Saturday, January 29, 2011

Working Mama Blues...and A Change in Perspective

When I started writing this post the title accurately described how I was feeling. I definitely had the working mama blues. Although those blues certainly aren't gone (and I'm sure they'll return again and again for the rest of my working days), I've had some serious changes in perspective in the past month or so....

As soon as I got pregnant, I found myself reaching out for resources that supported the parenting style I've always felt inclined towards. I was so excited to find an online community of natural mamas whose mothering really inspired me. I wanted to (and really still do) be just like these mamas who were able to sew and knit the entirety of their children's wardrobes, garden, make homemade toys and books, create magical fairy gardens in the backyard, take daily nature walks, bake all their family's bread, etc.... For some reason it took me a really long time to realize that this is possible for these women because THEY DON'T WORK FULLTIME OUTSIDE THE HOME!! Duh! Why this took me so long to realize is beyond me.

I'm also continually inspired by many of my closest girlfriends, who spend lots of time with their children embarking on educational, exciting, creative adventures throughout the week. And their homes are always immaculate and spotless (something I also strive for). But guess what! These mothers also DON'T WORK FULLTIME OUTSIDE THE HOME! Again duh.

I've been trying to live up to these ideals of the women I admire (in real life and on the internet) without taking into account what is actually possible for my own circumstances.

And then I started whining about "having" to work. I told myself and others that I need to just suck it up, because "it's not really a choice for us financially". And although I enjoy my career, I continued to talk about it in these terms to myself and to everyone else. I talked about how I'm not sure I would thrive as a fulltime stay-at-home mama, but internally, I wished I had the option to devote myself fully to raising my child.

Well, I finally decided that if I'm reaching out to stay-at-home mothering resources...why on earth am I not reaching out to working mother resources? Surely there are mothers out there who are so-called "attachment" parents, who breastfeed their babies past their maternity leave, who cook and bake and create and craft, who make informed consumer decisions for their families....and still have careers outside their homes.

And there are certainly some resources out there that have helped me as I try to realign my perspective. blue milk is a great blog written by a feminist, working mother. There's a vibrant student and working mamas forum on Mothering magazine's website which has been a great community for me to reach out to on my toughest days.

I'm also reminding myself to talk to the women in my own family...namely my own mother, my mother-in-law, and my aunts Cathy and Barbara about their experiences as working mothers. These women have all had very successful, fulfilling careers while raising happy, healthy, well-adjusted, successful children. I'm looking forward to talking to each of them more as time goes on. (Why am I taking so much inspiration from strangers on the internet and not using the resources in my life I trust the most?)

I recently read a great book called The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? by Leslie Bennetts. (well, actually, I listened to the audio book....a new working mama trick so I can use my commute to its full advantage!)

It might seem a bit extreme to say this, but I actually think this book changed my life. Bennetts talks a lot (and maybe was a bit repetitive on this point) about the financial vulnerability of stay-at-home mothers in the event of death, divorce or illness. When a woman leaves her career to raise her children full-time, she's putting her entire financial security in the hands of another person, which may end up being a bad decision for herself and her children if something unforseen or tragic happens to her spouse or if the marriage goes downhill. She also talks about the difficulty many women have getting back into the workforce when they have removed themselves from it for several years while they raised their young children (she gives the statistic that women lose 37 percent of their earning power when they spend three or more years out of the workplace.) These arguments were well laid out and resonated with me.

But the part of this book that was so important for me was when Bennetts discussed the benefits to women when they maintain a successful, thriving career even while raising children. Through impressive research and interviews with experts and with real women, she explains how working women tend to have more successful and happy marriages, and how these women are more fulfilled personally throughout their lives. After their children leave home, working women still have their work to focus on and satisfy them. Working mothers are empowered knowing that they are able to support themselves and their children if life doesn't go the way they planned.

She also is very realistic about the fact that it's not easy or pretty being a fulltime working mother. She reminds women that "...the absorbing, exhausting, exhilarating years of tending to small children actually make up a relatively small portion of your adult life" and encourages working mothers to look at it as a marathon.....the first 15 years of your children's life will be tough if you are working outside the home. It will be frantic and stressful and messy. But Bennetts reminds us that it will be worth it!

So, here are some thoughts for now which are inspiring me. As I take on more responsibility at the company I work for, these ideas are going to be so important for me to keep in mind......
  • This IS a choice I'm making, and I should be proud of it.
  • Ever since Sadie was born, my expectations for myself have been unrealistically high....I want to be 100% best mother, homemaker, wife, neighbor, friend, and employee at ALL times. I can't be the best at everything at all times. There will be times when one thing has to give in order for me to make the other a priority for the moment.
  • I'm so thankful that I had two years to be primary caregiver to my daughter and have had the luxury of waiting until she's nearly 2 years old before working 40 hours a week (without having to leave the workforce completely).
  • I am thankful to work for the company I do. I do not work 60+ hours a week. I am home to spend time with my daughter every day after work. That's more than a lot of working mothers have.
  • I want to continually remind myself to look at the long view
  • It would be infinitely more difficult to be a working mother without a supportive husband who is willing to share domestic duties equally. That's also more than a lot of working mothers have.
  • I'm learning to be o.k. with the fact that this is really hard for me. I recognize and am trying to embrace that there will be times when I am about to lose my mind and I turn into a complete and total crazy lady (not sure how o.k. with this my husband is, though.....) I need to just find the strength to weather the storm during those times.
  • Although I will always identify myself as a mother, my identity cannot be 100% defined by being a mother.
  • It takes a village to raise a child! And what a village we have. I'm so thankful that Sadie is surrounded by love every moment that she's away from me.
  • I WILL stop looking at work as an obligation and expressing it that way to others. My work is a choice with immense rewards and benefits to my family.
  • My work is exciting, challenging, and empowering. That makes me a better role model and friend to my daughter in the long run.
Oh. And I've hired a house cleaner.


Angela said...

Love it-Love you! and GREAT call on the housecleaner - you deserve it, working mama.

Gratefulmom said...

You can tell from your photos and posts just how much you love Sadie and no matter if you are a working mom or a stay at home mom, she's gonna know that. As mom's we find our balance eventually and it sounds like you are on the right track! Good for you for hiring a housecleaner, more time for you to spend with your cutie pie!

blue milk said...

Really loved this post. Tweeted it, too.

Amanda said...

Great post, encouraging and challenging at the same time.