My close friend has the softest laundry I’ve ever touched. Her baby’s blankets are like butter. Her dish towels are sparkly white, without a single stain, and every time I wash my hands at the sink I know they’ll smell better after having been dried with the rag lying next to the basin. When I walk up to her front door on laundry day, I breathe in deeply. It smells so fresh.
I tried for months to replicate her laundry. I stole a glance at her detergent brands and rushed out to get the same kinds. I attempted bleaching my towels over and over. And I used every fabric softener I could find. No matter what I did, though, my laundry wasn’t like hers. In comparison, my towels were stiff and dingy. My rags seemed to smell funny after a day of use. And my baby’s blankets just weren’t nearly as luxurious.
I suppose I could have asked her to divulge her laundry secrets. To give me a hint, or spill all the beans. To help me achieve the perfect load of laundry. But for a long time I didn’t. Why not? Because my friend is a stay at home mom. And somehow I had fallen into this awful, hateful, self-destructive belief cycle that whispers "To ask her for advice is to admit defeat." To admit that there’s something in my home that I can’t get right because I don’t spend enough time working on it. Good gracious. My baby goes to DAYCARE – the least I could do is figure out how to send her off each day with a soft blanket.
This week I read a post at Mom-101 titled Things you never say to a working mom. The comments to that post were fascinating and enlightening. As both working moms and stay home moms shared numerous offenses by “insensitive” folks, I realized two things. First, I have heard, in some form or fashion, virtually every single one of those sentiments expressed from a mommy of one camp toward a mommy of the other camp. Second, I was struck by a burning question: when, and why, have we all become so sensitive and divided? In an email discussion with two of my closest friends, I shared the following thoughts:
... But the comment that annoys me personally more than any other is “I don’t see how you do it.” Because almost every time I hear that from someone, whether it is a working mom to a SAHM, or vice versa, it sounds condescending to me. Almost always. Sort of like “I don’t see how you can stand to run your life that way and really think that is the right way.”And so what if? What if we turned sour grapes to homemade grape juice? What if, in an effort to embrace the concept that we, as women and mothers, have a very strong Village upon which we all can lean, we decided to ask each other, very openly, How do you do it? What if there was no condescension, or shame, in the asking? And what if we started to share our skills and resources and well-researched solutions openly?
And, really? Do you really not see how I do it? Because if you really want to know, I’d be happy to show you. And then you’ll see that I do it the same way you do it. There are things to be done, and we do them. Or we don’t. But the sun rises and sets and we all make it through the day. In fact, hopefully we do more than make it through. Hopefully we go to bed happy with our accomplishments and owning and embracing our choices. Or our circumstances.
After all, isn't that what men do? I know my husband is first to admit that he cannot change the oil in his car. But he certainly doesn't get upset over it or stand in the driveway, looking under the hood of the car, pretending to solve the problem and secretly hoping none of our neighbors will find him out. He's good at what he does, and he has immersed himself in a dynamic construct of folks who are good at almost every single other thing you could think of. And they help each other. In fact, their resourcefulness is remarkable in many ways. From manual tasks to high level financial investment discussions to personal mentors and spiritual leaders, his web of friends and confidants is spectacular. It seems to me that we women are crippling ourselves and missing out on some rich opportunities by insisting that each of us as an individual must possess a complete Holy Grail of All That Is Womanhood.
More and more, when I talk to a non-working mom whose style and organization, or whose excellence in particular areas, I really respect, I will ask her “how do you do this or that or the other thing?” And I ask because I really want to know. And because I am genuinely inquiring, I find some AWESOME tips that are applicable to my own life and that have helped me become better/more efficient at the things that I do. People who simply have more time in the day to research and try-and-err and focus on things that I can’t devote that kind of time to come up with great solutions. And I poach them. And I love it.
And you want to know what happens next? Condescension? Guilt? Shame? Whispering behind my back about what a crappy mom I am?
No. Next, my non-working mom friend is hosting a large party in her home. And she doesn’t have time to make all the preparations AND clean her houses the way she normally would. So she asks me if I have a recommendation for a good housekeeper in a pinch. And I share my resources gladly. And tomorrow a different stay-at-home-mommy friend offers to pick up my daughter from school because she’ll be there anyway and our nanny isn’t back from winter break yet. That same day, I'm bringing home two babes from daycare instead of one because Little P's working mama is taking a deposition that will run late.
And then my sweet doctor friend, exhausted from a long day at work, runs across the street to my house at 9:00 p.m. in the cold Oklahoma winter wind, wearing her sweat pants, to take a look at Little Belle’s diaper rash because I accidentally blew the 3:30 appointment with her pediatrician that I had scheduled. And then I take a look at a construction contract that she and her husband need to sign and point out some language that she might want to tweak before they close.
And I need a children’s book on some difficult topics and I don’t have time to research them, so I send a plea to my dear non-working mom friend for ideas. And when I return to my office an hour later, sitting in my Inbox is an email with a litany of suggestions that she spent her morning researching. For me. Instead of me. And our daughters are friends, and these are topics they’ll probably discuss someday. And so she and I are working together, in every sense that is important, to raise our precious girls and to give them a strong, loving foundation for vibrant, healthy discourse.
She stands next to me as a mother and a friend. She helps me become better.
See? That’s my Village. My Village isn’t just helping me raise my children. My Village is making me better. Stronger. More confident. As a mom and a wife and a life manager. More and more I have rejected from My Village people who draw lines in the sand and ideals that insinuate that the varied and unique skills we’ve all gathered are to be hoarded and kept secret, or held in tight confidence as a sign of “Better Than You At This.” We’re potluck parents around here, and if you aren’t willing to bring what you have to the table, then I’ve decided you simply won’t be invited to the party.
And now that I've realized this about me, about the Village that I am determined to live in, I am enjoying the softest laundry in town.
(P.S. The response to this post has been so fantastic that I'm trying a little Village Building experiment. Check it out here!)
Image by Playingwithbrushes