Thursday - Knocked Off Balance: What Mothers Give Up
When I am confronted with situations like the recent earthquake in Haiti, I have a compelling urge to walk out the door, go there, and do something. But of course, I’m absolutely the last person they need on the ground in a place like Haiti, and even if I weren’t, I could never leave my family. I wonder about all of those doctors and nurses and disaster response people—do they have families at home? Can they have families at home and do that kind of work?
When I was in college, my dream job was wandering the globe writing articles for National Geographic. How, exactly, would you have children if you did that? After that whole writer-for-National-Geographic thing didn’t work out for me, I began to seriously consider law school. In my early 20's I applied and was accepted to a school in Boston. Ultimately I decided not to go, but I often think about how I would cope with a 50, 60, or 80 hour a week job as a lawyer when I had an 18-month-old and twin infants.
I ended up in a career that works with my life, but it really wasn’t by design, more by the common occurrence of one thing leading to another and before you know it, you have a so-called “career.” Though I would never say that my current job is something I dreamed of for my whole life, it’s satisfying in many ways, and that’s about as much as I realistically can ask for as the mother of three kids under five.
When I was in college I was pretty aimless; I definitely didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do when I graduated, and I certainly never took any steps that would have helped me make an informed decision (uh, internship anyone??). But if I had, I still wouldn’t have any clue about how there are so many careers that really aren’t compatible with raising young children, at least not three of them. It seems like such a harsh thing to put out there, but I can honestly say that my current life would be impossible if I worked 60 hours a week or took off for three weeks to tend to quake victims in Haiti. These are the kinds of things that people forget to mention when they tell little girls that they can be anything they want to be.
Even though I shouldn’t have to say this, I feel compelled to: I love my children. I’m so glad that I have a family and I’m so grateful that we are all healthy and relatively happy. But there is much you give up when you become a parent, more than just travel or the hobbies you once enjoyed. When you choose to open the door to becoming a parent you are also closing other doors. That’s not something I realized when I thought about becoming a mother, and it’s definitely not something that any of the other mothers I know have ever really talked about or acknowledged.
I’ve often wondered if I should tell my 18-year-old sister who is majoring in international relations and dreams of traveling the world doing good works that she might have to choose between that dream and having a family. But I know that she’d just look at me like I’m some middle-aged mom who has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. She’s young enough to believe that there’s no reason why she can’t have it all.
Watching Olympic gold medal winner Lindsey Vonn giving an interview immediately after winning her downhill event, I was struck by the fact that she said, “I have given up everything for this.”
I can’t help but think babies are on that list of things she has given up—or postponed—to pursue her dream.