Since I started blogging on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle.com and WorkingMothers.com, I spend more time reading other people’s writing. A recent discussion (and blog below) pierced at the heart of mommy guilt. The discussion asked, “Would you choose your baby over your career.” I bristled at the question – to me, it implies there are two choices: your career or your child. I obsessed about this when I first became a mother because I wanted both, to be successful at my career and to be a great mom. I needed to believe it was possible, albeit extremely challenging. I wanted a full range of options without feeling like I couldn’t truly be a good mother if I wanted more.
I was under no illusions that staying home with my baby would guarantee I was a good mom. However you manage your life, motherhood is hard. My mother stayed home with my three sisters and me. She had a successful career as a teacher for ten years before my sister arrived. Those were the expectations of her time; I don’t think she had the same choices available. When my younger sister was 7, my mom planned to return to her beloved vocation. As she got re certified, she exuded joyful anticipation. But then she became unexpectedly pregnant. Even at ten, I felt palpable disappointment mixed with her bubbling excitement of welcoming another child.
Later as a teenager, I pushed back hard against my mother when she called me ungrateful. I vividly recall saying, “I didn’t ask to be born. I didn’t ask you to make sacrifices for me. If you are unhappy about either, it's on you.” I feel almost sick inside thinking about it now. I found out years later from my dad how much I hurt my mother. At the time, she silently left the room. I can almost feel the sucker punch I dealt with those spiteful words as I imagine one of my children saying the same. My mother may have expected more of us because of what not having choices took from her, especially when we pushed for our independence. She also had an extremely challenging experience as a teenager herself.
Having gained these perspectives made it easier to transition back to a job I loved when my first was four months old. Although I had moments like those expressed in this anguished plea from “A Feeling-Absent Mommy”, I also saw an article describing how working and stay at home moms often spend similar amounts of quality time with their kids that acted as a counter-balance. Using my mother as an unscientific sample of one, it seemed about right. And to be honest, I wanted to believe it.
I cherished one on one time with my mother when I was young but don’t recall lots of it. Times were tough. She cooked three meals a day, cleaned and managed our extensive garden including freezing and canning. She sewed many of our clothes and stretched every last penny. I am in awe of her now although then I had little appreciation. I recall when I was 9 and home ill. She made a special box with me out of discarded greeting cards and left over bright orange yarn (I still have it). The day stuck in my heart in bright detail because it wasn’t something she had the time or energy to do often. Also, I witnessed a joyful, creative side of my mother. That memory inspired me to try to create these types of special moments with my kids.
When I returned to work again after adopting my youngest, I realized my barometer is less my mom now and more my earlier motherhood experiences. My eldest and I have a special bond even as typical teenage challenges are our reality. He is an open, caring, funny kid I adore. I get glimpses of the man he will become and I hope to be friends with that person. Sure, I missed times with him as he grew up. But he always came first (as do his brother and sister -- pictured below having a belly laugh -- a frequent occurrence) and he knows it.
I adore my little girl with every fiber of my being. But I knew I would return to work before she joined our family. I had much less anxiety about it because of my experience with her brothers. I realize what a gift it is not to carry that burden. We have an amazing connection. I look forward to helping her grow into her larger than life personality.
I wish I could tell my younger self not to fret so much because doing so robbed me of joy right in front of me. I wish I could share the same with struggling young mothers like the one who wrote the blog. I don’t think there is a right answer. I do believe "having it all" is uniquely defined for each mother. I needed to be happy and fulfilled to be the best mother I could be and that included pursuing a career. I communicate to my children often and passionately, no matter what I do for a living, they are always my first priority.
When I allow guilt and uncertainty to creep in, they steal my ability to live fully with my kids in the fleeting moments of their passing childhoods. I work to recognize when these unproductive emotions are spawned from other's judgments like those implied above. I do my best not to allow them to pull me into their dark undertow. I try instead to hold onto the light and good in my life. I believe I can “have it all” if I chose and work for it.