More thoughts on motherhood

Yesterday’s Sunday Scribbling, off topic as it was, got me thinking about motherhood. Combined with a few other blog posts I’ve read recently, and a conversation with Randy over dinner.

It seems like there are two groups of people. (You can tell if you read much, I’m definitely a “categorizer.”) There are those who are completely changed by motherhood – they are consumed by it. While they may continue to have their own activities and their own interests, those things are less important. They are not worried about losing their identity – they have found a new identity. (I’m still me, for example, but how I define “me” has changed.) And there are those who are not changed by motherhood. They are still them, mostly still the pre-parenthood definition of themselves, but now they have a kid or two.

Let’s stop and note right now that I’m not judging either side, and am taking great pains not to give the false impression that I think one is better than the other. Obviously, I identify with one of those groups more strongly than the other, but I have no experience BEING in the other group, so I have no idea what it’s like.

Now. Here are some things I got to wondering.

1. The first group of people seems to be a lot of stay at home moms; the second group tends to be majority working moms. Are they who they are because they work/don’t work, or do they work/not work because of their experience with motherhood? In other words, do people like me (first group) quit their jobs when they have kids BECAUSE they are completely changed by their motherhood experience, or are they changed by their motherhood experience because they have decided to quit and raise their children? Do people in the second group continue to work because holding on to their pre-kids identity is that important to them, or is their pre-kid identity important to them as a side effect of their continuing to work?
2. The first group of people tend to do fewer things without their kids along. Clearly, Randy and I are on the far side of this, we hardly do anything without Wally in tow. The second group of people tend to do a lot of adult-only activities. (TEND to – TEND to!) Again, which came first? Do we tend to do things as a family and not so much adult-only activities because we are immersed (too immersed?) in parenthood, or are we immersed in parenthood because we tend not to do adult-only activities? I know in my case, we didn’t tend to do much of that before we had Wally – we never went out with friends in the evenings, we did go see movies, but we were just as happy (moreso) to stay in, we generally did things just with each other because we enjoyed each other’s company.   Do people in the second group tend to do more adult-only activities because they truly need that time away from their kids to maintain their old sense of self, or so they maintain their old sense of self because they have a natural tendency to want to do adult-only activities? Did they, generally speaking, do those things before kids, as well? Go out with friends, go out drinking or dancing, go to movies, etc.

It’s an interesting thing to think about. Am I the parent I am because of who I was long before I had kids? Is there something good or bad about the two approaches? Are kids better off in one scenario than the other? Likely, as with everything, it’s probably that a balanced approach is the best, but in real life, we don’t often get that balance, you know?

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6 responses to “More thoughts on motherhood

  1. My experience has been on both sides. But I couldn’t be the parent I wanted to be without scaling back on work. BUT I began the journey gleefully returning to work- why? Because I was not confident in my parenting abilities. Someone else could do it better/for me. She bathed and dressed the baby, fed her, dealt with day naps. All I had to do was cuddle her and pump milk. As I became more confident, I began to miss my baby more and more and more. Working less and less and less outside the home.

    I continue teaching because we can’t afford not to. BUT I managed to find a way to do it without leaving my kids.

    I think that perhaps the identity split is rooted in how we, as individuals, view the task of SAHM. Do we think we can do it, do we think it is below us (ie we are too smart/talented to waste it wiping butts), or or or or a million other things. Who has modeled motherhood for us? Was it a positive experience?

    But in the end, just like unschooling was for us, we do what we did before, what comes naturally for us. Changing, adapting as needed.

  2. Interesting post, really got me thinking…I guess I would say that I more or less fall into the first “category”, such as the fact that I chose to be a full time SAHM, mainly because I always said that when I had kids that was what I wanted to do..(my mom stayed at home with us). And I love the fact that I am able to do that, BUT let’s face it…I have a highly spirited child on my hands who challenges me in ways I never thought possible. “Mothering” has been quite an eye opening experience for me and I admit, there are days when I wish I would just go back to work…but I can’t. I am committed to this. Maybe stubborn is a better word.
    So with all that said, I do need time to myself, away from my child. My husband and I make it a priority to take turns having a few hours here and there throughout the week to have our time to ourselves. Mine usually consists of going to a coffee shop or the bookstore and relaxing in peace and reading a book. I come home with a smile and a renewed sense that I can pick back up and do the mothering thing again and love it. My husband and I also make it a priority to have “date nights” with just the two of us. If we can we do it once a week. Just to reconnect as a couple and let Ethan spend some time with someone other than us, which is usually a relative here in town. We think it is important for him to form these relationships with his other family members without us constantly supervising the situation. But thats just us. Thats what we as a family need, and it works. I also do not judge either “category” of mothers, but it is interesting to think about it all…sorry this is so long winded.

  3. I am in the working mom category. I love being a mom, and I wish that I could financially swing that. However we can’t and my teaching is the best way for me to work while still having some time to stay at home with my kids. My kids are 11 months apart. I have a child on the autism spectrum.

