A manifesto on motherhood
I shared this fascinating piece from the WSJ with my Facebook followers last week before heading into my weekend social media fast, and it garnered a flurry of mostly positive responses, which was a relief to login to on Monday morning. I was hoping it would be read in a spirit of head nodding “YES, women and babies do deserve better than the current popular setup” and not “yet another volley lobbed into the ongoing internet mommy warz.”
So if you haven’t had a chance to read it, please do give it a glance, unless your paywall has been met for the month, in which case I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version here: mothers are biologically and psychologically necessary to their children, particularly for the first 3 years of life but crucially so in the first year, and they are not easily or effectively substituted for with alternative caregivers or daycare situations. The second best solution seems to be a dedicated, close family member who can act in proxy for mom, such as a grandma or aunt.
The research behind these findings originates not out of some bastion of conservatism orchestrated and funded by a Washington think tank or a fundamentalist Christian nonprofit, but from years of study in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and epigenetics by a liberal psychoanalyst from New York’s Upper West Side, Erica Komisar.
The author recounts being blacklisted from the ordinary promotional circuit she would normally utilize during a book tour: places like NPR, MSNBC, and other more liberal-leaning mainstream news outlets. Instead she was welcomed onto Christian radio stations and more conservative new outfits like Fox and Friends. She recounts being virtually shunned by the liberal media and cast as something of a pariah in her own peer group.
But she says she couldn’t ignore the meaning of her own findings. So much so that she applied her own advice and shelved the book project while her own 3 children were young, choosing to back burner many of her professional pursuits during their earliest years at home.
This line in particular stands out to me from the piece: “She followed her own advice and held off working on the book because her own young children, two sons and a daughter, still needed her to be “emotionally and physically present.”
I don’t know if that resonates with any of you, but it seared itself into my psyche because as a creative, a writer by trade, and a mother of many, I have never not wrestled with the mythical concept of “work/life balance.”
And let me insert here a big, fat caveat: working moms, too, make enormous efforts to spend quality time with their children, but all too often the significant personal sacrifices they make to be there for their kids go unsung.
I spent the first year of motherhood parked in coffee shops, tapping out freelance work while my son napped in his carseat. Once baby number two came along, I resigned myself mostly to nap time tapping, and by the time Evie joined us a year after that, I waved the white flag and parted with some of my meager freelance income to bring in a mother’s helper for 10 hours a week.
And that’s where we are still: 2 kids in school full time, 2 at home almost full time, another baby on the way in a couple months, 8 hours of in-home child care per week that our budget can just baaaaaarely squeak out, and me tossing and turning some nights wondering how I can continue being productive, being relevant, being effective.
And that’s just the professional side of the coin.
The other nights? Those I spend worrying that I’m stealing from my kids’ formative years, giving them un unhealthy dose of screen time while I subsidize our family fortune with my professional contributions, scarring them by crouching behind a glowing fruit logo for hours a day.
I’m being a little dramatic (aren’t I usually?) but I really do wrestle with the implications of what my presence – and not merely my physical presence, but my emotional presence too – has on their wellbeing. And with a freshly-minted 7 year old in the house, I’m suddenly personally aware that oh, my, it does actually go by really fast. One eternal Tuesday at a time.
But like many other women I know, my not working isn’t really an option. I’m profoundly grateful to have been given a gift I can monetize almost exclusively from home, but yeah, I still wrestle with mom guilt. And the mental weight of wearing the professional and personal hats 24/7 gets a little unwieldy at times.
But I have it better than many, many moms. I have the option of working from home and an employer willing to accept my contributions remotely, figuring I’m more valuable creating content from afar than not creating it to begin with. And I’m able to keep my workload to around 20-25 hours a week, many of which can be broken up into weird chunks during available nap/sleep times for the kids. But they still spend a good deal of time hearing “in a minute, mama’s working” – and those minutes add up.
What I want to talk about is not government-mandated maternity leave or even whether or not mom and dad are biologically interchangeable for childcare purposes (Komisar’s research says nay) but about the elephant in the room whose bulk prevents us from making meaningful cultural progress in this conversation: if we don’t value motherhood to begin with, how uncomfortable (and impossible) to make the case for its necessity-by-design.
And our culture does not value motherhood. I am aware of my own contribution to the narrative of shame by rushing to offer my “real” identity to strangers at the park or grocery store: “well, I’m a writer, but I work from home. Yeah, I’m really lucky.” Gush, gush.
But why do I feel the need to lead with the socially-superior identity?
Because we live in a culture that values production and technology before people and relationships.
Because I went to college and even a little grad school, and I have the student loans and “broadened horizons” to prove it.
