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.