Does any other mother (or father, for that matter) struggle with pinpointing their own parental identity? Is anyone “just” a working mom or stay-at-home mom these days? And why doesn’t anyone call themselves a volunteer mom? As I continue to climb the emotional mountain of sudden job loss coupled with the frustration of financial setbacks, it brings this issue back into the light for me.
Although I’ve lived in this do-it-all mentality for several years now, it was never my intention and it certainly didn’t come about by wanting to be that picture perfect mom who does it all. Way back before I got married, this was all discussed and figured out (at least in the best way you can do as a young adult with no experience and big dreams). We were on the same page about wanting a family and wanting me, when the time came, to stay home with the kids. Our friends were shocked at how my man could be so chauvinistic and how I could whack away at feminist gains. We ignored all that because we knew what we wanted, knew they weren’t going to be an integral part of it, and knew why we wanted it to be that way. (From two different angles, we felt it was the best possible way to raise decent humans up into this crazy world.)
We had it all nicely figured out…how we’d never live off my income and would save it all up for the family to come someday. We knew that we’d share the workload of the house while we both worked, then I would take it all on as my job when the kids came along. I’d stay home until all the kids were off to school, then jump back into a “real” job and go back to sharing the house load. Yet the reality was quite different…my income mostly seeped into a trip here and a concert there and was eventually wiped clean when we bought a house. I worked and went to school when we were first married (varying degrees of part time and full time for both paths), and it stayed that way until I graduated college less than two months before our first baby was born. The workload around the house was never quite 50/50 (partially because I wanted things done when I felt they should be done and partially because I lack confidence in speaking up about needing help). Of course, once the kids had all started school I discovered a few facts we hadn’t counted on. First, finding a job that will work with a school schedule has odds similar to winning the lottery. Second, the schools and the activities are in desperate need of volunteers. Third, the kids actually seem to need more attention, supervision, and direction as they get older (not to mention driving to and fro).
So all of these things lead to a culmination of craziness, as I’ve lived for the past ten years or so. I started out falling prey to various companies that gave promises of flexibility, being your own boss, etc…and I have nothing good to say about those multi-level marketing companies. I’ve known people “at the top” and seen through the lies…that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Next, I went through an array of work-from-home jobs thanks to some serious networking…but they were all just long-term projects that eventually ended. Then I moved on to jobs in the education/child-care realm. I diligently searched and hoped for a job in the school (but sub positions never seem to be open, and the parapro certification I acquired didn’t bring me squat). If the church offered short-term paid positions (from childcare to teaching ESL), I took them. When an opening came up in a local preschool, I jumped on it…and discovered some shocking business facts about daycare, making me extra thankful that I didn’t have to put my children in daycare and leading to that being just a one-time venture. (Don’t flip out on me, I’m sure there are plenty of fine daycares…) Finally, I discovered the world of freelancing and eventually scored a long term contract doing something I came to love…writing about family events, writing procedures, and cleaning up databases. (Yes, I know how geeky that sounds.) I’m thankful for the time I had, but sad that it only lasted 3 1/2 years.
During the time I worked on that contract, I became increasingly aware that I was taking on the persona of that “do-it-all” mom. Those around me joked about me being super-mom, but I never felt worthy of the title. I never wanted that image, particularly because I know the stronghold that can lead to in other parents…trying to keep pace with that false sense of doing everything. While it was true in a technical sense, it was never true in the successful sense. Sure, I was working 30 or more hours a week, volunteering 10 or more hours a week, taking care of the house, helping with homework, running kids all over town, cooking dinner, helping at church, visiting family, etc. However, I was exhausted and certainly not giving 100% to everything every time. I tried to keep it real when talking with friends or on social media, but it’s a very fine line between being positive and bragging as well as between keeping yourself humble and complaining. Truth-be-told (and finances aside), it was a mental relief when the job went away, and has given me a much-needed vacation of sorts to catch up on things around the house, help with more volunteer stuff, and take time to actually play with the kids again.
But now I’ve come full circle in the working aspect of things. After looking into a few opportunities, I’ve come to the realization that I need to keep plugging away at the freelance thing…whether it’s just one-time projects as often as possible or a long-term contract. This go ’round of job searching is a little different though; I’m working on a future plan by teaching myself database management (thanks to those who encouraged me and saw my potential in that area). Of course, this doesn’t answer my identity question, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there. So instead of calling myself a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or a volunteer mom…I think I’ll just go with “mom” and be satisfied with the knowledge that we’re all in this together, no matter what we’re doing in the moment.
I’m looking forward to your comments, the verbal beatings will keep me humble and those who understand me will keep me going. 😉