Because I refuse to be typecast as a stereotype who never wanted anything “more” than diapers and dinners and laundry. (As if those sacred duties are meaningless and easily cast aside and outsourced.)
But, to the degree that I myself kick against the traces of the profession I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to, I do my own small part to lessen its significance in the eyes of the world.
Why not stay noncommittal when someone asks “do you work?” (Yes. I have kids. I work constantly.) Why not own the fact that, truly, most of my waking hours involve kissing owies and spreading peanut butter, and that it’s only the margins that get filled in with typing and word craft?
Why not surrender even just on an internal, emotional level, to the reality that right now, this family is my primary occupation, and just be thankful that God has given me a little side hustle to bring in some cash from the marketplace?
Why insist on donning the costume of “professional” identity in public?
I guess because if I’m being totally honest, I’m a little insecure in my own decision to toss it all aside, at least for a decade or so, to raise these ferocious and unpredictable human beings. Because I feel a shameful surge of envy when I see the announcement of another mom’s latest book title or new media project come across my Instagram feed. Because I watch worriedly each month as our bank account trickles down to zero and frantically cast about in my brain for ways that *I* can help shore up that bottom line.
Because I feel trapped, quite frankly, between an economy that seems to demand two incomes and a domestic situation that necessitates my presence at home 90% of the time. And I can’t seem to make the numbers totally work, either in our kids’ favor or the budget’s.
So it’s a bit of a catch-22. And I think that’s where the majority of the backlash to this research, minimal though it was at least on my FB page, comes from. Because other mamas out there whose kids are in daycare or who can’t seem to get the budget to balance or who wrestle with the ennui of not being quite enough on any level are about ready to throw their hands up and scream in frustration, “how can I win???”
There’s no winning. We’re 3 generations deep into the modern experiment of the dual income model of family life, and to opt out at this point in time carries with it no small amount of hardship. And yes, I’m well aware that former generations worked the land together and ran a home economy that depended equally upon both spouses, but the big fat difference there would be mom available to the children’s needs as a default setting and dad able to support the family on site, not away in an office (or on a plane) for 12 or 14 hours a day or 3 weeks out of the month.
Here I do not mean to romanticize the past, truly, because thank God for antibiotics and internal combustion engines and anesthesiologists.
But, still, there are grave imperfections within the modern economy, and perhaps none so glaringly offensive as the impact on our children.
I don’t have a pat answer or a neat solution. Just a shared sense of “um-hmm” while reading Komisar’s research and a conviction that, having come to a similar conclusion, I’ll do whatever necessary to be with my kids while they’re little.
But I can’t pretend that decision was made lightly, or without staggering cost. Nor can I shrug away the imperfections inherent even in our own best practices. I freely acknowledge how much needs to change in the current socioeconomic setup to implement many of Kosimar’s conclusions. And I think it will be a grassroots chorus of voices raised to demand more from individual employers and the culture at large and not an idealistic government-mandated policy of paid parental leave.
In order to be wholesale and effective and truly humane, change must come from the foundation and make it’s way up, revitalizing society from the most fundamental level: the family.
And also this: that those of us who have freely chosen this path have a responsibility, in a sense, to joyfully announce the gospel of suffering inherent in the vocation of parenthood, and motherhood in particular.
To recognize that in this earthly life there will likely be no perfect solution, no adequate policy, no neatly wrapped package of relief which solves the issue once and for all. We ought to be honest with ourselves and with the culture at large, acknowledging that to be counter-cultural at times comes with an accompanying price tag of pain, whether it be loss of income, loss of professional experience or social status, or even plain, old fashioned loneliness at being misunderstood and undervalued.
And that it’s worth it.
It’s worth it to look foolish in the eyes of the world in order to do right by our kids. And it’s worth it to embrace even the messiest reality and say, yeah, I can give myself over to this. It is in giving that we receive. Whether it be the grace to endure the hardship, the unexpected windfall to pay the orthodontic bill, or the encircling love and support of a small community of families – virtual or tangible – who get it, too.
YES!!! I so needed to read both the article AND your take. I’m of a similar mindset to you, Jenny – highly educated and motivated, convicted of the fact that my family is/will be my most significant contribution, but still feeling the urge to let people know that I’m capable of more.
My family is still just me and my husband, and once he’s done with medical school he’ll eventually be able to potentially shoulder most of our financial burden with his income. (Not so in the meantime, haha!) And I currently dislike my job! Even so, I bristle at the thought of quitting should a baby come our way. Why? Partially because of the change/unknown element, but mostly because I’m afraid of what others will say (to me, about me). That should not even enter into the calculus of what’s best for my family! It’s madness. But I guess the solution starts with me, and each of us.
