Confession- at various points in my life I have thought all of these things: kids are speed-bumps on the career path, being a mom seems lame, God is a jerk if he wants me to have kids and give up a job I love. Maybe you’re in the other camp entirely and have been waiting to have babies since you went through puberty. I have never stepped foot in that camp. Now that I’m approaching having not one, but two children it’s made me think and pray a lot about how my life will change when spawn of Fick #2 arrives this summer.
It’s been a hesitant path to motherhood for me- Dave married me hoping that I’d want to have children someday. I can distincly remember being at a meeting to present about my work with InterVarsity to a committee who would decide if they wanted to give a grant to our work. Since I lived in West Michigan at the time the committee was made up of all older, white Dutch men in suits. The only women in sight were the ones who cooked and served our lunch of ham buns and jello, and the mom who straggled into the meeting toting her baby on her hip and toddler in tow to drop off a form her husband had forgotten at home. When I saw the tender looks on the mens faces as the haggard mother walked into the room I remember thinking to myself “I never want to be looked at like that.”
To me, their looks were conveyed pity, condescension and an attitude of “look at this poor mother just trying to manage a day with young children while we men do all the important work and make the big decisions.” I realize now that there was a lot of projecting of my own fears going on there about how I was viewed as a woman and sadly, some misogyny as well. Who knows what those men were thinking? Maybe they were wishing they could ditch the suits and play in the sandbox and eat some popsicles instead of being in a stuffy meeting?
When I had my son Reuben, Dave and I decided that he would stay home part time while I would continue to work full time. In part this decision was because we make the same amount of money and have the freedom to make decision based on what we’re passionate about and feel called to rather than salary. However, I know that another part of me was terrified as being seen like the mom in the meeting. I didn’t want to disrupt meetings, I wanted to run meetings. I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to be away from the action of seeing God work on campus with students and staff and to be influential in shaping how students encounter Jesus.
After all, if Jesus gave me gifts of preaching and teaching why the heck wouldn’t I use them? For me, continuing to work full time was both a faith-based decision of asking the Lord to give me strength to do the work he was clearly calling me to and and prideful personal decision that I could prove that I was able to serve as a leader even with a little baby.
Now that I’ve worked for 10 years with InterVarsity and serve in a job I love I’m starting to think more about the quality of life I want to have and not just about my career ambitions. The difficult thing about being a working mom is it seems you are constantly trading one kind of guilt for another. This is what is referred to as “the double-bind” the constant pull of how to navigate career development and family obligations. When Reuben was little, I was thrilled to get a brief break from mommy life while speaking to or training students I still guiltily thought to myself “there goes 1-week of the only time in his life he’ll be 4-months old” and felt like a bad mom. While I was at home with him and was still in the nursing phase every few hours, I guiltily thought “I am never going to get any work done! Why the heck did was I promoted with a 4-month old baby? I’m letting down the people I work for!” Then there’s the guilt of being too tired to want to engage emotionally with your kid or your husband, though you forgo the nap to play trains with your son. And when you juggle that for a number of years, you begin to wonder “is it worth it?”
For the month of February, I’m going to be posting once a week on this topic. I’ve talked to many other working moms and stay at home moms who struggle with guilt, are worried that their choice to stay home will limit their career options, or are worried they’ll mess up their kids if they work. I’d love to hear the things you struggle with, what you wish were different, and helpful ways that you’ve learned to navigate the double-bind.
So here is my question in response to this post: what do you feel most guilty about as a mom?
For me, I feel awful when Reuben asks “will you come play with me?” when I’m trying to clean up the house or shoot off some emails for work. Though I often do go and play trains with him, I know that there will be work left undone and also that it’s o.k. for him to play by himself occasionally. I know we spend quality time together every day and that I don’t need to make every second of his childhood a magical playtime. Maybe it’s just his cute voice & those big blue eyes that get me. (In my best Admiral Akbar voice) It’s a trap! Guilt! Guilt either way!