I was an accident waiting to happen.
I had been envisioning my career and independence since I was 14 years old. I had never been to a therapist, but I heard one speak in my freshman year Health class. I had never heard of a job where you study people, relationships, and feelings. I wanted to know everything I could about all of that. I have never looked back.
Although I very much prioritized my friendships, family, and feelings as a young woman, I also had a high value on my own independence. I wanted to be on my own as soon as possible. I planned on having a successful career, and never doubted my capacity to do so. I gained financial independence from my family as soon as I could after college, and have felt very motivated to further my career at every turn. I was living many of the feminist values I had been taught and had come to believe in.
Enter in motherhood at age 35. By age 40, with a 4 year old son and 2 1/2 year old daughter, I was finally aware of something: I did not prepare for this.
And what do I mean by this? The feeling that the most important thing in my life, in the world, is my relationship with my children: their overall development, growth, and my family’s well being.
Doesn’t seem so crazy, I know. But, to my empowered feminist self, this is a small nightmare. It means that I don’t care as much about all the ideals I had grown up with, that those ideals have little if any current relevance. My career, for instance, now comes after my family. The place in the world where I have status and value, where I get paid well for showing up, where people recognize my talents and want my involvement in their lives or organizations, is now extremely small.
Also, never before have I had so little independence. I have given it up, financially and relationally, because that is the best choice for me and for our particular family. Although I work part time, I am dependent on my husband’s income. We are living traditional gender roles more than I ever have in my life, because we are choosing that as it makes sense for us. I am arranging my life around my children’s needs and schedules, I am completely entrenched in a system here at home and willingly participating in that. Dependency in this way, to my feminist side, is just shy of a life long prison sentence.
And, the experience of mothering feels intensely meaningful and valuable to me, to an extent I could never have understood before having my own children. Even though being with my kids is the most demanding and relentless undertaking I’ve ever had, I feel insane with gratitude for the opportunity to do it. I have enough awareness to know that soon enough, they will be grown, and I want to be here for as many messy, exhausting, miraculous moments as I can.
Even though I feel that mothering is the most valuable contribution I could make to the planet, the best use of my education and unique personal gifts, I can still struggle with wondering the dreaded question that plagues so many mothers: ”Is being a mother…. enough?”
To that my answer now is, “Enough for who? Who is judging my life and asking this? Who am I afraid of letting down?”
Maybe (I’m starting to wonder) its my former self, full of feminist ideals, who had no clue about what raising children would feel like for me. I never studied motherhood as an experience for women, despite minoring in women’s studies in college, and working with girls and women for the last 20 years, it never came across in my curriculum. I never encountered mothering as a worthwhile experience to investigate. (Whoa, it takes my breath away to see that now). I am realizing that my feminist ideals were still entrenched in a culture of patriarchy, where I had only certain options for being empowered and feeling of value. Motherhood and being in the role of the nurturer, wasn’t one of them.
So, how does this “accident” get cleaned up?
By knowing that my values have changed, or finally truly emerged, now that I am seeing more clearly all the institutions that I am woven into. I am not the same woman who held all of those ideals about independence and equality. I genuinely value empowerment, which is about living in a way that is in line with my lived experience and valuing what I value, despite what any aspect of society says I should. It turns out living this way is more empowering than anything I have learned, read, or formed an idea around.
I have to change all kinds of things to make room for my updated values, that are now deeply informed by my experience of pregnancy, birthing, and mothering. I am letting go of roles, aspects of my identity, aspirations, relationships, and anything else that doesn’t fit anymore. And I am developing an entirely new perspective on love, relationships, growth, and fulfillment. My life and everything about it must include my experience as a mother and its value in my life. For me, this is empowerment that I never learned about, but always dreamed was possible.