This right here: “Because I feel trapped, quite frankly, between an economy that seems to demand two incomes and a domestic situation that necessitates my presence at home 90% of the time. And I can’t seem to make the numbers totally work, either in our kids’ favor or the budget’s.”
Trying to live this vocation, however poorly, feels like surfing a tidal wave. And now, off to cobble together a few words while a kid watches too much TV in the feeble hope that we may at some point make ends meet.
Jenny, I was moved to tears reading this and immediately sent it to my daughter and son-in-law who are well-described in the writings. She is an aspiring writer and is consumed with getting published in the off hours when she is not working full time as a high school teacher. Her husband has a very respectable job, though not high-paying. It is a struggle for them to even have a car payment; they are renting, not owning a home any longer.
As the grandmother to their two children (just turned 3 and 4 1/2) it KILLED me to see her go back to work full time this year. I was able to stay home for the first 9 years after having my children. It truly was the most memorable and wonderful time of my life. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything at all. Thank you for your candor and appreciate your humor and your writing!
I can relate, I too work from home with three young children. I agree with the social change and respecting care givers. Quick question: do you not agree with government funded parental leave? I feel like money that goes from the government, directly to families is positive, as it directly supports the family and gives one parent the option of staying home, for an entire year (I’m Canadian, so I’ve seen first hand, the great impact this has had on my family).
“I think it will be a grassroots chorus of voices raised to demand more from individual employers and the culture at large and not an idealistic government-mandated policy of paid parental leave.” I respectfully disagree. I think it will be a grassroots swelling to demand government-mandated paid parental leave, which a few multinational, rich employers will support (because they are already doing it to attract certain workers or to comply with the laws of other nations) and the other US employers will fight tooth and nail. It wasn’t until 1993 that American employees got UNPAID family medical leave IF they work for employers with 50+ employees. I wish that I could make it my life’s work to advocate for state and federal laws to protect the jobs and the income of employed parents and primary care givers. I think paid family leave to care for babies would reduce many societal ills, including the economic pressure many mothers feel to abort their unborn babies. Sixty one percent (61%) of American women who abort are already mothers of one or more child. Sixty. One. Percent. Are. Already. Moms. I suspect the need to work and/or preserve scare family resources for their born children plays a role in these moms’ decision to abort. I believe that if these mothers could take, say, 6 months of paid leave, and their husbands/the baby’s father could take another, say, 6 months of paid leave, and a grandparent, aunt or uncle could take some amount of paid leave, then a number of these moms would choose life. Idealistic of me? Perhaps. Maybe the Devil will still persuade with other lies than just “you can’t afford this baby.” Or maybe he will fail because we’ll be pushing him out of the way with a culture of life in our statues and jurisprudence. Other than the skepticism about worker protection laws, I am with you and with Dr. Komisar. Babies need their moms. It’s that simple. It’s that hard.
☝🏻Yes yes yes!!
Nah, I’m too much of an economic libertarian to believe that’s the answer, plus it violates the principle of subsidiarity – what can be handled at the local level ought to be. And that would be the individual employers, competing with one another to offer the most attractive and competitive compensation packages.
We lived “socialism lite” in Italy and saw firsthand the effects of a bloated (even more so than ours) bureaucracy and the crippling impact of taxes and fees that underwrite those so-called essential government entitlements. If the government takes 60 or 70% of your income but gives it back to you as “paid” parental leave, that’s no win. We had friends who lived with their parents well into their 40s with zero hope of every owning their own homes, and knew other couples who didn’t have kids because (and I quote a real person here) “the government doesn’t pay enough to make having children economically feasible.” I do not think the government handles things well through increased regulation. That only leads to more waste and, frankly, more invasive control over the lives of individual citizens.
👆🏻Jenny, you are my favorite blogger for a reason. Amen to this post (and your comment above). I’m expecting my first this month and do have to return to work FT as my husband works to build his sacred art business, but I’m quite blessed with a good setup where I’ll be able to spend a couple days a week with my baby while working (which was intentional with a career change). The ultimate goal is to be at home, but just doing what needs to be done at the moment. The rest is in God’s hands.
Italy requires 21 weeks of maternity leave, paid at 80% of salary. Spain only requires six weeks of paid leave, paid at 100% of salary. But all of the economic issues you described seeing in Italy were present in Spain too, when I lived there. So I don’t think it’s quite as clear-cut as “paid maternity leave cripples the economy.”
