I hope, if you read the previous post, you don’t take offense to what I wrote. It’s not my intention to add to the negative debate surrounding motherhood and career. The reality is, if you can strike a good balance between what you do professionally and what you do at home, I think it’s wonderful. If it’s working for your family, if all members are content enough, and more importantly, if you as a working mother, find peace and harmony in your work/home life, I think that’s absolutely wonderful and I’m truly happy for you.
I wish it were that way for all mothers. I wish it were that way for me. As it was, when I worked, it was an 11 hour day for me. I spent 8.5 hours in the lab, and 2.5 hours a day commuting (I took the car to the train and the train to the stop and walked the 9 blocks along the tree lined street to my university hospital lab). But for me, it went beyond the mere logistics of how to combine work and family.
Believe it or not, I never imagined myself to be the nurturing/mothering type. I never grew up with the desire to be a mother, or even more basic than that, or to get married. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my family caused me to be a feminist in my early years. My plan was to never get married, have financial independence and have a string of affairs instead (and early on I was on my way to fulfilling that goal).
My mom, divorced and remarried and always on the brink of a second divorce, was unfortunately a terrible role model. You know what she tried to instill in me? All men are assholes. This is what she believed because of her experience with men (but she flat-out denied her role in instigated problems). Consequently, our family life was in shambles. Dead-beat dad, drunk step-dad, constant fighting between mom and both dads, non-stop bickering between my oldest sister (who was always prettier, skinnier, more popular, in sports, getting all my mom’s positive attention) and I. As a result of that modeling, I got the message loud and clear that all family is good for was destroying each other.
I decided early on, that I was going to insulate myself from that by denying the need for permanent entanglements. I cared about the boys I dated, treated them well and they did the same, but I never saw long term futures with them. I became a feminist as a protective mechanism, not because I saw it as an important thing to do for the sake of the cause.
I know how that changed. Somehow, perhaps as a reward for dealing with emotional abuse from my family for so long, I was really blessed to find others to counter those messages that I grew up with. I got lucky and managed to find friends with wisdom beyond their years, who had parents that also became allies, with lovers who didn’t take advantage of my wounded heart. I spent countless hours engaging in free therapy with trusted individuals who just listened and provided feedback that I was on the right track to figuring out what went wrong in my parents’ situation. I got lucky and gained a clarity and understanding about things that many people search a lifetime for and never find.
When I was 24, I found in J the one young man with whom I could envision a healthy future with. He was the final piece that restored what healthy relationships look like and feel like. Which is strange, considering he was the one to confront his father when he was 16 with a lethal weapon after he’d had enough of his dad’s abuse of his mother. I suppose when two tender souls have seen abuses get together, one of two things can happen: either you continue the cycle of abuse, or you set your will against it and do everything you can to prevent it. I know we were strong enough to work hard at preventing it, even when instinctively the urge to fight comes up.
So, to continue the story, though I found my life-mate, I still hadn’t planned for children. I still was content to postpone them indefinitely. Until life had other plans and we had them 3 in a row (when I was 31, 33, and 34). It’s good that it happened that way, because if it were left up to us, we’d delay them until it was too late. They were just not on our agenda. I still was very much a feminist, incredibly proud to have my own income, a job history I could impress people with (wow, you worked in forensics, that’s so cool!).
When I had no choice but to work because my husband was laid off with my first-born, I actually loved trotting off to work, leaving the drudgery to him, then to my mother in law. I had my cake and I ate it too. In fact, I often stayed late at work, because I had no real desire to come home until after my oldest had her bath (after being gone 11 hours a day, I had no energy).
But it didn’t take long before my life unraveled. With my husband working nights 2 weeks out of three, I had the second shift coming home. Then baby number two came when my oldest was 1.5. It unraveled even more.
I was truly a zombie at the end, going through the motions of work, coming home and going through the motions of being a mother. I never saw my husband but in passing, and I never gave anything my all anymore. I have thought numerous times about chucking it all and running away from all responsibilities and starting over. Instead, I came home, not content to live a splintered life anymore.
Only, when I did, life threw the curve ball of handing me another pregnancy. Boy, for someone once destined to never become a mother, life sure had a way of fixing that straightaway. Dashed were my hopes of taking master’s level classes in my spare time (what spare time?).
