Our last Holy Cake Day was a rather hectic one. With my husband’s birthday and people over, with furniture delivery (obviously!) and an extra small fridge not delivered (also, obviously), I was left with the two kids to get things ready for yet another first of the year: our first barbecue in the garden. Woohoo! In case you’re wondering, bbq weather is now over, it’s grey, windy and miserable again.
So with Kid 2 attached to me like a little monkey the whole time, and Kid 1 running around trying to talk to delivery guys and constantly asking me when we would have cake and when would people start to show up, I did my very best to finish up said cake (which also has a nice story, soon to come), decorate the garden (complete failure there), and look presentable (never saw myself in the mirror before everyone showed up, so who knows?). But in the end it was fun. The kids were excited that they could stay outside without their coats on for the first time this year, the very little ones were happy to be eating outside and to have so many people pay attention to them, the men were barbecuing and talking men stuff, occasionally making the kids chase balls in the parking lot behind our garden (that’s a fairly safe communal spot where the kids in the neighbouring houses can play when it’s nice outside). As for the women, I only caught about a quarter of what was going on, since I was running around so much, but I assume they were talking women stuff. Ha!
This, and other things lately, really got me thinking about gender roles. Again. I am not a traditional person in many ways, and I was not raised in a traditional family. My mother never changed her maiden name, which led to my sister and I having two family names, a very uncommon thing at the time, to say the least. She was also the main provider of our household. So I was taught to be independent, never rely on men, follow my studies and my career.
And I did. For a while. Until I had children and I was faced with an ugly truth: I either pursued my career, or I spent time with my kids. I know many women are faced with the same problem, and I am also very much aware of the fact that many don’t have a choice in this matter, they have to go back to work. I am lucky enough to have a choice, and I have recently quit my job for a second time in order to stay home with the kids. This time I thought I wouldn’t have to do it, and I went on maternity leave with the full intention of going back to work. I was, after all, only working part time, so that should have made things easier. But it didn’t. Not working in the same city I live made for a long commute by train. So long, that I would have needed at least an extra two hours of daycare every day for Kid 2, on top of my working hours. And when the baby in question is less than 3 months old, doesn’t sleep well at night, doesn’t follow your schedule, needs to eat or sleep right about when you need to drag him out of the house, I felt so sorry for the poor child. I could not get myself to see the point of going back to work. Nothing, neither money, nor experience, nor time spent among the adults in the office, nothing could make up for the obvious discomfort and unhappiness I was causing him. And for the unhappiness I was causing myself as a result.
So for all my free thinking, all my openness to new relationship dynamics and ways of life, here I am in a very traditional role. Wife and mother. This somehow has the power of sounding like an inferior thing. I am not saying it is, but I feel the guilt of having left the professional world for now, of having ignored what I was taught as a child, of somehow not doing enough and all that I am supposed to. I wonder, do all moms feel like that? Why do we (even if not all moms, surely some do, I can’t be alone in this! Am I?) feel like we always need to prove ourselves, do more, better, handle everything? Sometimes even apologise for the role we are currently having. I feel like I am taking a shortcut in life because the financial burden relies solely on my husband now. Kudos to him, he still views me as his equal partner, but that doesn’t mean that all my guilt flies away. It’s still there, whispering nasty stuff about me in my ear. Occasionally, it does more than whisper and I am afraid other people will hear it too and ask me how I can live with myself. The truth is I wouldn’t know what to tell them. It all sounds like excuses, rather than genuine reasons to stay home.
And then I see those moms who are genuinely fulfilled in their roles. They stay home and are happy, are the perfect mommies and make everything look so simple. Why isn’t it simple for me? I don’t find it easy to connect with a child from the first second, I need time. I am not like a cartoon character, I don’t always know how to entertain them. I don’t always know how to scold them productively, how to guide them, how to reason with them. I don’t always believe that what I am doing is the right thing to do, that this will make healthy, confident adults. What if I am raising psychopaths? What if they will hate me and never want to talk to me when they grow up? What if, what if, what if…
And while rationally speaking, I know I have made the right choice to stay home, why do I feel like I am missing out? Is it that I genuinely want to have a paid job right now, or is it that I have been told so many times that that’s what I should be doing, that I feel like a bad person and guilty for not actually wanting it? Not that my dream is to stay at home and do nothing, far from it, but now may not be the time for me to chase all my dreams. These kids did not ask to be born, I can’t blame them for not being able to do what I want, that’s entirely on me.
But in the meantime, how do I stop the guilt? And why, WHY, does a nice day like we’ve had have to leave behind such dreary thoughts?