motherhood, work and my issue with self-worth

Mother and Child (detail from The Three Ages of Woman), c.1905

I told a friend the other day that it feels really good to be properly working again, after more than three years of being pretty much a full-time mum. As she readily agreed with me, I felt myself beginning to question why it feels so good and the answer worries me a little.

Of course it’s always nice to have more cash to spend. And it is great to be using my brain for stuff other than small child related things. But the good feeling I have goes beyond these things; it’s more about my level of self-worth.

Going from having a career and being financially equal to my husband to being almost 100% reliant on him to bring home the bacon left me feeling not great about myself. Even though my husband and I agree on how we are bringing up our daughter and understands that being a full-time mum is just as important a role as his going out to work is.

What I find curious about how I feel is that since becoming a mum, I know and understand more than ever that being a mother is the most important job in the world. Yet I don’t feel the level of self-worth I felt before I became a mother.

So, it would seem my feelings of self-worth aren’t derived from how well I bring up our daughter, but the work that I do outside of being a mother. What is wrong with me?!

Little scenarios like the one I’m about to mention certainly don’t help: As my husband helped Ma Puce do up her coat last week, I commented to someone who was cooing over him doing so that “he doesn’t get the chance to do it during the week”. I meant nothing more than what I said, no subtext. Her response; “well yes, that’s because he’s out earning a living for you all”.


But patronising comments aside, these days women are just as able as men are to reach great heights educationally and go on to have successful careers. We are used to working. It is what we spent time preparing for at university and college. It’s what we do. So, if we step aside from it, it feels a little strange.

In my case, I would have given my right arm to become a parent a lot sooner than I did. Even so, much as I longed to become a mother, now that I am one, it’s still taking some time to get my head around the idea of being primarily a mother. In fact, as has become patently obvious since I’ve upped the hours that I ‘work’ and felt my self-esteem rise as a result; I still haven’t really got my head around the whole concept.

And I am sure there must be other mothers who feel the same. Mothers who choose to work, mothers who run their own businesses, mothers who work because they have to and mothers who choose not to work. It isn’t that we don’t love our children; it isn’t that we don’t want to be the best mothers that we can be. It’s that so many of us are hardwired to have careers and more than that, we enjoy them.

There is an old saying that women define themselves by their relationships, whereas men define themselves by their career. Well, I think that things they are a changing. Women too can define themselves by their career. So when children come along we can find ourselves psychologically and emotionally torn between two worlds, the world of career and the world of being a mum. And entwined in all of that, in my case at least, is an issue of self-worth for having chosen to focus on being a mum rather than my career.


  • Workingberlinmum

    I completely relate to this and whilst I can understand you’re concern, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I think I am a better parent for having satisfaction in my worklife and I think that is of far more value to my children than if I were at home with them 24/7. I have a lot of respect for those women who are full time mums until their children hit school age but I am just not up to it and to be honest, I think my son would have been worse off for it too. He was thrilled when he started nursery and now we have much more quality time together instead of what it was before. I am about to hit the world of full-time parenting again with baby number 2 due next month and I know it’s going to be a shock to the system. I’ve taken up a new hobby just to give myself a good distraction for if I ever have the time for it.

  • Anya from Older Single Mum

    I didn’t know you were going back to work Luci. What are you doing now? I know exactly what you mean. It’s more about using our minds though, isn’t it as well as having something to contribute financially. I don’t know why it commands respect – even from ourselves, but it just does X

  • Expat Mum

    Don’t over-think it. You feel better; you feel more self-worth, and let me tell you, because of that, you will be a better mother. We’re not all doing the same thing in any other aspect of our lives so why do we feel the need to do so when it comes to motherhood. You do what you have to.


      Such a brilliant comment. I’m afraid that other-thinking is the story of my life – I believe it is a trait of being a Virgo! Please could you pop up and remind me not to over-think on a monthly, no weekly, basis. My life would be so much simpler – and more glass half full!!


    Hey Anya

    Oh, I’ve not gone back to work as such, it’s just that as Ma Puce’s hours at nursery have increased, so too has the amount of work that I can do from home – aside from running the French website. So, it finally feels like I have a ‘proper’ amount of time to work and am earning a greater chunk of money as a result.