I didn’t say it cripples the economy, just that there’s no such thing as “free” maternity leave. The money comes from somewhere. I believe it should come directly from the employers hoping to attract and retain the best employees, not from the government taking it out of citizens pockets and reallocating it as they see fit. Government is notoriously inept at being a. efficient and b. cost effective (and heck, c. effective, period). I hope that was clear – it seems that this comments section is drifting into a discourse on government subsidized maternity leave, which is whole other topic, but not, as I stated in my original post, what I’m writing about here. Maybe someone else can write a piece about it and move the conversation over to their site 😉
Very late comment, but “free” maternity leave should not be a thing. It’s just not financially feasible to be paying someone who does not work as much as other employees. I respect mothers and motherhood, but at the end of the day, a company is a business and it wants to hire the best employees, yes. But the best employees have to devote quite a lot of their time to their jobs, and however good a woman is, if she is on maternity leave for years, she simply stops being the best employee. As Komisa said, women can do many things (definitely not everything), but they can’t do them all at the same time. A career should be secondary to children. Period. Can’t have it both ways. You can be a writer because your particular position is more flexible. Now, if you were working for a major newspaper, such as the New York Times, you’d find it a lot harder to manage a family. The point is that many jobs aren’t so accommodating, and, quite honestly, they shouldn’t be unless you’re bringing in a lot of revenue.
Hi Jenny. Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment. I enjoy your blog, and I really enjoy reading the comments from your readers. I had some question, and thoughts to share, if you’re willing to indulge them. I apologize in advance for typos: I am the worst proof reader on my own work, especially on screen.
Why do you think that paid parental leave, by itself, violates the principle of subsidiarity? Can’t one establish paid parental leave at a state level rather than a federal level? For example, Rhode Island, New York, and California all have put in place payroll taxes to fund paid parental leave. In addition, many states have unpaid FMLA that differs from federal FMLA. For example, Maine law provides that employers with 15+ employees must hold an employee’s job for 10 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child (contrast, under federal law, employers with 50+ employees must hold the job for 12 weeks).
Also, your comment about Italy kind of made me chuckle. I lived there, too, briefly. I thought, “So, Italians were inefficient at organizing something? SHOCKER. BWAHAHA!” Sorry to my Italian friends. You have a wonderful culture in so many ways, but a lack of orderliness in Italy is something of a trope. I think Italy’s social and economic problems run deeper than just having a paid parental leave policy or a more expansive social safety net.
You said that you are an economic libertarian. I’m curious: what does that mean to you? (Please forgive me if you’ve explained this somewhere else and I have missed it.) It seems to me are a lot of US Catholics who identify as libertarian. I feel like I’m not understanding them very well because when they say “libertarian” they must mean something very different than when a disciple of Ayn Rand says she is a “libertarian.” (The Ayn Rand/Objectivist variety of libertarianism seems incompatible with Catholicism to me because it is atheistic and founded on a bizarre notion of “ownership of self,” which seems to run contrary to the truth of Catholicism that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and are God’s beloved children, not our own personal chattels.)
I get the skepticism that you and other US economic conservatives have regarding whether certain social safety net programs would be administered so inefficiently that they would not provide a benefit to Americans. I share that skepticism because we do not do bureaucracy all that well in the USA. The US Congress and state legislatures do not do a good job holding agencies’ feet to the fire. Frankly, I’d be delighted if Congress made agency heads provide an accounting to the American people in a public hearing. They should be more jealous in guarding the finite resources with which they are entrusted.
On the other hand, of late, I have not heard a lot of people complaining about how we “do” unemployment insurance in the States, and generally, in the states that have enacted paid parental leave, the state “piggy-backs” on its existing unemployment insurance benefit by expanding claims to new parents. Consequently, I am tentatively hopeful that “doing” paid parental leave in the states would not necessarily mean it would add overhead that would defeat the purpose of the benefit.
Finally, going to a broader point, you and I probably have really different ideas about what the scope of government should be in people’s lives. Personally, I credit a focus on economic “liberty” with creating the society that made it necessary for my great-grandmother, who was widowed, to have to surrender my grandmother for adoption. My great-grandmother was a washerwoman. When she was widowed, she had 3 kids, 2 boys, 1 girl, to support. My grandmother was the oldest and a girl, therefore, the least likely to be adopted. So, when my great-grandmother couldn’t feed all her children during the Depression, she surrendered all her legal rights as my grandmother’s parent and put her into an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy. The good sisters kept my grandmother fed on mashed turnips and got to visit with her family on Sundays. When my great-grandmother finally remarried several years later, she and her new husband retrieved my grandmother from the orphanage and adopted her back into the family. There was no tax-funded social safety net for single moms back then. There was also no income tax, a Catholic charity made sure my grandmother didn’t starve to death, and getting your kid out of an orphanage is a heck of an incentive to stop being a single mom, so you could view the way things were then as a superior system that allowed people much more economic liberty, gave the Church a larger role in people’s lives, and incentivized marriage. But my grandmother, who lived through it, thought it was a pretty crummy system. That piece of my family history has colored my views about what the scope of government should be in people’s lives, and why I am comfortable with my tax dollars supporting social safety net programs that aim to keep parents and children together.
