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Why I Love Carolyn Hax

alec vanderboom

Do you guys read Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax in the Washington Post? I love her! She's such a good writer. Dear Abby has common sense and wisdom. Hax has a turn of phrase that will stick in my head for days. Here's a sample from a recent discussion in the post.

Letter Writer:
"Recently you’ve run a couple threads about SAHMs and how they’re perceived by the world. From what I can tell, everyone seems to fall into one of two camps: 1. those who believe SAHMs sit around eating bonbons all day, and 2. those who insist SAHMs are badly undervalued and are short-order cooks/paramedics/professors worth six-figure salaries.
I’m home full-time with my kindergartner, who spends about half the day in school, and my infant. I’m friends with a handful of other SAHMs, and indeed their kvetching about being overworked is nonstop. I find it unsettling, because honestly (and I’m sorry if this outs anyone or hurts the ‘SAHMs are hardworking wizards’ cause), between school hours and the time my older kid spends playing alone, I have quite a bit of free time during the day.
We don’t have any hired help–I cook, clean, and engage with my children plenty. Yet if something comes on TV and I want to watch it, I can. If I’m ever behind on replying to emails, it’s just because I didn’t feel like writing them.
This unsettles me, because while I do feel that I’m a good mom and that what I do is very important, I also have the sense that there’s something I’m missing about what causes others to struggle so much. I worked for nearly two decades before transitioning to my current lifestyle–the former is harder. It just is.
My question is, should I assume I’m somehow shortchanging my child if I don’t end each day exhausted and praying for relief and recognition? The tone of this question may be coming off a little (or a lot) snarky, but this is a topic that irritates me to no end because I feel like a traitor whenever I acknowledge the truth about my SAHM life. –Help, My Tiara’s on Too Tight!!!”

You're doing just fine by your child; the people you're shortchanging are the stay-at-home moms whose children are not as calm as yours.

What you're essentially doing is looking through a periscope, and drawing a conclusion about the entire ocean. Look around you sometime at kids not your own, out in the world. The amount of variation in temperament is enormous. You will see, for example, babies who sit peacefully in their car seats as their parents have a conversation, do their shopping, watch an older child's sporting event, etc. Or, toddlers who contentedly play on a blanket with a stack of blocks or a truck or some dolls. Keep looking, though, and you'll see other babies who thrash around in their car seats or strollers and then try to writhe out of their parents' arms when they're picked up, or you'll see toddlers who start running the moment their feet hit the ground or who lose interest in their toys after 5 minutes. Being home with one of those, even amid other children who are calm, is enough to fry a person by lunchtime.

What has me skeptical, though, is that you really need me to explain this. Your conclusion after hearing so many other SAHP's kvetch wasn't, "Whoo, I'm lucky my kids are easygoing"?Instead it was, "get over yourselves, people"? I'm asking because the tone at the beginning of your question seemed to be one of genuine curiosity, but by the end there was a distinct harrumphing sound.

You don't say explicitly that your friends have received your truth-telling badly, but if that is in fact the case, then I suspect it will go better if you do it with the understanding that your experience is both the exception and, to a large degree, a fluke. "

My own take-away: Temperament matters! So far I'm 5 for 5 in challenging temperaments with my kids. My favorite reassuring book on parenting sensitive kids is "Raising your Spirited Child." Sometimes kids are just "more hard." I've grown to really like that aspect of my kids. That overwhelming intensity when they are little is what makes them such passionate, neat kids in later in life.