I have read just about every modern mothering/motherhood book on the shelves. I have talked to every mother who will let me broach the subject (it's shocking how many women actually won't even dive into this topic.) Since my oldest daughter was about one year old, I have been trying to reconcile this wild conflict in my heart, soul and gut around my desire to mother with wreckless abandon – and this fire-in-the-belly need to play “big” in the world outside my home.
I am shocked that it has come to this.
When I was in my 20's, I worked in high-tech companies as an Executive Assistant. Every single boss I had asked me some version of the question, “Michelle – what do you want to do? You are really good at this business thing. How can I help you move up in this company?” To which I would reply with some version of, “I love what I do now. I get to be in on the big conversations – then I get to go home and not worry about work.” I was in graduate school, so I further explained my lack of desire to move up by my need to preserve energy for my studies.
And then I had a baby. And another. And another. Yup, pretty much that quickly.
And I loved everything about mothering. I loved the nursing all night, co-sleeping, making baby food, researching the best sleep methods. I reveled in conversations with other mothers about ways to care for our kids, the differences in personalities, the struggles of time, energy and being too touched-out to get romance back to its pre-baby fire in our marriages. I was more satisfied and whole than I had ever felt before in my life.
This made sense because I had always expected that Motherhood would be the answer to my intense drive to live my life of purpose and passion.
Oh, I didn't want to only mother all my life. I didn't want it to be my everything. I definitely wasn't going to be one of those mothers (ahem.) I am really driven and I always knew I'd take my ambition out into the work world with real abandon after my kids were older. While they were young, I'd just give them every amazing experience I could create. We'd make chocolate chip cookies with only our hands. We'd swim naked in rivers. We'd skip school and go to the park instead. Maybe I'd even unschool these crunchy, groovy babes. I'd make these amazing organic dinners and they'd eat them. (Surely by this future Mamahood time, I'd learn how to stop burning everything I put on a stove.)
If you know me, you know I still fantasize about this Motherhood life.
The fact is, we're not that far off. Yeah, the girls eat only about four types of vegetables (but they are virtually always organic.) We go to the park sometimes (though, frankly, I don't really like going to the park that much.) We do make a lot of chocolate chip cookies and their little baby hands are usually very involved. And, goodness knows not a river is safe from their little naked bodies (my body stays decidedly clothed.)
The major – and really meaningful difference between my fantasies of Motherhood and my experience of it is…
My ambition can't wait.
Oh, gohd, I'm going to say it: It's not them, it's me.
But it's true – mostly. Sure, there are things about day to day Motherhood that drive me absolutely batty (Is the center of the kitchen floor where everything goes when you are done with it?! Seriously!) But I am powerfully aware every day that I spend with these little girls that I laugh, sing and dance way more when I am with them than when I am doing anything else. Those moments are blissful. I want a zillion of them – and I hate the thought of missing any of them because I am at work.
Work feeds my soul.
It's like there is a section of my soul that is for work/outside passion/ambition/making a meaningful difference outside my family and a separate section of my soul that can only be fed by my girls. So, when I am with the girls and can't “work” for a long time, that part of my soul feels sad and lonely and, really, abandoned. When I work too much, that part of my soul that is fed by my babies has its own version of that experience.
The hard part is, both parts of my soul have big appetites. They are very hungry.
I'd venture to guess that lots of people in my life think that I am mostly fine with my ambition and desire to work as it relates to my mothering. Probably because that's the way I talk about it. I'm not lying about it either. I actually do believe in the upper half of my body (just above my heart all the way to the top of my head) that my job as a mother is to be loving, compassionate, provide safety and play and presence for my kids. I passionately believe that! And yet, the truth is:
I feel guilty much of the time I am away from my girls at work.
Intellectually I “know” that it is “okay” to not be with your kids, as long as you know they are in safe loving care. But the truth is, my heart and gut is in turmoil when I am away for a big chunk of time (unless they are with their dad) because somewhere along the line I picked up the deep belief (or is it that we are indoctrinated from birth as women??) that I should be with my kids virtually every single second that I am able – that their very health and well-being depends on it.
So, what does a woman do? How do I honor and experience both soul desires without absolutely losing my mind (and giving up too much sleep, which I know serves neither me or them?) And maybe the most important question, which I will explore in future posts (and probably a much bigger project): How do I reconcile these powerful soul drives with the amount of time in a given day without feeling guilty or judgmental or uselessly pollyanna about my choices?
What about you? How do you feel about work, mothering (or parenting), ambition… do you experience conflict? Oh, how I'd love to hear about it! Please share in the comments.
Thanks to Exquisitur for this perfect open heart symbol which makes me think of the two parts of my soul at play here.