If you want to talk about a BA (bad ass) mom, look at that lady up there. Single mom, check. Raising two kids financially and emotionally solo, check. This 5 foot nothing, silky bloused woman would walk into a room with three-inch heels and my heart would flutter and my mind would command attention to ANYTHING she had to say. My mom was an accountant because it put food on the table and paid the rent in a town with a great school district. These are the things that guided my childhood: food and good schools; everything else could fall down a sinkhole to hell, but as long as we could eat and go to good schools, we were kicking surviving’s ass.
My mom is a natural mathematician, so taking care of “the books” provided for us. My momma didn’t LOVE crunching numbers for a living; in fact she really wanted to be a DRIVER’S ED TEACHER! What the heck, a driver’s ed teacher!!!!! Hahahaha! My mom IS a BA driver, and she would have ROCKED at that. My mom ALWAYS had a stick shift car, and she bravely taught my brother and I how to drive in wide open parking lots in the dead winter on the Robert Moses Causeway. I’m pretty sure Billy (my older brother) learned to drive at eight years old, if my memory serves me correct. Needless to say, if we wanted to drive, we HAD to learn on a stick shift, and I’m grateful for it…even the times I stalled out in the middle of a four-way intersection. No worries, as my 17-year-old self cried in panic in the intersection, she quickly had us switch drivers, waved to the honking cars while screaming “New driver, sorry!” and got me calmed down in the passenger seat. It wasn’t pretty, but we lived.
I share this with you because I have no recollection of a neat, pretty childhood with home-baked cookies (Actually, I don’t think we EVER made homemade cookies; we bought them or sliced and baked them). Our life was in no way picture perfect, but we made it, battle wounds both emotionally and physically, memories both good and bad, but here with a story to tell nonetheless.
I witnessed my mom at war with herself. She would go into a room by herself, lay down, and wrestle emotionally with the dark night of her soul. I do not know all the questions, the regrets, the wondering, the dreaming, the hoping she wrestled with, but it was real. She was a woman at war in her heart with wanting to not just provide, but wanting to thrive and probably feeling like there was no hope to accomplish that. Heavy, heavy stuff.
She instilled a fierce independence in me to the point that I never saw myself as married or as a mom. I was focused on thriving. Thriving meant doing what you loved (be that a driver’s ed teacher or a back up dancer for Janet Jackson) and being able to live off of that. My mom wanted me to have CHOICES, so that meant getting a college education, no matter what the SAT scores said I was capable of. She knew she raised a girl with grit and that I could do almost anything.
Currently, I’m reading Shonda Rhimes’ book, Year of Yes, and it’s worth the $24.99 just to read the chapter entitled “Yes to Surrender the Mommy War (Or, Jenny McCarthy is My Everything).” Here’s an excerpt:
Being a mother isn’t a job. It’s who someone is. It’s who I am. You can quit a job. I can’t quit being a mother. I’m a mother forever. Mothers are never off the clock, mothers are never on vacation. Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us. Being a mother brings us face-to-face with ourselves as children, with our mothers as human beings, with our darkest fears of who we really are. Being a mother requires us to get it together or risk messing up another person forever. Being a mother yanks our hearts out of our bodies and attaches them to our tiny humans and sends them out into the world, forever hostages.
When I became pregnant with my oldest, Alex, I inherited the Mommy War. I remember seeing friends making choices to stay home or work, some out of choice, some out of necessity. I remember the battle lines drawn between women: those who continued to work outside of the home and those who didn’t. Everyone one of them had their valid reasons for their choices, me included. This new journey was challenging enough- sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, body and hormones out of whack, while keeping my human alive and thriving- I became a mom- body and soul. And now, with student loans to continue to pay, keeping my growing human clothed, fed, diapered, and equipped (strollers, cribs, and car seats, oh my!), I went back to work- to a job I loved, thankfully.
There have been many battles in my personal on going Mommy War, but the one I remember most was the one where a mom who did not work outside of the home told me that I was not serving my child well because I didn’t stay at home when Alex threw a tantrum, when she was a year old. I mean, what one year old does not throw a tantrum? And there began the growing seed of guilt, doubt, and emotional torment in my soul. I wrestled because I have never thought of my teaching career or ministry as a job; they have always been missions, a way for me to be used to change the world- so going back to work brought me joy, and I was blessed with amazing caretakers for Alex. We were doing it. It was messy and exhausting, but it was happening.
Until that conversation. That sucked.
What I’ve come to realize in the Mommy War is that we’re all in it internally and externally- always wondering if we’re doing the best for our kids. Here’s the thing though, every single one of us are doing the best we know how.
Some of us are better moms for not working outside of the home. Those moms are heroes in their own way-giving your kids gifts that are beautiful and valuable; creating and living in awesome ways.
Some of us are better to do something outside of the home. We are contributing in a different way, sharing a passion with our young girls to inspire them to make their mark, to contribute to the ongoing conversations of worthwhile change.
No one is better. Whether we want to or not, as humans, we will wrestle with what is the best yes. I’ve learned that it’s not the decision that we make that is the most important, it’s paying attention to the person we become on the journey. I think the better question to wrestle with is: ARE YOU ACTIVELY BECOMING A PERSON THAT IS LEAVING A LEGACY WORTH REMEMBERING?
The paths in which one takes in order to answer this question is going to look different for all of us. I think the Mommy War is worthy, as long as we are making it about ourselves and how we are called to do it. The Mommy War is dangerous and damaging when we focus it on other moms. Put the stones down.
I think about how the click of my mom’s heels on the kitchen linoleum floor was my anchor, my absolute favorite channel to tune in to the world. Whether you’re walking into the room of your kids’ hearts in flip flops, Birkenstocks, Jimmy Choos, Uggs, Nikes, whatever, our kids are tuning into the emotional conflict, the celebration, the joy, the failures that we wrestle with and navigate. They are drawn to the battles we choose to face head on, and that is a huge “Oh my gosh.” Choose well. Wrestle hard. Survive and thrive. Knock down the walls of your heart with your stones, but let’s stop throwing them at one another.
We will pass down our Mommy War; it’s inevitable. It’s the fate of the world; just know that we are ALL doing it and that battle is happening in each and every one of us.