Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Role play

When Jen at Sprite's Keeper announced this week's Spin Cycle topic, I wasn't overly enthusiastic. We are to write about roles and our ideas about them, and to be honest, I guess I have been a bit discouraged about my roles, my identity, lately.

I love being a mom, I really, truly do, but at times I don't love it, if you see what I mean.

I do not regret deciding to stay home with my kids, but once in a while, I do regret leaving behind my career as a high school teacher.

And I would never, ever trade my kids in or even send them to boarding school, as I like to threaten, but still there are days when I wish I could run away from home and leave them all behind.

You may have caught on to my ambivalence. I hesitate to share these feelings because I know that some may perceive them as just more evidence of my inadequacy as a mom and my propensity to complain, but maybe, just maybe, some of you share my feelings.

This issue is complicated for me, as I am certain it is for many women out there. I cringe when people make assumptions about me because I am a stay-at-home mom. Though I completely value the role of mother and feel there is no more important job, I cannot tell you how often I want to clarify to people that I am educated or that I used to have a career.

A perfect example happened last week when I chaperoned Danny's field trip. I took a box of supplies back to the bus, and the driver asked me, "Are you one of the teachers?"

It took me a moment to answer.

What I wanted to say was, "Yes! I am" or "No, but I did use to teach high school English in one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods, and you know what? I loved it and I was surprisingly good at it."

I wanted to sit there and regale the bus driver with stories of students who had never finished a book before who devoured August Wilson's plays in my drama classes. I wanted to share about when students who could barely write a complete paragraph were so enormously proud of themselves after writing a 10-page research paper. I could have told her about kids who complained incessantly in my classes, but who later told other students they were so lucky they were in my class, because it was so fun. I wanted to share that though many people thought I wouldn't last a week in that school, I had actually flourished, and that when we moved and I quit my job, my replacement lasted just one-half of a day before she quit.

I also wanted to explain to that hapless bus driver that though I stay at home with my kids, I work my tail off. I do therapy with my son who has autism, I tirelessly (ok, well, actually, not so tirelessly) research ways to help him or ways to make our family run more smoothly. I teach my older two how to read, and do any number of projects to help them all learn and thrive.

In the end, though, I just said, "No" because, really, who am I trying to convince here, anyway?

Part of my ambivalence comes from wanting to be recognized as more than just a stereotype. But, if I am to be honest, the real problem here is not other people's assumptions. No, it's all me and my insecurity. I have difficulty at times accepting that my contributions to our family are just as valid and worthy as the ones I made when teaching and for which I received a paycheck. Too often I wrap up my self-worth in my accomplishments. Does it really matter that I have a Master's degree? Does it mean that much that I used to teach at a high school and several community colleges?

Well, yes and no.

These accomplishments mean quite a bit to me because I worked hard at them. Also, it took me a long time to find something I was good at, so when I finally did, I was proud and relieved. I don't think there is anything wrong with valuing that part of my life.

The problem comes when I feel like I have to justify my existence to others. And believe me, I am blaming no one here but myself. Sure, there are people out there who look down on women who stay at home, but why would their opinion matter to me?

No, the real problem is me. It's that I am not completely secure with who I am. I am not secure with what I have chosen to do at this time. I am not entirely sure why this is, but I am determined to make a paradigm shift, to start questioning my insecurities, to quit trying to prove to others that my contribution is important, because those people just do not matter.


Sarah said...

Today I took E&J both to the drs. at the same time---both kids to the drs. who happen to have autism. And I was mentally preparing to undertake this challenge, I could feel the chip on my shoulder multiple tenfold. I tried to remind myself that not many people could do "what" I do, but in the end, I am find myself seething with jealousy over lives that I perceive as perfect.

The reason you are so good at what you do, Patty, is because of your past life experiences. You are still a teacher but instead of the masses benefiting, three beautiful children are. The only person you have to justify anything to is yourself---the harshest critic of them all.

BTW....I not only successfully managed to get both E&J to the drs., but managed to get their scrips filled with them waiting quietly in chairs. And because of my choice to stay home, I can concentrate on getting them better and not have to worry about finding daycare. It's those realizations that keep me grounded....

queensister said...

So well expressed--thank you Patty. My conviction that Motherhood is the most important role I could fill is firm. My conviction that I'm doing an acceptable job and that I'm sufficient in magnifying only that role (not pursuing education, career, public service)--that conviction wavers weekly, sometimes daily. You are not alone in your struggle to keep focused. Meanwhile we still manage to make an impact. Melanie Gubler

Anonymous said...

Patty, I am going to recommend a book that I have not read, but I have done a fed w exercises from it, in various settings, and it comes highly recommended by people I respect. The book is called Taming Your Gremlin and it is about getting control of those voices in our heads that crop up anytime we face a decision or are unsure if we've made a right decision. I'm sure there are other times. The exercises I've done were really helpful to me in recognizing the pattern of self-doubt and insecurities that cloud my confidence level.

Again, I haven't read the book myself, but it comes highly recommended by people I respect, and the exercises from it that I've done have been helpful.

