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What is "Real Life"?
Last year, I began the school year complaining about an advertising campaign by Staples in Canada, "It's the most wonderful time of the year". Here's the ad:

I always found this insulting to kids. I wondered how children felt, watching that ad, getting the feeling that their parents were happy to be rid of them.

I was thinking about that while I heard the radio ad last week, when I also read this article on the nature of "real life". Tessa, a friend on my Facebook Group, was writing about the phenomenon that happens every year around this time of parents expressing delight that children will be back at school and they can get their "real life" back. She talks about this assumption that real life is when we are free from responsibilities, free from the repercussions of having kids, marriages, jobs, or life. She says:

When a woman gets pregnant, she’s bombarded with social messages that tell her she is supposed to “want her body back,” and the pressure begins to keep pregnancy as short as possible. When she breastfeeds, she’s not only told she’s supposed to “want her body back,” but to “want her life back,” something that can only be done by weaning the baby, of course, since breastfeeding is clearly not a part of life and “life” seems to be comprised of as many tactics as possible to physically distance yourself from your offspring. Case in point, when her child becomes school age, the woman is supposed to rejoice in sending the child away (to “real” school, of course), so she can finally “have her life back” again.

Read the rest here.

I have to admit that at times I yearn for solitude, or vacation, or just a day to curl up in bed and read a novel with no one bugging me. Now that the girls are older, that's more inclined to happen, but I still have work responsibilities with my writing, and deadlines, and blogging, and emails, and manuscripts to write.

But I think, for many, there is more going on here. Why do we yearn so much to be free of kids? Why do we yearn so much to be carefree again? I think there's this conception that the pinnacle of life is complete leisure and entertainment, without having to make dinner, or potty train anybody, or clean up toys. I know parenting is exhausting, and everybody needs a break every now and then. But parenting is my real life, not sitting in a hammock reading a book. My work is my real life, not goofing off all the time. I enjoy breaks, and we need rest, but the rest should be the exception, not the rule. What is wrong with actually enjoying the life that we have created for ourselves? To live for the brief snatches of time when we have no responsibilities seems like such a shallow life. If you're doing that, you're saying that your everyday life is miserable. Who wants to live like that?

I think we need an attitude shift that begins to appreciate work and routine and responsibility, rather than resents the fact that we have to work. Life was not supposed to be a giant party, and yet that's how it's often portrayed in our popular culture.

Personally, I do look forward to September. It is a good time of the year for me, because it represents new challenges, and new chances, and new opportunities. I get to plan what I want to accomplish this year, and what I want to do with my girls. Because we homeschool, it doesn't mean that I'm without my girls, or celebrating getting my "real" life back. What I am celebrating is a schedule once again. I find it often difficult during the summer because we don't have a schedule per se, and everything is always changing with vacations. How do you get meals made, housework done, exercise fit in, when things aren't the same? So even though September is busy, I like it because I feel like life is back again.

But that "life" is still with my girls. That "life" is still with my husband. Work is still involved. And I'm happy with that, because I like feeling as if my life has a purpose, as if I am moving towards something, as if God is making something important out of what I give Him everyday. If life were just about leisure, I wouldn't have that.

My real life has begun again, and I'm happy. It's a real life that takes work, that's busy, and sometimes I wonder if I can fit everything in. But I'm glad that it's here, because it represents everyone I love. And what would my life be without that?

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At 12:14 PM , Blogger Laura said…

My husband and I both agreed with your sentiment on last year's commercial!! I love hanging out with my kids. Even though sometimes they are demanding, irritable, complaining and hard work,(so am I most of the time too ;)every moment should be treasured. I can't imagine how I would feel if my kids rejoiced so enthusiastically when they were able to spend time away from me!! Kids are not burdens!! Even though our society plainly paints that picture!!


At 2:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I have to admit that for years I have cringed when asked: "How do you do it [homeschool]?!!! I can't WAIT for that school bus to show up in the morning, and regret hearing it arrive in the afternoons. I need that time to myself! I could never handle being around them all the time!!!"

I have heard variations on that statement MANY times...too many to count. In my opinion as both a mom and a "child", it is one of the most hurtful things I have heard.


