Growing up, there was one marked difference between my mom and the moms of most of my friends. While most of my friends moms stayed home, my mom worked full time. I basically gave her hell about it, because I was a selfish little twat. Looking back, I feel badly that I added to what was an existing internal struggle, and I'm glad that my mom had a career that made her happy. Too bad I was such an ungrateful idiot. I'm trying to be better.
In all of the important aspects, my life wasn't particularly different from that of my peers with stay at home moms. It was the superficial things that caught my attention–I coveted the beautiful, highly organized lunches of my friends. My friends brought in perfect finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off, apples cut into fun shapes like stars, and each meal looked like it took over an hour to make. I don't imagine they tasted any better than my regular sandwiches and whole apples, but those moms knew something about optics. I felt the same inadequacy that looking at Pinterest boards gives me nowadays–those kids has curated lunches. I just had lunch.
I envied my classmates whose moms functioned as "room moms," volunteering at every event and coming into class once a week to help with some crafts project. They chaperoned every field trip and served cupcakes at our class parties, and I begged my mom to join them. She got away from work to chaperone the occasional field trip, but she didn't have weekly free hours a week to come hang out in my elementary school class.
There were times when I was insufferable, and yelled "why can't you be a normal mom?" To be fair, I was eight, but I wonder now how much that would have broken my mom's heart to hear. I grew angry every time I was the last one to be picked up from school (which was often), and sat sullenly in her office when she had to take me back to work with her. I brewed with resentment over her job, and secretly wished the place would burn to the ground. I was an unpleasant kid.
Maybe my mom could have found a better work-life balance, but I'm pretty sure you could say the same thing about any human. You could say the same thing about me, and I don't even have a kid to take care of. Even though she never considered the idea of not working, my mom has said that she wished she could have had a job at her experience level that allowed her to have more time at home, but there weren't any options that would have allowed her to provide for us adequately. She feels like she missed out on time with us as kids, and it's hard for her to think about. She wanted to be a class mom or spend more than five minutes on my lunches. It's embarrassing to remember what a little shit I was about the whole thing.
I don't think there's one right way to be a mother because I am not the least intelligent human on earth. Whether you're a stay at home mom, work at home mom, working mom, or something in between, they're all valid decisions with compromise and sacrifice. But I know that my mom made the right choice for her, and for that I am grateful. I'm grateful that I got to see my mom run a clinic and work at a job she felt passionately about. I got to watch my mom help people. And I saw an example of a person who definitively made the right choice for herself, something that's empowered me to do the same in my own life. My mom had a fulfilling life outside of being my parent–in her case, it was her career–and never missed a recital. It makes me think that I deserve to make a choice that's right for me, too.
I'm not any worse off because my lunches weren't Pinterest-worthy. I don't remember the field trips. I do remember my mom telling me that I could do anything I want with my life–run a clinic, be president, be a homemaker, or anything in between.
With all the wisdom I've gained by being your village idiot, I understand that there's no perfect plan–being a stay at home mom presents equal challenges to being a working mom. When my mom prods me to talk about my future kids (normally met with a "well, that's ages away"), I don't have a good answer for what type of balance I want to achieve, or what type of options I'll even have. But I know that whichever choice I make-staying at home, working at home, working part time, or what have you, that I can make the right choice for me and my future family. That I have the ability to choose.
I'm sorry I made it seem like being a working mom meant choosing something over us instead of doing something to support us. Having a mom with a career that fulfilled her meant my mom was happier and a better mom, and even though we both wished for more time together, I recognize that that was the balance she was able to find. So what if it wasn't perfect? I don't think any childhood ever is. But imperfect or not, I got myself a feminist role model who taught me that I can do whatever the hell I want. That's not nothing. In fact, that's really something.
Photo: Baby Boom