Of Jobs and Mothering, Part 2: Give Me Your Stories?

When I was in high school, my mother planted this idea in my head that I could get my PhD and teach poetry. I really liked this idea. I loved this idea, and I talked about it a lot. I remember being in the backseat of my parents' car, talking about it. I think we were driving to church, and my mother said, "But of course you'll stay home with your kids."

I was flabbergasted, incredulous, "What do you mean I'll stay home? I'll have gone to all of that trouble to get a degree and you expect me to just not use it? Why would I get a degree and then just sit on it? Can't I raise my kids and use my education?" I was a less than charming teenager, brimful of these half-angry questions, but I'm honestly not sure where this question came from. I wasn't, really, that educated. I was smart, but I didn't know much about Feminism. I didn't really know this was a question that had been asked, that was being asked, that every woman had to answer for herself at some point: should or could or did she even want to do both? Culturally, in Mormonism, the official message echoed my mom's assertion: I would stay home and raise my kids. I didn't know a lot of working women (did I know any?), and I'm not sure where the idea came from. Which leads me to believe the question was already in me, that this speaks to something embedded in me long before the idea to get a PhD.

Here is my theory: a woman's inclination in this regard is embedded in her as natively as her eye color. Regardless of social pressure, she's born with either a desire to be home with her children, making a home, or a desire to be a working woman, or a desire to do both. And those are just the sign posts. In reality, I think we all fall along the shades of those landmarks, finding ourselves moving between them fluidly, depending, but always nuanced, more nuanced than we're led to believe.

And the thing that changes things, the wild card, is what happens when we actually grow up, when reality hits. When we have the babies, or the careers, and when neither show up in quite the way we expect them to, and then we have to figure it out.

The way we fall on that continuum, the degree to which our reality matches our inclinations, is, it seems to me, endlessly varied. And a million factors come into play, right? Money and education and health and family support and location and housing and husbands and the temperament of our individual babies and age and on and on. Think about the women you know.  Do they not all work this thing out differently, with varying levels of peace about it? Because this is what I think it's really about, what I think really matters more than messages about where we should or shouldn't be: I think we have two priorities. I think our first priority is to take care of our babies. And I think our second is to take care of our hearts. And both of them are important, deeply deeply important, and our lives as women are about figuring out how to honor both obligations. There are as many ways to do that as there are women.

You know what I think helps? Stories. Telling our stories. I started out talking about this, thinking I had a lot to say. But so far the best part about it has been hearing your stories, hearing how you work (or worked) this out, and how your heart feels in the process. I'll keep posting my story, because I do have more to say, but it struck me this morning to ask for yours.

Will you comment here, or Facebook message me, or write on my wall, or email me (dejaDOTearleyATgmailDOTcom), or send me your messenger pigeon, and tell me, in a paragraph, where your heart is? Please don't think I have an agenda or some sort of sense of which path is superior. My only and truest desire is to hear as many different stories and approaches and longings as I can. I want to hear from you if you're home with your babies, and how you make that work. I want to hear from you if you work full or part-time and how you make that work. I want to hear from you if you don't have babies and want them. I want to hear from you if you don't have babies and don't want them. I want to hear from you if your babies are grown, and how your heart feels now. I want to hear from you. You you you. Spread the word, too, if you're inclined. Ask women with interesting stories to gather here. And when I have a good crop of them, I'll collect them, like I did in this post. And then we'll all read them. And then we'll all feel better.

[Details: posting a comment or contacting me constitutes your permission that I use your words on my blog, though please tell me if you want your name withheld, or if you'd like me to contact you with how I edit your comment (for brevity, or clarity? the editing will probably be light.) before I post it. If you've already commented elsewhere and you want me to use that, tell me where to find it. And if you want an idea for what I'm looking for, read Guili's comment, on this post, which is, along with all of your other comments, what made me long to hear more. Thanks, Guili!]


