Mother's Day always gives me an amusing but valuable view of my son's perspective of me and my parenting of him. You know how our school-age kids make some cute Mother's Day projects in school and it's always accompanied by a sheet or two of these fill-in-the-blanks, slumbook-esque items or questions which are supposed to describe the Mom? Well, of course I got them too and let's just say it offered me not only the sweet 'Awwww's', but also the disturbed 'Hmmmmm's....'.
Let's first deal with the superficial stuff. Apparently, my son thinks I am 6'1" tall. (He actually wrote 4'25" under height so I had to bust out my math skills to correctly interpret that one). I also only weigh 75 lbs. in my son's eyes which is really sweet of him, although combining that with my newly assigned height, makes me cartoonishly- and freakishly-skinny.
My interpretation of how my son possibly sees me. (Yes I have no drawing skills!)
However, I couldn't help but really reflect on that item and ask myself what I'm really good at and what I'm good for these days. I have been out of the paid workforce for seven years now and I do wonder about what marketable skills I have that are still recognizable by individuals who don't share my home address.
Perhaps this is why in the recent months, I've been more focused on taking my blogging more seriously and have been thinking about taking it to the next level, whatever that means. I know that I can no longer claim my previous identity as an 'academic' given that I've been out of the academic world for so long. When I tell my son of the 'good old days' and that a long time ago, Mommy was an Assistant Professor teaching college kids / older kids, he just stares back and appears like I'm telling him some fictional tale. It doesn't make much sense to him and can't seem to imagine me holding a job outside of our home.
And so I've been a bit panicked, trying to figure out what I am now, other than 'wife' or 'mother', and if ultimately, in some way I'm actually shortchanging my child.
Which of course begs another question. What is so bad, or so lacking, in having just the identity of 'mother'? According to my 'bosses' --- the only two people who truly have the right to evaluate my performance, my son and my husband --- I do a pretty remarkable job! I don't think there is any question in that, even though I'm far from the vicinity of Martha Stewart-ville.
But let's face the truth and not sugarcoat things here. None of us is one-dimensional and it is natural to seek affirmation beyond the confines of our families and those who love us dearly. We have been taught this since childhood through our introduction to the education system. By being in school, being around other children and adults other than our parents, we learned that we need to play by objective standards; standards set out by institutions that don't function based on affect or mere emotional ties. We have known all our lives that being evaluated objectively by the outside world shapes our identities, gives us affirmation and boosts our self-confidence and sense of worth. I'm not saying external affirmations should be the sole source of our sense of identity and value. But it is true that a part of each of us craves it and helps validate us. I'm also inclined to believe that this craving, this need for outside validation may be stronger for those who were once over-achievers or 'performers' as students, such as myself.
I have no doubt that my son gets all the love that he needs; all the support, the nourishment, the care that I can possibly give. I know he is a happy and healthy child. I know that my being around him and staying home to remain focused on our family give him joy (no pun intended) and he has repeatedly told me that he doesn't want it any other way. He even protests to the idea of having a sitter or a nanny, or having to go to an afterschool program should the time come when I decide to work outside the home. Our arrangement now is what he wants. This is also my desire and am grateful that our family can afford for me to stay at home, 'work' at home.
But a part of me can't help but wonder if I'm enough to my son and if I'm setting a good example to him. We look to our mothers for love and guidance. We consider them our anchors and the most powerful role-models in our lives. All that said, can I be sure that I'm showing him a good work ethic and values regarding gender roles and gender equality?
I'm reminded of what a good friend of mine asked me several months ago. She was thinking of cutting back on her work hours to be with her family more. But she was concerned about the impression it would give her daughter about women's roles in society and what we can truly achieve. I gave her the most honest answer I could at the time. I told her that I grew up with a career-oriented mother. She held a high position at their company, but also worked hard at home to make sure we were well-cared for. However, if you asked me what my most treasured childhood memory is, even to this date I'd tell you that it was those afternoons when she baked brownies for us while we were forced to take our nap. Sure I admired her for being a 'career woman'. I saw my Mom as highly intelligent, driven, hardworking, but also very exhausted. The fact is, I still think the brownies and the bread pudding and her presence during school functions were more memorable than the clothes, the cars or restaurants we were able to afford at the time. Those are the things that stuck to me, the things that truly made an impression.
It made so much sense then when I gave this 'advice' to my friend. I hope it makes sense for me now that I'm asking myself about my own sense of self-worth and if I'm simply enough.
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