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Sunday, August 21, 2005

It's about where we came from

There were a couple of comments from my post last Monday called, "It's quality, not quantity people," that really got me thinking about expectations and life lessons. Where did we learn to parent? What kind of parent did we learn to become? How did we develop our expectations of ourselves?

Cynical Mom wrote that perhaps our anxiety and guilt around whether we are working moms or at-home moms came from observing our own mothers. It seems so obvious. She wrote:
The working moms who think SAHMs set a bad example...seem to often have had the experience that their moms were SAHMs and their moms were miserable...if your mother seemed unhappy, regardless of what she did or didn't do, then you may be naturally tilted away from those things....
And Jennifer followed Cynical Mom's comment with:
My mum was not so much unhappy, as clearly diminished by being a SAHM (went from being halfway through a PhD in physics to believing herself incapable of tutoring high school math) and that made me determined not to go down that path....
This got me doing quite a bit of introspection on my own childhood and my own mom. I'll need to have a good heart-to-heart with her when she gets here later this week, but I think my mom really liked being home with us. She held a variety of odd jobs when I was a kid--lunch monitor, belly dance instructor, aerobics instructor, waitress--but mostly she was around when we needed her. She was there teaching me about stuff that has come in handy in my own life. While her career was never a constant, her devotion to her kids never wavered. It might sound silly, but she taught me an appreciation for quality produce and cooking and baking pies. She also liked taking me to Artpark in the summer and the Shea's for holiday plays and concerts.

And yet, I didn't want to be her. I didn't want to be "stuck" at home raising kids. This isn't exactly what Cynical Mom was writing about; I wanted to tilt away from whatever my mom was doing, not necessarily because she hated it. Rather, I think that kids--and I'm being stereotypical here--need to distance themselves from their parents' choices in order to become their own person. And all my life I envisioned myself as a super successful (fill in the blank with successful sounding career here), not an at-home mom.

I love being a mom, and I'm grateful that I'm able to be home with my son. But I can't help but wonder if this is the source of this underlying guilt that I feel. Maybe it's not about a lack of motherly gusto or for sending Toddler in Chief off to the sitter's house. I'm just like my mom and that is exactly where I never thought I'd end up. Maybe I feel guilty for not becoming the person I thought I would become.


  1. One thought - maybe it's not related to your mom at all? Maybe it was just that you had a neutral experience growing up with no strong feelings one way or the other, but that when you got older you had a preference for what you wanted to be. Of course I have no idea, since I don't know you at all, but the way you phrased it didn't sound like it was necessarily about your mom vs just about what you wanted. I suppose regardless, mom is likely a factor, but not a main one. OK now I'm just rambling with absolutely no knowledge =)

    Of course, then there's the guilt, but boy who doesn't have that?

    I have in my time as a mother only met a handful of women who seemed completely free of guilt of their choice (regardless of what that choice is!). Most of the handful are working moms, but one is a SAHM; she is the only SAHM I know who doesn't struggle with her choice, knows it was best for her... I find it completely freeing to just watch her be happy with her choice. Of course this same woman also formula-fed from birth by her own choice, here in granola seattle, and has never felt a moment of guilt about it. Now *that* is a tough thing to do as a young mom in this area :-) So I guess she has more than the usual reserves of self assurance than someone such as myself.

    I read an article today talking about how kids born this year might be driving hydrogen vehicles by the time they are old enough for a license. By the time they're old enough to have their own kids, will it be possible for them to have children without guilt, regardless of their choices? Would be nice.

  2. I thought right away this ties in with the previous guilt entry - for me anyway. My mom has a completely different perspective on this because she and my dad were immigrants. I think it's a rather skewed viewpoint, in that she came here to America to build a new life, but "success" had a lot to do with material things. So she's often told me that I should go back to work for the sake of being able to buy things without feeling guilty. But as far as the guilt goes, mine has more to do with being there for my kids. I want to be able to go on field trips with them, to help them with their homework, go to ballet and piano recitals. My parents never did that because they were working - not that every working parent is stuck in that way. But I think my parents just didn't have a clue. :) Unlike my parents, I really feel that whether or not my kids are successful in life depends solely upon me and my husband. That might be a very unrealistic weight to bear, but I want to believe that my guidance will make a difference in their lives.

