A quick prologue: When my boys were just entering their teens, I started taking writing workshops. While at a two-week intensive, I met a widely-published author I grew to respect. “I’m so envious of your success,” I admitted to her after our wrap-up meeting lasting longer than it was supposed to. She paused, then threw me a look of what I remember to be a mixture of anger and regret. “And I envy you,” she said. “I only wish I had a family.”
Now that my two boys are in their 20s and have flown the so-called coop, I’ve moved away from the pressing, nagging question of to be or not to be.
Is it best to be a working mother, or better to be a working mother?
No, that’s not a typo; you read it right.
ALL mothers work, whether that means they devote themselves to being a full-time stay-at-home mom or a mom with a career outside of the home.
So, that just about settles it…right?
Well, sorta. Because I’m still thinking abou a most interesting piece on the blog Grown and Flown, “The Mommy War Within.”
Now, the first thing I should tell you is that I shun controversy in any form. I’m a Libra, after all. If you’re a skeptic when it comes to all things astrological, trust me. In true fashion, a Libra’s sign is a scale. And one hallmark of a Libra is that he/she strives for balance.
So the word “war” sends shivers through my spine.
But I digress.
Reading “The Mommy War Within” got me thinking; taking me back to a place I haven’t been in a long while – not since I made the decision to stay at home with my two boys and leave my advertising career behind. Although I must admit that it was a rather easy decision. Yet… I was forever fraught with near-panic just anticipating the question: “And what do you do?” any time I met someone new or attended a business function with my husband.
Here’s an excerpt from Lisa’s thought-provoking piece on the subject:
Many young women are engaged in something characterized by the media as the mommy wars. In this “war,” women who have continued to work full-time while having children look down at their stay-at-home counterparts for backing away from the workforce. In return, those women who are caring for their children full-time, denigrate the parenting of women who have combined work outside the home with motherhood.
I don’t believe that women are at war with each other, but rather that any hint of a clash sells copy. If there is a conflict, it is inside each of us, not between us. The only mommy war I waged was with myself.
Yes, I waged a war within myself, too. I didn’t care much what other women chose to do: that was none of my business, frankly. How could I judge someone else’s personal decision? All I was concerned with was doing what was best for me – and in turn, for my children and husband.
After I had my first child, I decided I’d continue to work at my career, though part time. And I did so for a while. Working and parenting offered me a nice balance. But then, when Jonathan was just 10 months old, I got pregnant for the second time. After so many years of infertility, I was shocked but nonetheless thrilled at how effortless this second conception turned out to be.
My interest in working at a career waned as my pregnancy grew. And then, all hell broke loose: having two children just 19 months apart was simply too much for me. I can only do one thing at a time if I want to do it well, and I wanted to be the best mother I could be.
Then, even more hell broke loose. The kind of real-life-kicks-you-in-the-stomach kind of war. As close to a nuclear war as I can imagine.
When my youngest, Jeremy, was just 15 months old and his older brother Jonathan two-and-a-half, a diagnosis of breast cancer cemented me firmly in motherhood mode. I wanted to make sure that my children truly knew me and remembered me…”just in case.”
Here I am (!), many years later, my children grown into fine, decent, hard-working young men (can’t I boast just a little?) Is it because I was a stay-at-home mom that they didn’t get caught up in drugs or other problems? Is it because I was a stay-at-home mom that they are more sensitive and not “rough-and-tumble” boys? If it is, I’ll take all the blame. But it’s likely I’ll never know, nor do I much care.
All I know is that staying home and mothering my children myself was both a privilege and a joy. It might not be this way for another woman, with different sensibilities, needs and desires. It’s entirely possible that someone else choosing the same role would have been filled with regret and resentment instead.
P.S. As proof that things never stay stagnant (thank goodness), a epilogue of sorts:
When my boys were in high school, anticipating their soon-departure, I returned to college to pursue my passion of writing. After three years, on a chilly overcast day in May, I proudly marched up to the stage to accept my MFA degree from Sarah Lawrence College. It had taken a lot to get here. And it was the first time I’d ever worn a cap and gown (A long story, but I missed both my high school and college graduation ceremonies in 1972 and again in 1976.)
And today, you can find me busy at work as a health writer and blogger with an occasional toe that I bravely dip into essay publication, too.
I am now- and have always been – a Working Mother.