At 2:36 PM , Blogger Harter said…

I completely agree with you. Homeschooling certainly has a way of drawing a family closer together. This is our first year, but even last year when the kids were in public school, I was in no way thrilled for them to go, and was always happy to see them at the end of the day! I know many moms that relish their time alone though and even put their littles in day care so they can have their alone time... It would be nice to have a day to myself, but not everyday, or even every week. I love my kids, and really do enjoy them!


At 2:52 PM , Blogger Tessa said…

Just a bit of clarification, I didn't actually write the article. I just came across it while reading on homeschooling stuff.
I'm super excited that I don't have to send my kid(s) off to school in a few years. I enjoy having my son around and I know that I will still enjoy his company when he's 6 and "school-age." And although my hubby was a bit skeptical when I first started talking about homeschooling our kids he is now not only totally on board but very excited to get involved in the process (which this year is consisting of craft time with our son, yay!). He's actually the one that mentioned his dislike of the Staples commercial to me the other day (I don't watch tv or listen to the radio so I hadn't heard it yet this year). He mentioned it while my son and I were riding int he feed truck with him first thing in the morning and "helping him out" with chores. I don't think that life gets any better than that :D


At 6:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I dislike this commercial also. I think it is sad that so many people can't wait to have kids but then once they have them they can't wait for someone to take care of them or for them to go to school so they can have their real life back. My real life now is being a mom and the most wonderful time is any time that I can spend together with my family.


At 10:53 PM , Blogger A'ine said…

I'm going to be the dissenter here, and state that I've always had a laugh at this commcercial. My Mom loved my brother & I, no questions asked...but at the end of summer, we all felt the need of the return to structure, routine, and school for us, etc. Now that I'm a parent, I get a huge laugh out of it, but the laugh's on me now. I don't homeschool (please don't hate me), we send our kids to public school. I'm an at home mom. I don't long for my kids to go back to school so I can have "my" life back...I long for them to go back when it's time, because they need it...I have a kid who is "different" and needs the routine, structure, and other things that school has. My kids love school...and I love that they love it, and I'm excited for them to go back, because I remember when I looked forward to going to school (except for a couple years in Jr. High), and the new clothes, the smell of new pencils and books, etc.
As much as I love my kids and do enjoy spending time with them more & more as they get older (having an intense & "different" kid makes the enjoyment sometimes more difficult), there is a time for everything.
Along with this, I really resent being made to feel like I'm not a good parent (not by commenters here or the blog article) if I am happy when my kids go to school...I'm not happy to "be rid of" them, I'm happy that they are getting the chance to go to school, learn, experience good teachers (which they both have), see their friends whom they haven't seen since June, etc. etc. I love my kids, and desire good things for them, and pray God would bless them as they go through their school day. I still think the Staples ad is funny.


At 12:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I really appreciate the commenter above...she seems like a super sweet person and loving mom! I just wanted to add something, hopefully without taking away from that...

-Homeschooling can be very structured, depending on if that is how the family decides to do it. We have a schedule and all one curriculum that is done in an actual schoolroom. Our schedule includes at least 6 true hours of schoolwork and learning, leaving many free hours for sports and activities...or quiet reading and relaxing in the backyard. Our school hours are very quiet (with exception of an occasional puppy playing at our feet with a toy). In other words, homeschooling is what you make it to meet needs. There truly isn't a set "mold" of what homeschooling looks or acts like! :)

-Friendships are are the activities and sports for spending time with them! With homeschooling, seeing friends isn't just for during the school year. :)

-I can't say what someone else's children "need", only their parents should make that call. It would be nice though, if at some point the popular viewpoint moved from where going away every day into a completely peer-influenced society where violence, bullying, drugs, sex, and other adult topics are the norm, was no longer considered something little ones need. :/


At 10:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I also find the Staples ad funny (not as a comment on society -- just funny) Fall IS my favourite time of year -- from way back when I loved going back to school as a kid. I have kids who (so far) thrive in the school system. If they didn't, I would be homeschooling.
But that commercial does tie into the social lack of value put on parenting -- the idea that kids are a nuisance and the need for "me" time over quality (and quantity) of kid time. And that idea offends me. Because being a mom IS my job. Even though it doesn't give me any social "status" or a paycheck.


At 10:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

As usual, I love your post. It is funny you should bring this up. I was just thinking about the "getting your body" back thign a week or two ago. I blogged on it here:
There are just so many assumptions in a phrase like this that we don't even think to question.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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