Anyhow, to sum up, I agree with the sentiments of your post above (but for one sentence! What a nitpicker I am! Jeeze!). I love the blog, and I thank you for taking the time to respond. Best wishes, God bless, L
So I’m taxed 20%, not 60-70%, I agree that being taxed that much is ridiculous. But I do have to say that giving money to families is not a waste. I can give you several examples of financial waste in government programs, but money towards families, definitely not.
Also, having a law in place that allows me to leave my job for a year, without losing seniority or pay, is priceless. No matter how many children I have/ maternity leaves I take, my job is safe.
Rochelle: You are so much pithier than I am. I’ve got to work on that. I am glad that Canada is working out for you. 🙂 God bless, L
As I mentioned above, it’s just not financially ideal for a company to be paying someone who won’t work for a year. Imagine if the majority of employees are women, and a third is on maternity leave. That’s certainly not fair to the remaining employees.
As the books clearly says, mothers should be with their children for at least the first three years of life, if not more. I am a woman, but if I had the choice between hiring a man or a woman, I’d hire the man. A lot less expensive, for one, and at least I’ll have the guarantee they won’t be away for a year. I am sorry, but women simply can’t have it both ways while the children are still babies. It’s either your career or your children’s development. If you don’t get in there early, and stay in there, the child will grow up “funny.”
What if you can’t afford to live on a single income? Well, downsize. This is the U.S., not some third-world country. If you cut back on expenses, move into a smaller house, don’t go out so often, buy only what you need, and get rid of Netflix, you’ll be fine. Oh, don’t buy the latest car model. A used car will do. There are ways to make this work. Another solution is to marry a more financially stable guy. I mean, women are natural selectors. Don’t go for the loser; go for the one who will give you love, financially security, and companionship.
My mother’s generation was the generation that never had to apologize to anyone for “just” being a mother who did not have employment outside of the home or earn a paycheck. They never had to prove to anyone that they had a brain in their head in spite of the fact that they were not engaged in the workforce or maybe didn’t even hold a higher degree than a high school diploma. I never thought of my mother as lesser than my father for it. I understood she had a role to play and played it very well.
My sister, who was 10 years older than I am, was valedictorian of her graduating class, earned a bachelors degree in science, worked until her husband earned his doctorate then stayed home finally after giving birth to her 4th child and remained at home until her 6th child was in junior high. I admired her as well and from her example I also knew that being a mother was a valuable role and you didn’t have to make any excuses for being in that role, as though you were somehow not living up to your potential.
I earned my degree and entered the workforce and had very high aspirations to have a career until a health issue landed me at home. I then raised my children somewhat from a forced position of being at home but never looked back on it. I assumed at some point I would return to the world of work and work for my master’s degree as well. But ultimately I decided I didn’t need a master’s degree to do the things in my life that God was calling me to do, and that I didn’t need to earn a paycheck to do that either. Being a stay at home mom enabled me to do so many things for our family that, while not earning a paycheck, saved huge amounts of money because we were not paying other people/businesses to pick up the slack for my absence from the home (and there is truly a lot of expense involved in being employed full-time).
Many women in my sister’s generation who pushed for working outside of the home as a personal goal wanted to go outside the home to work because being at home can be socially isolating and because of the higher social status of being employed. But the solution to those two problems is certainly not limited to working in a job and earning a paycheck. But as you astutely pointed out, our economic situation has evolved into NEEDING 2 paychecks, and that is a shame. With the additional social factor of 2 income couples not having children as well as women choosing not to get married at all or have children, the economic situation is unlikely to change for some time. As you experienced in a “hot” housing market, the most basic necessity of housing is driven by the ability of people to plunk down a certain amount of money for a home, and you are definitely at a disadvantage if you cannot match their spending power.
So, yes, the cultural view of motherhood as a valuable role certainly has disappeared and can be brought back into “fashion” by the women who choose to take it on in all of its beauty.
You nailed it with this comment (as did the blogpost itself). I have nothing against women entering the workforce and having the same opportunities as men. But it was not the only or the best solution to feelings of social isolation or as a means to seek greater status, and it’s a shame that it resulted in an economy that has made dual-income households almost a necessity.
