Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The "Just a Mom" Thing

If by that title I've given you the impression that I'm going to point a finger at those who use that tricky phrase, you're right - the thing is, I'm pointing it at me.

I've mentioned before how the one - the only - thing I truly miss about my past lawyer life is that the job scored me some ego points. It gave good dinner party, made me feel like I had accomplished something prestigious, even if I didn't much enjoy the accomplishment itself.

And so I bristle when I see references to anyone being "just a mom" - but my internalizing that says something about me, doesn't it? If I weren't secretly worried there was some truth to that phrase, would it be bothering me? After all, I've caught myself using that very phrase when introducing myself.

photo credit: ziem photography (hi, Z!)

Turns out I've been giving my choice to stay at home with the wee CEO good lip service but haven't entirely backed that up with belief. I'm still seeking external validation in ways I hadn't realized until last Sunday, when a sermon snapped me out of a funk.

I don't get too into my faith here - I'm Episcopalian, by the way, and also an annoying hippie about trying to respect the religious beliefs / non-beliefs of others - but this message was so resonant with me, and applicable regardless of faith, that I - well, here it is: being you is enough. (Here's the specific verse the sermon discussed if you're interested.) The drive to succeed on the world's terms is natural, it can be a good thing, but it isn't the end goal. The God I believe in loves regardless of achievement.

For someone raised in the faith of Being Polite to Others and Doing Well in School, this is nothing short of revolutionary. You mean, all of those trophies and report cards, that striving to put my mark on a yet-to-be-determined something, that lifelong run for Student Body President, is all for naught?

Not exactly, but I'm coming to realize that "just a mom" - just me & my beliefs, come to think - is enough. Actually, strike the "mom" bit - just me is enough.

Let me explain.

In the absence of external job pats on the back, I've realized I've started seeking it elsewhere - trouble is, in seeking validation for myself I'm not serving the right master. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but - I've been relying too heavily on my feedback here, for example, where stagnation in reader numbers and comments has had me feeling like a failure and questioning whether writing for writing's sake is enough.

I've been taking my fertility struggles as another indication that I'm somehow doing something wrong, not living the "two kids and a picket fence" dream. Not only does it bother me intrinsically because I want another child, but doesn't that put me behind somehow?

I've wondered if this vague dissatisfaction means I should go back to work, but I don't think that's it - yet, at least. I remain open to the possibility, so long as that doesn't involve playing attorney again, but I'm not there. This stay at home stuff is still awesome, even when it isn't.

I know, I know - this is all so outrageously MEMEME #firstworldproblems, isn't it, worrrying about MY PRESHUS FEELINGS when many others have actual, real life problems to contend with? If ego pats are my biggest worry, then I'm doing awfully well and should just shut up already.

Be these big worries or small, though, I can't convey what a relief it is to step off of the mental hamster wheel of achievement, at least during this season in my life. That driven mentality has served me well at times, bringing me to places professionally and personally I'm proud of, but it also has a competitive flip side which has soured friendships and hobbies. In serving the cause of my own glory, I ultimately serve no one.

I'm slowly realizing that the small, unrewarded things - getting dinner on the table, for example, no small feat when a certain wee CEO is quite literally pulling at my apron strings with a shrill "MAMAMAMAMAMA!!!" chorus - are, to me, largely the reward-ing things.

I suppose it's all a part of growing up, isn't it, finding that internal validation as opposed to seeking it in others. If I'm doing my best - inevitably falling short, but trying - with my husband, my friends, and my boy - that is enough. It is.

And now to actually believing these words . . . overcoming thirty-something years of the glorification of Busy isn't a task to be tackled overnight. My inner Type A Minus is rolling her eyes at all of this, questioning whether this isn't an excuse for not having made some sort of cosmic mark.

Overachiever tendencies notwithstanding, every day I want to act intentionally in the ways that really matter - an email to a friend I haven't talked to in too long, maybe, or researching fun new adventures for Master P & me - knowing that they won't land me a mention in the New York Times or anywhere else, for that matter.

