Thursday, September 14, 2006

Outsource your mom work

One of the many ironies of my life is that I decided I could "only handle two kids". Then nature had the last laugh and gave me a kid who's so much work. His list of medical needs, therapy appointments and developmental exercises take up hours a day. And that doesn't include the fact that he's not walking at almost two and has various other delays, so we have all the typical baby stuff too.

He's also the happiest person I know. I laugh with him every single day. I find myself drowning in cliches. But he really is like the super sweet smiley cancer child you see on tv, bravely enduring chemo and other noxious procedures. At least as long he gets his own way.

But while he makes it all worthwhile, it doesn't reduce the sheer amount of work. I dunno how I and my husband do it. I dunno how any parents do it, except one thing at a time. Sometimes when I think of the sum total of what my son needs and what my daughter needs and what I can do, I start to panic, and feel totally bad and inadequate. In fact in many ways I have battled and overcome these need to do it all and be the perfect mom at the same time as my son has battled his medical issues. It helps a lot that my son is so sweet about his illness. But like my son, I have these little relapse and setbacks.

But the biggest lessons I've learned is outsourcing. Yeah a Silicon Valley term. This is Silicon Valley Moms blog. Before my son I totally underestimated the value of outsourcing. One of the best things a friend did for me in the midst of one of my son's medical crises was to say "Thida, you REALLY need a break." and take me out.

But before my son, I'd get stuck on guilt. Sure I'd take time off. But in my heart, I believed moms must do every aspect of motherhood, and never take any time off or I was a BAD MOM. Well okay if I had work, I could do a little less, but not really. I had to be there for everything, do everything.

I still encounter this attitude all the time. I see moms who are totally stressed and overwhelmed to the point where they no longer enjoy their own children. When I suggest they might want to take some time off, other moms chime in like I'm crazy for suggesting it. In my experience, the more work your children are, the more necessary breaks are. When I come back from a break, I come back refreshed and I appreciate my children ten times more. My children also appreciate me for about five minutes, then they go back to taking me for granted again.

Sometimes outsourcing means hiring someone, but outsourcing can also mean old-fashioned swapping with other moms and babysitting from grandparents. I do have a nanny because like I said before, my son is just too much work, and we can afford it. I also swap child care of my daughter with a couple other moms.

According to my mom, a wise Burmese woman, this "need to do it all" is a)Western thing since most women outside the West don't raise their children in houses as a couple, but rather in an extended family and b) a phenomenon of the past century. In the past, even in the West, people lived in extended families. People other than moms help raised children. Everyone acknowledges single parents have a tough job, yet somehow the two-parent family is supposed to be sufficient. With all my son's needs, I need more help than just my husband can provide.

Perhaps some moms never need a break, but that doesn't negate the fact that others do. Nor does it mean that the parents who need breaks love their children any less. This is not a question of love, but of parents' capacity to give and children's demands. Some children are more demanding than others. Some parents have more energy than others.

Mom work is very undervalued and not paid at all, but it can be very hard. Let's help each other. I rally you all to outsource mom work! Moms who have more energy and/or less demanding kids, if you see a mom that's stressed and overwhelmed, tell her it's okay to take breaks. If you live close enough, offer to exchange babysitting. Moms who are stressed and overwhelmed, please ask for help, so you can enjoy your kids again. You'll be a better mom if you do.

Crossposted to Silicon Valley moms blog

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