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Alone in a Room Full of Mothers

After leaving parent-tot class with my daughter, a feeling of inadequacy hung over my head. The dark cloud that haunts me on my lowest days of parenthood, despair, wondering why other moms seem to have it figured out while I drift through my days with no purpose other than to take care of my little brood.

The problem is, I’m unwilling to sacrifice my time with my children, but not having anything other than motherhood makes me feel worthless and less than the working mothers around me.  I am especially envious of all the part-timers, who maintain their careers by working 20 hours a week and still manage being home with their children.  How did these women find their jobs?  How come they had the foresight to embark on a career that allowed them to work part-time?  Why didn’t anyone warn me about work/life balance before I chose to go to law school?  Post-feminist society passionately believes that women can be anything they want to be, but no one addresses whether a chosen career path is compatible with having a family.  I know some mothers happily work intense hours outside the home, but pre-kids working 50+ hours, I struggled dropping my dogs at daycare, I never comprehended how difficult it would be to leave my children.

“Are you starting your own photography studio?”  I shyly asked another mother in class.  “I’ve been feeling that I need to start something too, do something separate from parenting, but I don’t know what to do, ” I confided, possibly revealing too much to a woman I did not know.

“Oh, I have a real job, this is just my creative outlet, you know, an escape for a couple of hours on the weekends.”  Suddenly – a wall – I’m hypersensitive, but her words “real job” hit me like a ton of bricks, quickly defining herself as a working mother and me as “other”. I recoiled, humiliated I felt myself shrivel. I am lucky to be home with my children, so it is embarrassing to struggle to feel good about myself while choosing to be a stay at home mother.

As an attorney, my work fueled me. I upheld the law, telling the human stories of those charged with crimes. Work consumed me.  I worked nights, weekends, and returned home exhausted with no energy for myself or for my husband.  I was unhealthy, medicated, and ate bi-weekly Jimmy John’s sandwiches.  Fortunately, my husband was in his medical residency, so he didn’t have energy either. I failed balancing my work, my health, my family, and my friendships.

After becoming pregnant, my job became unbearable.   The fear of panic attacks haunted me. I worried constantly about my juvenile clients and not about the baby growing inside of me.  Then my second trimester, I stepped off an airplane and blood poured through my pants.  Immediately, I was put on partial bed rest.  My body sent a message – this stress will hurt my growing family.  There was no part-time work option, no way to handle my anxiety, so I quit.  I intended to go back.

After the birth of my daughter, I didn’t want to return to my old job.  I wanted to give that energy to my family instead.  I dedicated myself to them. One year became two, then my second daughter was born.   My second pregnancy was a breeze. I was healthier mentally, physically, and emotionally. But I missed a part of me, the working part, the intellectual part, the part that contributed in the world.  I secretly marveled at my ex co-workers who balanced their work life with their family life.  They returned to work without being insanely jealous of those that cared for their children (again, I know how spoiled that sounds). I questioned why I did not feel confident enough to do the same.

Now, leaving a parent-tot class, I wonder why large groups of mothers often make me feel isolated?  Why our differences create chasms among us, while our similarities hide below the surface?  Why I feel insecure watching other mothers confidently stride through their days, balancing work and life? Why is it that sometimes there is nothing like a room full of mothers to make me feel alone?

*****

SUDDENLY, editing this post, bells ringing inside my head, maybe the answer is, when we DEDICATE ourselves to staying home and taking care of our family, we need to DEDICATE ourselves to taking care of ourselves, as individuals too.  Writing, long dog walks, yoga, reading, time DEDICATED to me, fills me up and provides the purpose missing on those dreary days.

23 thoughts on “Alone in a Room Full of Mothers

    • Samantha, thank you for your support. I am so nervous about putting my writing on a blog for the world to see, so your encouragement goes a long way in reaffirming that this was the right decision for me. I will check out your blog during nap time. 🙂

  1. Also, from my observations, women who appear to be balancing both work and home life usually are neglecting one or the other. Their home life is probably not as peachy as they make it look at parent-tot class. I sincerely respect moms who stay home with their kids. It is a sacrifice, but it’s worth it!

