A mom of three reflects on how she learned that she can make the choices that are right for her family without letting down the sisterhood.
I always knew that I wanted to have children, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a mother until my first son was five months old.
I was a child of the eighties and early nineties. Latchkey kids were commonplace; I can’t remember a single mother who wasn’t juggling work with raising a family. A frozen pizza pocket and a reminder note to take the dog for a walk is what greeted most of us after school. The few moms who were not bringing home the bacon were buried deep in text books studying for a Masters degree in nursing, social work or education.
When I learned that I was pregnant for the first time, I was heady, simply thrilled that I was growing a life, a little boy half me and half my husband. While I debated the merits of cloth diapers versus disposable, and formula feeding versus breast milk, I never once doubted my plan to return to teaching the fifth grade just ten months after my son was born.
I had gulped down the Kool-Aid, just as many of my key-wearing friends had done. I consumed every ounce, licked every drip. I was a woman who could do it all. I would work, raise my children, be the perfect wife and loyal friend. I put my years of university education to work on the project of motherhood. I consulted every book with a dewy pregnant woman on its cover and researched extensively online every aspect of parenting before (smugly) concluding that I knew exactly the kind of mother that I would be. The best one.
And then one day with my five-month-old son sleeping soundly in his stroller, I stood opposite the quaint neighbourhood house, my eyes locked on its brightly painted shutters and yard hugged by a white picket fence. I had it on good authority that this was the best daycare on our block. The mothers at the park had given their seal of approval and the hefty monthly fees only verified their endorsement. So why then were my muscles tightening across my chest and my eyes welling with tears? I could even hear the blood pumping in my ears.
My panic attack was paradigm shifting. I had planned every aspect of my adult life,
including this pregnancy and motherhood, and in that instant everything that I knew to be true was blurry and confusing.
The decision to not return to my job did not come easily. There were material sacrifices and compromises made but the hardest thing was looking inward and addressing my own deep-seated insecurities that were grotesque and festering.
How could I be just a stay-at-home mother? What about the sisterhood of women who paved the road for this generation to smash the glass ceiling and eschew the ideal that for one to be maternal they had to step back from the workforce? What sort of role model would I be for my children?
For years I wrestled my previously held beliefs with this, my new reality as a stay-at-home-mother, and I slowly learned to be kinder to myself. I had to let go of who I believed I was before I could embrace who I really am.
My three boys have taught me about life and myself. They are not simple extensions of me and my husband; instead they are individuals who challenge me and pry me open every day. They are flawed and their flaws are often similar to my own, glaring back at me through slanted eyes and snarled lip. These three people are also so perfect that I wish to devour them. My love for them is fierce and I want to consume them to protect and nurture them.
I can say with confidence that I am a good mother. In fact, I can say that in spite of
those wasted hours researching, I am the best mother that I can be. I don’t believe it’s because I am able to, and choose to, stay home with my children that makes me this. That notion is nothing short of ridiculous and insulting to all mothers. I am a good mother because I have defined my role as a SAHM on my own terms and in my own way.
During those early years of mothering too much time was spent looking over my shoulder. If I was doing it right then others must be doing it wrong. If I was doing it wrong than others must be doing it right. I judged too harshly—others and myself—by a nostalgic ideal that I was too naive to fully understand.
The truth that I have finally come to learn about motherhood, the truth that sits perfectly comfortably after all that I have read and lived and learned, is that a good mother does not hammer her gavel but extends a supportive hand to another.
We’re all muddling through motherhood together, sleep deprived and patience worn, blinded by love and plagued by self-doubt.
This is #1000families post number 140. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.