The Atypical Mom

I've been following the "never worked a day in her life" story with a sense of dread  -- not because I think that Hilary Rosen's opinion is especially significant, but because I knew I was going to end up writing about it.  How dreary, how tedious, to have to say one more time:  no, stay-at-home moms aren't all lazy, or parasites, or fabulously wealthy.  No, feminism doesn't mean that women should be forced to earn a paycheck, rather than forced to stay at home.  And no, you really can't manage a household (especially a single-income one) without learning exactly how money works, even if it's not your name on the paycheck.

I hate writing about this kind of thing, because I'm always afraid that someone's going to call me out.  Hey!  they'll say.  You're not exactly a typical stay-at-home mom yourself!  You spend every morning working (I have other gigs besides NCR!) while your children fend for themselves!  You once skipped your child's birthday to go to a conference, to network.

Or if I try to pass myself off as a work-at-home mom, they'll say HEY!  You call yourself a working mom?  You're holding a baby, wearing pajamas, and sharing leftover cake with your three-year-old as we speak!  Some grueling career path you're on, there, honey.

Or if I say we're not all that well off, they'll point out that we have two vehicles and internet connection and have just (for some inexplicable reason) ordered a thirteen-foot trampoline for the backyard.  Some life of deprivation, me oh my.

Or if I say we're actually doing pretty well with our choices, they'll wonder how a responsible person could possibly have this many kids when our current401(k) balance is uncomfortably close to $401.

Or if I say I have to work, it makes it sound like I don't want to, which I do; or if I say I don't have to work, you'll wonder what the heck I was complaining about in the first paragraph.  And also, why I don't clean this filthy house, since working is apparently something I do as a lark.  Working makes me feel guilty.  Working makes me feel great.  Working takes me away from my kids.  Working makes me a better mother, because working makes me happier and more confident.  

In other words, I really can't speak for stay-at-home moms, and I really can't speak for working moms.  I really can't speak for women who choose to work, and I really can't speak for women who have no choice but to work.  I'm just not a typical example of any of these things.  I hate the liberal misrepresentations of what a stay-at-home mom is like; but I also squirm under the sometimes cruel conservative caricatures of what a working mom is supposedly like.  I'm just not any kind of typical mother.

But as I said these words to myself, I realized -- well, damn.  No one is.  No one is a typical woman with typical problems.  Sure, we all fall more or less into various broad categories, but who do you know who is utterly describable?  Who does things with one motive, for one reason, to achieve one particular goal, and stays with it through her entire life?  No one I know.

That's kind of what motherhood does to you:  it grabs you out of that "what kind of woman I am" suit and forces you to start trying on different styles.  Sometimes one outfit works for a while, but then it just doesn't seem to fit right anymore.  Or your tastes change.  Or it's just not practical for the way you spend your days.  Most of us moms don't get up and put on a thematically coherent, elegant, tasteful ensemble that matches perfectly, from the frosted highlights of our hair to the coordinated polish on our toes.  Most of us put together something that works for where we are right now, assembled from bits and pieces acquired at different times.  Sometimes we pull it off; sometimes we're a bit of a trainwreck.  But we're dressing to be ready for that day, not for an entire lifetime.

In the same way, most moms "try on" different models of motherhood throughout their lifetime.  Maybe we've always stayed home and think it's the right thing to do, but still find it boring and slightly depressing.  Or maybe we work and feel guilty for enjoying it.  Maybe we're not sure what to tell our daughters about how much time and money to invest in an education and a career that they may want or need to abandon.  Maybe we change our minds.  Almost no one has a straightforward story -- not the wealthy, conservative Ann Romney, I'm guessing; and not the separated lesbian mother of twins,  Hilary Rosen.   And neither do I.

Are you a mom?  And are you exactly the kind of mom you always thought you'd be?  Are you living exactly the life you thought you'd lead?  Are your priorities exactly where they've been since day one, or have you learned something, and have you had to make do with less-than-ideal circumstances?  Have you given yourself permission to do things for yourself, only to discover that they're good for the whole family?  Have you sacrificed important things out of selfishness, only to discover that they don't make you happy?

If so, you're a typical mom:  atypical, uncategorizable.  Don't let this polarizing nonsense drag you down -- don't let the talking heads persuade you that you need waste your precious time choosing sides.  Motherhood is about many kinds of relationships:  between you and your kids, you and your husband, you and God, you and your own mother.  But the relationship you have with the pundits, the strategists, and the sloganeers?  Forget it.  You have better things to do, like taking care of your kids, and your life.