After watching my daughter grow through her first year of life, I thought it was normal and healthy to want my personhood back. As it turns out, it’s not. It’s completely selfish.
I used to work full-time from home as an internet content writer before I got pregnant. Then, during pregnancy, I did a little less writing and a little more commissioned fine art—I probably worked three to five hours a day. It worked for me; it was true to my ambitions and talents. My husband worked as a line cook. Although there were some things we would have changed if we could (mostly in the salary department), we were happy. I even felt balanced, like none of my roles took center stage. I was an artist, wife, friend and mother-to-be. I earned money for being creative, I went on dates, I hung out with friends and I sewed curtains for baby’s nursery. Balance.
I am a Type-A Stress Junkie, and I also tend to have excess energy. This suited me well as a new mother because there was suddenly so much to do and adjust to. Laundry? Check. Take baby for a walk in the front carrier? No problem. Nurse, read, play with, and venture across town with baby? Absolutely. But as I got used to being a SAHM, these tasks suddenly became second-nature. And when things become second-nature, they tend to get boring.
My husband got a promotion and suddenly had much more to learn and do at work. I watched with an envious eye, meanwhile trying to brainstorm ways to fill my day (ways that didn’t involve watching sitcom reruns for three hours in the morning and watching talk shows all afternoon). What was happening to me? I used to be someone who never had time to touch a TV remote. I used to scoff at my husband’s suggestion to play video games because I hated relaxation. Relaxation frustrates me. I want to splash paint on canvases and alphabetize my bookshelf and clean the crown moulding, not relax!
My husband’s personality is the exact opposite. If he could sit all day in a dark room and play video games, he would. He didn’t see his promotion as an exciting opportunity—he saw it as a nerve-wracking increase in accountability. He’s not a fan of taking work calls on his days off and being his employees’ favorite go-to guy. If it weren’t for the pay, I have no doubt he’d switch back to being a line cook. I can’t fathom wanting to climb down the ladder, but he’d rather not live the American Dream if it means becoming a workaholic.
So when Shaun and I were arguing the other night (while I was in the process of nursing baby down to sleep) and he said, “I wish I had your problem. I wish I was good at too many things and didn’t have time for all of them,” I was speechless.
He proceeded to call me “selfish” for wanting more time to work. He proclaimed that he had made so many sacrifices by working this stressful job, so why couldn’t I just make a sacrifice too? He also said it seems like “no one wants to take care of the baby.” No one? Really? So what have I been doing for nearly a year, exactly? Locking baby in the bedroom and drinking martinis?
He stormed out, leaving me livid in the dark bedroom. My husband has always wanted either me or him to stay home full-time with the baby. My parents and grandparents are even more intense about it, believing that a child will be colossally screwed up if she isn’t raised by a stay-at-home mom (must be the mom, not the dad, the Bible says so). I grew up with this belief, and so a little piece of me already feels selfish for working the two (count them, two!) hours a week during which a babysitter comes over to watch my daughter while I retreat to my home office. But my desire for success, a creative outlet and money is starting to override my desire to be the perfect SAHM.
When I was toying with the idea of getting a full-time job a few months ago, I asked my dad, who was a very successful businessman, in an attempt to assuage my working parent guilt, “did you feel like you missed out on a lot of my childhood because you worked full time?” And get this: he didn’t understand the question. That’s right. And why would he feel like he missed out, anyway? When a cultural role has been prescribed to you and you fulfill it, you don’t have to feel like you let anyone down. He got to be a successful businessman and father. My mom only got to be a mother. It’s a no-brainer which one is the more balanced role, and in my opinion, the more desirable.
I’m trying to really look at this objectively, though. It’s easy to say I’m just experiencing “mom guilt” and either talk shit about the people who criticize me or shut up about it and start self-medicating with vodka. So let’s try and put my circumstances into perspective.
My husband works 50 hours a week at job he’s not passionate about and comes home to a baby who he engages with for no more than 15 minutes before she starts screaming for me. I, on the other hand, have a baby who adores me in addition to more hobbies and passions than I have time for. My complaint is that I need to fulfill these dreams; my husband’s complaint is that he doesn’t even have dreams. I’m not certain which is worse exactly.
Nevertheless, he makes the money. If we divorced tomorrow, he would have a career. I would have a long employment gap and a stack of unsold paintings. But isn’t a partnership about give and take? He does a little more of this, I do a little more of that? He may be the breadwinner now, but there was a three-month period early in our marriage when I carried us both financially. Who’s to say I won’t be earning the bulk of our income in 10 years (aside from all those pesky statistics about women’s salaries)?
Where my current situation is concerned, working just two hours a week, no, I am the farthest thing from selfish. I give myself, mind, body and spirit to my daughter every day. I invite my husband and everyone close to me to unload their feelings on me. And when the cashier at the grocery store asks me if I want to donate a dollar to so-and-so foundation, I say yes, dammit, because I care about other people!
Conversely, I have wanted it all—the house, the career, the prestige, the money, the legacy—for a long time. My husband has never given a shit about the Joneses, and he probably never will.
So next time I hear someone say that patronizing “mothers have the most important job in the world” crap, I’m inclined to say, yes, it may be the most important job in the world to Mary down the street. Mary may have found her calling in her role as a mother. But for Amanda, “mother” isn’t a job. Mother is part of my identity. My paying career, the public impact I make through my writing and art, is my job. And if hiring a caregiver for my child after being a SAHM for one year so that I can work is selfish, then I guess I am. And I guess I don’t care.