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.