Friday, April 24, 2009

Lament of a Working Mom
Part 1 – “My Story"

My friend from Zimbabwe once told me that, in the Shona culture, when a mother gives birth she is no longer called by her first name; she is thereafter referred to as “the mother of so-and-so” – her firstborn. This is the result of an identity shift that occurs immediately after the birth of a child that, for some reason, the Shona women understand and many an American woman can relate to. One’s focus is no longer on the “self” after having a child – instead, the mother’s identity seems to almost co-mingle with that of the child’s. Honestly, I feel like I should be called “the mother of Maya” instead of by my first name, since everything I do revolves around my daughter’s wellbeing. In fact, the owner of the daycare she attends calls me “Maya’s mom”, mainly because she sees scores of parents every day and can’t keep all of their names straight. However, I find it to be a comforting address, seeing as though I beat myself up each and every day because I feel like I’ve been a terrible mom – some days I even feel like I don’t even deserve the title of “mom” – because I work full time. Thus begins the “Lament of a Working Mom”.

Let me start off by providing a bit of background: My mother only took two weeks off from work when I was born. As a result, from the time I was two weeks old until I was about three years old, our neighbor Felicia babysat me. When I was three, I began attending pre-school. So this lament is coming from a woman who has been indoctrinated in the “culture” of a working mom. I was a very lonely child, from what I can remember, because I had no one to play with up until the age of three. Don’t get me wrong, Felicia was a great babysitter, but sometimes kids just need to be around other kids. By the time I entered pre-school, I was a bit behind the other kids in terms of socialization, so it was harder for me to make friends. As such, all I seem to remember about pre-school is sitting as close to the door as they would allow and crying until my mom picked me up. I’m sure I didn’t do that all day, but that is one of the main memories I have of it - that and trying to go to the bathroom while standing up. But that’s a story for another time.

Since I was indoctrinated in the “culture” of a working mom, which we will discuss in more depth later, and since I blamed my lonely childhood in part on the fact that my mom did not stay home with me, I always thought I would never do the same thing to my own child. Unfortunately, I didn’t really set any goals or make any specific points to enable that to occur. I ended up getting pregnant earlier in life than I had expected, so I was not in the financial position to stay home for more than three months after giving birth. At this point, I have a feeling that one of the following thoughts are running through your mind, especially if you are a non-working mom (NWM): “There are plenty of things you could do and/or sacrifice to stay home with your child. You could downsize – live in a smaller home. Sell something valuable. Drive a used car. Get rid of your cell phone or cable bills.” Let me assure you that my house payment is less than half of most house payments paid by others my age, including taxes, (and probably half the size), and I do drive a used car. I just got cable TV and I’m not willing to let that one slide yet. Besides, the measly $40 per month isn’t going to enable me to stay home, and neither is getting rid of my cell phone bill. At any rate, my point is that I have crunched the numbers again and again, and I don’t think it’s possible to squeeze much more than a couple hundred dollars from our current household budget. Again, even if I did, it still wouldn’t amount to the total I make by working outside the home, even AFTER child care costs are removed.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, you might be starting to recognize some of my struggles. In my circle of friends and acquaintances with children, I am the ONLY one who works full time outside of the home. So, out of about 15 women that I have at least some contact with on a weekly or monthly basis, I am the only one who must put her child in day care five days a week. As such, I have heard some of these women claim, even in my hearing, “I would never, ever put my kids in day care. I would never let someone else raise my children. That’s just terrible”. Here’s a tip for you NWMs: Do not flaunt your status in front of working moms (WMs). We feel bad enough as it is – we do not need you to tell us how terrible we are for having others raise our kids for us. My primary struggle lies with being away from my child all day long. My secondary struggle is with the guilt associated with all that being away from my child entails – having someone else raise her, not being there to witness certain milestones, and having to deal with the consequences of other children teaching my child some very bad habits. Lastly, my tertiary struggle is with jealousy. At least twice a day, the following thoughts run through my head: “Lord, why is every Christian woman I know, except for myself, able to stay home with her children at least part time? What have I done wrong? Am I incapable of staying home with her – is that why you have me working?” Of course, I have not received answers to these questions, probably because I’ve asked them with wrong motives. One day, however, the Lord did show me that Maya has reaped many benefits from being in day care – she is certainly not a lonely child like I was, so in a sense, I’m not reinventing the wheel. That was a somewhat encouraging realization.

Yes, I am a Christian. “GASP!” That’s right – a Christian woman who is often jealous of other Christian women – and one who is working full-time outside of the home. You might be thinking, “But that’s not God’s plan” – well, it appears to be God’s plan for me right now. I’ve petitioned my husband to no avail, I’ve petitioned the Lord, I’ve crunched numbers, I’ve run various scenarios in my head – all to end up sitting in this chair, in front of this computer , for 40 hours every week since my child was three months old. She is now 14 months old, and just this morning, I cried when I dropped her off at day care. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t have asked for a better establishment for her to attend, but just recently she moved out of the Infant 1 room to the Infant 2 room, and this morning she was just not a happy camper and didn’t want me to leave. So I stood out in the hall, tears welling up in my eyes, waiting until she stopped the hysterics. I cannot leave if she’s not happy, even if that means being late to work. Some weeks things go well and I worry that my heart has become hardened to leaving my child in someone else’s care every day. Other weeks I feel just like I did the first day I left her there – like someone ripped my heart out of my chest, threw it on the ground and smashed it to pieces. So here’s another tip for you NWMs: Do not assume that WMs work because they do not want to, or are emotionally unable to, stay at home with their kids. Sometimes it’s much more involved than that.

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