Validation & The Stay-at-home Mom

We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us.                                                                                      Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

It took just over two years for me to experience validation in my role as a stay-at-home mom. One of the teachers who helped out at my daughter’s play school described her as “clever”. For the first time in two years I felt a sense of achievement, and, I suppose, validation. Of course, the praise was not directed at me, it was about my child. But somehow, in this particular instance, coming from an external party, it felt like I was being validated.

I have some theories about why it’s hard to feel validated as a stay-at-home mom.

1) They’re kids, not colleagues.
The first and most obvious reason is that in the eyes of our children, we exist as extensions of themselves. Of course we do. And of course this is natural. (There are times when I think I still see my own mother as an extension of myself). Children cannot empathise with our roles, our feelings, our challenges. And neither should they have to. But as stay-at-home moms they are our colleagues, our peers, our friends, our family. They are the people we spend our days with, talk to (even when they can’t talk back) and share moments with. And yet it is not their job to tell us that we’re doing a good job.

2) Modern moms compete
We seek validation from other moms through our children’s achievements. This too, I think is fine and natural. But, to refer to Sheryl Sandberg once again, we women are our own worst enemies: we compete with one another, rather than support each other. When your child first sat, walked, spoke, started counting in Spanish (thank you, Dora The Explorer), swam unaided: these become points of comparison. Partly I think this is a female problem that extends to so many areas of life besides parenting and partly I think it’s because we were raised in a competitive culture. It’s almost as though we are already competing on our children’s behalf when they are six months, a year, two, three, four or five because we somehow feel we’d be disadvantaging them if we weren’t. In any event, despite the fact that other moms might be our de facto colleagues, it is sadly not inherent in our culture to praise and support our female peers. (Much has been written on this topic of late, so hopefully we are heading towards a tipping point for change in this respect).

3) Partners may struggle to relate to full time parenting…
A while ago I read a brilliant article in the Huffington Post entitled “Please don’t ask me what I’m up to today“. The author described how her husband left the house when she and the kids were in pyjamas surrounded by a messy kitchen and eating area. When he arrived home in the evenings, the scene looked the same: pyjamas and post-meal mess. Sometimes, just feeding multiple kids several times a day feels like an achievement, but it’s not really one you can expect validation for. “Guess what, honey? I fed the kids three times today, did the school run twice, soothed six tantrums, got a quote for the leaking pool, went food shopping, picked up the dry-cleaning, built a Lego house, took the kids to swimming and went for a run. Can I get a whoop whoop?” This is hardly what you are going to say to your partner after their long day at the office. And the energy required to assuage a meltdown or negotiate putting on shoes with a toddler is immeasurably great – you actually have to experience it to believe it.

So much about parenting doesn’t produce fast, tangible results. And even when it does, isn’t it lame to expect validation from our spouse for something that our kids – not us – have achieved?

So, how then, do stay-at-home moms find validation? Some examples I have seen or experienced include party planning/ cake baking/ crafting, charity work, blogging, serving as “Class Mom”, sporting goals or part-time studies.

One of my personal quests for validation included signing up for the 94.7 cycle challenge when my son was 10 days old. He was not quite four months when I rode the race, never having ridden a bicycle with cleats in my life. I was so determined to finish the race in the cut off time of 6 hours that I refused to stop to apply sunscreen when my husband warned me that my legs were burning. These were the results:

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How silly, in hindsight. But that’s how desperately I was seeking some sort of sense of achievement and validation…

To the stay-at-home moms out there, do you feel validated by those around you and if so, how do you achieve this? I would love to hear your comments…

Aerobics is a sport, okay?

Am experiencing a bit of housewife panic on this fine Wednesday morning. I have just returned from my very strenuous tennis lesson and now I have to figure out how I’m going to feed a dinner party full of cyclists tonight. Fiftten people, to be precise – including a few cycling side-kicks like myself, thank God. Because when I say “cyclists” I don’t mean people who like to hop on their bikes for a spin along the Braamfontein Spruit or who sometimes head to Northern Farms for a family outing. No, I mean psychotic people who do things like the Cape Epic (8 days) and the Panorama Tour (4 days) and other crazy events where you're on your little two-wheeler for over 100km per day – i.e. the real butt-numbing stuff. Which is fine if that’s what makes them happy – just don’t torture me.

Which brings me to the reason for my panic. The Husband has this thing that he does when we’re in the company of uber-sporty people. He knows full well that he’s married to the girl who did aerobics as her compulsory school sport. (Seriously, I’m not even kidding about this. York High in George was surprisingly progressive back in the ’90’s). Anyway, I think that The Husband really is okay with the fact that he married Aerobics Girl and not Iron Woman.

Generally.

Except when we're in the company of uber-sporty people. Often, "this thing that he does" happens when we're with The Husband’s super sporty clients. The conversation will be flowing between The Husband and these uber athletes – it’ll be about the Comrades, Iron Man, the Argus, the Two Oceans – any, or all, of those good things. Then the one client will describe their best ever Iron Man time and The Husband will talk about his latest cycle race and another client will bemoan his Comrades injury. And then – even though I’ll be doing a great job of pretending to be fascinated by the topic – The Husband will do something to to try and prove that (contrary to all indications) his wife is not a total couch potato. "The thing" goes like this:

"Natalie's run a half marathon".

There is dead silence and I can see the bankers trying not to spit out their drinks in disbelief. By now everyone is staring at me and I'm wanting to crawl under the table, but I have to be polite so instead I splutter:

"Er, yes. Once. Once upon a time, really. Never again, though! Hahahahahaha."

