A mom 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 educator can, drawing her back into the classroom. 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 the confusion she’s feeling right now, I thought about all my other mom friends… the ones who love work and couldn’t imagine staying home with children all day and the ones who can stay home without having to worry about paychecks because the bills are taken care of and the ones who, like me, have to work with a baby in their laps or a big kid tearing around the house. The ones at jobs who wish they were home. The ones who are desperate to find jobs because they don’t have a choice or are missing the challenge of careers they love. All of us.
Nearly all of those mamas, doing the best they can every minute of every day, feel guilt, feel shame, and feel confused. Regardless of their choices.
Modern motherhood? It’s all about contradictions. Contradictions, I’d like to point out that I’m not sure most fathers ever face-at least not externally in the form of omnipresent criticism. If a dad works to provide for his family he’s doing a great job. And if a dad leaves the work force to stay home with his kids he’s doing a great job.
That’s not how it is with moms. If we stay home, we’re lazy. If we work, we’re selfish. These criticisms are both external and internal, and they’re caused in part by the fact that we mothers are supposed to be able to do it all, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The culture here in the U.S. values employment and income – if you’re not making money, you’re not worth much to a lot of folks. And at the same time, our society claims to value motherhood above so many other things, but there’s no nationwide support structure in place to make full-time motherhood an accessible to most women. At the same time, many SAHMs are flustered by the common question ‘What do you do?’ – as flustered as working moms are by the question ‘What do you do with you child every day?’
Maybe it’s not intentional, but sometimes it seems people do their best to make moms of all walks of life feel terrible about their choices. Or the things they have to do because they don’t have a choice. 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. They poo-poo daycare because it’s not family and the lack of socialization children at home supposedly experience.
Mothers can’t win. There are no right choices.
According to the world around us, every choice we modern mamas makes is wrong, and too many of us internalize that until we end up second guessing everything we care about and every decision we make, from whether to work to whether to vaccinate to nursing vs. formula to public school or private. It’s a huge part of why modern motherhood is, for a lot of us mamas, a stressful and exhausting occupation.
In other words, it’s not the day-to-day that gets to us, it’s the emotional drain caused by the cloud negativity that surrounds motherhood from pregnancy onward.
So what can we do? We can do our best and ignore the haters.
That means making the best choices for ourselves, our families, and our circumstances. That means no longer looking to society at large or parenting manuals or cultural icons to tell us what’s best. We need to throw out some of those contradictions that eat away at us, no matter what choices we’ve made. And then finally realize that there are no overarching best choices; there are only the best choices for you, the best choices for me.