While teething, all-night-nursing toddlers can make us tired and grumpy, so too can general depletion from pregnancy and breastfeeding. I wrote last week about having a tough, exhausting week of mothering. Then it occurred to me: my littlest one is almost a year-and-a-half old. This is exactly the time with every baby of mine that I start to feel really run-down. For my first two babies, I went to a conventional doctor who told me at this stage of mothering that I was just run-down and dehydrated. While there is certainly some truth to that, by the time my third baby was this age and I was again feeling depleted, I had embraced holistic healthcare. I visited a neighborhood friend and Traditional Chinese Medicine/acupuncture practitioner who recognized my sub-clinical depletion of nutrients and energy and suggested herbal remedies to help me regain my pep. They worked wonders. So, earlier this week when I again realized that my lack of energy and sour mood might be due to more than just a teething toddler, I again sought out my holistic practitioner. Two of my amazing homeschooling-mama friends quickly rallied around me, insisting that I go to an appointment with my TCM/acupuncturist while together they babysat my four (!) kids. Amazing. I was so touched by their kindness and thoughtfulness. It proved to me again just how special strong friendships can be--and how important it is to find or build a community of like-minded mamas. Thanks to the restorative properties of Chinese herbal teas and good friends, I am once again feeling back to myself. (My beloved family doctor/homeopath also confirmed that all blood tests were normal, as sometimes low iron levels from extended breastfeeding can cause malaise). Take care of yourselves, Mamas! And if you are feeling depleted from months or years of pregnancy and breastfeeding, consider some time-honored, holistic remedies that can restore and rejuvenate. And call a friend.
Like many of you, I was infuriated by the case of the Meitiv family in Maryland whose children were picked up by police, and the family threatened by CPS, for allowing their 10- and 6-year-old to walk home alone (together) from a public park on a weekend afternoon. (A prominent DC law firm has since taken on the case pro bono and plans to prosecute the county for human rights violations). I wrote about this case last month, arguing that what was once just everyday parenting has now been given the adjective "free-range." The Meitiv case is just one high-profile example of a society that is increasingly marginalizing, enclosing, and standardizing its children. Children have virtually disappeared from our public spaces, and childhood free play is being steadily eroded. I decided that I wanted--needed--to take action, and I felt that I could have the most influence hyper-locally, beginning with my neighborhood association. Last month, I contacted the founder of our neighborhood association, who I knew from previous conversations also finds this societal trend troubling. He remembers several decades ago allowing his own daughters to walk the several blocks alone to the library when they were about eight-years-old, during a time when the city was much less safe and had much higher crime rates than it does today. He suggested that I join the association's executive committee to bring attention to these issues and suggest programs and policies locally that could halt this trend. At the association's annual meeting last night, I was elected to the committee and gave a brief presentation about my vision of finding ways to promote an unenclosed childhood and welcome children into our public spaces here in Mid-Cambridge. This is just a tiny action. But by identifying our small sphere of influence, and seeking to make change within it, we can do a lot. Maybe even more than we know.
It's been a funny week. Here I am reading these amazing (and I mean really amazing) stories of mothers celebrating their choice to stay-at-home with their children for our soon-to-be released book, Choosing Home, while I have been in the midst of a pretty crappy week of mothering. A teething, all-night-nursing toddler has kept me more sleep-deprived than usual, which leads to less patience and more crankiness during the day, less energy to do things, less appreciation for the small joys and invisible rewards that get touted in the essays of these incredible mothers. But here's the thing: motherhood is hard. And it's not made any easier by sending our children off during the day. We would still have bad days, bad weeks. It's par for the mothering course. The difference is that when we choose home we choose to get through these tough patches as a family. We choose to endure together the ups and downs of the human experience, the good and the bad days, that both children and adults encounter. And when we get through those tough moments, we come out the other side feeling more empowered, more sure of our ability to regain our mothering rhythm, more certain that the next time (and there will be a next time!) we will know that a bad day or a bad week is just temporary. And natural. We will give ourselves some grace. We will be gentler on ourselves. We will remember that there is always more good than bad. We will know that choosing home is not easy. But not choosing it isn't any easier.
"Still, the parent more obsessed with the children’s hosiery is the one who’ll make sure it’s in stock. And the shouldering of that one task can cascade into responsibility for the whole assembly line of childhood. She who buys the bootees will surely buy the bottle washer, just as she’ll probably find the babysitter and pencil in the class trips. I don’t mean to say that she’ll be the one to do everything, just that she’ll make sure that most everything gets done." I read the above statement in a weekend New York Timesarticle called, "Mom: The Designated Worrier." It illustrates the striking reality of what motherhood has become for many women: delegating and outsourcing. It's no wonder, then, that many mothers may feel dissatisfied with the job of mothering. In an often-cited 2004 study by Nobel prize-winner, Daniel Kahneman, working mothers ranked "taking care of my children" as the second most-negative activity on a list of 16. The reward of mothering comes in the doing, not the delegating. It's in the daily tasks of staying home and raising children that mothers find meaning. We find our meaning, our reward, through the continuous process of nourishing small bodies with wholesome foods, ensuring our children's well-being and healing them when they are ill, helping them with projects or inspiring their learning, connecting them with their wider world. We find our meaning in the doing: in both the mundane tasks and the extraordinary joys of tending our homes and our children. This is not to imply that mothers don't need a break or don't require help and support. They most certainly do. Mountains of laundry and continuous crumbs can wear on all of us. But beyond the breaks, beyond the messes, is the reality: a mother's work is vitally important. It is so much more than buying bottle washers, finding babysitters, and penciling in school field trips. So much more. As my friend, Rachel, and I compile the stories of mothers featured in our soon-to-be-released book, Choosing Home, we have been struck by the common message: it is in the dailyness of doing, of staying home and raising children, that these parents are changing the world. They are in the trenches, doing not delegating, finding meaning in the tending. It's not easy. It's not cheap. As many of these moms confess, choosing home often comes at enormous financial costs and a vast shift in lifestyle and priorities. But the benefits and rewards are many: the satisfaction of nourishing and healing, of guiding and inspiring, of being the one doing this important work. The most important work.
Almost daily my friend, Rachel, and I talk about how important stay-at-home parenthood really is. It is important to the nurturing and healthy development of our children, to the well-being of our families, to the strength of our neighborhoods, to the bright future of our nation. During one of these daily talks, we decided that we should take this conversation beyond our walls and invite other stay-at-home parents to share their story, their path, toward choosing home. We reached out to an amazing group of stay-at-home parents to put together an inspiring anthology of personal stories called, Choosing Home. These parents all chose to stay home and raise children and, in doing so, are changing the world. They really are. You really are. Staying home, choosing home, matters. It matters both on the micro level of our families and on the macro level of our planet. By choosing home, we are choosing to be present in our homes, for our children and our communities. We are choosing to go against the crowd, the majority of parents who work out-of-the-home. We are choosing to stay home, despite substantial financial sacrifice and unfortunate public policy that continues to make stay-at-home parenthood more expensive than it needs to be. It is an important choice. Perhaps the most important choice. I can't wait to share more about this book when Choosing Home is released next month. Until then, just know that your choice to stay home and raise your children matters. You are changing the world.
Kerry McDonald, M.Ed., lives in Cambridge with her husband and four, never-been-schooled children. She is passionate about child-led unschooling, Attachment Parenting, homebirthing, holistic health, and urban homesteading. Kerry has a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Environmental Studies from Bowdoin College and a Master's degree in Education Policy from Harvard University. Click the photo above to contact Kerry.