  2. I love this post. Not because you were having a moment of “self doubt” but because I feel like relate in a way. I will be honest. Before I had my sone 9 months ago, I would never have considered a sahm to be a full time job. In fact my sister in law was a sahm and I would get so aggravated by her remarks about not having time to do this and that.. and I was just thinking… really?! How do you not have time! Your home all day! At the time I was working full time, juggling a new baby housework etc. I went back to work for 3 months after my maternity leave and like you I just couldnt do it anymore. I was no longer passionate about my job, but wanted to commit myself to my son! There are many days when I feel like I had more time when I was working than I do now! haha but my days are filled with joy and I cried the day that I got to see him crawl for the first time because I knew that I would never get to see that If i was still working. 🙂 Now granted I do work from home now. I run a fitness buisness from my home but I enjoy it and I make my own hours and put as little or as much as I want into it so my main priority is always my son and I consider that my REAL JOB! 🙂 Glad you found your way through writing this post! Being a mommy is the most important job ever! 🙂

    • Thank you for reading and your comment. I’m glad you can relate to the post and its great that you found something you enjoy and can do from home, I hope to do the same, and maybe writing will lead me there. 🙂 Agreed, being a mom is the best. Thanks again for your support.

  3. I just found your blog through Kelle Hampton’s blog. I can definitely relate to this post. Although I didn’t have a ‘career’ as such before I had my son, I did work. Just after I fell pregnant I choose to become a SAHM. It took me five years and five miscarriages to have him so I didn’t want to miss a thing.

    It’s honestly been the best four years of my life and now I’m expecting another baby, it feels perfect but I still occasionally feel like I should be doing more, like working Mum’s think that I should be out there working too. I know that it’s my own insecurities and probably those other Mum’s are too busy worrying about their own lives to even care what I’m doing!

    It seems like you have a real talent with writing. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    Liane xx
    http://www.forthoselittlemoments.blogspot.com

    • Thank you for your comment, I just found it in the spam folder, no idea why it was sent there, but I don’t know much about wordpress either. I think that SAHM moms are insecure about not working and working moms are insecure about not staying home. I think we all feel like we are being judged, maybe we are, but most often I think everyone makes the decision to do what is best for them. Parenting is hard no matter what you choose to do, and there is definitely no one size fits all approach. I appreciate you reading and will definitely check out your blog.

  4. Thank you for putting into words what soooo many mothers feel and don’t always know how to articulate. Your writing is great. The most important job a girl could have is being a mother. Yet, it’s so important for us moms to have our own things that help balance our busy lives. I’m really impressed you’re doing this. Keep them coming. I’ve spend your blog to a lot of my friends! Xo
    Shawn

  5. Justine, Wow, this is just amazing. I love how open and honest you are. What an incredible gift your writing is. I hear you loud and clear on this one. The balance is impossible and guilt sits on all sides of the choices mothers make I think. Love looking through your blog. xoxo

  6. I work. I have two kids. No matter how much the women at the tot class seem like the have it all together, they don’t. None of us do and anyone who says they do is a liar. We all project fakeness. It sucks. Why can’t women just admit it’s really hard being a mom. Really really. And working too, well I constantly feel like I suck at being a teacher and being a mom.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I agree it’s so easy to project a false sense of confidence regarding the choices we make, which can make other people feel like they are making the wrong choices or alone. We all struggle and there are pros and cons to all of our choices. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to balance both teaching and parenting, from your comment it sounds like you care to do both well, which means you’re not apathetic, which to me means you’re succeeding at both. If you’re interested, please follow my posts, it’s nice to have readers other than family. 🙂

  7. Do you think that you are jammed in a forky stick of your own making? Did you take on board the feminist aspirations of total equality, perhaps even leadership in your chosen career during your younger and working life? I bet you did, and I totally support that. But then pregnancy and children come along and it takes its toll physically, emotionally and in the considerable time you must invest.
    Reality intrudes, and you have moved on to a higher level of being where you are not only responsible for yourself, but two other precious people. I really mean that. You are now doing the most important thing you will ever do to nurture two kids, and your problem is the anxiety letting something else go. Relax, enjoy the everyday random nonsense of little kids. You may well come back to your career if you want. You will never come back to precious baby/child moments.
    I totally respect your choices and think if you feel you have under-achieved, it is is only that you were burdened with unrealistic expectations in the first place. There is no more important job, be it lawyer or president, than you are doing now.