    I don’t even see myself going back into employment, doing it my way is the only way I think I’ll be able to balance being a mum with my desire to work.

    It is a strange situation on the respect and self-respect front isn’t it. xx

  • Anya from Older Single Mum

    I realised later on that this is what you meant. It’s that scatty time of year. I am doing the same with my blog and I feel a hundred times better for it, not least because my shitty ex- husband doesn’t bother to pay proper maintenance anymore and, having been so independent before, even though I think independence is overrated, I like to feel in control!


      I am so there with you on the needing to feel in control stakes!

  • Cocoapowered

    I get frustrated at having spent soooooo many years educating myself and learning so much about an industry just to be at home with my son. I also miss things like annual reviews where someone tells you that you are actually doing a good job. I never feel like I know whether I am or not. I definitely know the parenting stuff I do badly and lie awake at night worrying about that.

    But, then there are days like earlier this month where my son was ill and all I had to do was cancel the trip to the supermarket. Husband and I didn’t have to argue about whose job was more important and who had to stay home to the background noise of a puking 3yr old. I got to sit on the sofa watching mind-numbing CBeebies but, hey, my son was grateful I’m sure that I was there with him.

    And then there are the lovely moments that it’s great to be there for and I’m glad each time that I have the time to spend with him without having to rush or race about. I miss the cash, I miss the holidays, I miss decent haircuts and lunch breaks. However, I may get those back in the next year or so, but my son won’t be a funny three-year old again.


      Yes, I know what you mean about annual reviews – or even just those moments in a project where you get it spot on and everyone pats you on the back for being great at your job!! Never seems to happen in parenting. But, yes, like you, I always find something to fret about that I worry I am doing wrong.

      But also like you, I am so glad I don’t have to make the choice between rushing to work and being there for my daughter if she suddenly needs more of me… like her starting doing mornings at nursery. She’s four weeks in and pretty settled now, but it was so good in the first couple of weeks being able to pick her up early or at first, sit in with her. It may mean I have to switch work stuff I have planned until the evening, but at least I’m not having to answer to a boss or a team for my absence.

      And finally, yes, it is so true. Their childhood goes by so quickly, I don’t want to look back in years to come and regret not having been around.

  • older mum in a muddle

    I totally related to this post. I was a creative career woman before I had Little A, and it took along time to get used to the concept of being a mum – and I think this was one of the factors in my post natal illness. To be a good mother means to be fulfilled as a woman in her own right too – whether that’s from motherhood, career, or both. To quote a cliche – a happy mum means a happy child! Great post.


      I can see how it could pull you down. Especially given that it is those who set themselves really high standards who appear more prone to depression. It is so right that you need to be happy in yourself to really give your child the best. We are at a time when it is so hard to strike the right balance, hopefully for generations to come it will get easier.

  • Cocoapowered

    I do wonder whether some of it is about the fact that we’re not trained to be ‘homemakers’ (yes, I went there, but let’s be honest, being a SAHP is not just the parenting it’s all the domestic house-running too) unlike my Mum’s generation. I often feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. Am rubbish at household stuff and have no idea or much idea on parenting. Interestingly, this is not how I would ever approach a job in an office.

    Perhaps if I did brush up on some parenting and household skills and set myself some SMART objectives, perhaps I’d feel better about things? Dunno, maybe…..


      Yep, that’s a really good point. I have another post in me about how becoming a stay-at-home-parent tends to mean you run the household too. I have so little interest in cleaning, in fact the first thing I did when I could justify it was to get a cleaner again, like in the good old days of the dual income!

      The reality is though, it isn’t a luxury, I start at 7am when my daughter gets up and don’t stop until around 10pm or later at least three nights per week, and not much earlier on the other nights. Something has to give, just wish I could afford to get all the washing sent off and laundered hee hee!!

      Not sure about setting SMART objectives for household skills – not sure I ever want to excel, but maybe it’s a good way to keep on top of our parenting skills eh!!