"Is this what I have become?"
Our local paper today carried an AP piece about the struggle laid off workers have to productively fill the hours previously spent working for pay. Here's how the article begins:
A few days after she was laid off last month, Dina Schipper's husband asked if she could make sure the dry cleaners came to pick up his shirts.
It was a perfectly routine domestic request, something she'd have done without thinking twice while she was working. But now it sent Schipper, who'd been media relations director at a New Jersey science museum for a decade, into a tailspin of self-doubt. "I was thinking, 'Oh no, is this what I have become?'" she says.
"Become what?" I wondered. Her husband's wife and helper? Wouldn't that be a waste! Later in the article I read that she has two children, ages 7 and 3. Yes, Mrs. S. now has more time to be involved with her daughter's school and has now attended her first brownie meeting, but she just can't figure out how to fill those hours from 9 to 3. Oh yeah, she is still taking the preschooler to daycare. I guess staying home and mothering him might be demeaning. When others have told her that her job loss might be a good thing, she replies, "But what about on Monday morning, when I wake up and say, 'OK, now what do I do?' It's been a mixed experience." Her solution to filling the time void – vacuuming, mopping, and polishing the silver.
I can almost understand why Mrs. S feels lost at home. If I felt that the most valuable thing I did all day was clean the house, I'd trade that in for outside employment and hire a maid service. No, I probably enroll in grad school!
Perhaps Mrs. S. did not have the privilege as I did of having a mother who gave herself joyfully to the high calling of raising children, who continually read to her children, allowed us to make all kinds of creative messes, happily welcomed our friends into our home, and generally loved me and my four siblings well. Our house was not always neat and tidy, and my dad hired a housecleaner so my mom could focus on being a mom. My mother's priority was loving her children and her husband.
Even in my era, women were fed lies. We were told that of course we could have it all. It wasn't until my almost fiancé (now my husband) questioned how I was going to be a mother and a physician that I even began to rethink my career plans. Up to that point I'd always been able to do anything I wanted, so it was a terrible shock to consider that I might need to die to that desire that fed my ego, so used to being stoked in the academic arena. The more I considered life as a mother and as an obstetrician or pediatrician, the more I knew that to say yes to one meant to say no to the other. If I was going to marry and have children, I wanted to actually do the job of mothering. I wanted to be there when my baby first smiled, when he learned to walk, when my daughter needed to talk about loneliness. Once I started teaching my children, I wanted to be the one who watched them learn to make sense of letters and numbers, and to see the light turn on as they encountered new ideas. And guess what? Older children need mothers every bit as much as younger ones, just in different ways. And, no matter what you hear, you can't make up for "quantity" with "quality."
I remember when I first became a stay-at-home mom after the birth of our first child. Before Andrew was born I did research in a pharmacology lab at a medical school. Now at home every day I missed the intellectual stimulation and the people I worked with. I cried about the life I was leaving behind, and the life I would not have in the future. I knew I had driven the final stake into my dream of med school. Yet the tears lasted only about one day. The upside was too great. How could I ever leave this curly redhead in daycare to pursue my own agenda? Yes, I had to learn how to be a mother, how to pour my life into this child and his future siblings, and along the way, how to be more of a helpmate to my husband than I had been before.
Do I ever look back? Sure, at times. But I have absolutely no regrets. Maybe in her unexpected unemployment Mrs. S. might begin to learn to give herself to the ultimate calling on her life rather than despising it. She might even be thankful for what she would become.