    When my kids were little, I needed a break. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Part of that was definitely FROM trying to work and be a great mom. There were times where I was definitely a better wife and mother, because I went and scrapbooked.

    It changed somewhere around 4 or 5. The kids were less “work”. I completely mean in the physical sense. They could get dressed, go to the bathroom, eat, buckle themselves in… You get the idea. I didn’t need the same kind of downtime.

    Now that they are 11 (yes currently at the moment both boys are 11 for another 2 weeks) it is beginning to change. They have more of a social life than we do. We do a lot more running around to golf, play rehearsal, piano lessons, boy scouts…

    My children have only had a “babysitter” maybe twice in their lives. Otherwise they have always been with family. That includes while I’ve been at work. So us leaving to go out doesn’t always seem selfish. We laugh sometimes, because now on occassion they are both gone and we stay home to watch tv.

    Your role in parenting is progressive and always evolving.

  4. Just wanted to chime in and say, i love the comments and to clarify that I wasn’t trying to imply that either/any choice was “selfish.”

    As for going out – Randy and I have talked about it many times. But, truly, we just don’t WANT to. I get my alone times a few evenings a month when I work late (or even just after dinner until bedtime) and Randy gets his alone time when he mows or does whatever guy stuff he does. Beyond that, he has no desire to be away from Wally, because he enjoys him so much and misses him so much.

    This doesn’t leave much alone time for just the two of us (Wally also goes to bed the same time we do), but we find time here and there.

    And I think we’d be more prone to leaving him with someone if we had local family we trusted. The local family we DO trust is rarely home, and the added complication that Wally’s bedtime is often 3-4 hours later than their own kids’ bedtimes, it’s very inconvenient for them to take him for an evening.

    (And by “trust” I don’t mean that I think they’d beat him, though hand slapping is certainly a possibility. It’s more that they’d toss a movie on and then sit and ignore him. And, well, they consistently can’t remember that he can’t have dairy. They wouldn’t give him milk to drink, but they WOULD give him cheese, or crackers with cheese, or cheese chips, or yogurt, or icecream, because remembering that those things are ALSO dairy is very difficult.)

    Anyway. Like I said, the post about friends old and new, and then several other posts I’ve read across the internet, all just have led to this thinking process.

    I think MamaP may be on to something with the confidence issue. Thinking over people I know who I’d lump into one category or another… confidence is a big difference. That “I just don’t know what to do as a parent” feeling (that we all have from time to time).

    And, agreeing with Brandy, I’ve said more than once that, fine, then I’ll just go back to work full time. Always said in a moment of frustration or anger, but yes, there are times my old desk job looks really attractive.

    Justaglimpse – I almost prefer the physical labor of motherhood in the younger years over the mental labor of the older years. I don’t have to DO as much physically for W, but dang if he’s not challenging in far more creative ways these days.

  5. Sarah,

    It is completely different, and I agree the physical is actually a lot easier some ways. I could control so much back then. Helping them develop their independence while still trying to control things–well that is my own personal issue right now. 🙂

    I have really thought about your actual question though, and realized that I don’t think I really responded to it. Which is how has becoming a parent changed you?

    I’m really struggling right now with my role as a mom changing. It was interesting that when I listened to this week’s Mojomom podcast, she was beginning to go through some of what I am feeling.

    BTW, I found your blog way back in your KZZQ entry, and have read fairly frequently since then. I enjoy reading your blog, and you have brought up some things I haven’t thought about.

    (My husband also works at Nationwide. Sadly, they handed out pink slips to a whole bunch of people this week. URGH!!!)

  6. Interesting post. My husband and I have had discussions regarding how the couples in our circle have responded to becoming parents- some working full-time and still needing overnight vacations from baby, some quitting jobs, and everywhere in between. I have a hard time putting myself fully in either category.

    I have one child, age two. I currently work full-time (3 12-hour shifts per week), which is a financial necessity for us until we pay off some debts racked up while I was in school. In 6 months to a year, when our budget isn’t so darn tight, I plan to scale back to two nights a week at work, or maybe even one night if we can swing that financially. I hate being away from my daughter, have grown to hate it more and more as she gets older, but at the same time I enjoy my job. My mom has been the sole babysitter since I first went back to school, and that definitely has made time away less stressful. However, I don’t feel like I *need* my job to recharge- during periods when I was able to be a SAHM for weeks or months, I was able to recharge from the work of motherhood just by reading or taking a walk when my husband got home from work.

    As a couple, we are definitely in the 1st category. Mike and I have been on a grand total of two dates without Jubilee. We take her everywhere, and currently we are having a hard time finding a closer church than our current one that won’t think we’re freaks for wanting to keep her with us during the service. Who knows how we will feel about couple time in the future… At this point, we are pretty content just hanging out at home as a family when we’re not working.

    Love your blog, by the way!

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