Wednesday, March 2, 2016
This is what it feels like, to me, to be a working mother in American right now. #TheStruggleisReal is so much more than a hashtag to any woman who is trying to balance working, raising children, being attentive to her spouse, and managing a home. Some of us even have ailing parents for whom we have to care too. Forget defining an identity in any of that –there’s no time. There are days I don’t even recognize myself anymore because I’m worn so thin. I feel faceless to those who could change all of this. But this isn’t a piece about “woe is me”- it’s about how seriously mothers are taking their jobs these days. It’s a piece on how I see an opportunity to change things…
I’m doing what so many of us are doing- following the unspoken rules of how to get by. My fellow mamas out there, we have become less patient, more tired, less inspired- just doing what we think we have to do. We’ve got our children by the hand- but they don’t see us. We give them what we can but it’s not enough because what they want is us- at our best- and it’s also what they deserve. We are rough sketches of who we would otherwise be, given different circumstances. Just like I’d be a better artist if I had time to develop my talent. Somewhere in the corridors of my soul it still echoes that I am unique… and have something to offer to the world.
Notice that I didn’t say “career” a few sentences back, because working is what it is that the vast majority of us are doing. Two jobs? I couldn’t handle the emotional toll that working a second job did to my children. Some days they saw me for a mere 20 minutes before I dropped them off at daycare, and then didn’t see them again until the next morning. Women everywhere are sacrificing entirely too much of their experience in motherhood without any choice in the matter.
I piece together an honest living with a hard-working husband in an attempt to keep up with a rat race against time amidst acronyms that dictate the time we earn with our children. Paid Time Off. It’s precious and mine is spent strategically stringing together doctor’s appointments. It’s spent trying to understand how I owe more on student loans I’ve been dutifully paying for 15+ years. “It gets better” we hear… but it’s the reality of where we are- and have been- the entire time and I know we are not alone. I also know there are people far more tired and battered than we are, and that breaks my heart.
FMLA- great- if you’ve been working somewhere long enough to use all your sick time and all your vacation time, IF you’re lucky- you could ALMOST piece together a full 12 weeks with your newborn child. It was a choice to grow our family to four of us. It shouldn’t feel like a burden that we created a family together.
We don’t have a budget. The deal is- I don’t spend any money- he pays all the bills- and he deals with the ulcers of juggling spreading the money out where we can so that it covers everything, barely. Our penny pinching is making Lincoln cry at this point.
My children see me at my most exhausted, my most worried, most pre-occupied and there isn’t any PTO available for me to use to give them what they want: me. And you know that’s all our children want is our attention- for us to see them and understand them and make memories with them. How do we even do that anymore? What are these children of ours learning from this? Hard work doesn’t really get you anywhere? The American dream is really just to survive? Everything society says we should do to get ahead is a sham? I hope that last one is what they hold onto with both hands.
Do you know what I want? I want to get to know my children better than their daycare providers. I don’t care about climbing a ladder- it’s not worth it- it doesn’t get me more time at home with my kids- it doesn’t pay me more so I can worry less. I want to use my talents to make a living. I want to be who I am meant to be and not who society signed me up to be. I’ve been pigeon-holed.
I see that nightmare that is a lost identity for me and a boring childhood for my kids and I don’t want to claim that as my stake in the American Dream. How do we change it? It starts by teaching our children that we must love ourselves enough to do what we want to do. I paint watercolors and I repurpose jewelry. I write and sing songs and teach them to find the down beat and dance to the rhythm of the music we blast in the house. I give them the best half hour I’ve got in me before they go to bed at night and listen intently to the stories of their day. I teach them to create by creating myself and I don’t ask them what they want to be when they grow up- I ask them what they want to DO.
Doing is what matters… doing the right thing… doing what makes your heart sing… and you know the only real reason I’m able to do any of this, don’t you…? It’s because I don’t let myself think for a second that I can’t. Let them hold onto that idea…. And maybe you should too, if this resonated with you. Don’t think you have to settle for this if it’s not who you are, DO what makes you who you are- start somewhere. Do this with me, please. Our future literally depends on it.