When I was younger, my dream was to be a mom. I envisioned myself married, having four kids (two boys and two girls, of course) and wearing scarves on my head (hey, I was born in the 70’s!) while driving everyone around to Little League. Of course, we would live in a big house and have a pool. When I was in high school, I received the “Most Likely to be a Housewife” award (which I don’t think was really meant as a compliment—but I sure took it that way!). I knew I was destined to be a mother; what I didn’t know is that life would not turn out exactly as I’d planned.
After graduating from a university, I married and started working but quickly realized that job was not the career for me. I knew I wanted to be a mom, but I also knew I wanted to work part-time, so I went back to school and became a speech pathologist. Shortly after I finished my master’s degree, I gave birth to my first beautiful son, and eighteen months later, my second son was born. I took a year off for each of their births, but after I went back to full-time private practice, I worked more than I really intended. I told myself it was justified because I was saving up so I could take time off again when we expanded our family, which we planned to do. But, of course, things don’t always turn out as expected. Instead of having another baby, I got a divorce.
The period of time following the announcement that my husband was leaving was indescribably painful. I was devastated, scared, and angry. I knew, though, that I had been somehow prepared for this moment, since I had a career that allowed me to provide entirely for myself and my boys. And so, working full-time was my only option. Out the window went my “perfect” motherhood plan.
I struggled with working as much as I did. I couldn’t miss work, but I couldn’t miss out on the precious moments with my boys either. I was constantly torn, exhausted, and resentful that I had to work so much and ridden with guilt that I couldn’t be the mom I had always dreamed of being. My intentions could not match my circumstances, no matter how hard I tried. I knew I had to somehow come to accept what I had.
After a couple of years, I finally got into the groove of being a single mom, and then I happened to meet the most wonderful man in the world. This wonderful man was also a fantastic father to three beautiful children. We had a fairytale love story and quickly decided to be married, which meant merging our lives and our families.
Luckily, our kids liked each other and were just as excited to be together. However, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. I finally had a partner to parent with and even had my dream of more children, but my husband had to make payments to his ex-wife to support her household, which meant my dream of staying home with the kids would never happen.
Being a stepmom was not easy to get used to, either. Motherhood is a thankless job most of the time. The only job equally (or even more!) thankless is stepmotherhood. I tried to take the approach that while my stepchildren will always have their biological mother, when they are in our home, I am the mother. I do love being the mother to so many beautiful kids, but I was (and still am) often at a loss as to how to handle the uniqueness of our family.
One day, I stumbled across a blog I had read before, and for some reason started reading it with a different set of eyes. I decided that I would take from it all the things that inspired me. My circumstances were different, but my heart was the same. I loved my children. I adored my husband. I wanted to be the best mom I could be. I was led to other websites and started reading all sorts of stories about mothers and their experiences. I felt inspired by them.
Through my reading, I realized that circumstances don’t dictate the kind of mother I am. I can be the mother I want to be regardless of my circumstances. This realization felt like a weight lifted off my guilty-mother shoulders.
Several days later, I was working with a client and ended up sharing with him two points I had learned from one of the “motherhood” articles I had read. He really benefited from these insights, and I realized that I am a good therapist because of who I am—and a big part of that is being a mother.
Professionally, I may not have published any articles or conducted formal experiments, but I have done the experiments through my own life experiences. I may not be reading up on all the cutting-edge research, but I love reading about motherhood, and this is often very applicable to my clients since they sometimes need some mothering. On the other hand, developing myself professionally is, in essence, developing myself as an empathetic listener, a logical problem solver, an educator of strategies and values. All these things also make me a good mother.
My professional work helps me become a better mother. I had just never looked at my career from that perspective before. I may not be a stay-at-home mother, but I do spend my days mothering. I may not always be mothering my own children, but I am mothering other people’s children, too.
I have realized that the art of motherhood is not just for the moms who stay at home with their children in a nuclear family. It is also for the mothers who have children and/or stepchildren, the mothers who have no children but take care of yours and mine, the mothers who are working outside the home or volunteering. It is for every woman who extends her motherhood to every human who needs some mothering at any given time. While I don’t have the family I had envisioned as a child, this expanded view of motherhood assures me I am a bona fide, successful mom to all those whom I mother.
QUESTION: Do you ever feel like your circumstances prevent you from being the mother you want to be?
CHALLENGE: Sometimes the conflict between our situations and our desires and intentions is intractable. If you are in such a situation, instead of seeing a conflict, find a way to expand your definition of success.
Image from FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Vudhikrai.