    • Thank you for this comment, it got me thinking on many levels, and got me excited to write today during nap time. I agree completely, being a mom to my two little girls is the most important and this time flies to quickly. I would not trade this job, identity, or role for the world. I also agree that feminist aspirations of equality were pushed on me from the time I could speak, no one ever spoke about being a wife and mother, there was a focus on my career. I guess it was a shock to they system to find myself as wife and mother with no desire to pursue that career I had worked so hard for. I think a lot of people in my generation probably feel similarly. I can’t wait to write more about this later. Thanks for igniting a new spark.

  8. I’ve been a stay at home mom for 10 years now, I have finally been able to find some bits of time to do my art and help others do art once in a while. I hope you continue with your writing with purpose and joy and your truth, You are not alone. 🙂

  9. Hi there, just discovered your blog and really loved this post! I have an 18-month-old, and when he was four months old, I went back to a very full-time job with a hefty commute. It was incredibly hard for me, and after about 8 months, I decided to leave that job, for a BUNCH of reasons, the biggest one being that I really resented being away from my child and felt this overwhelming sense of unhappiness. BUT, there’s more to that story! I liked the job, but I didn’t love it. I respected it, liked the people I worked with, knew it was “good on paper” — but it wasn’t what I passionately wanted to be doing (and I was fortunate enough to not HAVE to do it – and anyway, most of my salary went to childcare at the end of the day so it’s not like I was bringing home millions 🙂 If I had LOVED that job, I can bet your bottom dollar I’d still be there. The sacrifice (not spending time with my child) would have been worth it. But in a pro/con list, the job came out “con” – FOR ME.

    I’m a writer at heart, so that’s really what I want to be doing. I feel lucky in that I can be “not working” and yet “always working” – because I’m always working on different writing projects. So “part time” is really sort of “all the time” and also “none of the time” for me. It’s a constant struggle to actually get writing done with a toddler at home, but if I can eke out the time, then I’ll be happy on a more existential level than I ever would be working a “good on paper job!”

    Here’s the point I wanted to make though: I’ve done both. I’ve done the commute/full-time/desk/9 to 5 with a kid at home, and now I’ve done the “take care of kid and try to squeeze in a part-time job/passion.” And here’s the little secret nobody tells you, or maybe they do but I’ll reiterate it: IT’S EQUALLY HARD BOTH WAYS. Everyone’s JUST as lost as everyone else. Every woman has a pro/con list and comes out somewhere on hers with the work/life balance, but you’ll come out somewhere different than Mom A, Mom B, or Mom Smurf. Which is why all these Lean In books are sort of hard to identify with, because all of our priorities are different. Anyway… What you’re feeling is totally valid, but try not to let it get to you (easier said than done!) Some friends I have would rather die than go to work and leave their kids at home. Some would rather die than stay home. It all depends on how you look at it. And good luck finding that part time job – I totally believe you can/will.

    (PS – this is BY FAR the longest comment I’ve ever left on a blog in my life! Must mean your post really resonated with me 🙂

  10. Thank you for your comment. It’s amazing to me that after I write something down, process it, and think about it, I am in a new place from where I was when I wrote it. I agree with you completely, my job that I thought I loved was not the right job for me as a mom, the cons definitely outweighed the pros. For my friends and co-workers, some financially had to stay in it, and for others it was their passion. We are all so different.

    Also, in the past I felt like there was nothing I would do that would be worth being apart from my kids, but in the process of writing all this down, I discovered that writing energizes me and lifts me up, this could be something I could see myself doing. Then there is the question of how to transform this hobby to something more? How to write with two toddlers (nap time is never long enough)? Right now, writing is providing me with the outlet I was missing. I think my envy for those part-timers may have been misplaced, and it was more a need to find my own outlet, my own voice, and my own passion. You are lucky to do what you love, and maybe one day I will make money doing what I love, or maybe I will keep writing and that will be enough. We are both lucky.

    Your blog is great! Thanks for stopping by and checking out mine.

  11. You are never alone in that room! I guarantee that more than half the mother’s in the room feel the same as you do! I know I do! Beautiful blog….LOVE IT! I feel like you write exactly what goes through my head!

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