But I want to be honest here. Coming home was not the panacea I thought it would be at first. Two little ones were hard enough. Three nearly sent me over the edge. In fact, I think it did, only now I’m too proud to really admit it (oh, wait a minute, I guess that counts as an admission). If I occasionally thought I wanted to run away before when I was working, I often had thoughts of running away after my third was born and sometimes worse thoughts than that. I had such hard thoughts primarily due to my second daughter’s issues, only at the time, I didn’t know why she was the way she was (extreme separation anxiety, extreme meltdowns, extreme unhappiness). Because of that, I was filled with inexplicable rage that this was not what I signed up for, and definitely not what I was prepared for. I was filled with a great internal struggle. I was filled with infinite love for the children we were blessed with, and with infinite rage that I didn’t have the answers I needed or the personal resources to cope with motherhood and the loss of my personal identity; and infinite guilt because I still believe to some extent that I caused my second daughter to have issues since I had no one to turn to for help. I think that is one of the bad legacies of feminism in America. There’s no one to go for support because every other modern mother is struggling with similar issues and no one has adequately figured it out. We are left to figure out the tough answers all on our own because there is no support plan in place to cope with the change from independent, high achieving female to mother. No one wants to admit that they left something out of feminism (what to do with the children when they come along).
But an amazing thing happened through the past 5 years since I’ve been home. By going through the fire, I’ve transformed into a nurturing mother that I never knew I was capable of being. I am the mother I always needed as a child but never got. My children will never feel the pain of rejection from their own parents.
This is the perspective I’m coming from. Perhaps you’ve never had a broken family life. Perhaps you’ve never spent a day where you decided at 12, and 16, and again at 18 you’d be better off dead because your family makes it seem like you were a mistake and you are crazy and in need of therapy or medication.
So when you read my blog, understand that I take no sides on the debate of what’s better for you or your family. I come at it from the entirety of my life experiences and try to make sense of things for me and my family and figure out what future path I want to take.
Sometimes I second-guess myself. Sometimes I waffle between ideas. Sometimes I only make sense to myself. But that’s okay. It’s here where I grapple with the positives and negatives of my current role. It’s here where I seek to understand how I got here, discover what I value, and what exactly it is I’m seeking.
I’m glad you’ve stopped by. I hope you have been encouraged a little bit.
I didn’t read your previous post as a working mom bash, but I guess it really is such an emotionally fraught issue that some people might potentially read it as such. It was interesting to read the snapshot story of your life re: husband, work and kids. It speaks to the difficulties and not-perfectness of being on either side of the coin. I envy women who feel that they have achieved a balance that works well for them and their family, psychologically.
Thank you. I know it can be emotionally charged. I have so much compassion for those whose hearts are in conflict regardless of what side they’ve been on. Having done both, and reading quite a bit of what people say on the matter, it doesn’t take much to feel guilt. You are often damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I wanted to make it clear where I stood. I really wanted to prevent misunderstandings.
I think envy for those who seem to have the best of both worlds is natural, yet it’s another one of those emotions that is best set aside, mostly because it’s a case of “the grass always seems greener on the other side.” It’s an exercise in futility.
I think temperament (both the parents’ and the childrens’) plays a lot into it and a huge amount of trust that who ever is caring for the children will do a good enough job. Except of course, I feel instinctively “good enough” is not good enough for me or for them. I feel very strongly that I’m better equipped to teach what I want my kids to know than anyone else in the world because I have the background that I do. I wouldn’t be able to do half the things we’ve done if I’d been gone 10-11 hours a day.
In that regard, yes, I’m incredibly biased. I’m better qualified teacher than most teachers are and worked hard to understand human development because I know my girls are a lot like me: incredibly sensitive and having a great need to be nurtured. I can’t nurture from a distance or nurture in the evenings or on weekends. It’s just not good enough for me.
I keep having to remind myself of the temperament bit, and the fact that we are all unique, our children are all unique, and our circumstances are unique. There is no one right answer, and just because something works for one person, doesn’t mean that same choice would work for the next.
Such an obvious, obvious thing to say, but I keep forgetting it. I have to remember that I made the choices that I did based on many factors.
Thank you for reminding me that envy is a waste of my mental time. It really is pointless.
I’m with you on “good enough” not being good enough. Not when it comes to my kids, anyway. Good enough works when it comes to sweeping the kitchen floor!
I laughed about the kitchen floor. I totally agree.
I often need the reminders too, which is why I often post about the thoughts I have. I think it’s natural to drift from our objectives when we are faced with conflicting thoughts. I try to keep my personal mission statement firmly in mind by coming back to it time and time again. I sometimes feel like I’m saying the same thing over and over again, but really, it is because I want to keep on track and not get distracted by thoughts that undermine what I am intending for my life and family.
If I can help others by revisiting this idea time and again, I’m so grateful. I’m glad I can reach out to others who feel similarly. When I read some of your blog posts, I was reminded of my own objectives again. So, thank you to you for your perspective too!
Wow I think you are my twin. hahaha!! I was raised with the sam etype of role model and had the same attitude towards marriage and children and too find myself with a wonderful guy and now a SAHM as well. I think I’ll add you you to my blog roll. It’s always nice to read someone who can write frankly and honestly on subjects I can relate to!
W – I love your pictures on your blog. Not a lot of time to reply – have to get 2 kids from school. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment. I love meeting other similar minded moms.