There are so many aspects of being a SAHM that are wonderful and many that are tough. I agree that you probably are your own harshest critic. The challenge for me was to just realize that I really don't care what the bus driver or the lady who's kid takes swimming at the same time as my kid, thinks. It has NO bearing on my life.

Always great to read a post from you. Would love to hear something about how Danny is doing. :)

Keri said...

Patty, what a great post. You captured everything that goes through my mind when I bump into an old acquaintance who asks The Question: "So, what are you doing now?"

And I want to tell them everything I USED to do before being a mom, everything I PLAN on doing sometime in the near future, and the thousand things I did that very morning before 8 am just to help my son be able to have a positive day at school...but I end up replying "Just taking care of my son."

I want to get to the point where I can drop the word "just" and feel satisfied with that response. No, I want to feel PROUD of that response just the way I used to feel noble and important saying I was a teacher.

I agree with Sarah in that who we were before gives us the strength and tools to successfully do what we do now. And despite the fact that our society doesn't place much value on it, what you are doing is something to be very, very proud of.

Sprite's Keeper said...

For not liking the Spin topic this week, you certainly nailed it. :-)
Truly wonderful words to describe the way moms feel the need to defend their situations, whether SAHM or otherwise. You're right, sometimes our worst critic is ourselves. I think I need to check out that book mentioned by goodfountain. You're linked!

danette said...

This is a great post, Patty, I think all of us can relate to some insecurity about our decisions in life. I have a full time job (aside from being a Mom, which is a full time job in and of itself) and I often feel like I have to justify that decision too. My husband is a SAHD and I think he sometimes feels the way you do. I guess my point is no matter what decisions we make or where we happen to be at the moment, there will always be someone out there who thinks we made the wrong decision, but who cares what they think? :)

Also we can always find a way to question ourselves... I mean if you think about it for every decision we make there is something we *didn't* choose. And no matter how right our decision was, sometimes thoughts about what we didn't choose can creep in to make us question ourselves. If that makes any sense. Maybe I need to check out goodfountain's book suggestion :).

Maureen@IslandRoar said...

I love your honesty here. There is so much ambivalence in being a stay-at-home mom. They are always some of the smartest women I know (me included of course). It has taken me so long to not care what people see when they judge me by the surface facts. It hurts even more when my older daughter, 19, off on her own journey, questions what looks like, to her, my limited choices. But I know. In the end that's all that matters. Great post.

Ginny Marie said...

I love being a SAHM, but right now I feel burned out. I love my kids, but it is so hard to be with the ALL the time. And like you, I usually manage to work into the conversation that yes, I used to have a career, and yes, I am an educated person! It's helpful to know that I'm not alone!

Anonymous said...

This is such a common theme of discussion with other moms. We talk all the time about how, no, we're not completely fulfilled by motherhood, but that doesn't mean we would trade it. And how we love our kids, but we don't like them all the time. And how we feel the need to wear our college diplomas around our necks and point out that, no, see, we didn't earn M.R.S. degrees. And how if we say any of this out loud, we're bad mothers.

gretchen said...

This was really beautifully written, and something that I think we all relate to, each in our own way. I have a friend who is now a SAHM, but who also has a degree in art history from Harvard. She's constantly torn between home and ambition. But she set an excellent example for her daughter in many ways. For me, I have people at Jude's school who think of me as the Parent Board mom, and the Committee mom, and I just want to shout "Did you see my Seinfeld? I was really good!"

HarryJack's Mom said...

I've been having a really hard time this year, with my twins going to school, so I can really relate. I constantly bite my tongue and wonder why I feel the need to tout my prior was said, it helps me do THIS job so much better. A friend sent this great article - hope you don't mind my linking it:
Love reading your experiences and hope you come to a peaceful spot with it all.

Stacy (the Random Cool Chick) said...

Well said! I can absolutely relate - I find myself almost feeling like I have to 'justify' my decision to abandon my career to stay home. But I certainly don't regret that decision - I like your idea to make a paradigm shift. I'll join you. ;)

bernthis said...

You know, I got certified as a personal trainer from the top ranked school for trainers.

and yet, I couldn't do it. everytime I handed my card to someone I felt like they looked at me and thought I was a moron with little body fat.

I felt I needed to explain that I had a college degree and that I just wanted to help people get and stay healthy.

I gave it up. I just felt so judged and I didn't need that in my life. Do I regret it? Yes, in part, I do. I haven't pursued it for other reasons as well but that was the biggest one.

You make your choices based on what you think is right in the moment. My dad always says if they are legal, ethical, moral then they are right. I'm just here to remind you that the only person you need to justify yourself to is you.

Mrsbear said...

I battle some of the same insecurities. I think it's also compounded by the fact that I never finished college so I always feel like I have to prove I am moderately intelligent. You bring up some wonderful points in this post though, who do I have to prove anything too other than myself, right? Why isn't being a mom to my kids a source of pride in itself? Ultimately I think we all need to feel like we're contributing something and making our mark on the world. Being a mom certainly falls in to that category, unfortunately the recognition for a job well done is usually more subtle and takes longer to realize.