    Where we live (Chicago 'burbs), being a SAHM is quite rare. But this is based on family and friends, not on anything statistical. That lack of influence from other moms my age made this decision a lot more difficult, and I often wonder if that has more to do with my inner conflict about giving up my career. But then, it's a little disheartening to constantly be told that I have it easy, almost as though I took this path due to lack of ambition.

  3. Anonymous6:42 AM

    I think it's absolutely true that it all depends where you came from. My mom is only 50, she was a part of the first generation of mothers "expected" to go to work. I grew up coming home to an empty house after school. When my mother did get home, she was often stressed out and distracted by her job. This instilled in me a desire to put my mothering first, and work in my home if I work at all. We'll see how this works out in the end- I'll probably raise daughters determined not to be stuck at home ;)

  4. My mom went to law school when she was about the age I am now (37). I asked her about it and she said, "I felt so incredibly disappointed in myself. I mean, I had been probably the smartest person in my high school... well, maybe the smartest girl. And I had made nothing of myself."

    Setting aside how she wasn't willing to claim she was smarter than the boys (she might have been, I'm sure), it's amazing how much her feelings are exactly the ones I have now. And I don't have any guilt at all about going back to work, if I could just find something that I liked well enough to do for many hours a week!

    But I went through a lot of guilt a year and a half to two years ago, when we first hired our au pair. I did it so I could explore career opportunities and take classes and so that I wouldn't become so depressed that I dragged down the family. As I felt better from having support with the kids, I felt less guilty. Now I don't really feel guilt at all. I may be one of those mothers who could spend 20 minutes each day with her kids and be okay with it. So maybe I'm a monster. At least I'm a guilt-free monster!

    By the way, Suzanne, I really love your posts and your ideas. I am excited every time I see a new one on bloglines. So glad you came back to it!

  5. Anonymous5:15 PM

    I love this post!

    I am a mom-to-be (EDD 3/28/06) so I don't have the mom perspective yet. But I know all of my ambition and career drive came from watching my mom be a successful, working single mom. From early on, I never missed her not being home for me. I learned from her as she talked about what she needed to do to support us. I loved when we got to take fun trips when she'd had a good quarter. I learned how to manage money from the sacrifices we made when she had a bad quarter. I learned a lot about interpersonal skills from her stories of arguments with her boss or issues with co-workers. Most of all, watching her various career changes over the years, I learned the importance of figuring out what you are passionate about and going after it - it is never too late to find that path.

    All of this having been said - my mom was a SAHM until I was 5 so who knows if my basic personality and confidence came from that early attention and development. I worry a lot about that for my child as I have no choice financially but to keep working once he/she is born.

  6. I just stumbled upon your post, and really love the topic. I am a 32 year old mom of 2 girls - they're 7 and 9. I have done every type of work/home arrangment possible! I've worked not at all, I've worked from home, I've worked p/t evenings and weekends while they were with their dad, I've worked full-time, then I worked 4 days a week - using the one day off to volunteer at their school (it was the hardest day of my week! work was easier!), and now I'm in law school.

    I do not think that my decisions, or my happiness, is very related to my mother. Although it is true that she also tried lots of different things (worked nights and weekends as a nurse, worked part time at my dad's business, didn't work, etc.). My choices have come from figuring out what works, and what makes us all happiest.

    I've found that I'm not good at being home. I get listless and lack motivation. i have quantity of time with the kids, but not quality. when i'm working (or schooling), and we have less TIME together, we get more out of it. i am very careful to only enter situations that allow me to balance my work/school requirements with my parenting goals and responsibilities.

    I do think it is possible. While working full time, while in law school full time - I have been there for my kids. i've been to every class breakfast, i've been to every performance. i have NOT gone to field trips, but honestly, i probably wouldn't if i were home full-time. Even during the hellacious first year of law school, we protected evenings and weekends, I read aloud to my kids every night, we do homework and projects together.

    somehow, through my rambling, i mean to say that my choices do not come from my mom. They come from the person that *I* am, and the balancing that *I* need in order to be the person AND the mom that i want to be.

    of course, my mom did have some input in all of that ;)