I originally published this five-part series (titled Dear Mom) in May of 2009 to coincide with Mother’s Day. It remains one of my favorite writing projects posted on danapop. While most of the women profiled have experienced changes in their families (career shifts, more children, grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren) I did not want to deviate from what was previously published as I think the answers are still relevant despite life carrying on. As I’m embarking on motherhood I thought it would be the perfect time to revisit. I do hope you enjoy the reread.
I’ve had the privilege and joy over the last few years of seeing some of my closest friends as well as my sister and sister-in-law become mothers. It’s made me realize that for as many hats as we women wear, being a mother appears to be, quite possibly, the toughest.
That has made me think more often of motherhood in general and my own relationship with mine. I can’t say I’ve ever written a letter to my mother. Sure, emails. Sure, lengthy telephone conversations with both of us carrying on about nothing in particular. But, an honest to goodness pen to paper letter – not so much. If I were to write her, I’d likely start with a simple thank you and then express my gratitude for her nurturing and her patience throughout my life (not counting the few late high school/early college years where we couldn’t stomach the sight of each other).
In honor of mother’s day, I’ve conducted a sociological experiment of sorts. Below is the beginning of a five-part series that I’ll be posting throughout the next few weeks. I interviewed nine women – eight of whom are mothers and one who is just about to be. Each gave me such amazing honesty and insight and they made this piece what it is; and for that, I am humbled. This article reflects their caring, their time and their generosity.
Here’s to all the mothers, a five-day tribute.
While I chose to not to interview my own mother here in the interest of journalistic distance, it should be noted that all photos in the series are of her and are some of my favorites.
I thought up a handful of questions for the entire group, allowing the mothers to answer any or all of the ones they wanted. It should be noted that these women are from all across the country and come from varying demographics. The only request of the ladies was to answer the questions openly and honestly. In return, I’d post the answers anonymously. I hope I’ve done them justice.
The Panel Breakdown
Mommy A is a 33-year-old mother of 2 daughters (ages 4, and 9 months). She is a stay-at-home mom currently attending online graduate school.
Mommy B is an 89-year-old mother of 2 daughters, grandmother of 9, and great-grandmother of 12.
Mommy C is a 32-year-old mother of 1 daughter (age 2). She is a market gardener and midwife apprentice.
Mommy D is a 41-year-old mother of 4 (including 2 driving teenagers)! She has 3 daughters and 1 son (ages are – 17, 16, 12, and 9). She is a speech therapist.
Mommy E is a 30-year-old mother-to-be, pregnant with her first child (a boy). She is due in July and is a media-strategy director at an advertising agency.
Mommy F is a 63-year-old mother of 2 grown children, 1 son and 1 daughter (ages 29 and 34). While raising her children, she was a lab tech at a top research medical university.
Mommy G is a 39-year old mother of 1 daughter (age 2.5). She is a senior vice president of a kid’s cable television network.
Mommy H is a 33-year-old mother of a newborn son. Prior to having him she was an IT project manager. Currently, she is a stay-at-home mom.
Mommy I is a 67-year-old mother of 4 grown children (2 sons and 2 daughters). They are 43, 41, 37, and 31, respectively. She also has 10 grandchildren. While raising her children, she was a non-practicing registered nurse, stay-at-home mom.
danapop (dp) How do you balance being a mother with your career? And if you’re past the point of being a working mom, how did you do it then? How has it changed? Do you feel guilty working or not-working? How did you come to the decision to work / not work?
Mommy A I decided to stay at home mostly because my own mother worked two jobs all her life and was never around. I wanted to be present for my children. When I first transitioned to staying at home, I had a very difficult time. I stopped earning my own money and lost contact with most working adults. I felt guilty when I worked because my daughter was in daycare, but I felt guilty at home because I was struggling with being a stay at home mom and I wasn’t contributing financially. What I’ve come to realize is that as a mother, it doesn’t matter what I do, I will feel guilty about something. The best thing for me to do is just be the best person I can be.
Mommy C I have been living in an intentional community focused on environmental sustainability for six years. My daughter’s arrival shifted my focus back toward home. During the wintertime, my partner and I share care about 50/50. As soon as warmer weather arrives, I am the primary parent. I tried doing computer work and gardening for income for my daughter’s first two years. My stress level was high and I saw that reflected in her behavior. Recognizing the value of my own sanity has been a significant lesson of motherhood. This year, I am choosing gardening in a smaller home-based garden over working an at-home computer job for a little more income. I am choosing to enjoy my time outdoors teaching my daughter the arts of growing and preserving foods. Intermixed with this is my study of midwifery. Instead of attending one and a half to three years of midwifery school, I am apprenticing with a certified professional midwife as I work toward midwifery certification. This is the long route, but a route that is manageable while I have a young child in whose life I want to be an active participant.
