneself, find a window of opportunity? (tho it wasn't aimed at me!)

Just living our daily lives and learning from our experiences and applying those lessons is working on ourselves, continual growth. It's great to go to classes and read books, but don't shortchange yourself: every day you are growing and learning. It's called maturing with life.

Now will someone please tell me how to learn from my mistakes?! :-)

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