Why Moms Should QuitBy LISA BELKIN
A few weeks ago, in the middle of what I now refer to as my “On the Couch” period, I gave my younger son a list. I don’t remember what exactly was on it, but I clearly recall his response. His expression said he was about to protest. He opened his mouth, closed it again, thought for a moment, then said: “All this is the stuff you usually do around here but I don’t notice, right?”
It took my breaking two ankles and spending two months off my feet to hear those words. By the time I started hobbling last week, Alex had become an ace at many of the things he once assumed just happened. A high price, but what a reward.
Mel Robbins, a nationally syndicated radio advice host, and author of the upcoming book “Stop Saying You’re Fine,” proposes a far less painful means to the same end. Well, less painful for Mom. In a guest post today she suggests that this Sunday is the perfect moment to put her plan in place.
(And, for a bonus, Ms. Robbins took a video camera around her office for Motherlode and asked co-workers what they want for Mother’s Day. Their answers, below, might serve as a guide for children and spouses who might still be trying to think of a gift.)
WHY EVERY MOM IN AMERICA NEEDS TO QUIT
By Mel Robbins
Ladies, it’s quittin’ time. Since when is a year’s worth of laundry worth a store-bought bouquet of flowers? And three hundred dinners prepared rates only a breakfast in bed? Yes, your husband and kids are fantastic and you love them madly, but we deserve more – we deserve help!
This Mother’s Day, don’t stop at taking the day off. Just quit. That’s what two women in my life did.
In 1978, Judie Robbins stood up at the dinner table in front of her husband and three sons and said, “Effective immediately, I am resigning as Chairman of the Household.” My husband is her youngest son — he was 8 years old at the time.
For years, she’d been asking for help from the family. She tried using an allowance as an incentive; she tested out becoming a tyrant. Finally, she just settled into a long stint as a silent, resentful domestic servant. But Judie woke up one day and took a step that too few moms dare — she decided to assert her right to the pursuit of happiness.
No more laundry, no more dishes, no more making the beds – no more of any of that daily drudgery: packing the lunches, cleaning the house, taking care of the dog or organizing everyone’s social life. “I’ll buy groceries and make dinner on weekends,” she announced, “but that’s it.”
What followed was silence … and some nodding of heads. After a moment, everyone simply resumed eating, totally unfazed. They’d seen this kind of thing before – playing dumb was the best strategy. The boys cleared the table, sure that, once their mom calmed down, they wouldn’t have to repeat the chore.
But Monday morning, there was no breakfast ready, no lunches packed, and no clean uniforms ready for a week of football and soccer practices. Judie wasn’t even home to hear their complaints – she’d gone for a walk with a friend. By day four, the Robbins household was gripped by absolute panic. You could see it in the boys’ eyes as they ate Cheerios again for dinner.
Judie volunteered instruction, teaching the boys how to run the laundry and the dishwasher, but she never took over. She stuck to her guns.
Every few mornings, the boys crept down three flights of stairs into a dark, damp basement to run another load of laundry. They packed their own lunches, made their own beds, and kept their rooms tolerably tidy. On weeknights they took turns cooking very mediocre meals for the family.
When I first heard the story, I thought my mother-in-law was a monster. How could she have done that to her boys? How selfish! I thought. A third grader doing his own laundry? I’d never be a mother like that! I’d take care of my kids! I’d bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan! I’d do it all. How wrong I was.
Being a mom has always been tough. But when four out of five families have both parents in the workforce, motherhood is a thankless treadmill. There’s very little upside. Even as women improve their incomes, and outnumber men in the workforce and professional schools, we’re still stuck with the second shift at home. Only 20 percent of men share housework with their wives in dual-income families!
Why do we do it? Because for a while, our husbands and our kids truly need us. In the early days of starting a family, being a mother really does mean nourishing, cleaning, caring. It feels deeply satisfying, but we hang on far too long to what’s safe, familiar and common. There’s also the fear if we’re not doing it all, we won’t be needed. The fear is real, but the reality is that as moms we’re needed for much more than folding shirts.
Quitting isn’t about staying home versus working; it’s about living in a modern world and getting what you deserve. Once our kids reach school age, we can afford to ditch the 1950s ideal of motherhood for something a little more 2011 – collaboration and empowerment.
Last year, I stopped saying I was fine and I quit. I’d just discovered a pile of clothes in the closet that my youngest said he’d put away. When I confronted him, he looked at me with the deadpan honesty that only a 6-year-old can pull off and said, “But mom, I like when you do all the work.”
The fact is, your kids (and husband) can help a lot more than they do. When I quit as Head of Household, I learned just how capable my kids really are. For my Lego-obsessed son, sorting and folding laundry is a game. Turns out, my 10-year-old loves to cook dinner and my 12-year-old can create a family calendar while texting, doing homework and weaving a friendship bracelet. The hardest part is letting go of how you want everything done. The best part is once you do, you have a solid team in place and time to be with everyone, instead of slaving for them.
When I thought about it, I realized my mom, Marcia Schneeberger, quit too. When I was in ninth grade, she announced that she was opening a business with her best friend and would need my younger brother and I to pick up the slack. I put up a fight, layering on the guilt, but my mom stuck to her guns and we kids got it done. When my mom’s kitchen store opened, I remember feeling so proud that Mom owned it and I forgot about the pile of laundry at home with my name on it.
Quitting made me a better daughter, a better wife and it has let me become the kind of mother who isn’t ticked off and cranky at the slightest problem. My kids are more responsible, and I’ve gained their respect, because they see me as someone who won’t let people run her over.
You need to be honest with yourself and your family. You aren’t fine doing it all. It’s driving you crazy, it’s turning you and your spouse into roommates, and it’s making your kids lazy. This Mother’s Day, why not get what you really want?
When your family wakes you up this Sunday with breakfast in bed and the promise of a “day off,” just take a moment to prop yourself up with some pillows, gather everyone around and make the following announcement: “Thank you very much for the gesture, but this Mother’s Day I don’t want a day off. I want the year off. I hereby quit as Head of the Household. Thanks for making breakfast. Now what’s for dinner?”