What I Know For Sure After 23 Years of Mothering
Mothering is very hard work. We birth, love, nurture, and fiercely protect our children. For many mothers few issues create more angst than the question of whether to step off the career ladder to stay at home with children.
I have been a working mother both in and outside of the home. My youngest child recently graduated from high school and will leave for college this August. Before I turn the page to begin my next chapter, I want to share a few of the lessons learned over twenty-three years of mothering. But, first a little background.
I am an attorney and solo mother of two children. With my son I resumed practicing law after my maternity leave ended. It was tough but eventually I learned to manage all of my familial and professional responsibilities. A few years later, my then husband and I decided to have another baby. When my daughter was born, I took a four month maternity leave and planned to return to work. I did not anticipate that my beautiful baby daughter would be an extremely sensitive infant who did not sleep and cried nonstop. While on maternity leave, I learned that my daughter’s daycare space would not be available until seven weeks after I was scheduled to return to work. My then employer, a woman, would not permit me to extend my maternity leave, telecommute, or work part-time for that seven week period. I could not find anyone who I trusted to temporarily care for my daughter. So I faced a Hobson’s choice: quit or leave my daughter with someone who might grow exasperated with her nonstop crying and hurt her. The answer was obvious and scary. With no game plan in hand, I stepped off the career ladder, took a deep breath, and jumped into the unknown. That was March 1999. I did not realize that stepping off the career ladder was the first step on a journey towards my life’s calling.
After a few years of storytime, play dates, and public television, I decided to re-enter the workforce. At that time I did not know about career reentry programs like iRelaunch founded by my friend Carol Fishman Cohen. Since my oldest child was in elementary school, I needed a flexible job that would allow me to control how I worked. So, I started a law practice that sputtered along until February 2006.
In February 2006, my marriage ended and I began parenting alone without support. I had limited resources, an outdated resume, and dead professional network. Although I was beyond clinically depressed, I focused on finding a job with benefits. I did not stop to consider that healing from the trauma experienced in a difficult marriage would ease my job search and transition to life as a solo mother. My healing involved coming to terms with my depression, mending my broken parts, releasing toxic baggage, and learning the lessons that my divorce was sent to teach me. The healing process was not easy. It required humility, patience, forgiveness, perseverance, and yes even a mustard seed of faith. Healing gave me the clarity and strength to move forward.
Quitting my job in 1999 changed the trajectory of my life. This detour led me down roads that I would not have traveled. On these roads I met people who unselfishly showered me with grace and loving kindness. So, after twenty-three years of mothering there are a few things that I know for sure:
The correct answer to the intensely personal question of whether you should step off the career ladder or continue working is: DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU.
Children must learn that detours, curveballs, and seismic shifts are part of life. Teach your children not to resist or attempt to evade a detour. The detour will keep boomeranging back until they learn the lesson that it was sent to teach.
Let your children see you fall, get up, heal, and move forward. Sharing your adversity will teach them persistence, resilience, and steadfastness.
Accept your children for who they are. Stop trying to force your children into the mold that you created for them. Life teaches the lessons that must be learned for the journey.
Mothering is physically and emotionally demanding. Give yourself permission to take breaks and practice self-care without apology.
When your children enter the teen years, your role shifts from parent to coach. As the coach, you provide the instruction necessary for your children to mature into self-directed adults who accept responsibility for their choices.
Give your children room to make and learn from their mistakes. Demanding perfection is incredibly stressful and unattainable. Trust your children to tap into what you have poured into them.
Whether in or outside of the home, mothers need mentors too. A kitchen cabinet of personal and professional mentors are a treasure trove of advice, wisdom, and resources.
Mothering is not a call to sacrifice yourself on the proverbial funeral pyre. Find an activity that you enjoy and schedule time to do it. Activities can range from going to the library for uninterrupted reading to a weekend retreat away from all responsibilities. If you are happy your children will be too.
You are a perfectly imperfect parent. You are enough.
As a seasoned mother told me while I cleaned chocolate off the face and hands of my then sixteen month old son, believe it or not you will want to do it all over again. She was right.