In this era of non-judgement, it's the mother of all crimes to question a mother's choices about her family. But what about when you question those choices yourself? Or, more importantly, what if they were never really choices to begin with?
I don't like being a working mother. I don't want to be a working mother. And if I had any alternative, I would take it. I work because I have to. My dear husband has a good and noble (read: modestly paid) career, and that is one of the things I always loved about him. Although I lack his passion, through average intelligence and perhaps too much education, I somehow ended up in a well paid career I care little about.
I do like my job, but I am by no means passionate about it. Before I was a mother, it was fulfilling enough, but now it is just this beast that keeps me from being the mom I want to be.
When my son was born, I took took three months of semi-paid maternity leave and psyched myself up for being a working mother. I picked up some new clothes and heels and got to know my pump. But as the days of my leave ticked down, I realized that nothing about going back to work excited me. Not the work itself - boring and relatively unimportant. Not the people - mere acquaintances. As I approached the big day, I started hatching escape plans in my mind. In the end, running away with my baby to live off the land did not seem reasonable, so I packed up a cooler full of empty bottles and some extra nursing pads and shuffled off to work.
Now that I am back at work, it is everything I expected. Exhausting, unfulfilling, and sad. I work hard. And instead of taking breaks, I am hooked up to a breast pump. The baby is still up several times at night, and I cry each day from loneliness and exhaustion behind my closed office door. By the time I get home, my son is hungry and tired. I feed him, put him to bed, and if I'm lucky, I have enough time to read the notes his caregiver left about what he did that day in an attempt to feel more involved. During the week, I exist in the outskirts of his life.
I'm just the woman who makes the milk.
On Facebook, I see my friends who are home with their children. These parents post photos of themselves at the park or share the crafts they have worked on with their toddlers all day and my heart aches. I squeeze in what time with my son I can on the weekends, but two out of seven days with my boy just isn't enough.
I turned to the Internet for support and there is no shortage of materials out there touting the benefits of being a working mom. Time with adults! Challenges that allow you to use all your training and education! Setting a good example! But all of these articles and blogs are written in support of a woman's CHOICE to work. Sure, they describe the challenges of being a working mom, but they also describe women who either love their jobs and love working or who voluntarily reentered the workforce because they WANTED to. Just as there is very little written about the plight of the father who has to work to support his family, I find that there is very little about the mother who, due to financial circumstances, must take on the role of the working mother.
I also look at my friends who are working mothers and remind myself that I am not the only woman who does this. But sometimes I feel like the only woman who really doesn't enjoy my career. Does everyone else have more job fulfillment than I do? Are they more used to this? Or are we just not allowed to talk about being unhappy with our lot because it will be seen as a step back for mothers in the workplace?
The rosy picture of the working mother is not a reality for everyone. It isn't always a decision women make because they want to use their professional skills, or want time out of the house, or want to show their children that women have an important role in the workplace. When one weighs her options and selects what is best for her, it's easy to cheer her on for doing what she thinks is best. And it's easy to get angry with those who criticize her decision.
What frustrates me is the lack of acknowledgment of those of us who have to work (or who, in the alternative, have to stay home). In these days of non-judgment, it feels like everyone is so intent on not offending mothers or jeopardizing their status in the workplace, that no one is willing admit that for some of us, having to work isn't actually all that great.
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(photo: Miami U. Libraries - Digital Collections)