The ‘mom’ in working mom
After my son was born, it surprised me how often I was asked — by friends, coworkers, strangers — if I would return to work.
And with my daughter? The expectation that I would leave my career was even greater, the comments lobbed at me much bolder.
I love working. I dearly love my children. Both truths can and do exist. Fathers aren’t generally asked if they will return to work after welcoming a child, so it’s hard not to take that as a gendered expectation. But I grew up with a dad who did pause his career to stay home with his kids — plus a mother who has always emphasized the “mom” in working mom.
Before I continue, I know this subject is a very personal one. I firmly believe any choice is a valid choice. Working, not working, any combination thereof — we all do what is best for our families, and only we know what that is. This is not a judgment on anyone’s decisions. There are a million different recipes for happiness, and sometimes we must sample many to find the perfect one. Okay? Okay.
So. My mom. She is hard-working, diligent and put-together in ways I have never been. I’m definitely not camera-ready at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, red lipstick perfectly applied and nails with nary a chip. In seven years, my husband has never seen me with straightened hair; I tame my locks into a bun most days, wear only lip balm and combat the chipped-nail dilemma by just . . . never painting them. I watched that ship sail long ago.
Do I admire women who are polished in all circumstances, ready to tackle anything? For sure. My mother is one of them.
Mom has spent 37 years commuting to her government job, leaving before 5:30 a.m. to turn on the lights at her Virginia office each day. Now a working mom myself, to say I have an entirely new appreciation for what she has had to juggle — parenthood, finances, extended family, friends, the responsibilities of a household — is an understatement.
As a kid, I had no concept of how stressed both she and my dad must have been trying to keep so many plates spinning. They made sure we didn’t see that worry. Mom and Dad were often struggling to be in two, three or even four places at once: years when my dad was traveling as a sportswriter while Mom held down the fort with two young daughters; years when my mother would rush to pick us up from our grandparents’ house, making sure we had vegetables with dinner and finished our math homework before rising early to do it all over again.
There was no teleworking then. Heck: there was no internet. My dad has always kept odd hours and worked weekends, but Mom was expected to put in the standard eight- or nine-hour day. Unlike many of today’s wired-in parents, they couldn’t answer work emails while simultaneously pulling a lasagna out of the oven or attending a play rehearsal. It was either/or. Here or there.
The ability to stay in constant contact with colleagues today is both a blessing and a struggle. For those who don’t keep strict hours, a wifi-enabled lifestyle means you rarely get the satisfaction of “clocking out.” The pressures of email, client phone calls, looming deadlines . . . we’re wired in all the time.
And there are children to bathe. Bills to pay. An oil change for the car and an overdue haircut and grass that needs to be mowed for the second time this week . . .
I guess what I’m trying to say is: adulthood requires your brain to be plugged into 50 tasks simultaneously. The responsibility can be overwhelming, and sometimes I wonder when the “real” adults are going to step in and help make a dinner even my 2-year-old will eat. You know?
My parents made it look easier than I know it was.
Katie and I grew up watching Dad and Mom bring home the bacon and fry it up, too, and I admire them both so much. But as a woman, having my mother as a role model — a strong working woman; one who has always strived to “have it all” and make sure we did, too — is a privilege.
(Must tip my hat, also, to stayat-home moms and dads. Just eight weeks at home with my toddler and newborn and I was a tired shell of my former self: one who unironically answered questions by quoting “Despicable Me.” Minion-speak has replaced actual English words in my vocabulary — maybe permanently. In the words of author Glennon Doyle Melton: carry on, warriors.)
We’re dif ferent, Mom and me. I’ve never held an iron in my life. My idea of eliminating wrinkles is to throw a dry-clean-only top in the dryer for a few minutes. I wear the same silver stud earrings every day. Mom favors color and texture, sophisticated handbags and matte lipstick, while I wear black slacks and scuffed flats daily. I recently retired a clearance purse only because the handles were actually falling off.
But none of that matters. Thirty-plus years after Mom began modeling what it is to be a loving, patient, devoted parent who works, I think about the lessons she taught my sister and me by showing us what mattered — not telling us. Dad took us to her office a few times over the years, and I remember seeing her desk with framed family photos alongside meticulously-organized file folders: a place where Mom existed as someone named . . . Lisa.
We perform many roles for many people. The plates are, indeed, tough to keep spinning. But I hope my own kids grow up viewing me as the strong, capable woman I aspire to be — someone just like my own mother.