Cula said…
All my life all I ever wanted was to be married, have babies and stay at home with them. I did go to school for 2 years and I received my associates degree in early childhood education just in case my future husband lost his job and I needed to work. Truth is love this stay at home mom gig more than I ever thought possible. Admittedly there are days when I want to throw in the towel but those thoughts are immediately dashed when my children wrap their arms around me and tell me they love me or when we're in the school room and what we're learning finally sinks in and the look on their faces makes it all worth it. I detest play dates at parks with other kids. Instead we spend our afternoons at balboa park exploring the museums, doing service projects, seeing plays or cuddling up on the couch watching an old black and white movie or musical and learning everything we can. These are things I hold the most dear. Some may wonder how i stay sane being with my kids all day long. My answer to them is that I am lucky enough to have an amazing husband who helps me and lets me have nights and the occasional weekend to be with my friends and just be Cula and not Mommy.
Deja said…
Thank you, Cula! I really love this. It sounds like you're an awesome and enthusiastic mom.
Mariya said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elise said…
I grew up always wanting to be a mom.

And then I had kids. And let me just say bluntly that motherhood does not produce immediate rewards like a job does. There's no paycheck. There's no boss praising your exemplary work. There are no coworkers with whom you can maintain sanity during a long work day. In fact, sometimes, in spite of all your creativity and patience and long-suffering and non-yellingness, your only reward from your offspring is a lengthy tantrum. I really hate those. They happen every day around here.

Anyway. I have worked on and off. I have worked from home and I have worked in an office while the kids stayed at home with my mom. I have always felt a strong pull to return to work.

It hasn't been until I had Rose that the desire to work has disappeared. Somehow, until now, I think I've been afraid of throwing all my chips into motherhood because I feel like I'm failing every day. It's easy to interpret every tantrum, tear, disappointment, lie, defiant act, etc. as a failure on my part to teach or entertain or discipline. And I don't want to fail. I want to succeed. At something. And work is so easy to succeed at.

But somehow, after four kids, my brain snapped and reminded me that I love these little people. And I want to be around them and enjoy their personalities. I don't know why it took me so long to come to that realization. Maybe I've only come to it now because, with four children, working is not really a viable option.

Deja said…
Elise, thank you. I absolutely love that. And Rose is the loveliest name. I'm glad you're enjoying your little people.
Dani said…
I've actually spent a lot of time lately thinking about this-- how did I decide I wanted to be a SAHM? Here I am, 4 yrs in and very happy, but how did I get here? (I'll try to keep this brief) Part of it was instinctual, I think because of our Mormon culture and how I was raised. My parents always pushed the importance of a woman having an education. My mom had her degree (a big deal in her family) and my dad taught me how I could always be successful in life and be a strong woman if I was educated and had options. Through all this, my mom LOVED staying home with us. She worked part time on and off to help out a little financially, but made it known to us from a young age that she loved being home, being with us all day. I think that was the clencher for me. When I started my teaching career, I was LOVING it. Then within a few months of starting my job, I felt this pull. A desire to start teaching my own kids, very unexpected for me. (I was so young!) Once I felt that pull from deep inside me, I knew I was going to put my teaching career and grad school plans on hold and become a mama.
For me, the decision to stay home was probably intrinsic in part. The other part is that I know life is long and putting a few things on hold now doesn't mean they're there forever. I want to treasure this step in life and when it's time to move on, my dreams of teaching and grad school will be there for me still (or new dreams!). Right now my choice to stay home is hard on some days (read:strong willed daughter in the terrible twos), but mostly joyful. I hope every mom finds her joyful place, whichever mix of the cocktail it may be.
Sherry said…
I want to share my story with you, particularly because for the last few months I've been trying to figure out what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Give me a day or two to gather my thoughts, and I'll shoot you an email. If I don't, feel free to nag me. (My email is linked to my Blogger account.)
ginger said…
Oh, I commented with my story on another post.

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