My grandmother, Mary, is one of 7 children. She was born and raised on a farm in the Carolina mountains. Her mother, Inez, like most women of her generation, was responsible for the household - washing, sewing, mending, cooking, cleaning, etc.- with NO modern conveniences. They had an outhouse. Inez put three hot (and reportedly delicious) meals on the table each day. (They never ate at a restaurant as there weren't any in the tiny town where they lived.) She even performed chores that don't appear on my radar, like wringing the necks of chickens, plucking their feathers, and lots of other GROSS things like that. On top of being a good home-maker, my great-grandmother is remembered as a fun-loving, sweet and kind person who loved to laugh.
Lately, I have been thinking about her more and more.
I have 2 kids (as opposed to 7 !), a dishwasher, plumbing, washing machine and dryer, Target, Wal-Mart, a variety of take-out restaurants nearby, a car, paper plates, a husband who helps out around the house (usually), and no need to ever lay one stitch in a piece of fabric unless I want to do so. And yet, at the end of many days, I feel completely whipped by this life. Spent. Overwhelmed.
And then, thinking about Inez, I feel SILLY.
I am sure that my lifestyle would look like the lap of luxury to her. But I can't bury this sneaking suspicion that somehow, her life had a different quality. Something less complex- the original "simple life." I think back then people had more clearly defined roles. While they may have been limiting, they were also freeing in a sense. I don't imagine that Inez ever worried about how she would supplement the family's income- that wasn't her job. Inez didn't have to keep up her professional credentials so that she could re-enter the workforce at any given time- that wasn't part of her duty. Inez didn't have to battle time-draining technology like email and cell phones and yes, the Internet. Inez certainly didn't (according to first-hand reports) spend a moment worrying about entertaining her kids!
She loved her kids. She was a wonderful mother. She made sure all their needs were met. But entertainment? Not so much.
I've been reading John Rosemond. (Can you tell?) I used to think he was a right-wing fundamentalist meanie. Now I think he's just RIGHT.
He talks about how upside-down many of our child-rearing practices are today. Let me quote a few lines from my new favorite book, New Parent Power:
"In the years since World War II, we have become increasingly and neurotically obsessed with the raising of children. Something that used to be a fairly commonsense responsibility has taken on the trappings of science. Along the way, child-rearing has become "parenting," with all its high-pressured implications. ... Within the child-centered family, the implicit understanding is that children are the most important members, and the parent-child relationship is the most important relationship. The more child-centered the American family has become, the more demandingly self-centered American children have become. And the more demanding the children, the more demanding the task of raising them." (And he says so much more. I highly recommend his book.)
And reading his text, I realize that I've fallen into the trap, too. Again and again, I fall in. I spend hours planning activities to do with my children. I carefully analyze our toys- which ones are best? What toy should I buy next? I spend most of my time interacting with them, playing with them, supervising them. (Somewhat necessary since Brother is still a little fellow.) The house falls down around me but I can't clean it because the children demand my attention. Supper is take-out again because the children demand my attention. There is not one ounce of energy left in me at the end of the day to feed my marriage because the children drink every last drop.
And, honestly, isn't it all too much already? Do they really NEED this? Is it even good for them? Or am I doing them a disservice by creating two people who are dependent on someone else for their entertainment/ happiness?
Surely Inez didn't wrack herself with guilt that she couldn't spend the morning playing in the floor with her children. I don't think it even occurred to her. Between cleaning up from a hot breakfast for 9, maintaining her home, and preparing lunch and supper for 9 plus the field hands, I doubt there was much time for her to entertain her kids with puppet shows and design "learning centers" for them. I mean, SERIOUSLY.
So how did these poor un-played-with children fare in the cold, cruel world? Did they overcome this terrible lack of playrooms and toys and preschool programs and mothers-who-do-amazing-craft-projects-with-them? Let's see what they became:
Son #1- Economic Whiz and self-made millionaire
Son #2- College Professor
Daughter #1- Teacher and Home-maker (wife to town Mayor)
Daughter #2- Teacher and Home-maker (wife to state Senator)
Son #3- College Professor, agricultural entrepreneur, real-estate investor, self-made millionaire
Daughter #4- Teacher and Home-maker (wife to heart surgeon)
Son #4- Professional farmer who took over the home-place
And that's only their "measurable, "worldly successes. They also had happy marriages and wonderful families- lots of children. They were all very active in their churches. NONE of them ever divorced.
In looking at what their childhood lacked, I'm trying to figure out what it HAD. Because THAT'S what I want to give my kids.
Yes, I live in a different era. There is no changing it. And I am surely thankful that I don't have to wring a chicken's neck for my dinner tonight. Or sew our clothes. Or hand-wash our laundry.
And I certainly don't think there is anything wrong with craft projects, or toys, or preschool.
But I'm rethinking some things.