Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reflections on Motherhood

Two of my favorite bloggers recently wrote reflections about the difficult intersection between our personal lives as mothers and our professional lives. Amy of Progressive Pioneer wrote a whole essay about how she decided to temporarily give up blogging. She explained:

This is what it came down to, the choice between the illusion of a life lived and the real, flesh and bones, eye to eye, heart to heart life lived. Pixels versus people. The gap between the life represented on screen, and the day-to-day happenings in our home had grown to an unacceptable level. I wondered when I had crossed over that murky, gray line into the territory of living to blog, rather than blogging about life.

Meg of Sew Liberated wrote a post about "chucking your to-do list" and fully immersing yourself in motherhood. She wrote:

For some time there, I had it all wrong. My head was filled with work obligations, to-do lists, and future sewing exploits while I was with the boys. I was anxiously twiddling my thumbs in anticipation of naptime, trying to get "things done" while watching them (always a bad idea) and working myself into a ball of stress with inner dialogues of "I-should-be-" and "I-need-to-."...The moment I chucked my to-do list, a weight lifted from my shoulders and I was able to enjoy my boys again. The most deleterious side effect of my to-do list was that it made me feel like parenting full-time was a chore - something of a burden because it kept me from being productive.

Over here at my little blog, I'm having my own crisis at the intersection of the personal and the professional. I chose to stay home full-time with my son--despite the financial hardship--because I believe that the early years of his life are the foundation upon which the rest of his personality is built. I feel honored to be part of that process with him.

Although I am completely committed to that ideology, I have a hard time implementing it day in and day out. I am realizing that--at my very core--I am not a baby person. Spending hour after hour with an infant does not make my heart sing.

Eep. I've said it. I've confessed that I am not a "natural" stay-at-home-mom. I am not like Ruby Ellen over at Cakies who had this to say about adding a fourth child to her family:

How I would so love to freeze these moments that are passing by much too quickly for my taste. I had my 6 week post-partum visit yesterday and I can hardly believe that it has been 6 weeks since our lives had more of a glow.

Even though I feel some guilt (or more like remorse?) for not being that kind of mom, I have to give myself credit for working my butt off every single day to be the kind of mother Henry deserves in action, if not in thought. I have to give myself credit for the patient way I talk to him, for all the smiles I bestow upon him, for the peaceful environment I seek to maintain for him, for the healthy food I prepare, for the games we play. I can't control how I feel, but I can absolutely control how I act on those feelings.

I think I would have been in even more of a tortured spot if I had returned back to full-time work at the end of my 3-month maternity leave. I would have been so busy all day long and then returned home to even more work of taking care of Henry. I would probably be stressed and tired and feeling guilty about having someone else spend more waking hours with my son than I was.

I honestly think the best scenario for my family and me is what we're doing right now. I can stay at home for a full year. When Henry turns one and is developmentally ready to be part of a larger community, then we can enroll him in Montessori school and I can work part-time. That way, I can nurture my professional passions and have time to be the patient and creative mother I strive to be.

The truth is, I only have four more months until Henry turns a year. Unlike Meg, I cannot chuck my to-do list. My to-do list keeps me sane and grounded in the adult world. Unlike Amy, I cannot give up blogging. Unlike, Ruby Ellen, I cannot gush about how our life had more of a glow in those earliest weeks.

But I can take something from each of those women. Like Meg, I can more fully immerse myself in those chunks of time when Henry is awake. My to-do list should not exist during those windows of time. When he is sleeping soundly, then I can throw myself wholeheartedly into my work.

Like Amy, I can remember that I chose to make motherhood a priority. And like Ruby Ellen, I can focus on how fleeting this stage of motherhood really is. I can savor Henry's dependence on me and remember that how I help him meet his needs now will forever shape his relationship with himself, others, and the world.

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Katie B said...

This is a real difficult topic for me. I am SO glad you have written about it so honestly. I don't have children--yet. And frankly, if I thought that being a good mom meant being a stay-at-home mom for even a minute beyond what was physically necessary for my body to heal, I would never be a mother.

My mom went back to work right after both my sister and I were born. Like she didn't take all of her six week maternity leave. The fact is mom loved her job and she missed it. She loved my sister and me too, certainly, but she knew that she couldn't be a good mom to us if she was bored out of her mind.

