Friday, March 12, 2010


This month's issue of Real Simple magazine has a wonderful list of "10 Secrets of One Unflappable Working Mother" by Michelle Slatalla. Among her liberating nuggets is permission to appropriately blur the lines between home and work life, to make snappy instinctive decisions (and to not regret them later), and to "assist with a history project that involves the use of glitter (by nixing the glitter)."

I read her piece shortly after reading Mom-101's lovely reflection on the occasionally wistful lives of both working and stay-at-home mothers entitled "Grass: Greener." I appreciate her graceful acknowledgement of how our choices, or how the circumstances life has dealt us, can still leave us yearning for something different, and how similar we all are in wanting to feel important, valued, respected, and influential.

I refuse, by the way, to pander to the notion that there are "Mommy Wars," and to rationalize my reality as a working mother as being in the best interests of the health and welfare of my children. I will never know if that's true, nor have I had the opportunity to test that hypothesis. Furthermore, I would suggest that no scientific experiment nor study will ever determine which scenario is actually better for kids and for society. There are far too many variables in culture, families, and child rearing. I believe we all attempt to do what we (individually) need to do, for ourselves and our families. No universal right answer.

Period. End of discussion.

Rather than debate the merits of working inside or outside the home, I would prefer to discuss with other parents of all types and circumstances how they nurture and develop deep satisfaction with themselves and their lives, and then raise their children accordingly.

As for me, I am a work in progress on the cultivation of contentment. Being a working mother is who I am and what our family needs me to be. It may very well be what I need to be too. Most often that is what I believe. For me, being happy and feeling on top of things and reasonably under control can require, as Slatalla testifies, having the forethought to load the crockpot for dinner. Mostly it means continually making minor tweaks here and there: sacrificing timesucks that are momentarily fulfilling but add stress over the long term, advocating for myself at home and in the workplace on issues that preserve my sanity, and identifying boundaries that reassure me and my family and communicate to others that my priorities are intact.

I've learned about myself that maintaining balance in my life is easier if I simply agree To Be Me under all the hats I wear. I had a conversation with a coworker recently about my home life, my work life, and Facebook. He was impressed (perhaps more curious/skeptical) about my willingness to Facebook-friend parents of students I work with and to expose myself on this blog--to, in effect, mix my private and public lives. I argued it's easier for me not to distinguish too much between my personal and professional personae where they naturally blur.

I lived and worked within the same neighborhoods for all three of my first teaching jobs; greeting students and their families in the grocery store on weekends grew customary. I had to come to terms with the inevitable exposure of my personal life via grocery cart: bottle of wine, tampons, pregnancy test. All normal, I assured myself, observing that my own confidence in Who I Am and What I Do went a long way to extinguish any sense of scandal.

As I married and had children, the boundaries separating my work and home lives naturally sharpened. I owe it to my daughters to be their mother first and not The Vice Principal. At home in my neighborhood in the evenings and on weekends, I exist in my present, unfettered by job titles and hierarchies. I am, above all, Big Sis's and Little C's Mom. Or the Lady in the House with the Big Tree in Front.

And yet, I invite glimpses into my musings and am comfortable with the wide audience for my Status Updates and Posts (grateful, however, that there was a relatively small pool of spectators--known by me, anyway!--for my spontaneous telling of a joke with the punchline, "You're a vagina!" on a college friend's Facebook thread this week).

Why this need for me to reach out and share? Because nothing I feel is new, but I've learned there's value in abstracting one's own experience in hopes of reflecting someone else's. That's how we connect. And connecting makes us less lonely.

I am woman/I am wife/I am mother/I am sister/I am daughter/I am colleague/I am teacher/I am vice principal/I am neighbor/I am friend: it's so very hard for me to define where one role ends and the other begins. I often mother while I vice-principal. My inner vice principal emerges when I mother, alas. I try to keep "mother" out of "wife," and bring more "friend" into "neighbor."

I recognize that the more I can merge the upsides of each of my roles into the best representation of me, the better off I am.

Slatalla implores us to give ourselves a break, to absolve ourselves of the guilt we accumulate as we struggle to Do It All: "Let it Go. Really. I mean it."


Ms.F said...

Beautifully conveyed...I often think that if we aren't going to be ourselves in whatever it is that we're doing, we are missing out on the joy that comes from truly connecting with people.

No one can relate to a sterile, picture-perfect, one-dimensional human being; we can only relate to people who are messy, complicated, multidimensional human beings, since that's how we see ourselves.

Mama Deb said...

You amaze me with your ability to say things that I, too, feel, but could never convey so beautifully!
You rock!