Stay-at-Home Mother

As a child if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would not have said a stay-at-home mother. I had an endless list of future careers, but mother was not one of them.  I gave birth to my first child and my plans exploded in my face.  I wanted to be with her every minute.  I chose to stay home and stuff my law degree in the closet along with my high heeled shoes, dry clean only shirts, and endless suits.

Not surprisingly, motherhood shattered my identity.  I imagine that most new mothers (and fathers) have a slight identity crisis.  I don’t like to bake, craft, cook, or clean.  I never liked to babysit or play with dolls.  Pinterest baffles me. I thought I had to do those things.  I felt invisible as if people who looked at me could only see the baby on my hip.  As if the role of stay-at-home mother equated to me having nothing to say at all.

In the universe of mothers there are lines drawn in the sand, working vs. stay-at-home, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, attachment parents vs. babywise parents, etc.  The list is endless.  These lines are isolating.  The crazy part is that these lines become cataclysmic because if we are honest most mothers at times feel slightly insecure about the choices we make. We are slightly defensive about this life choice. We may be ultra sensitive when those around us point out our differences.  We put up walls.  Embrace labels.  This is a shame, because we all share certain truths, the paramount truth being that we all just want the best for our children.

Back to my story.

Identity crisis ensued.  No one admits these things.  No one admits that they doubt their choices.  I felt scorned by the working moms and scorned by the stay-at-home moms for not being blissed out on motherhood.  I felt alone.

It was my insecurity that perpetuated these divides.

Then suddenly, an answer, reinvention.  Reinvention of who I thought I was going to be.  Reinvention of what it means to be a stay-at-home mother.  Reinvention of how I perceived myself.

I wrote.

A story is a snap shot of a moment in time.  This is a snap shot of a moment a few years ago when I felt invisible in the role of stay-at-home mother.

Now this new mother almost seems like a character in a story I once read.

I am happy.

Check out my essay featured on Mamalode today.

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32 Flavors

Image

Squint your eyes and look closer

I’m not between you and your ambition

I’m a poster girl with no poster

I”m 32 flavors and then some

I’m beyond your peripheral vision

So you might want to turn your head.

-Ani Difranco

*****

“Mommy, am I going to work when I grow up?” My three-year-old asks as we climb into the car.

“Of course baby, you can be whatever you want to be.”  I state emphatically, repeating the phrase that was repeated to me a thousand times throughout my life.

“Can I be a doctor like Daddy?” She asks earnestly.

“You definitely can be a doctor like Daddy.  You can be anything.”

“Mommy, does that mean I will be a man when I grow up?”  I freeze at three my daughter perceives that men work and women stay home, a feminist’s nightmare.  I am conflicted on a thousand different levels.  What message of equality am I teaching my daughter?  Where have we come since the women’s rights movement?

*****

Women of Generation X and beyond, grew up believing that we can be whoever and whatever we want to be.  We learned from an early age that gender is not a professional barrier.  Although some of our mothers may have been encouraged to go to college to get their “M.R.S. Degrees”, we were encouraged to go to college and get advanced degrees, so that we could have careers, break barriers, and crack glass ceilings.  From the moment I could speak my parents taught me that I could be a doctor, a lawyer, an executive, anything I put my mind to (within the limits of the aforementioned list).  I grew up believing these things and never doubting my intelligence compared to my male peers.  My parents listened to my future goals, and although it was assumed I’d have a family, being a wife and mother was never mentioned in these conversations.  To the adults around me, it may have seemed anti-feminist to bring up marriage and children when discussing my future aspirations.

For thirty years my identity was based on my academic and professional achievements.  I was an academic, a legislative intern, and an attorney – the intellectual equal to any and all of my male colleagues.  It seemed antiquated to think of the differences between the sexes. Women are equal to men in all ways.  My professional achievements aligned well with the feminist principals of equality that were deeply ingrained in my psyche.  But then I gave birth…

I became a mother and I decided to stay home with my children and everything I believed changed.  I grew up being told I can be anything I want, but no one ever told me that anything may include being a stay-at-home mother and wife.  I chose to do the one thing that nobody prepared me for.  The crazy thing is that once I made the choice to stay home, many adults supported the decision as if there was no other option.  If this is the case, then why was choice of being a wife and mother ignored until I gave birth?  In fact, sometimes women criticized my female peers who chose to return to work full-time after giving birth.  A best friend in the midst of a year long maternity leave confided, “I’m almost nervous to tell people I’m going back to teach full time next year.  I feel like they judge me, I’ve even felt insecure telling you.”  Was everyone preaching feminist principles of equality that they themselves did not believe?

*****

For many (especially initially), our identities as mothers feel all consuming.  No one can prepare us for the tremendous transformation that comes after the birth of our first child.  As a stay-at-home mom, there was a metaphysical death of my former self, which I’ve grieved.  However, this death occurred simultaneously with the birth of a new more expansive and vulnerable person.  Many mothers share a common fear of not being seen for anything but this new identity.  My friends have confided:

“I know it’s crazy, but I feel like my co-workers don’t respect my opinion anymore and just see me as a lame mom.  It’s like they ignore ten years of experience and don’t think I can do my job anymore,” one of my closest friends complained after a business meeting.

“I feel like when I hang out with my brother, he doesn’t even ask me what I think about things anymore.  He just sees me as a mom and doesn’t think I have anything interesting to say.  Maybe I don’t have anything interesting to say anymore?”  She admitted after choosing to stay at home.

“I feel like a part of me was lost when I had children.  I love being a mother, but I am in a funk and I don’t know what to do.” She confessed as they sipped coffees and watched their kids play on the floor.

*****

Continue reading

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.