Sunday, January 18, 2009

Motherhood & More

by Melissa Stanton

Ignore the date, above. This is an article from my "archives."

Women are often defined by their relationships to others, and for most of history women followed the single-lane path from being a father’s daughter to a husband’s wife to a child’s mother. While familial labels also apply to males, men have traditionally been allowed to just be whomever they are—without a stated link to someone else. (Think of the notable men, past and present, about whom you know little or nothing regarding their marital and family status.)

I make this observation as a woman who, having left a successful career to become a stay-at-home mom, is now mostly identified by whom I care for rather than the whole of who I am. Most adult women are mothers, but each one of us is a mother and more.

It’s important for men and society-at-large to understand that truth, but it’s essential for women to accept that they needn’t be solely defined by or, worse, consumed by, motherhood. I suspect that each of us would be more content in our daily lives, and collectively more supportive of one another, if we abandoned the head games that accompany our work as mothers. (And yes, I consider motherhood and childrearing to be a job.) Hence ….

STAY-AT-HOME MOTHERS need to speak up when they’re told, “You’re so lucky you don’t have to work.” Stay-at-home moms are indeed "lucky" that their households can get by on one income (even barely), but these women absolutely work—as mothers. Save for the occasional “princess bride” whose home and children are managed by what amounts to her own palace staff, women who spend their days directly caring for young children work longer hours than most people do in the paid workforce. We all need to recognize that caring for children without end is a physically, emotionally and intellectually taxing job. As such, a mom who occasionally loses her temper—or counts the minutes until she can hand the kids to her spouse or a sitter—isn’t a bad mom. She (you?) simply needs a break, just like any other overworked employee.

EMPLOYED MOTHERS who have full- or part-time jobs outside the home may want to craft a response to, or else simply tune out, comments along the lines of, “Why did you have children if you won’t stay home and care for them?” Such statements are rarely (if ever) made about men who go to jobs as opposed to staying at home caring for kids. Mothers participate in the workforce for many reasons, chief among them the need to earn money. (After all, living on one income is becoming harder and harder all the time.) The only reason an employed mom should ever feel guilty about leaving her children in order to work is if she is truly neglecting her offspring or placing them in an unsafe, un-nurturing environment. Parents need to do what they determine is best or essential for their family, preferably without giving short shrift to anyone in the mix.

WORK-FROM-HOME MOTHERS who are attempting to balance domestic responsibilities with those in the world beyond their front doors are best served by recognizing that, at different times, their attention will be on one universe or the other. That means when a work-from-home mother is participating in the work world, her office door needs to be shut, her kids should be out of earshot (at school or with a caregiver) and everyone has to understand that although mom is home, she’s not really there. While work life will likely intrude on home life, there needs to be defined times for family. In some cases, a work-from-home mom can focus on business by day when her kids are in school, “leave” the office around 3 p.m. to manage post-school activities (homework, dinner, bath and bed), and then go back to work for another few after-dark hours. (I work part-time from home myself, and I've found that I’m tons more efficient than I ever was while commuting to and from an office and getting pulled into meetings and workplace socializing.)

• For MOTHERS IN TRANSITION—which we all have been or will be at some point in our lives—it’s useful to concentrate on living in the present, because the past is unchangeable and the future can’t be controlled. So if a woman is moving into motherhood as a first time parent, or from the workforce into the stay-at-home world, or vice versa, all involved need to recognize that she is in the midst of an enormous change. It’s a myth that motherhood is purely instinctive and that unlike men women are just wired to care for and bond with babies and children. Parenting is a learned skill and, frankly, a talent. Some of us are faster or more intuitive learners than others. Whatever transition stage you’re in, recognize it—and recognize that even though your neighbor may make it all look so easy, it’s not!

So absolutely, be proud of being your child or children’s mother—and your parent’s daughter and your partner’s spouse. Just don’t forget to be proud of, and concerned about, your non-mom self as well.

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