Friday, November 30, 2007

Dear Charly (OR I Should Have My Own Advice Column)

Ok, I read today's "Dear Margo" article, and I am absolutely steaming mad. No so much at Margo, although her reply was wishy-washy at best, but at the jerk who wrote in about his wife. I'm paraphrasing here, but basically, the guy works out of his home, and his wife is a stay at home mom to FOUR kids, with another on the way. And he's bitching because their house is always a mess, and instead of cleaning in her downtime, his wife just sits and watches TV. It doesn't list the ages of the kids, or whether any of them are in school, nor does it state whether or not he ever helps with the kids. It also doesn't state what his thoughts are on having all four of those kids running screaming through the house while he's trying to work, but from the tone of the letter, I would be willing to bet the guy won't tolerate it. So we have some poor woman who is desperatly trying to keep 4 kids corraled while hubby is working, because if he isn't able to work, they aren't able to pay bills, and then he wonders why she's tired all the time and doesn't have the energy to clean up. So here's my response, long-winded though it may be. What do you think?

In response to the letter from the gentleman "Living in a Mess," I would just like to offer my view as a former stay at home mom. I had three children home with me most of the time (the oldest was in school) and babysat one of my daughter's classmates after school. My husband works varying shifts, so he would be home sometimes for days on end, sometimes would work days, and sometimes nights. Whenever he was home, it was a constant struggle to keep the kids quiet so he could sleep, a situation I'm assuming this housewife can sympathize with if he is working out of their home. It is nearly impossible to engage young children all in the same activity at the same time, so while you are trying to read with one child, you may look up to see another child move his finger painting project from his paper to your wall, or perhaps while you are changing a diaper, you may look up to discover a different child climbing a bookshelf to get to something at the top (yes, this one has actually happened to me, and I left the diaper right there on the floor - the baby pushed it out of the way when he got up to check out what I was doing, and I forgot about it until I vacuumed the next day - leaving diapers on the floor is not always a sign of laziness, sometimes it's simply extenuating circumstances). Some days I would vacuum, only to have my toddler coat my living room floor in baby powder. Some days I would pick up every toy in the house, only to have the boys race each other to see who could pull the most toys back out of the box 30 minutes later. All of this being said, I want it made clear that my children are not little demons, they are happy, and extremely well behaved. My son that climbed the bookcase? That was the first, and only time he ever did that. The baby powder? That was an accident - my oldest boy was helping me change his baby brother's diaper. They are simply curious, and they are young, much as I imagine their children are. Like the wife in that letter, I constantly was reassuring my husband that I would catch up on the housekeeping, but I never did. I was exhausted all the time, and during the time I did have to myself, after the kids were in bed, it took all my energy to turn on the TV and veg for an hour or two before bed. My husband felt much the same as this husband does - that if I was not working, then I should be taing care of the house. My solution may not work for everyone, and may not work for this couple at all, but it saved my sanity, and it prevented loads of stress - I got a part time job outside of the home and hired a nanny/housekeeper. I only work while my oldest is in school, and this year, my older son is in a local half-day preschool program as well. So in the morning, I get up with my children, send my daughter off to school and go to work. I work 4 blocks from my house, so I come home at lunch and help out with getting my son ready for school. As soon as he gets on the bus, I put the baby down for a nap and go back to work. My nanny goes into housekeeper mode while the baby is sleeping and does all the deep cleaning of the house - bathrooms, mopping the kitchen, vacuuming, etc., as well as the maintenance items, like laundry and dishes. When I come home in the afternoon, at the same time as both of my older children, we make dinner together and when my husband is home, he takes care of either getting the kids ready for bed, or cleaning the kitchen after dinner. We trade off, usually every week, but it's pretty flexible. Once he had a better understanding of just how difficult it was to wrangle all three of them at the same time into one activity, he had a better appreciation for what I had to do every day, all day. And once I had some time away from my kids, among other adults, and away from my messy house, I became more motivated to keep the house clean and to spend more enjoyable time with my kids - not just chasing them down to pick up their messes, but actually spending time with them again. My house is still messy most of the time, but it's just toys and art supplies now. And since we are both contributing to the family income, my husband and I are also both contributing to the family upkeep, which to me, is ideal. In comparison, however, let me offer up one of my husband's friends, also a stay at home mom. Her house is always spotless, you could literally eat off of any surface in her home at any time. She spends her entire day scrubbing and disinfecting. Her 4 children, some of which are now in school, are terrors - she has had to take them to the hospital multiple times for broken bones (once from the oldest swinging a baseball bat at his younger brother, breaking his arm, once from the two middle children building a ladder to the top of the house, a venture that took them several hours to complete, and climbing up on the roof and jumping off, one of them breaking an ankle). They are rude to everyone, they are constantly in trouble in school for fighting, yelling at the teachers, and refusing to follow school rules. She spends all her time cleaning that house, but little to none with her children, and they have suffered for it. When her daughter broke her ankle jumping off the house, she literally had no idea what they had been doing all day. She sent them outside so she could clean, and never once bothered to check on them after that. In the house, they fling food at each other at the table, and deliberately spill drinks on the floor, because they know she will tell the to get outside so she can clean it up, and outside, out of her sight, they can do whatever they want. So even if a nanny or housekeeper is not practical for the letter-writer, perhaps he should be thankful that even though his house is a mess, his children aren't.

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