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A Mother’s Contribution

Ok, so after some feedback on my post regarding my feelings of failure for having nothing to show for myself and my days but random errands, I would like to clarify that I in no way under value my role as a mother. I am aware of the positive contribution I’m making to both my son’s life and to society as a whole by creating a kind and loving person who might someday add to the world. Being a mom is no joke and whether you are a stay at home mom or a working mom I believe it is truly the most important job you can have. That being said however, motherhood, though infinitely rewarding, can also be totally thankless. Your life quickly becomes reflected solely in your child’s contribution to the world. If your son is behaving like an angel you can feel good about yourself because obviously you are an excellent mother. If, however, your little angel is acting like a total brat – God forbid in public – then you can kiss your feelings of self worth good bye because you are clearly blowing it.  For those mothers who are completely fulfilled by raising their children I say kudos. It’s certainly a real job and doing it should be enough. I’m just finding it’s not enough for me.

I think these feelings stem from a combination of things. How I was raised and the expectations, real or imagined, that come with that. How I want to be living and the difficulty of those dreams culminating realistically in today’s world and, my personality – charming or otherwise – that is constantly striving to be “better”. I grew up in what I would refer to as a post-feminist world. A world where I didn’t fight for equal rights but expected them. A time were statistically a woman’s paycheck may still be less than a man’s, but theoretically I could do whatever a man could. I was raised in the “have it all” generation. I could have a successful and rewarding career and still be a amazing hands-on mother. All career paths were open to me and the sky was the limit. I used to worship this amazing mom that lived down the street. She was a gorgeous, successful lawyer with 2 kids and a great marriage. I babysat for them and I thought, that is the type of woman I want to be. When she quit her job to stay home with her kids full time it almost killed me. What was she doing? When they moved out of the city to to be able to afford a bigger place I was floored. Just go back to work and get a bigger place in the city! What was going on with my role model? She was really letting me down.

As a grown woman I now understand. We can’t have it all. Or maybe we can, but not all at the same time. We have to make sacrifices along with our choices, and that’s something they don’t teach in school. I went to a top notch, private, all girls school where I was exposed to infinite opportunities and almost limitless possibilities for my life. I excelled there. I was a student leader and debater, the lead in plays and the captain of the swim team. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t “make” it. My mom used to joke that I better marry someone really wealthy to keep up the lifestyle  to which I’d become accustomed. I was insulted. Marry rich?! ! Please! I was going to be rich and successful myself!  Coming from my kind of background, if you don’t end up with a really awesome job – the corner office, the medical degree or, in my case, as a Hollywood player – you can feel like a failure. You had every opportunity and you squandered it. I’m not rich and successful yet, so I beat myself up. I push harder and often find it difficult to truly enjoy my life because I feel like I’m not moving forward. Stay at home mom was not a Career. Capital C. It was something our mother’s did when the options were limited. We were the new generation. We could be anything. We could be Someone. I’m not Someone, so I sometimes feel like a no one.

Maybe it’s just a no win situation. Stay-at-home mom’s feel like they should be working. Working mom’s feel like they should be home more. You want kids but don’t have the right partner or you have the right partner but don’t want kids and then feel you have to apologize for that…

I have lots of friends who love their jobs but are still struggling financially. Maybe they’re happy or maybe they beat themselves up too. Of that I’m not sure. What I do know is, for the most part, we all want what we had growing up…plus more. We want it to be better for our children than it was for us. Problem is, it’s a lot more expensive to have the basics these days, let alone more. Things you want for your children – a nice home, top notch education, food, hell…organic food, enrichment classes, college, let alone all the stuff these kids need today – costs money. If you aren’t making money you feel you aren’t contributing. So many people have 2 working parents just to keep up with the bills and expectations they have for themselves. People are mortgaged to the hilt to live the lifestyle they grew up with or the lifestyle they think they need. When the economy fell apart in the US 2 years ago, it was the first time Sean and I were relieved to be behind the 8 ball. We had no 401 K to deplete, no house to lose, no stock portfolio to tank. Life as an actor is already feast or famine so the job market remained about the same for us. When you live like that and you have 7 years of post graduate studies on your resume you feel like an loser that you aren’t contributing. And contributing in today’s world means making money. Being Someone means having a Career or at least a job. I feel more successful saying I’m a writer than I do saying I’m a mom. What does that say about me?

I love being a mom. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m proud of myself. I’m exceptionally proud of my son. But am I reaching my full potential? I don’t want my sense of self worth to be totally tied up in him. I don’t want his success in life to be a direct reflection of my success in life.  That’s not fair to him or to me. I need something that is all mine. Something that makes me, me. And I’m still looking for it. When I find it I think I’ll feel more complete. When I find it, quite frankly, I think I’ll be a better mom.

Then I’ll tell him to marry rich.

Cassie Pappas Photography

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kristen Douglas #

    You hit the nail on the head Leigh… Every day that I’m at work, I feel guilty for not being home with my kids. And, every day time that I have to leave work early to pick up the kids or miss some work to take one of my kids to a doctor’s appointment, I feel guilty for not being at work. At the moment, I guess I have to learn to be satisfied with being mediocre at both jobs, it seems. Loved your post, by the way.

