In a world where many women are prompted by social expectations to transcend boundaries and rise above their female predecessors – who were at once point strictly confined to the domestic sphere, it seems moms, with these new social expectations, have even greater standards to try to meet and adhere to. In the journey of conforming to fit in, we ask ourselves this: are we indeed able to feel satisfied with ourselves as people without trying to balance “it all” (doing well in both domestic and professional life)? Do we require external validation to feel adequate? Where do we draw the line? How can we become better at being our true selves, while also caring about our families and external interests?
Upon becoming a new mom, I know these questions were underlying my everyday existence, but I’m not sure I was quite aware of how to articulate them, or how daunting these social pressures were, and how they were affecting my general happiness (unhappy mom=unhappy kids=unhappy life). I couldn’t come to terms with parting with my workplace, and abandoning my career, which had been the sum of all my hard work in the past. Pre-baby, I reached a point in my life where I actually defined myself by what I did and not “who I am”. Who I was revolved around what I did and visa versa. When the realization came along of having to part from work in pursuit of my new, bigger life, I admit, I was beyond scared. I was scared of a couple of things: that I would lose relevancy in my professional life, that I would be replaced by someone better than I was, that I would fall out of my routine and that I wouldn’t be able to have the same edge I did before. Work, for me, was a bit of a competition, a challenge I was good at, and something that gave me purpose and meaning. Young women should be out conquering the workplace. That’s how I thought, and that’s still how I feel. But there is a huge trade off with this mentality. Let’s get into it.
Stopping work and starting a family seemed like a very short term thing to me at first. I would have a child, have some time off, then I would go right back to it, while balancing family and work life. Then the reality sunk in once I got the groove of parenting. If I was to be at work from 8am-5pm, work additional evenings and weekends, with only 2 weeks of paid vacation, what time would that leave me to be with my family and loved ones? Not very much. My son goes to bed at 7pm and wakes at 6:30am. The very short years of his youth would be very much missed if I had chosen to go back. Not having time with my family was a problem that seemed even graver than the one I was currently confronted with.
At this point, perhaps you’re thinking, what type of mom wouldn’t take the option to stay home with her kids? To me, this was obvious. It is obvious there are so many people out there who don’t have the option. Who are single parents. Who have to work a number of jobs to make ends meet. Those parents are likely very envious of a mom who gets to spend her days and nights raising her own child. But, I have to admit, this choice was not easy for me. It was extremely hard. I know I made the right decision to stay home with my son, but I still do feel a sense of irrelevancy, of not meeting the expectations of my family or former mentors who thought I would have been breaking through some sort of barriers in the professional sphere.
So, how do I come to terms with my situation? With each day that passes, I think: in this short time that my son and I will get together before he heads off to school, what can we do to ensure he has the best experience possible? What can I do to ensure I feel a sense of fulfillment while using skills I have, to eliminate fears of losing my skills? We plan our days with adventure and education, and I try to plan time for myself to work on my (very part-time) business as a doula and blogging. I, as many moms, still struggle with the thought of being judged by other people who may have their own opinions of being a “stay-at-home-mom”, former-professional. If the fear itself wasn’t enough, try being approached my someone you used to work with, stating sarcastically, “oh you’re so busy. Being a mom is hard,” as if I missed the mark on what most moms do – work and mom at the same time. I’m learning to shrug it off and continue to remind myself of the obvious: I am extremely blessed with a healthy family, and I have been blessed with the time needed to create memories. I also remind myself that despite not growing “professionally” by climbing any corporate ladder, I do recognize that I am growing as a person who is building a tremendous capacity to lead without wavering, to stay strong without faltering, and who’s developed a passion for people, families and kids.