It’s been nearly a year since I gave birth to my gorgeous little boy (yes, I’m bragging) and nearly 7 years since I’ve been gainfully employed. Well, not counting efforts to start up a company with a friend who had a wonderful idea and developed it into a business, writing a book with my former colleague and mentor (second edition published last year – it’s not a bestselling novel or anything, but it’s a good textbook) and publishing a number of articles in a beautiful online magazine.
Now that I’m summing it all up, it doesn’t really look too shabby. What’s more, I plan to continue writing. So why do I feel so irrelevant sometimes?
My husband and I made a decision long ago that one of us would stay home with our daughter, who has since gained a little brother, and so far it’s been me. Initially, we had excellent daycare for our girl, but on the whole I just don’t want to put my kids into daycare – I think mostly because I genuinely like having them at home. They’re going to grow up so fast, I feel like I want to see as much of them as I can while they’re still young.
Before I continue, let me cut off the inevitable sh*tstorm the previous paragraph will invoke: this is not a criticism or judgment, implied or otherwise, on working parents, nor do I believe that this is the best option for all parents and children. It’s simply an evaluation of myself and an expression of my preferences and choices, nothing more, nothing less. Just me.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll go back to the division of labour I was just talking about. My husband bit the bullet, in my view, and has a full-time job that he’s good at and which pays the bills. And I am a full-time mom. It’s satisfying and it’s hard work but there’s also a certain erosion of self that slips in, and that comes from the inevitable comparison of the status and importance of the stay-at-home mom to the status and importance society grants to those who collect a salary for a job well done.
At the moment, in my mind everyone working and supporting themselves and others is endlessly more significant, stronger and more valuable than I am somehow. And since my husband is the person I am closest to and with whom I share home and hearth and heart, he’s the most natural person for me to compare myself to – though I know he himself sets much more stock by personal value than status.
I can’t remember the last time I made a decision that had repercussions beyond this house. For example, the only planning I do involves grocery shopping, dinner times, what and when to pack for trips, how to schedule the laundry so that any required items of clothing are ready at the time they are needed and/or wanted, and so on. Weigh these things off against, for instance, planning software implementation, incident response, and client conferences which may all have multi-million dollar bottom line ramifications, and it’s easy to see how you could feel every so slightly less relevant than your working fellow human beings. (And now I’m guilty of the same thing I am railing against: assigning worth according to monetary value.)
Here’s the thing: I’m educated, I can hold my own in discussions, I keep up with the news (though it depresses me, lately) and I have an interest in a broad range of topics. As a mom I’ve certainly had to engage my brain to untangle the mess that had been my daughter’s education until the beginning of this school year, and I continue to be deeply interested in education and where I feel it should be going in this fast-evolving future. And yet there are times when I feel like I’ve wasted my education, my mind, even myself in aspiring to be a stay-at-home mom, which is crazy, because simultaneously I sincerely feel that being a mom is an incredibly rewarding, significant and responsible way to spend my time and I wouldn’t want to miss this part of my kids’ lives for the world! Yet somehow I’ve begun feeling stupid, worthless, irrelevant.
It’s a bizarre internal struggle, and I feel strongly that it is actually also a needless one, because here is how it should be: any choice I make for any reason I make it should feel like a valid choice to me. So why do I keep comparing myself to society’s idea of success?
Well, I think I’ve figured that out. It’s partly because any successes I achieve are private, not celebrated or rewarded by anything other than a smoothly running household (nope, not its own reward). Basically, stay-at-home mothering after a while begins a to feel like a mundane occupation, such a basic standard that it fades into the background no matter how many hugs and kisses you may get from hubby and kids – which is not to say that I am not incredibly proud of my husband and children and all their successes, or grateful for their health and happiness.
Perhaps this is my own shortcoming, since self-worth should come from within, right? Personally, I think that only works if you’re either living in a vacuum or you’ve already had your share of publicly celebrated successes and achievements. Clearly, I am not zen.
But more than that what’s been making me doubt myself is this ongoing, often aggressive debate raging between two camps: the stay-at-home parents and the working parents, each feeling attacked and judged by the other. No opinion can be put forth by either side without the other side a) feeling insulted for perceived (and sometimes, granted, real) slights, and b) immediately negating the one side’s perspective on the basis that they don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the fence.
I’ve been feeling stuck and pigeonholed by this debate, and I’ve found myself developing thinner skin as it progresses. Trying hard not to jump to conclusions or take offense, I’ve even started reading judgments and insults into innocuous comments. It’s driving me crazy and it’s doing serious damage to my self-esteem and my self-image. And I don’t think I’m the only one.
And so I think this parental partisanship should end for the mental and emotional well-being of everyone.
Here’s what I submit for a healthier frame of mind all around:
We are all relevant, we all contribute in our own way as best we can to a different aspect of life. One is not better than the other, and each contribution to society does not derive it’s right to exist or be appreciated from the remuneration or status or self-proclaimed moral high ground attached to it. Let’s try not to put a price on everything but rather finally see its value. If we can manage that, perhaps we can finally begin to see each other, instead of the preconceived notions we have of one another.