    October 24, 2011
  2. analufranco #

    Great Post! I have the same complicated feelings! I never even thought I would want to stay at home with my kids until I had to leave them to go to work. Now I’m always scheming to figure out how to stay at home full time. Haven’t figured it all out.

    October 24, 2011
  3. Great post and so true! As someone who went to the same private school as you I can’t help but wonder how much good all the “empowerment” did for us. I read through the semi-annual Read and feel like a failure thinking I am now in my late thirties and should be some kind of big time executive or successful business owner making millions. It pumps up everything about capital C Career and very little about choices that women make as mothers, why and how it is to stay true to what you really want and what is best for your family versus what the expectations perceived or not you have of what you should be doing. I’ve written to them to voice this concern and was told that’s not necessarily the image the school wants to portray to potential new schools (silly me to think the Read was for alumnae – my words not theirs).

    I feel like you that I am not comfortable having my sense of self-worth tied to my kids and am constantly dreaming and thinking up new ways to move forward. Leaving my management role in the corporate world has been both amazing and disorienting as I work to find me again. I’ve recently decided that there will be several “careers” for me and I’m probably not even halfway through. God willing.

    I think you are on to something when you think about finding something that is all yours and something that makes you … keep writing. It’s both thought provoking and inspiring.

    October 24, 2011
  4. Robyn Varey O'Hare #

    Hi Leigh, I’m following your posts, well, because I’m interested, I was shocked to hear of your health concerns, and I enjoy your writing. I went to one of your “competitor” girls’ schools in the same year as you, and like you, was successful in many areas. I’ve struggled since graduation about what we were taught – that “girls can do anything” and that a high-powered, money-making Career was something we were to strive for. For the last 12 years, however, I have struggled to work full-time while at the same time be the best wife and mother I can be. I have felt like an octupus, trying to keep every ball in the air and do a great job at everything. And, I have fallen short in every area. It wasn’t until my health started to be affected that I began to think that I wasn’t meant to do “everything” and that I was really compromising the most important roles I had been given. At the end of the day, it won’t matter a hoot whether I did a great job teaching math and science to a bunch of boys at a similar independent school. The school will move on (as it already has, as I am now on a disability leave b/c my health and 4th pregnancy couldn’t keep up with the pace of life at the school). What I will leave behind are the values, faith, and lessons that I have taught my children. What will matter is the example that I have sent to my girls and my son about how much their mommy loves, cherishes, and respects their daddy, so that they, too, will strive for a functional and healthy marriage and not compromise and settle for anything less. Now that I am home, I am seeing how blessed I am to be home. I don’t feel guilty anymore about having my daughter stay home when she is sick because I am home anyways and I’m not letting the people at work down. I don’t feel torn that I’m missing my son run in his cross-country race or missing my daughter accept a character award at school, because I am able to go. I can walk my 3 year old to her Montessori school and make healthy snacks when they come home from school. None of this was possible when I was at work full-time (and some). It doesn’t mean that we are “set” financially. If anything, the disability leave has set us back – but only in that regard. We don’t own our home and we have more debt than we would like to admit, but again, at the end of the day, a house and the things we have accumulated aren’t coming with us.
    From one stay-at-home mom/writer, to another stay-at-home mom/painter.

    October 25, 2011
  5. Lisa #

    You know, I used to think that the way kids are taught now-a-days, that ‘everyone is a winner’ is awful; you know, the “everyone gets a trophy for participating” and “you’re all winners”… that sort of crap. We were raised to compete with everyone, and winning was a wonderful feeling – we strived to be the best we could be, and reveled in the joy of winning the ONE trophy or ribbon up for grabs. It made us less ‘wussy’ and more prepared for the ‘adult world’ ahead of us.

    But reading your post has made me realize that that is likely why we (and I say ‘we’, as I feel exactly the way you do, even sans child) feel the way we feel about ourselves – we keep striving and striving, and when we don’t reach our goals, we feel like failures. We’re “NOT accomplishing enough”… we “SHOULD be financially stable, own a home, perhaps even a cottage as well, have the best that life can offer”.

    We were raised with expectations, and those expectations nested in our minds and followed us into our adult lives – leading to feelings of inadequacy when we suddenly realize that we are not where we ‘should’ be! Societal norms can create unrealistic goals, and associated feelings of pressure and anxiety. There is no reason to be ‘the best’, to have ‘the best’… it sure would be nice, but definitely not something that we should measure ourselves against if we don’t have ‘it’. We should be proud of ourselves. We are accomplished, intelligent, GOOD people – the world should be lucky to have us as a part of it. We contribute daily to the ‘general good’ in life – in how we interact with other people, our family members, strangers… we work hard, even if it doesn’t end up getting us to where we want to be in life, raise ‘good’ children who will in turn become ‘good’ adults — extremely important, as we see the results of children who have not been raised well in society. Raising a child is THE most important job; the world would be a much better place with more moms (and parents) like you.