I both appreciate this article and am saddened by it because I’m a full time working mom and my husband is a SAHD. I know I need to look at the positive and recognize that we have it better than many families where both parents have to work, but I’m sad to read that biologically I might not be meeting my child’s needs. I am a teacher, though, which means I have a great schedule (it also means we are really really poor right now…ha!). But yeah…I just feel so torn by this.
Megan, I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t beat yourself up! I truly believe your situation (Dad home fulltime, and you having a teacher’s schedule which gives you lots of time with your kids) is a gift to your family and your children! When my son was a baby, I was the primary breadwinner, so my husband cut back his schedule to part time and was my son’s primary caregiver. It was very painful for me, although it gave me comfort to know that my baby was with his father rather than in daycare. So I understand your struggle, but being a teacher really does make it more of a win-win.
Megan I agree wholeheartedly with the other commenters here – God designed your family and it’s wonderful that your husband can be home right now. My mother in law became a teacher for the flexibility of schedule and a love for helping kids, and it enabled her to work a great, flexible schedule even with 6 kids. I think 3 were at home still when she started working.
Today I was telling myself, “At least I’m a moral fool.” Ha! It’s hard to be considered foolish in the eyes of the world. I’m blessed that my husband’s income alone supports our family of 6, as long as we don’t live extravagently. I can be a stay at home mom, which I fully believe is what my children need now, as you said, physically and emotionally. But it’s hard. And this culture we’ve created doesn’t give support to stay at home moms. It makes me angry thinking about the support network moms must have had in the past in their own neighborhood when so many other mothers were at home all day. My street is eerily quiet every day. I homeschool, and most of the time, my children are the only ones playing outside. I don’t have any answers today, just a lot of grumbling. I somehow feel like mothers have it harder than ever. I have 3 daughters and I wonder what they will do when they’re in my place. But your article does remind me of the sacrificial nature of it all, and how important that is. Thank you.
Is it weird I watched Mad Men and got jealous of Betty Draper having her fellow mom neighbor over for a drink? Totally agree on the eery quietness of the street.
Eleanor: I’m not sure if this anecdote will make you feel any better, but I worked for a lady who was a stay at home mom in a tony suburb of Boston in the 1950s. She also felt extreme loneliness and isolation as a stay at home mom, which is part of the reason she embarked upon a career when her kids were older. She described how she looked forward to the times when the yard care workers would come by because it gave her something to look at from outside her window. Maybe the past and the present have more in common than TV would lead us to believe. L
Great article. I hate how many times it comes into my head, “You went to a good college. It was a lot of money. Shouldn’t you be doing something more prestigious?” In childhood, it’s pushed so hard that girls can be whatever they want, and while that’s true, for me, I always felt embarrassed to say I wanted to be a mom. That it wasn’t enough. And now that I’m “wasting my degree.” But then I remember how truly happy I am watching little ones grow at home. That my education will be used to help babies grow into responsible people and that this is an awesome gift. My grandmother passed away recently and it was so beautiful to see all the family there (20+ grandkids and 20+ great grandkids). And it wasn’t an easy (or wealthy) life raising her children, but look at the fruit of it and all the happiness that came of that sacrifice. So now I remember that and it gives me perspective on this long (and sometimes trying) journey.
As a Canadian, I would respectfully disagree with your take on paid maternity leave. It allows the vast majority of mothers to spend the first year with their baby, and that’s the evidence-based goal, right? Taxes are between 20 and 30% for most incomes and I think it’s okay if we subsidize infant-maternal wellbeing. I don’t think it convinces women who wants a childfree lifestyle to have kids but it does seem to tip the scales in favour of a third baby in many cases.
I hope to present another yet related perspective.
As a single woman who has suffered with chronic health problems for the past 15 years, I agree that a fundamental shift in what people value–not only with regard to motherhood, but also with regard to the human person–needs to happen. When I read this post I thought to myself “Gee, I wish that I could even say that I contribute to society just in my family, let alone an ongoing consistent job.” It is difficult to be chronically ill, to have one health problem after another, and not be able to hold even a full part-time job and contribute as I would like to my family, with whom I must live because I cannot afford to live on my own. Like you, Jenny, I can tell others that “I am a writer” when I am out and about, but the truth is: they have no idea how much or how little I work (and the truth is that I can work very little).
In reality, day by day, I struggle just to live with a hope that maybe one day I will feel well enough for long enough to feel joyful. Day by day, I have to remind myself that my life has meaning, even if I am not able to contribute to my family, society, or the Church in the ways that I want and would like–in the ways that others expect. Day by day, I have to remind myself that my life has value, even though I feel as if I lose more and more of myself, my ability to do anything. Even though life feels more like surviving than thriving.