My hair isn't cute and my blog hasn't let to that mostly true bestselling memoir, my ovaries are fickle and the only Pinterest-worthy crafts I can do involve sneaking recent purchases into my closet without spousal detection. And that's enough.

I'm enough, you're enough . . . and, sweet Neiman Marcus, this is starting to sound like those old Stuart Smalley "People Like Me!" sketches, isn't it?

I'll trade the accolades for the ultimate things that matter, so long as we can give my ego the chance to catch up - and promise to retire the "just a mom" phrase from our lexicon entirely. Deal?


{Jessica} said...

Melissa, I, too, have been struggling with the "not enough" feelings myself as of late! And it's not the 'just a mom' thing for me - I don't have children yet. For me it's the fact that I am in a dead end job that I've taken just to help our family (meaning: my husband and I) get by. My Master's Degree in education is being put to no use whatsoever, and sometimes this situation just kills me. I work for a law firm, oddly enough, as a legal assistant, and there are days where I just find myself wanting to scream "I'm too good (and too educated) for this!" I don't though, because in reality, I know that it's an internal problem - something I am struggling with in feeling like the career aspirations I had for the longest time are nowhere near to be being met - and one that only I can solve. It's not just you! I think we all go through these feelings of insufficiency at times, at different life stages and for different reasons. But thank you for reminding me that my job is not 'me' and that I am, indeed, enough! I really needed to read this today:)

Mrs. Type A said...

Been thinking about this lately as well. While I mostly enjoy being a lawyer, a large part of the satisfaction I get out of it is what you say-- that it makes me feel well-educated and accomplished. I don't necessarily think that's wrong-- but there needs to be more that keeps you in the job than just the ego boost. For me, right now, it's the fantastic hours and vacation time (can you tell I work for the government!?).

I also came across this article-- -- which I tend to agree with. Instead of looking for the holy grail of a job (or lack of a job, as a stay at home mom), you can identify more important things like what type of lifestyle you want, and realize that it probably won't be perfect, especially at first, but that if you work hard and pay close attention to your skills and what you want out of a job, you can get to a place where you are truly enjoying what you're doing. Whether that be as a stay at home mother (not JUST a mother!) or in a different field.

AEOT said...

Great post, M. I definitely don't think of my SAHM friends as "just" a mom, and I doubt people think that of you. I can understand the internal struggle though, esp when you had been in a previously high power job.

Danielle said...

I've said it a lot lately that I've learned more about myself after having children than I ever knew was possible. Unfortunately, a lot of the learning has been about my faults. So now not only are we raising our offspring and dealing with the challenges of that monumental task, we're forced to deal with our unpretty sides and try to better ourselves in order to set the right example for our children.

And I thought growing up was supposed to be all fun and sunny!

I totally agree with your new take on life and wish you the best in conquering it! I could take a few lessons (:

Stephanie said...

I think I needed to read this today. 6 months into the SAHM gig (6 months past due for highlights... 15 months since I wore a size 0 or something "dry clean only") has me realizing how badly I crave validation (and praise)...Its a good reminder that we don't have to be super moms, or even super, we just have to be present.

Danielle said...

Just wanted to validate you a bit. Xo.

Perfectly Imperfect said...

I've been battling with this big time lately. And like you, I've actually turned to the Big Guy about this. See, I truly think that everything down here will not matter one iota one day. So yea, while it's nice to have trophies and accolades, it just doesn't matter. So daily, I just try to get up and be the best I can be that day. Honestly, how do you want people to remember you? That's what I'm trying to live by now. I want them to think my personality is killer and that I'm sort of funny and that I love my family. The rest is just details.

You are not just a Mom. You're also Mel. And funny. And stylish. And a great writer. So there you go :)

If this doesn't make sense, I'm half a bottle of wine in. Oops ;)

Legally Fabulous said...

"If ego pats are my biggest worry, then I'm doing awfully well and should just shut up already."