    You are a wonderful mother (from the little time I have spent around you) – you should both be very proud of the lovely, very well-behaved, intelligent and funny young man you have raised. You are also a very talented writer — and I seriously think you should consider writing a book (something along the lines of what you’ve done in your blog). Perhaps start the wheels moving in a career in photography; take courses if you need to, take photos of whatever inspires you — people, pets, scenery — and start up your own business; that way, you can dedicate as much (or as little) time to it as you would like, but it will give you the feeling that you have accomplished something….. maybe? Just a thought… but seriously consider the book option; I think you have something here.

    October 25, 2011
    • I am not a big fan of the ‘everyone is a winner’ mentality of today’s kid interaction either. It’s created a situation worse than ours I think. Where everyone thinks they are “special” (everyone is special but not everyone can be the winner) and that the rules don’t apply to them. It’s creating a very spoiled generation. There is a great book on the topic called “Generation Me”. Thanks a lot for reading Lisa. I really appreciate the support. For the record, I am planning on a book in the future. It is my hope that the blog can be the precursor to finding it’s audience. The more readers I get the more likely I am to find a publisher for a book. Hope you’re well. Lots of love, Leigh.

      October 25, 2011
  6. Ah my love…you said it, the post feminist world. In a way, it got us less instead of more or it made us feel like we got less when we really got more, that’s debatable. When I became a private yoga teacher 7 years ago, it was not supposed to be for forever. It was something I was going to do that was flexible (hee hee) while I got a Master’s Degree. I wanted to be taken seriously…it’s hard to take a yoga teacher seriously…no matter how many Hedge Funders and Goldman Sachs employees she teaches. You can tell someone you are the private yoga teacher of Ivanka Trump (who I did teach, once) and they still do not take you seriously. So I ached to move on to the next thing. But then I got married and was non-matriculating some classes, when one of my clients said to me, ‘don’t stop teaching yoga if you want to have a baby.’

    What? Why?

    ‘Because no one in the corporate world cares if you have a baby.’

    Really? What about maternity leave and in-office day care and all of the utopian things I thought were out there for post feminist working mothers?

    She burst out laughing. ‘That does not exist. I worked for (a fashion company) and they could have cared less about anything that happened to me regarding my pregnancy or my baby after she arrived, in fact, they were pretty clear I was a nuisance.’

    Another client of mine told me about an interview she went on for (a very high end fashion company) and in the interview they asked her flat out if she had or was planning on having children. She said no (which was true that day) and the interviewers response was, ‘good. we don’t have time to have employees away, we want them here.’ Legally you cannot discriminate against a pregnant woman, but this was a high end, sought after position. They could screen prospective employees as they saw fit.

    So-against everything in me, I stayed a yoga teacher. I love my clients, I love the ability to make my own schedule. I don’t like not using my brain more. I don’t like telling people I’m a stay at home mom and a yoga teacher. It makes me feel like they instantly have visions of me vaccinating my child myself with tea tree oil while I chant in sanskrit…and that’s just SOOOO not who I am (and please—this is just how I feel about being a yoga teacher—I’m sure there are people out there who think it would be the greatest thing ever).

    Your post touches on so many issues, I could write a 10 page reply, but I’m choosing to stick to the ‘post feminist’ so maybe you don’t have to be so hard on yourself (believe me, I am just as hard on myself as you are). Maybe it’s time we recognized ourselves as pioneers instead. Maybe we need to start the ball rolling for the next generation of women. Our mothers got us educated and into the work force, it’s now maybe our job to teach the next generation how to be in the work force and be good mothers and be ourselves.

    I don’t know how yet, but It’s not with 80 hour work weeks, it’s not with guilt and it’s not with any feelings of being less than.

    So go figure that out for us Leigh, will you?

    I’m always proud of you and think you kick ass, ps.

    October 26, 2011
  7. Jessica Watson #

    Leigh, I have been following your blog with true excitement. I think you found yourself a niche. Sometimes I feel like you are reflecting my own internal thoughts and I thank you for writing such truths that may not resonate with everyone, but it does with me. I hear you on so many levels. Maybe it being that we grow up in the same city, are the same age and have the same life (mom at home). I too was raised to grow up and be anything that I wanted to be. I am extremely thankful for my thankless job, lucky that I can stay home and raise my kids… but sometimes I guess validation is what I need. You did that today for me, at least for today. I appreciate that and look forward to reading many more blogs to come. Your are a very talented writer… own it!

    October 29, 2011
  8. So many great comments here. Leigh, you’ve really touched a chord with people. I hear you and I have to say that I have spent the last 18 months working toward working because I am happier when I have work. I am so much happier now. Raising children is not my sole vocation, either. Everyone always said “they’re only young for such a short time” and I wanted to shout back “so am I!!”

    November 1, 2011
  9. “They’re only young for such a short time.”
    “So am I!”
    Love it Mer!! Totally brilliant.

    November 7, 2011
  10. I loved it, Amazing ideas…The pictures are so lovely too.
    you will rich the complete mom one day 🙂

    January 12, 2012

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