Why do moms need to wait for Mother’s Day to get time alone to retreat and recharge? If we really respect moms, let’s find a way to get them 14 free hours a week—for their well-being, and ultimately, for the good of their families.
opinion by Jerry Windley-Daoust
For the third year in a row, we asked the moms on our Facebook group, PB & Grace Parents, what they wanted for Mother’s Day.
And for the third year in a row, “special time with family” barely edged out “time to myself to rest and relax.”
The staple gifts of Mother’s Day—flowers, chocolate, dinner out—barely registered in comparison. Sorry, dads—you don’t have to take them back, but probably you’re going to have to take the kids out for the day . . . and then take everyone out to dinner.
Oh, and add “clean the house” to that list. This year we also asked moms what chore they’d gladly give up for a year, and cleaning came out on top.
So dads, if you really want to win her heart, promise to clean the house every day for a year.
Why do we parent this way?
Seriously, though, these survey results aren’t that surprising. As a stay-at-home dad for ten years, I was involved in two “parenting” groups (moms groups that let me join!), one at church and a parent education class offered by the school district. One of the parent educators, Katy Smith, would ask the “What do you want for Mother’s Day?” question every year as a way of encouraging new moms to give their husbands very clear communication about expectations. And every year, the dozen or so somewhat exhausted moms in the group would dream about time to themselves.
As a matter of fact, exhaustion was not an uncommon theme in those groups, which is a testimony to how we do parenting these days. In fact, there’s almost no precedent in all human history for the way we parent small kids. What other culture ever put moms alone in a box with a bunch of small kids for 8-12 hours a day? None that I can think of. Throughout history, the norm has been for parenting responsibilities to be shared.
Pope John Paul II once lamented the loss of multi-generational households, and he wasn’t just being sentimental for bygone traditions. Multi-generational households spread out the responsibility of parenting over several or many adults, and provided moms with the chance to do adult things—including undistracted socializing with their peers.
Moms need a break every day, not just once a year
That’s not to say that moms weren’t still worn out (they weren’t exactly off watching TV) at the end of the day. And it’s true that multi-generational households and “neighborhood parenting” have their downsides. But if we don’t want to return to that model, let’s figure out a new way of doing things—something in between outsourcing our kids to professional caregivers and locking moms (or dads) up to care for and entertain multiple incompetent, slightly insane, unsocialized (read: rude) little people for half a day or more. (Yes, they’re cute and precious, too—which is their saving grace.)
In other words, let’s find a way to make every day “Mother’s Day,” in the sense that we honor and respect mothers enough to give them “not mom” time on more than one day of the year. We need to do this not just for the sake of moms, but for their families as well.
Can we give moms 14 hours of free time a week?
In fact, let’s just throw down a big goal here: Can we agree that moms (and dads) should get at least 14 hours of free time a week? If that seems extravagant, it’s not—that’s an average of two hours a day. (“Average” because two hours a day may not be feasible, and mom may want to get away for a weekend retreat once a year, too. Yes, that’s what I said: A weekend alone. Well, with God.)
And let’s make that two hours a day during the day, not after the kids are in bed, because after everyone’s in bed is time for end-of-the-day cleaning, praying, and personal care (otherwise known as a shower and a decent night’s sleep).
And one more note: I’d advocate the same for dads—14 hours a week to socialize with peers or pursue other interests. I’m focused on moms here because it’s approaching Mother’s Day as I write this, and because ten years of hanging out with stay-at-home moms made it clear that this is a real issue for them . . . although not one they’re necessarily willing to self-advocate for.
Yes, we can, ‘cause we’re the Church
How do we get moms (and dads) 14 free hours a week? The Church answers that question in the same way it answers so many questions about social issues: solidarity and community. We need to be intentional about creating communities and relationships so that no new mom feels like she’s being driven crazy by 24/7 parenting.
Most moms these days are pretty good about creating helping relationships with one another, but dads and parishes can pitch in, too.
Dads are the first line of defense for those 14 free hours—ideally, cheerfully given.
But in today’s economy, dads may be stretched to the max, too. That’s why parishes and civic groups should step in where they can, especially by facilitating parenting groups and multi-generational relationships. For every mom sitting at home sobbing because she hasn’t gotten enough sleep and the house is a mess and the kids won’t stop, there’s probably a retired couple somewhere who would love to help out for an hour or two. If we’re all going to live separately from one another in our big houses, then we need religious and civic institutions to help us make relationships of mutual assistance happen.
The reality, though, is that it’s probably going to be up to moms to make this happen. And why not? Moms have always been a powerful force for positive change in the Church and society, and that role has been amplified one hundredfold since they got their hands on their smart phones and social media accounts.
Maybe it’s just a matter of collectively deciding that, yes, it’s entirely reasonable for every day to be Mother’s Day. Maybe it’s a matter of dads and kids simply saying: “Go! You deserve it! And don’t feel guilty!”
Who knows? If dads and kids and parishes and civic leaders made it a priority to support moms in this way, maybe someday chocolate (my personal favorite for Father’s Day, hint hint) will rise to the top of our annual survey of what moms want for Mother’s Day.
P.S. The pope agrees: Moms deserve better
from Pope Francis’s Catechesis on the Family, #2: Mothers
Every human person owes his or her life to a mother, and almost always owes much of what follows in life, both human and spiritual formation, to her. Yet, despite being highly lauded from a symbolic point of view — many poems, many beautiful things said poetically of her — the mother is rarely listened to or helped in daily life, rarely considered central to society in her role. Rather, often the readiness of mothers to make sacrifices for their children is taken advantage of so as to “save” on social spending.
It also happens that in Christian communities the mother is not always held in the right regard, she is barely heard. Yet the centre of the life of the Church is the Mother of Jesus. Perhaps mothers, ready to sacrifice so much for their children and often for others as well, ought to be listened to more. We should understand more about their daily struggle to be efficient at work and attentive and affectionate in the family; we should better grasp what they aspire to in order to express the best and most authentic fruits of their emancipation.
Jerry Windley-Daoust is publisher at Gracewatch Media, a former stay-at-home dad, and a former editor at Saint Mary’s Press.