If my life were a documentary, it would probably go something like this, “Behold… the millennial mother in her natural habitat. Observe as she struggles through the continuous cycle of changing dirty diapers, baking allergen-free treats, and protecting small hands from never-ending dangers while earning her master’s degree, managing it all through sleepless nights. Note the millennial’s limber fingers designed to quickly unfasten full diapers, rescue burning pieces of pasta from under the stove burner, and type late-night discussion posts at a rate of 92 wpm. The millennial mom can regularly be identified from the trademark dark, sleepless night induced circles under the eyes, and slight air of desperation akin to that of a drowning person.”
Yes… I am a millennial mom. Trying desperately to remember my identity outside of the (sometimes) all-encompassing title of “mother,” continually striving to build a career outside the home while running the elusive ideal home. Running on limited sleep, forever running behind, forever running.
Oh, believe me, on the outside I have it all together. My script is written to best display my ambition for success, carefully balanced with my flawless execution of motherhood.
“What will I be doing with my life?” you ask. Well, I have just earned a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in technical communication and rhetoric. I aspire to translate technical government jargon into plain language in order to best educate the public.
(Insert Covid, mass unemployment, an unexpected first and then second baby, and my current reality… stealthily typing on my blog at 2:00 am.)
“Well, that sounds most impressive!” the inquirers comment.
And as they smile and nod in approval, I mentally check the box next to the one that says “buy chocolate”: “value affirmed”.
Culturally, America is unique in that our identities are rooted in our profession. A person is defined not by who they are but what they do; hence the housekeeper or stay-at-home mom, post inquiry, embarrassingly mumble their seemingly “valueless” career under their breath while the doctor or attorney loudly proclaims theirs.
Dr. Kathleen Smith, therapist, and author of Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down, states that, “One huge societal narrative in America is that having an impressive job title gives you more value as a human.”
In other cultures, France for example, it is considered impolite, even offensive to inquire after one’s profession as a baseline expectation for small talk. One’s value is not intrinsically linked to what one chose (or maybe didn’t choose) to do with their life.
Struggling to put myself debt-free through my undergrad program, I have experienced the embarrassment of my profession being considered less than desirable. After a particularly long day of scrubbing kitchen floors, picking up two used condoms, and being shot in the eye by a stream of (what I hope) was clean water in a faux pax as I attempted to clean a bidet, I was not in the mood to be asked, “So, what do you do for a living?”
With the confident bravado one can only muster from a “don’t give a crap” attitude that comes from being shot in the eye earlier with a bidet, I answered, “I clean toilets.”
“Oh, um, well what do you hope to do with your life?” came the awkward, halted response.
“This. I have dreamed of scrubbing the crap of others since I was a small child. One year I asked Santa for a plunger for Christmas. I am living my dream.”
Insert awkward silence. Apparently, the dry satirical humor was lost on the hearer.
Three years later…
I now struggle with being a “stay at home mom.” Sometimes I long for the confident bravado that descended upon me from a stream of bidet water to the eye, the ability to not give a crap concerning the opinions of others. People tend to glaze over the fact I also hold a part-time job working from home, commenting on how lovely it must be to laze around day after day perusing social media while some unknown servant feeds me grapes and fans my face… Okay, I confess… I may have added that last part.
While working as a stay-at-home mom and working part-time, I am still actively pursuing a more “notable” career, one that enabled me to make money (preferably a lot of it), stay home to raise my babies, and achieve an unimpaired work/life balance.
However, the hunt isn’t going so well…
“We regret to inform you that you have not been selected for the position.”
It was the third rejection that week. I skimmed the text, pressed delete, and added it to the pile of 17 others I received in the last month. Apparently, no one wanted to hire a part-time, stay at home mom, who just graduated and possessed limited experience.
I felt valueless. Depressed. Lazy. And embarrassed over my seemingly purposeless life.
I wondered if the hiring manager at the companies I was applying to smelled the stench of desperation mixed with curdled breastmilk and baby poop that radiated from me.
It was then I realized, my sense of value, my sense of self was firmly cemented in the items on my resume, the crossed off “to-dos” on my list, my accomplishments, my degrees, my career titles, my ambitions. And currently, those lists were looking pretty sparse.
The problem was my value was intrinsically connected to things that, as a new mom, were harder and harder to achieve. Suddenly, my “to do” list was never finished, crossing items off the list didn’t bring a sense of achievement or satisfaction because the list became repetitive. Just as I crossed one item off, it reappeared… My house was always a little messy, a little lived in, the laundry always needed to be addressed, dinner always needed to be figured out, there were never enough hours in the day to squeeze in a workout, and the pursuit of a career, identity, something outside of being “mom” constantly called.