And then I down my glass of wine in an act of defiance. But at this point, The Husband has only just got going and invariably he starts banging on about my one and only sporting achievement. Which wouldn't be so bad, except that he's telling some of the most hardcore sporting psychos out there – people for whom a half marathon is a weekend training run. What's worse is that he's been dining out on this story for two years now and I get the distinct impression he'll be doing so for the next few decades. That's practically a given, because I doubt I'll ever subject myself to another half marathon (I really feel like I've ticked that box).

I can just picture one of The Husband's client functions in 2025. "Natalie's run a half-marathon!" he'll announce proudly during a sporty discussion. "Really? When was that?" one of the polite clients will ask and I'll have to mumble into my wine glass, "Er, I think it was 2008". And then the client will do the Maths and there'll be an awkward silence amongst everyone except for The Husband who'll be trying to remember my time for this historic event.

I fully expect tonight to be one of these nights. Although The Husband's plan is to plough these Sporty Spices with his signature drink: The Great South African Suitcase. Over the years, The Husband has successfully exported the GSAS to at least 6 countries – from Scandinavia to Singapore. Granted, passion fruit has often had to be replaced with OJ, but the effect is the same – he gets the party started.

I wonder what you get when you cross 10 super fit, uber athletes with 40 suitcases? I guess I'll soon find out…

Home Exec Seeks BFF


During my sabbatical, there’ve been some signs that the whole “Home Exec” thing is not exactly for me. This morning I awoke to another such sign. Overnight, the ceiling-y-thingy underneath our upstairs balcony collapsed. It collapsed in exactly the spot where The Husband spends a significant amount of time puffing on his Peter Stuyvesants. Of course I was suitably grateful that the ceiling-y-thing did not fall on his head, but it would really have killed two birds if it had fallen on a couple of hadedas (‘scuse pun). At least that would have solved one home improvement problem (apparently it’s illegal to shoot the b*ggers) so a fatal piece of falling rhinoplast would have been ideal.

“Oh, Mr Conservation Officer, there’s been a terrible accident…” Instead, nothing but more Home-Maker maintenance. Not my strong point.

On the bright side, however, “my renovator” (that’s what I’m calling him from now on, even though I only met him this morning) could not be sweeter. He’s been running to me excitedly every time he figures out yet another source of our internal waterfalls, looking like he’s cracked a code or something. He then proceeds to explain the solution in great, painstaking, slow motion-like detail. Bless. Now, I want to live in a house where I won’t get rained on while I’m watching TV as much as the next housewife, but it really is a struggle to stay animated about drainage, plaster and pipes.

Aside from the fact that project managing home improvement is not my forte, there’ve been a few other signs that full-time home-making may not be for me. Looking back, I think I began to realise this a couple of months ago. It was after I got it into my head that I needed a partner in crime to help me through this life-changing phase. I rationalised that new mothers had Mom & Snots, the baby boomers had bridge and bowls and the kugels had Tashas. But what about us child-free ladies of leisure? What did we have?

I decided I needed a friend. I just needed to find her. Shortly thereafter, I started seeing this nice, normal-looking girl at the gym in the middle of the morning. She looked about my age and she wasn’t drawling “Hiiiiiii!” to every second gym-goer. “Aha!” I thought. “A fellow outsider! And if she’s working out at 9:30 in the morning she can’t have a regular day job. Maybe we can be friends!!!”

All these thoughts were racing around in my crazy little head, but of course, I was far too cool (too shy) to introduce myself. Then, later that day, I saw her at a coffee shop at the Blubird Centre.

“Oh my God,” I’m thinking, “This is DESTINY! We’re like…TWINS! We hang out at ALL the same places! And she doesn’t have any friends either!”.

It got even better: she had a huge slice of carrot cake in front of her! “She does gym AND she eats cake – OMG, she’s PERFECT”. I’d just arrived at the coffee shop with my current best friend (who was up from Cape Town) and I didn’t want her to think I was completely loony, so I just said, half-joking, “Hey, that’s the girl we saw at the gym this morning. She obviously doesn’t have a job either. Maybe she can be my friend”.

Now, Current Best Friend (CBF) is all about the confidence. At 19, she dragged me into London bars frequented by Naomi Campbell. (Not kidding, I actually saw Ms Campbell once). CBF would walk in looking like she owned the place and, more importantly, like she was simply born to drink champers there. I, on the other hand, would be hiding behind her, praying no-one recognised me as the waitress from the Spur-style joint down the road. So Current Best Friend leant over to New Best Friend and went:

“Hey. We really should sync our schedules”.

New Best Friend looked a bit confused but Current Best Friend was undeterred:

“We saw you at the gym this morning,” she explained.

By this point I was bright red but simultaneously imagining us as mid-week pilates partners and godmothers to our unborn children. I also seemed to have swallowed my tongue but fortunately, Current Best Friend is never short of a word or two, so happily, the conversation was flowing.

As I was half-way through my speech (in my head) for her kid’s christening, we learnt that she was out from London for two weeks her best friend’s wedding.

And that she had a job – and a personal trainer (thank you very much) – in London. (The little beetch). And that’s when I realised I needed to get a life – or a job. Or more Facebook friends. For now, I’ve settled on the latter.

And yes, it’s working pretty well. Thanks for all the birthday messages Facebook friends – you’re the best!