Mommy Dearest (Journal 3)

Hello, my name is Maggie and I am a working mother.
They say that admitting the problem is half-way to solving it.
There is an essay by Margaret Atwood called ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything at All.’ Much like Judith Warner and Anna Quindlen, Atwood’s point boils down to this: for some reason, regardless of generation and historical context, women are compelled to be Woman; i.e., we strive for some unattainable feminine ideal. Once upon a time, that meant always wearing gloves, sitting as elegantly as Jackie Kennedy, knowing how to cook the perfect pot roast, and always knowing where your vacuum bags were. Now, the perfect woman is independent, politically aware, and educated and ambitious – while still reading all those Cosmo articles about ‘what he really wants in bed.’

Add to this the element of motherhood and you have an identity crisis.
As a modern woman, I am supposed to be career-oriented; I am supposed to want more than my mother had; I am supposed to be about 20 lbs lighter than I am; I am supposed to be creative and in tune with my body and spirit; in short, I am supposed to be the grateful product of the feminist army that fought for my freedom. Now that I am allowed to do/say/think everything, I MUST do/say/think it all.
As a modern mother, though, I am faced with a different set of expectations: I must know everything about my sons’ curriculums; I must be on a first-name basis with their teachers; I must demonstrate school spirit by volunteering for library duty or field trips; I must be a great cook and expert nutritionalist; I must be a good housekeeper; I must spend time reading to my kids; I must screen everything they might watch on TV before they watch it – and I must feel neglectful if I let them watch it at all; I must always be there for booboos and nightmares; and I must, in my heart of hearts, want to be a stay-at-home mom and make excuses for why I’m not.
We can’t afford to live on one salary.
We need the benefits.
At least as a teacher, I have my summers off so I can be with the kids. And Christmas.
In the early 1960s Betty Friedan identified what she called the Feminine Mystique. Today I believe we are still meant to tacitly accept and embrace our roles as women, and if we feel dissatisfied or diffused, we’re supposed to think there’s something fundamentally wrong with us as individuals. I chose to become a mother – so of course I want to be SuperMom – except I don’t. I never have. I have friends who are desperate to stay home with their kids – and if that is truly what they want, then I admire their courage. Frankly, I think that if I were to stay home, the cost of therapy required for me and my children would bankrupt us.
I work not because I have to, but because I want to. I make time for my children, but I’m tired of feeling guilty that I don’t feel guilty about working.
When I was working in Lennoxville, I spent three nights a week away from home. The hardest part about being separated from my family was having to justify my decision to people whose business it really wasn’t.
I don’t work for the money (what teacher does?).
I don’t work for the benefits (ditto).
I don’t teach so I can have my summers off.
I teach because I love what I do and I would be unbelievably unhappy if I didn’t.
And being happy, as far as I am concerned, makes me a better parent and a better role model.

9 Replies to “Mommy Dearest (Journal 3)”

  1. This subject is near and dear to my heart right now too. I started work yesterday, and have had to answer: “You must be sad to be back” about 30 times in 2 days. For a while when I was home I wanted to stay home, but these last few months, i’ve been going out of my mind trying to figure out what to do with myself. I was even starting to resent Ben for being so demanding! Since he started daycare 2 weeks ago, it’s been much better, but it took a while to accept that I wanted to go back to work and to not feel guilty about that.
    I’m glad I’m not alone!

  2. Exactly, Tasha! Just the way people word it – “it must be hard to leave the kids” or “you must miss being at home”… Must I?
    Thanks, too, for letting me know that I’m not alone 😀

  3. Amen to that sister! I have to say that I am currently on the other side of the continuum, before having Jordon I was sure I would want to go back to work, only now that I am here at work, I’m hating it. Mostly because I don’t have the control over my day the way I would like. If I am late leaving at the end of the day then I miss bedtime, which is important to me, but no one else seems to get. I just keep telling myself it won’t last forever, and thank God that I have a spouse who eagerly takes care of our son without any grumbling.

  4. yay role models! as you know i have yet to face the work-kids challenge to my status as a superwoman (it sounds like it’s something as powerfully challenging as cryptonite, to be honest), but i am sure glad to read that people still like to work after they done get themselves some kiddies.
    on the other hand, the sociology research is now talking not only about wonen’s double shift – work plus kids – but the triple shift – work plus kids plus caring for elderly parents – that many women face…not so pleasant to look forward to. though by all appearances on this blog, your mum is extremely healthy, thank goodness.
    ps – i have switched my blog to

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