It wasn’t until I started screwing some of the ways I measured my value and started to break that intrinsic bond of career tied to self-worth, that I was able to embrace my role and become not quite so desperate in my pursuit of additional ones.
Screw what Others Think
I’ve been working hard at a new job this past year. 18-24 hours a day, 7 days a week (racking up that overtime!). I didn’t have much choice in my start date, and I didn’t feel prepared when it arrived. Upon beginning my new profession, I was never given a training manual. However, I was told that lives were depending on my success or failure – so “make sure you don’t screw it up!” Although I wasn’t given an instruction manual for my very specific job, I did find hundreds of thousands online written for similar jobs. Sadly, they often contradict each other, so I am constantly worried that I am making a developmentally detrimental decision.
My boss never thanks me, and regularly requests, or more accurately, demands) my constant time, supervision, and attention. I get yelled at quite often, have dealt with numerous bodily fluids, and after a particularly rough night a bought of regurgitated dinner. I have yet to see a paycheck, so I continue to pursue other means of income, however, this job is quite demanding so any free or personal time to search for an identity outside of this career possesses quite the challenge.
It is often viewed as a privilege to be a stay-at-home mom. And honestly, it is. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Saying yes to something always means saying no to something else. Dana Dorfman, PhD, a New York City psychotherapist and co-host of the weekly podcast, Two Moms on the Couch shares, “… moms who stay home full time tend to report feelings of isolation, a loss of identity, and a loss of social interaction,” Dr. Dorfman says. “It can be hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when this is not always observable.”
Please remember this… It doesn’t matter what anyone says about the value of your job.
Your job is challenging. Your job is appreciated. Your job has meaning. Your job has value. Your job is important. Your job is not the sum of who you are.
Screw Social Media
I used to scroll through Pinterest and Instagram and envy the beautiful, fit, toned mommies, the mommies with spotless houses, the mommies with creative, innovative, STEM centered crafts, the mommies with gorgeous, homecooked, nutritionally dense, artfully plated meals, the mommies with rooms dedicated to play, enrichment, and development, the mommies whose struggles were humorous and guaranteed an “LOL” instead of a quick cry in the bathroom. The mommies who made me feel increasingly inadequate about my attempts at homemade, organic baby food, enrichment through a pile of ping-pong balls, a used paper towel roll, and a (clean) fly swatter, my jiggly belly and stretch-marked thighs. I am sure their intent was not to cause these comparisons. I am sure the intent was to encourage, to inspire. I am sure these women face their own daily battles. But seeing the seemingly constant perfections and glazing over the imperfections left me continually asking myself, “Why are you so bad at being a mom?”
Take a break. From the comparisons. My little guy loves his fly swatter and his occasional bowl of macaroni and cheese. And I am learning to be okay with that.
Screw the “Shoulds”
- I should be grateful
- I should be in great shape
- I should have a perfect house
- I should find complete fulfillment in being a mom
- I should always put my needs second
- I should…
You should be okay with having a hard day; we all have them.
You should be okay with asking for help; we all need it.
You should be okay with scheduling time just for you; you are valuable.
You should be okay with feeling burnt out; motherhood is hard sometimes.
You should be okay with giving yourself grace; we all wish we could have redos.
You should be okay with saying no; we all need to model self-care and boundaries.
Regardless of whether you balance the challenge of working full-time and being a full-time mom, or you have embraced the challenge of being a full-time mom, or you’re a full-time mom and work from home, or full-time mom who works part-time, whatever your challenge might be, take a moment to remember your value is linked to much more than a checked off “to do” list, an accomplishment, a clean house, a master chef meal, a room full of STEM toys.
My name is Adeline. It’s a pleasure to “meet” you!
I am a lot of things. Mother to Baby Leo. Recently pregnant with an unexpected second. English master’s degree graduate. Part-time editor. Part-time assistant program director for a nonprofit after-school program. Part-time blogger. Hiker enthusiast. Self-taught crocheter. Avid reader. Housekeeper. Cook. Wife. Sometimes in all the constant changing of hats I lose myself. So I started writing the blog Mommy Needs a Minute to find myself again and maybe encourage others along the way. My heart is to encourage others to take a minute to remember that wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you accomplished or didn’t accomplish today, you are valuable!
Join the Working Mom Tribe
Join the Working Mom Tribe and get support and tools to help you thrive! Tribe members get access to my library of resources and printables.