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.