And here's what I learned from that: My mom was not a baby person. But guess what? She is an awesome teenager and adult person. And I appreciated that more than having a mom who was a baby person. Her shining moments of motherhood have all come in times her daughters can remember. Just a thought.

Kelly said...

Love that thought, Katie B! Babyhood is so short! I used to work in a school and watch kids grow up so fast. When my husband and I would talk about having kids, I would try to remind us that you only prepare for a baby, but the next thing you know you have a teenager! I wanted us to remember that we'd have longer relationships with our kids as adults than as kids. It's so good to recognize that parents have different kinds of skills that can be valuable at different stages. Kids are teenagers (and adults!) longer than they are babies.

And Sara - I just love this post so much. You are so not alone - as cute as babies are, being with them can be really boring. That's not personal to Henry - it's just the stage he's at - so you don't need to feel guilty because you're not confessing that you don't like him - just this stage. I'm so glad you're taking a step back from those feelings to give yourself credit for doing such a great job.
Henry is so lucky to have you as a mom!

Ellen said...

Great, honest post. I've sensed this fact in a lot of the way that you're writing. It sounds like you're working very hard. Everything I've ever heard is that if mom isn't happy, baby can't be happy ... so it's absolutely right that you do everything you can to live your life the way you want to! Henry doesn't need some other, "ideal" baby mom, he just needs you to be yourself! =)

Anonymous said...

We are on very similar paths. Mostly, I read your blog because it is like looking in the mirror a few months back! My daughter (now 20 months) started half-days of daycare at 16 months when I went back to teaching part-time. The job I have now is one that I finagled my way into when I realized that there was no way I could handle the full responsibility of full-time work while also parenting a little one and also that I needed some sort of outside responsibilities to keep my brain interested. I often found it tough to be at home, and I was especially frustrated because my daughter was a TERRIBLE sleeper for the first year of her life. I had very little experience with babies before having one, so I thought they slept alot-- Hah. My vision was that I'd be working on various projects while she was sleeping. (Isn't that what all those Mommy-Bloggers are doing, after all?) Reality was quite different. My husband has started to talk about another baby, and maybe I'll be ready before too long, but for now, I am so LOVING the balance that I feel now between work and family. So hang in there, balance will come!

Autumn said...


Neen said...

Wow. Super props to your honesty and Ditto x1,000 to Katie B's response. This is exactly how I feel.

I want to be a Mom someday. I do. But I have no desire at all to be a stay-at-home Mom, and just admitting that to myself makes me feel uber selfish. Like, why did I bother bringing this kid into the world if I'm not willing to personally take care of him? In my worst moments, it makes me worry that I don't want a child, that I want a pet or an accessory, that turns "on" when it's convenient to me. Parenting is the polar opposite about convenience: it entails sacrifice of your deepest self - body and soul - to create and foster something beautiful.
At least, that's what I've come to understand from afar.

But the thing is, most women dwell on the "Beautiful" and not on the "Sacrifice" part of that sentence. It makes sense: we want to feel we've made the right choice, and are afraid to question ourselves retroactively. "What if?" questions are the worst. But simultaneously, it seems that there is little support out there for women who are scared, who are hurting emotionally, who are bored... and who are massively guilt-tripping themselves for feeling that way. And by not owning those feelings, women are locking themselves into an even smaller cage.

So thank you for voicing your thoughts. That parenting is *Hard*, and like any job (even the best ones!) it can sometimes feel like a prison. And that admitting that doesn't mean that you love your son any less. It means that you're being honest. Which is the first step towards creating the best possible reality.

Thank you. For taking a little bit of my pre-emptive guilt away.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a "baby" person either and I'm 6 months pregnant. We plan to take leave together (6 weeks) and both go back to work full time after. I can't imagine staying home with a baby full time. It's not the right choice for me or our family. Having interests outside of your kid doesn't make you a bad parent and staying home with your kid doesn't automatically make you a good one. I wish it weren't so taboo for women to admit this. Men are allowed to be good dads and still work and have interests outside the home...

Shawn said...

I think this is a post about what all mothers or mothers-to-be struggle with in some way. I'm a few years off from having kids, and this issue is something that already stresses me out. I just finished law school and I'm looking for a job. It's a demanding field and I have massive school loan debt that I will be struggling with for at least the next ten years. That means that there is no way I could even afford to stop working for a year, even if I wanted to, which is really hard to accept. I don't know how we will find a balance and how I will be able to be the best mom to my kids. I like to think that I'll be fine with going back to work after 2 or 3 months, but I don't know. I don't want to send my newborn to daycare and nanny options sound too expensive to consider. For me, I'm not sure what I want, but I wish I felt more like options were going to be available to me.

