a mess, and some thoughts about my job

Our container came from the U.S. last week — Hooray!  We were so happy to be sleeping in beds.  And sitting on couches.  I was tired of the four pairs of shoes I had brought in my suitcase and happy to see the rest arrive.  And then the reality set in.  Professional movers notwithstanding, someone was going to have to put away all of this stuff.  Why on earth do we have so much stuff?

A week later, I’m not even close to the level of order that would inspire picture-taking, so sorry.  Give me another week.  At least.

After a late night last night (a social event followed by someone’s unfinished homework project) I didn’t feel like facing any of my messes, so I was puttering around and Bloom sent me over to Jane, who gave me permission to take the day off. Perfect.  So since I was taking the day off anyway, I read a little more Jane, and found this quotable little gem, in response to a mother who wanted to know “how” to nurture her child:

“In essence, when you really fall in love with your baby, when you could just eat him up…he’s being nurtured.  If you resent him or love him with reservations, he is missing something.  In that case, give more of your deep self–not your custodial mother self, but your connecting self, to the relationship.  Pray to be “filled with love” for your child.  Look into his eyes and recognize his unique powerful little spirit.”

Isn’t that excellent?  My experiences the last couple of months have caused me to once again reflect on myself as a mother.  We live among pretty affluent people here, and many (even most) of them hire people to do the sorts of things I do all day.  Someone else is there in the morning to make their children’s lunches and send them off to school.  Someone else cleans up the messes and does the laundry.  Jon told me one day, “My friend’s maid takes his shoes off when he gets home”  (an 8 year-old).  A different child, a neighbor, has been spending a lot of time here, and when it’s time for a meal, his nanny comes to get him (in case you are wondering, his mother does not have a job outside her home).  Chileans call this person a “nana,” and at first my kids thought she was his grandmother, which is pretty funny since she looks about 25.

I’ve realized that I spent the last five years living around women who had similar ideas about valuing motherhood.  Here, by contrast, a woman (an American) I’d just met told me, “If I had five kids I’d never want to get out of bed in the morning.”  Another, who happens to be from New Zealand, after agreeing with me that staying home with young children is important to her, said that she thought it was boring.  I actually think both of these women love their children and are good mothers.  These conversations made me want to watch what I say about this job.

I have a tendency to be honest about things, and it drives me crazy when people never complain about being a mother.  It’s a hard job, and we don’t support each other when we don’t tell the truth about that.  But if I have complained too much sometimes, I am sorry.  I chose this job.  I love this job.  It is important work and I am grateful to be doing it.

We can afford to have “help” here in Chile.  Enough help that my life is less stressful and my house is less disastrous.  But I don’t want to be one of the “ladies who lunch.”  I want it to be clear to myself, my children, and anyone who meets us, that my purpose here is to be a mother.  And if having some help with the cleaning up parts, and sometimes the cooking part!, gives me extra time and energy, I’m going to spend it nurturing.


6 thoughts on “a mess, and some thoughts about my job

  1. Toria

    Liz! I’m so glad you wrote this- you so eloquently stated what I’ve thought and felt many times. I hesitated many many times about hiring a maid/nanny, and we finally did 6 months ago. I cried and cried for the first week for various reasons, mostly just unsure of how to manage the help without minimizing my job and role as mother. While I still struggle finding the perfect balance I do what works for me and our family (which means I often “don’t get my money’s worth” in terms of the work I rely on her to do. )But, as I figure things out, I continually recognize the huge blessing to have more time to be a nurturing mom- and I try to do just that. (not to mention the regular date nights or after bedtime things that I can do without giving up mom time).

    your house looks fabulous! Good luck getting settled!

  2. Jason

    In South American culture, if you’re wealthy it’s almost expected that you have a maid. It’s a way of giving back — kind of voluntary wealth re-distribution. There is no social stigma associated with it (except maybe to your American friends?).

    If Chile is anything like my experiences in Ecuador or Argentina, you’re probably seeing levels of poverty you couldn’t even dream of having just come from the US. Just think of who you could be helping by sharing of your (relative) wealth. Our “criada” was a member of our ward (single mom), and later, her son came to help. We still share Christmas cards and fond memories of our time together. It’s really not a servant-master, or even employer-employee relationship. It’s a way of helping someone who otherwise would have nothing.

    You shouldn’t feel guilty about making your life and someone else’s a lot easier. Did you feel guilty about having a dishwasher or a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner? Rather than paying a corporation to manufacture an appliance and the power company to run it, you get to give money to a real-life human being that will help you with those tasks. I think you’re very fortunate to be in such a position.

    It’s very American to think you have to suffer and sacrifice and pay your dues and bear your cross etc., but that ethos doesn’t really exist in S. America. Generally speaking, people are much more in-the-moment, and if they have anything in abundance, they give it away. The culture is much more sharing than the American work-hard-for-what-you-have-and-defend-it-at-all-costs mentality. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. When in Rome, I say.

    Good luck!

  3. liz Post author

    Jason, I appreciate your insight. We are definitely taking the “when in Rome” advice here, and I have a lovely nana coming 2-3 days a week. She is a huge help and we love her. I already feel like she’s part of the family. And I completely understand the idea of providing a job here for someone who needs one. But, that being said, I will never think it is ok for people to hire someone to raise their children, and there are cases of that here. I don’t feel guilty at all about having someone here mopping and cleaning up. Just want to make sure I’m the one doing the mothering :)

  4. Anonymous

    So fascinating to hear about your Chile experiences, Liz (plus your insights re: mommyhood — I greatly admire your mothering skills).

  5. Robin

    I have to admit, there are times I would rather do the cleaning and let somebody else handle the mothering! You know, the mediating a screaming crying argument part, or the way too tired out and hungry two year old tantrum part, not the cuddles and morning hugs and the two year old singing a song about how much he loves his mom part. Unfortunately, you don’t get one without the other. I try to remember how when you ask a young child the reason why they love their mom, they almost always say, “Because she does so many nice things for me.” So, I think even when you’re trudging along through the harder times, you’re still nurturing.

    So, here’s a question for you. If you’ve got a maid helping out with the chores, do you still make your kids do chores? How do you work that?


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