God’s love is a mystery. And, there is one precious thing that I do have to offer: my suffering. Of course, I do so resisting and hurting, crying at night because the pain does not go away, helpless that despite all my efforts I cannot change who I am, wondering what hope there is for the future, and whether the constant headaches and next illness will be gone when I wake up the next day–that is, if I even sleep at all.
I know that a shift in values from production to the person probably will never occur during my lifetime. But, it is my hope that in all the loneliness of my suffering, God will accept my offering as a small contribution to His plan–a plan that I cannot see or understand, but that I know is full of Love. I hope that one day the world will value not only motherhood, but the essence of motherhood, which is the human person.
Nothing on this earth is ever ideal, nor should it be; otherwise, we (I) would not need God.
ANONYMOUS who posted at October 31, 2017 at 12:34 am — I just wanted to affirm that you have so much value. So, so much value as God’s own beloved. I am so glad you shared your story. God bless you and give you peace.
As a younger mom, this type of article (not your post Jenny, the original article you are referring to) would have left me in tears. As an older (ahem) mom with seven kids who works full time because we can’t afford to feed those seven kids without both working full time. The biggest lesson I have learned is that God is in control. So if He sends me all these babies, and He also has us living in our economy where it takes both of our incomes to still barely make it work, then that’s His Will. Easy peasy. We all love our kids, are trying to raise them right, and have to provide for their needs. Every family looks different and makes it work differently. Grace abounds when guilt moves aside.
I love that perspective!
Jenny – fantastic post! After I gave birth to my third child, I quit my job as a medical director, overseeing 2 community health centers to be a “stay at home mom.” Fortunately, for me I was able to embrace the title pretty quickly and rarely felt the need to say, “well I am a family physician, but now I stay home with my kids.”
In part, I didn’t want to defend myself when people would question my decision to stop practicing medicine. “How can you do that?” someone once said to me, “your patients need you.”
“No,” I thought, “my children need me.” Anyone can be someone’s doctor, but only I am my children’s mother.
I’m glad I made the decision to stay home and now as my youngest, baby #4 is now 3, I too have figured out a way to work from home, starting an educational non-profit and a house calls only medical practice. Of course, I couldn’t do any of it without the incredible support of my husband, but I would encourage all mothers to explore the possibilities and perhaps network with other work at home moms. In fact, lat year I hired my first employee, a women who was expecting her first baby. Now she works from home too, being with her little guy all throughout the day. As women, wives and moms, no matter how different our lives, let’s support one another!
Excellent article and discussion. As age 76, I write from the old-woman end of the spectrum. Before our wedding, 53+ years ago, we agreed to seek first the Kingdom. Through life’s vicissitudes, including the parenting of six daughters and one son, I managed to earn a graduate degree and in my late fifties, embark on a teaching career. My husband supported us with his teaching during our child-raising years. As a result of our experiences, I am committed to the belief that men and women are creative in family arrangements and working together can express God-granted talents. No pattern fits all families, but creativity and cooperation with Divine Grace lift all. Best wishes to all who ponder the questions raised.
Choice between family life and professional life is a hard one and probably causes every mother to toss at night at least from time to time. I think that you have raised an important issue, but the answer is a bit more complex than Ms Komisar suggests. The one of them being the quality time and personal feeling of fulfillment. With quality time I mean the time actively spent with children and with our full physical, psychological and emotional availability; with personal fulfillment I mean the positive feedback from other adults concerning our work (I feel also very fulfilled when my baby says, that she loves me, yet it is a completely different area of evaluation). I have a feeling I am much more available to my daughter if I work out of home three days a week, compared to the time of maternity leave. I care not to check my emails, turn on a computer, switch off my cellular, instead play and work together. And I feel much more relaxed, when I see my patients at the outpatient clinic and they are thankful and improve, which gives me a great motivation for professional and personal life. Apart from that, there are few professions one can return to after more than a few years pause (sadly medicine is not one of them).
It is often mentioned in the comments that committment to the family is the main and only commitment a married woman should have, otherwise she would not be following the path designed by God for her (economic necessity excluded). I do not agree with that. I have a feeling of being a really good doctor (appreciated by patients and their families) and I have a feeling of being a good mother (at least most of the time). And I do not think that God would help me with his support and blessing through my medical school, my professional life and in my everyday practice, if he wished for me to give up my job completely. We cannot forget that there is more than one way of life. Apart from that, when looking at the history of the mankind- the generations before us, raised by commited mothers, who decided/had to to stay at home did not perform greatly in the terms of establishing peaceful, serene, equal and safe world for us all. So it is wonderful if a woman sees her happiness in her family life and gets it, but it is also wonderful when she sees is in her family life and professional life and she should not have to apologize for it.