Mommy D When the kids were little, I stayed home with them most of the time – I worked very part-time (3 hours/week) when my husband was home. I felt guilty when I was away from them when they were little. I also felt guilty when I was not bringing in an income. I decided to stay home with them because I wanted to be with them as much as possible. My husband and I felt that it was good for them to be at home and not in a daycare situation. I went back to work fulltime (during the school year) when the youngest one started 1st grade and was in school all day.
Mommy E Don’t know how this will affect me, however, I am having a tough decision now as to what my schedule will be like when I return to work. Flexible schedules are an option with my company, however will be tougher to do at my level and many employees are already taking advantage of this. I think my ideal schedule will be a 4-day workweek, but we are already investigating daycare, and it is going to be a challenge to balance. I feel like this is currently all my friends with kids talk about – how to balance it all! Definitely the biggest challenge for today’s mom.
Mommy F My career was very important because for a good part of it I was a single mom. The difficulty was finding the right daycare people and that was traumatic. My son and daughter both stayed with their daycare providers until they started school. And I liked that daycare made them become kids in their own right.
Mommy G It was never a decision to not work – I was always going to work. My mom never worked a day after 19 and I think for me seeing her loose the ability to do certain things in the world – get money from an ATM, or pump gas – she just lost the need to take care of herself. I didn’t want to be that person. Mind you, not all stay at home moms do that. I love my job so much and I want to show my daughter that you can do both. You don’t have to make choices in your life about what you want. I get so much satisfaction out of my job and am lucky enough to have my dream job.
Mommy I I wasn’t a career woman. I was busy enough with the kids, but I did keep up my nursing certifications for years. I volunteered with the schools and while I didn’t practice my profession per se, I was very happy that way. I don’t think I could’ve done both well. Before we had children we determined I’d be a stay-at-home mom and we geared ourselves for that financially.
I used to get annoyed that people looked down on staying at home. I always made it a point to support that young women do what they should do, I applauded it if they did either – I never wanted to make anyone feel bad about it. But some of my peers, they tried to make you feel like you were second-class because you weren’t juggling both.
dp What was some of the best advice your own mother gave you on raising and having children? What advice have you passed on to others?
Mommy A My best advice isn’t from my mother – I honestly can’t remember anything positive she’s said to me about motherhood. My best advice comes from my sisters. They are all older and all have children. There are a few that I tell myself daily. These are: choose your own battles, don’t beat yourself up so much and try to enjoy these moments because they don’t last forever. Also, resentment is awful. Don’t resent your husband for things he does or doesn’t do. Acknowledge the fact that ultimately, a mother is responsible for her children. Embrace this instead of resenting it and your life and marriage will be better.
Mommy B In my childhood, you did what your mother told you to do. Living on a farm there was work for everyone. I had a sister six years older and a brother three years younger. Our church was a very big part of all our family. As I grow old my love for my children is the most important part of my life. I enjoy each day as I remember the wonderful life I had and I always was there for my girls and their friends.
Mommy C Mom doesn’t offer much advice. Rather, she asks leading questions and hopes that she is not stepping on any toes. But, when I come to her with questions or concerns about my daughter’s behavior or physical well-being, Mom has offered some of the best insights of all – the details of my own childhood. These serve as a check for when my expectations of a small child may be out of step with the realities of being two.
Mommy D I remember my mother giving me advice after the birth of my third child. I had sort of broken down and told her that my husband was distant, that he was always mad at me…drama, drama…and she explained that men can feel left out when there is a new baby in the house. She explained that husbands can feel left out when the wife is always doting on the baby, busy with chores, and exhausted. It made a lot of sense, and it helped me to be more observant and careful to not “leave him out” – to make time to show him love also. I think all of the little things are so important – to be kind, to do little things to show that you are thinking about them and that they are important to you.
Mommy F Once you have children you replay your childhood to the nth degree and you realize what you did to you parents. I’m very liberal, I’ll say, “remember to give them their own space,” “they are not a clone of you,” “you cannot make all the rules for them.” Some of the advice is welcome, some people don’t want to hear it at all.
Mommy G Not a lick of advice from my mom, I’m still waiting on my sex talk so, technically I’m not sure how I got pregnant (laughing). I tend to pass on more practical things to others…like when you travel make sure you bring a change of clothes for yourself, not just for your child. Or here are the things you actually need to buy and here are the thing marketing will tell you to buy. When you go in the hospital this is what you’re going to want, that sort of thing. And forget the deck of cards because you’re not going to play your husband in a game of war during delivery.
Mommy H Since so many people gave me advice, my mother didn’t want to overburden me with advice so she hasn’t given me any. A lot of people give you advice. You will soon realize that what may work for their child may not work for yours. Just smile and politely say thank you but read books and make your own decision on what is best for your child.
Up Next – Getting pregnant, giving birth, and child rearing through the years.