... this really resonates with me as it's something I find myself constantly struggling with. Not necessarily ego pats, although certainly at times, but the whole feeling of "If ____ is my biggest problem, I need to get a grip."
which occasionally is a good reminder, but at the same time... you can't help your feelings.
I look to the times in my life when I've felt my absolute lowest, and they really haven't been when things were the absolute worst. But that doesn't mean that the way that I felt at those moments wasn't valid. You don't get to choose how you feel, you only get to choose how you react to those feelings.

I also am really bad about placing myself on a scale of suckiness. For example - "If Suzy's life was 1/2 as hard as mine, she'd keel over and die right there on the spot" and "Pam's life is a thousand times worse than mine, I should get over it."
And those things may be true, but it sure as hell doesn't help me, Pam, or Suzy to look at it that way.

Sigh. Just a long-winded way of saying you are not alone, sista.

Wynne said...

I have been struggling with this recently too. We over-achieveres get good grades, earn impressive sounding degrees, work at jobs that provide us some degree of self-respect, and then we move on to staying home all day with our child. I've started telling myself everyday that my mom gig isn't "easy" and that I need to respect myself for what I accomplish in a day.

On another note, it amazes me how many similarities there are between you and me. I know it is easy to make comparisons if one wants to, but the list grows constantly. Thank you for making me feel not so alone in my recovering-attorney-just-trying-to-have-baby-number-two-without-too-many-needles-and-hormones world. Good luck from this ex-pat Austinite!!

Tiffany said...

Fantastic post.

When I first decided to stay home when G was a baby, my SAHM neighbor who had older children said to me, "you're self-esteem will take a hit." I think that was initially so. Especially when you're a new SAHM with a baby and you're just building your SAHM network and trying to fill your days so you don't go insane. Then when your kids enter preschool there are opportunities to involve yourself in the school (PTA board, fundraising, school festivals). I also joined our local women's club (like Junior League) which gave me another level of satisfaction. And I wasn't known as G's mom there.

When Wee CEO gets to KG age and above, you will be so busy you won't have time to contemplate that you're no longer Fancy Lawyer Lady. I don't say this to sound condescending in any way. But I think it's infinitely harder to be a SAHM to a toddler than it is to school aged children.

I think you're amazing. And I think your words help a lot of us to know we're not alone. You're not alone either.

The Mrs. said...

Great post. The just a Mom thing is a huge trap and a BS one at that. My problem was I couldn't admit I didn't like to stay home! I felt guilty about wanting to work! Now I work, and juggle, and still struggle but I am HAPPY.

Rhi said...

Well. I needed to read this. Not only am I struggling with my decision to quit my job to say home with H, I'm also struggling with what OTHER moms accomplish while they're home with their kids. So, yes. I need to spend less time worrying about what OTHER people are accomplishing and focus on my family and making those around me feel loved and admired.

Eat. Live. Laugh. and sometimes shop! said...

I have a hard time sharing my thoughts without sounding old, condescending, or preachy. Don't you love comments that start with a good disclaimer.

I hear you. I was a Fulbright lawyer and loved everything about it. I was "on track". It was marvelous and gave me an incredible sense of self. Until we moved to a non-Fulbright city. And then my duo arrived. Luckily, moving distanced me enough to allow me to give up on work without much of a second look. Nothing here was that enticing.

But, the "just a mom" thing began to wear on me. I needed to prove how smart I was. I needed others to know I was a lawyer. And a good one. Meanwhile all I did was sitting at home doing puzzles with toddlers.

I swear my breakthrough came in bible study (yes, here's the preachy part). It - everything - is all so much bigger than how spend 9-5 or 6-8 or 24/7 or whatever your hours. What I am doing - serving my family, and thus, God, is a higher calling. It can be hard to see when it requires another load of laundry. But, my kids are more amazing because of it. Our family life is fairly incredible because of it. And I am a better person for humbling myself to do it all with a smile on my face (at least when anyone is looking).