I think that, “I’ll do whatever I can to stay home with my kids, ” comes from a place of extreme privilege. It unintentionally implies that mom’s who have no hope of staying home or working from home care less for our families and children. I abhor bs like this study, which may be correct.
Women who must work deserve better than continually being told that we’re doing it all wrong and don’t love our families as much as women who have the privilege of being home part-time or full-time. It has to stop.
My husband is an excellent caretaker as a part-time stay at home dad. Grandparents and godparents are extremely loving back up babysitters. My daycare provider has a master’s degree in childhood development and early education. My daughter is thriving in her care.
I’ve done whatever I can to be home with my son. When he was an infant, “whatever I can” wasn’t enough for us to survive financially, so I worked fulltime and my husband cut back to part-time opposite my schedule. By the time my son was 18 months old, “whatever I can” ended up being enough for my husband and me to reverse our situation to where I worked part-time opposite his fulltime schedule, and that’s what we’ve done ever since (my son is now almost 10). Yes, it is a privilege in the sense that being able to have this much time with my son is a gift, one that not everyone has. But it has taken huge sacrifices to make it work. I realize that even huge sacrifices aren’t enough to make it work for everyone, as it was not enough to make it work for us during the first 18 months of my son’s life. As a previous commenter pointed out, if God has a mother working outside the home, he will provide the grace for it to be a good situation for her family. But at the same time, studies like this have a role. Our economy has evolved to the point where it is very hard to raise a family on one income, and if studies like this can raise awareness and inspire change, that is a good thing.
Social science researcher Mom here. A few caveats about Komisar: she’s a psychoanalyst with a social work background, not a psychologist or psychiatrist. The book is not original research, but rather a user-friendly, pop-culture-distilled rundown of various studies that support her point. She displays a limited understanding of research generally, psychology specifically, and current knowledge about child development and the brain in particular. For example, she comes perilously close to blaming autism symptoms on absent or distant mothers, a view that generally went out of style in 1950. She also suggests that PPD is the result of poor bonding with one’s own “overly absent mother” or “an aggressive or intrusive mother.” The chapter on PPD also includes this gem: “many women who have only had to care for themselves their entire lives become frustrated and overwhelmed when they realize they have to put their own needs on hold,” and the solution is, obviously, psychotherapy so they can change their selfish behavior. No, thanks. Not taking advice about family bonding from someone who apparently hasn’t cracked open the DSM in 30 years.
Cindy Millen Roberts
This is only common sense. Babies want their mommies, and whatever we can do to make that happen is most important.
After reading your wonderful, encouraging articles on PPD (which I currently am diagnosed w/ by the way) as well as the importance of self-care, I am confused at your take at Komisar’s work. Perhaps I’m misreading what you wrote up there, but are you suggesting that mothers should stay home for at least the first year of their child’s life? How is that any different from “moms should just grit their teeth and brave it out” during times of intense PPD? If taking SSRIs and spending money on various things you suggest have helped you in the past – including chiropractic, cognitive behavior therapy, not to mention mother’s helpers – what’s wrong with paid childcare if that makes motherhood possible for you? I think you understand that most young mothers do not have the luxury of family close by or a spouse whose income is enough to support a family. While I’m no advocate for paid maternity leave or universal childcare (for other reasons, not just high tax), I am a big advocate for moms using the services of quality child care providers. Just as SSRIs can help with PPD, so can regular, paid, childcare – be it a friend, a caregiver, or an infant room teacher – but paid. Paid childcare is the only form of help post-partum IF there is no aunt/grandma nearby willing to help. It is truly unfortunate that mothers who send their infants to institutionalized childcare (sometimes because they have to return to work) now also have to face the stigma and guilt that they are somehow doing far less of a job as a mother thanks to your take above. I just don’t understand the logic by which how you could be supportive of SSRIs and other medical and non-medical intervention and also be critical of paid childcare if it helps a mother treat PPD and be open to life as well as a vocation as a mother. No surprise, but my goal in life is also to be with my little ones as much as I can – and for some people that help comes in the form of medical help, and for some it also comes in the form of daycare. If an hour of rest, an hour of exercise, an hour of work and an hour of therapy enables me to function as a happy mother for my child, then that’s what four hours in a daycare/caregiver can do for me when I need it most. Mothers should not have to face this additional stigma for seeking outside help when family is not available.