Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gold Stars

Sometimes I think one of my biggest challenges in finding satisfaction in raising my children (and mostly staying at home with them) is that there is a distinct lack of gold stars.  Meaning, in case it isn't clear, that nobody is really standing around cheering or saying thanks or, perhaps, even noticing most of the things you do on a daily basis.  Nobody notices that you packed the 78th lunch in a row, got a babysitter for the preschool open house night, put away the clean laundry, taught a 6-year-old her addition facts, or unloaded the dishwasher again while you were on hold with the person at the bank.  Nobody puts a gold star in a square next to your name like your Sunday School teacher used to when you memorized a Bible verse, a long line of shiny foil stickers after the name Stephanie F.  Being a grown-up doesn't work that way, and it especially doesn't work that way when your "boss" is your family.

I'm thinking of this today partly because of a post of Linda's I read a couple days ago, where she wrote about how hard it can be to find identity when you step away from the corporate world - even if you are, in fact, happier in your present "job."  I remember feeling exactly the same way for a while after Annie was born:  feeling borderline ashamed of my lack of earnings; wondering why I had worked so hard to be "smart" for so many years; avoiding social situations where I knew people would ask me what I "did;" not wanting to write "homemaker" on any type of IRS form.  It's not even that I was unhappy with what I spent my days doing, but more that I missed the affirmation of having colleagues, family members, and even new acquaintances know that I was capable of making a presentation to a graduate class or teaching a child to read.

I have always been this way, I think, seeking acknowledgement of my efforts, wanting praise for a job well done.  I've always loved report cards, employee reviews, the comments a professor or boss would write in the margins of an evaluation or a term paper.  It's probably a weakness that I'm not intrinsically motivated to clean my house unless there's a possibility that someone will stop by and see it, that I want some special award for putting up with a whole day with an especially whiny, clingy child.  Instead, it seems, there are just more loads of laundry to put away, more long days arguing with someone when you ask them to go wash their hands for lunch.

It's complicated, too, by the fact that I try not to take too much credit for the good things my kids do.  And this is not because I don't want them to do good things (because I do in fact spend a lot of time and effort trying to teach them how and why), but because I've seen so many kids raised in identical ways by identical parents turn out so radically different that I lean more toward the nature than the nurture in that debate; that is, I don't give myself too much credit for either the good or the bad that comes of my children and instead just try to do the best I can with who they are.  So when Annie masters the spelling of all her star words or blows people away with her reading vocabulary, I don't think, Yeah, that's because I taught it to her.  When a parent from preschool tells me that Jemma's name fits her perfectly "because she's such a bright, happy jewel of a girl" I mostly think that it's who she is.  I'm not patting myself on the back for raising her to be so kind and sunny.

And then?  To add another little nail in the self-esteem coffin?  I've been using the time while Jemma's at school to up the quantity of my weekly writing time, focusing not just on the copy work I do for my friend's company, but also taking more time to send queries and think about breaking into magazines and new markets.  Last week, I spent at least an hour crafting what I thought was a great, viable pitch to a magazine.  I e-mailed it to the editor (the mag's requested query method) and received a "thanks, but no thanks" from him within less than an hour.  Distinct lack of gold star, there.

I wish I didn't want the gold stars, but I do.  After a week of little accomplishments - baking a cake and buying a gift for my mother-in-law's birthday, planting tulip and daffodil bulbs, remembering to pack a snack and Annie's dance gear into her backpack for after school on Wednesday, editing an article, making chicken rice soup and pumpkin enchiladas and rigatoni with turkey sausage, researching house refinancing possibilities and basement remodel details, ordering Christmas cards, returning library books on time, registering for the next round of ballet, paying bills - I (childishly) want someone to be impressed, to say, "Wow!  You did everything on your list!  Let's see:  Being on time, A+.  Cooking, A+.  Gardening, A+.  Planning ahead, A+.  Fitting in Exercise, A+.  Honor roll!"  But there is just another list, another lunch to pack, more laundry.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but I think that beyond recognizing the problem (check!), I should probably work on realizing that when you're a mom, the rewards don't come in the form of gold stars on a chart or promotions or pay raises.  I should get comfortable with the fact that nobody is ever going to notice (or thank me for) many, many of the things that I do in this current occupation, just like I took for granted the thousands of small acts of love my parents made on my behalf.  I should stop waiting for someone to notice the sacrifices I've made for them - should, in fact, stop thinking of them as sacrifices at all.  I should think of them as things I am doing for people who I love and stop needing any kind of recognition for it.  I should remember the walk we took after dinner tonight in our puffy down coats and how we sat in the driveway afterwards to watch the sky turn pink.  I should think about how having a little girl kiss your cold cheek is far, far better than a gold star any day.

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie - You definitely deserve a big, fat gold star for your cooking adventures, alone! On top of that - you are parenting, writing, running a home (a domestic contractor, if you will), and are still able to be a friend and wife. BIG OLE FAT GOLD STAR! A+!
    I get the need for validation - for affirmation. I felt the same way for the five years I was home. I guess, in part, that's why I'm doing this teaching adventure... I sort of failed at the whole domestic thing. It sounds like you are EXCELLING, though, so don't be discouraged. Oh, and yes - your parenting DOES play some part (a large part) of who your children are - and they sound pretty spectacular, so take some credit, lady! ;)