This may take time. I'm 9 years into this mothering gig and I had to get out from under the diapers and bottles and such before any such revelation occurred. But God bless you - you are ENOUGH! And if people (or even we) say "just a mom", we know that just a mom is ENOUGH!!!

Anna said...

This is a great post, and you aren't Just a Mom!

I think we all, at some time or another, seek that external validation that we are "something" and forget all we really are when those validations aren't coming in through work accolades, community involvement/recognition, and others. Sometimes, He gently or not-so-gently reminds us that we're all something, and no matter how many awards we earn or committees we serve on can change the fact that we alone are just enough and just right.

Beth Southern said...

Oh my goodness. I hardly ever post comments on any blog - but after I read this post, I just wanted to jump up and shout "Amen"! I love your take on this subject for so many reasons. First, it's so fresh and real - that right mix of honest and encouraging, without being preachy. Second, as a mom who works outside the home, it makes me feel better to know that we all fight our own battles with inadequacy (and we should all cut ourselves a break!). For me, it's the daily soul-crushing guilt of leaving my kids to go to my job (which, for the first time in many years, I actually enjoy). Even with an career of sorts, I still find myself looking for the same type of external validation that you feel - which for me, leads to being completely overwhelmed by pressing quiestions like, "how am I going to become general counsel of a major company, lose 20 pounds, have a house out of Pinterest, construct daily sandwich topiaries for the kids' lunches, volunteer at umpty zillion organizations and still hold together a happy, healthy family??" Your thoughts on "just being me" really spoke to me today - thanks for that!

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

I too was raised in the faith of Being Polite to Others and Doing Well in School and I'm finding that it is failing me and leaving me with these "less than" feelings. I hope that I can give my boys a better start than I had in helping them understand that there is a Creator that loves them regardless of anything. I'm trying to face a lot of these familial trends that I am refusing to pass on to them. Hard work, but they are worth it.

Thanks again for sharing your feelings here. I finally put my own ramblings into a post that I had drafted no less than 4 times.

LPC said...

Oh gosh honey! I need to take you out for a drink! I PROMISE that even those of us who Must Do A Good Job figure out what that really means, come our late 40s. I so hope you get to figure it out sooner.

The answer is something like, you're already doing it:). As you seem to have heard. Phew!


Heather said...

I love this so much, and it resonates in so very many ways. Thank you so much for articulating it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This SAHM really needed this. I am going to tatoo "I am enough" on my forehead!

Sylvie said...

Just adding my "Me, too!" I earned very good grades. I received years of excellent ratings, bonuses, and surprise perks for a job well done during my "corporate years." Now as a SAHM I (shamefully) crave some sort of acknowlegement of my intelligence and efforts toward effficiency and progress. Lovely things from my husband a certainly nice; but, I can't be sure that he wouldn't have given those gifts to me anyway.
At least you can say you are a lawyer even if you never practice again. I have a bachelors degree in English and a boatload of certificates in business training programs that are now past their shelf life.
At this point, I'm thinking my best option is joining Mensa to prove to that I really have a well-functioning brain (most days) and I'm not "at home" because I'm not smart or lazy. I just really wanted to be the primary caregiver for my child(ren) and in the process learned that I so enjoy spending my days caring for my family and making our house a home - and do it my way, all the way. I hope my answer to the "Just a Mom" problem arises through comments here.

EsquireMommy said...

Wow. Does this really resonate with me. Thanks for articulating what I've been feeling for a while now. It's nice to hear that I'm not the only one feeling these things, especially when that someone is my good friend. Hmm, sounds like I needed a little validation, too. When all is said and done, I don't think we'll ever regret our choices, whether it's to "stay at home" (who ever really stays at home, anyways?) or be a "working mom" (aren't we all working in some sense of the word) or something in between, which is where my quasi-part-time attorney moniker comes into play. I ordered vanity plates for my new car reading "ESQ MUM," because I'm still clinging to that perceived status. Hey, they are called vanity plates after all. Hugs!

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