A friend of mine was recently going through a crisis of conviction… she loves being home with her daughter, but she feels the pull that only a born doctor can, drawing her back into her practice. On the one hand, she knows the toddler years won’t last and she doesn’t want to miss a thing. On the other, she loves her calling and doesn’t want to get left behind. There is guilt swirling around every path she considers taking.
As we talked about her all too common problem, I thought about the other mamas I know… the working moms who love their careers and couldn’t imagine staying home with children all day and the SAHMs who can be home with their little ones without having to worry about paychecks because the bills are taken care of, and the WAHMs like me who work with a baby in their laps or kids in the background because they have to. The moms at jobs who wish they were home. The ones who wish they had jobs because their circumstances are keeping them home or they’re just plain missing the challenge of careers they love.
Nearly all of those moms are doing the best they can every minute of every day, but despite giving 110% feel guilt, feel shame, and a lot of confusion. Regardless of their choices. Because of their choices. Or because they don’t have a choice.
Modern motherhood? It’s all about contradictions. Contradictions, I’d like to point out, that I’m not sure most fathers ever face either from without or from within because they’re not at the mercy of the omnipresent criticism heaped on working moms and SAHMs and every mom in between. Us moms feel the pressure to have it all, but on society’s terms. Half the time society is telling us we’re less than if we’re not contributing to civilization and the household budget by working. The other half, society is roasting us for “letting someone else raise our children”.
It’s no secret that our culture values employment and income – if you’re not making money, you’re not worth much. And at the same time, this culture claims to value motherhood above so many other things, but there’s no support structure in place to make full-time motherhood an accessible vocation for many, if not most, women. Many SAHMs are flustered by the common question ‘What do you do?’ – as flustered as working moms are by the statement ‘I just couldn’t spend so much time away from my children.’
It can feel like the world at large is doing its best to make moms of all stripes feel terrible about their choices (or their non-choices). People ask moms at home when they’ll be going back to work, assuming they will be doing so shortly. They ask working moms directly and without tact if they feel guilty about letting someone else raise their children. Yes, this actually happens. They poo-poo daycare because it’s not family while simultaneously criticizing the lack of socialization children at home supposedly experience.
The modern mother simply cannot make the right choice, because there are no right choices open to the modern mother. According to the world around us, every choice we modern moms makes is wrong, and too many of us internalize that until we end up second-guessing everything we want and every decision we make, from whether to work to whether an all-organic diet is doable to nursing vs. formula to public school or private school or homeschooling.
And it’s a huge part of why modern motherhood is, for many people, a stressful and exhausting occupation. The hardest thing about motherhood isn’t the day-to-day grind, it’s the emotional drain caused by the cloud negativity that surrounds mothers from pregnancy onward.
The only way we can stop the cycle is by acknowledging that there are no perfect choices. There will always be a road not taken. Maybe my friend will go back to her practice and the career she loves, and while that will mean she spends more time apart from her children it will also mean she’s bringing her gifts to a wider circle. Maybe she will take a few more years to enjoy her little ones and that might mean eventually going back to medicine will be that much harder. Either way, there’s no one right path.
For any mother. There are no overarching best choices; there are only the best choices for you, the best choices for me. Sometimes we have to cope with having no choice at all. But no matter what, we are all of us doing the best we can.