Kylie D'Alton said...

So well written Sara. Every mother will be able to relate to this post in some way. I'm not a baby person but I am a toddler person - nearly there! The first year can be so incredibly difficult, so pleased that you have stuck with it. It's a tough job!

Kelsey said...

I'm sure that so many women would relate to this post...but it doesn't seem to be something people talk about. I do hope to be able to stay home full time for awhile but I really have no idea how fulfilling I'll find it day in and out. Thanks so much for being open about this.

Justine said...

It's good to hear your honesty. I'm a little concerned myself about kids because while I am a HUGE baby person (my job is actually taking care of sick infants in a NICU-I'm an RN), I don't know if I like little kids very much. Sometimes we float to other units and I'll have to take care of 2 year olds and up.

I pretty much hate it and they're too big and I want nothing to do with them. I'm just hoping that the kids I have I'll like...and the other kids I don't like because they are sick and in an uncomfortable environment that makes them so unappealing.

Luckily, my DH is more like you (well, he purports, I guess we'll see) and is excited for that phase.

What are Matt's thoughts?

Kristy said...

Love this post. This is something I have struggled with in parenting. Working full-time seems like too much and not working at all means I am unhappy. Being in grad school has been a saving grace fulfilling my intellectual needs while at the same time allowing me to be home with my boys. Thank you Sara.

Heather Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing your honest experience. I'm expecting my first child after Christmas. Even before getting pregnant I wrote down my "fears about having kids;" one of them being disinterested and exasperated with a newborn. I'm very excited to have this baby, but I've never been a "baby person." People keep trying to tell me it's different with your own child, but I think it's important to be honest with myself that this stage of life might be a real challenge for me. Now hopefully I won't feel like something is wrong with me when I don't magically turn into a "baby person," and I'll be more likely to seek out the help and support I need.
Also, I think I would fall apart if I chucked my to-do list. If I don't physically write things down, they spin around in my head uncontrollably. Writing them down helps me to put them aside until I have time to focus on them.

Linda said...

Yes, Sara! Just this morning as my husband left for work leaving me with our 6 week old he asked "what's wrong?" and I said "Honestly... I'm really not looking forward to another day of taking care of the baby." I couldn't believe I admitted that and felt SO guilty saying it out loud, but it was the truth. I love my little Juniper, but caring for an infant 24-7 is truly not my favorite job. Thanks for opening up about this. Love your blog!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Thanks for your support, everyone!

To answer your question, Justine: Matt feels a lot like I do. Fortunately, as Henry gets older and older, he gets more and more fun. He seriously cracks us up a lot now. Just yesterday, Matt told Henry to watch him as he blew raspberries on my stomach. Henry watched intently and then crawled over to my stomach and crashed down on it with his mouth wide open. (Maybe you had to be there?)

Anyway, things are definitely getting better and better for both of us. But Matt and I were both 1st-3rd grade teachers, so we're used to talking with kids about the universe and gardening with them and teaching them how to sew (and read and do math, of course). So babyhood is very different and not as fun.

But I also need to remind myself to savor every stage.

Carrie said...

Great, honest post, Sara. For those of you who do not yet have children, go easy on yourself with how you THINK you might feel. You might surprised that you feel somewhat or completely different when your little on arrives. It can even change from kid to kid. From day 1, I was completely frustrated with my first child and went back to work at 12W (I'm a lawyer). From day 1 with my second child, I was completely enamoured and took an extra two months off from work, reluctantly returning when he was 5 months old. I am still a bit floored at how different my two reactions were. There were lots of reasons for my negative reaction the first time, including just not having a clue what to expect with a newborn baby, a horrible delivery process resulting in a surprise C-section, a NICU stay for my baby, and the fact that breast feeding did not work out--I guess. I mean, I GUESS that's why I felt the way I did, but who really knows? With #2, I knew what I was doing and didn't have any of the complications that launched us off on the wrong foot the first time--I guess. It's strange. So I guess my point is to just be open and REALLY HONEST with yourself about how you're feeling, then turn to people that will accept that for support.

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