The following is a reflection written by Unexpectant co-creator, Stephanie, as she reflects on being a mom and wonders what it really takes to deserve that title.
Since the birth of my first son, I’ve always thought a lot about this question, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot MORE lately. Perhaps because it is in the news. Perhaps because dropping my 4-month-old off at day care is a lot more difficult than dropping my 4-year-old off at full-day preschool. Perhaps because almost all of my mommy friends are stay-at-home moms, which makes me feel like a bit of an outsider. As wonderful as my friends are, the world of a SAHM and that of a working mom can sometimes feel like two different universes.
I am partly absolved from the scourge of working mother guilt because my husband has chosen a career that he loves, but as of right now does not provide him the means to support a family. I am the breadwinner by a landslide, and on top of that, I love my job. I am thankful every day that I get to do what I do, and that I feel like I am making an enormous difference in the lives of people all across the country. There are additional perks to having a job, like having frequent adult conversation, showering consistently and getting dressed up on a regular basis. These things have a significant impact on my subconscious self. Most importantly, I have an identity outside of “mom,” something my SAHM friends seem to miss the most.
Nevertheless, there are times when I am sitting in front of my computer in my quiet house, shooting off emails and leading web conferences, I do find myself feeling like I’ve abdicated the role of being a mother by having another individual, no matter how loving and attentive, watch my children. It creeps into my mind that the life that I’ve chosen leaves me too far removed from them. That maybe they can’t possibly know how much I love them because they are not in the room with me at that moment.
Today, as I was having one of these moments, I thought of my own mother. She was a SAHM until all three of us were in school. Since I was the oldest, it wasn’t until I was about 12 that she started to work. I’m sure that our early days at home were filled with laughter and Play-doh, and coloring and dancing. But what I actually remember is playing on the swingset, with my Barbies and watching Sesame Street…by myself. I’m not sure what my mom was doing and although I have the greatest confidence she was doing a lot, she definitely wasn’t stuck to my hip like glue. I remember her building me a playhouse made out of large cardboard boxes, but I don’t remember her playing with me in that playhouse.
What I remember most about my mom comes from that period of time AFTER she went back to work when my days of childhood were mostly behind me. I trust my mom, I love my mom, and we have an entirely drama-free adult relationship. I have no doubt that she will always be there for me whenever I need a favor…even BIG favors. But although I spent my early childhood at home with her, we don’t talk to each other on the phone on a regular basis. We don’t hug often. We don’t really ever say I love you. She is a do-er, not a feel-er, as am I. There are a lot of things that I inherited from my mother, either through nature or nurture, for which I am extremely grateful—the ability to plan ahead, organize and to consider the needs of others. There are also a lot of things that I have spent a good part of my adult life trying to overcome. The feeling that nothing I do is ever quite good enough, that if things fall apart it is somehow my fault, that my happiness is less important that the happiness of others around me.
So I return to the question again, what IS a mom anyway? Someone who birthed you for sure; hopefully someone who loves you unconditionally and protects you; if you’re lucky, someone who will bake you cookies and glue your favorite toy back together when it breaks; if you’re truly blessed, someone who will teach you discernment and wisdom and kindness. Maybe to be a great mother, one has to be a SAHM. Maybe not all SAHMs are great mothers. Maybe some of them are pretty average, and what’s wrong with being average anyway? Maybe my own mother was average and now that I’m a mom myself, I respect her a whole lot for that achievement.
At the end of the day, we are all moms. And I’m still a mom, even if I work outside the house. And maybe a working mom can be a pretty darn good mom, even if she can’t be great. Since I don’t have a choice at this point in my life, other than to force my husband to find a job that he would hate but that would pay our bills, I think I will be happy enough being the mom who spends her nights and weekends playing space adventure, and singing silly songs, and riding bikes, and giving hugs, and saying I love you. And that will be enough to make me the best mom that I know how to be.
So what do you think it takes to be a mom? Do you agree with Stephanie? Or do you think other terms define motherhood?