Motherhood carries with it a constant tension. The very state of being a mother seems to create the tension, a sort of inner conflict. It is a conflict I would venture to say fatherhood does not lay claim to. Fathers surely have concerns and conflicts: the felt need – by society or culture or their inner voice – to provide for a family. To create a safe place and manage everything within the walls of that safe place.
But for a mother, the tension is different. For a mother, or at least for me, the tension is pervasive.
Elrena Evans, in “My Little Comma,” became a mother while on the road to earning a PhD and a tenure-track position. She comments on the first page of the essay, “I am determined not to let my daughter get in the way of my studies.” Already the tension is there. Her daughter, as a baby, is an almost constant pull. Every time the baby needs feeding or calming or carrying. Every time she needs nursing or changing. Day or night, the baby has no consideration of the woman’s schedule. What if there are other pulls on the mother’s time? So what, the baby’s needs remain. But other pulls, especially if they are work or school, carry deadlines and grades and necessary paychecks. They cannot be easily cast aside. Therein lies the tension.
Elrena Evans first takes a position of determination: studies over baby. “This child is not going to dictate my life.” But over time, she realizes that her mind or heart seems to change. The baby isn’t exactly dictating, but is slowly weaving herself into the mother’s heart and hours and priorities.
“What happens if I simply choose to be a wife and a mother?” This question, this tension, didn’t exist in some eras past. A wife and a mother is simply what women were. There was no thought of career and education; if so, it usually could only be a glance in passing. Times have changed. Expectations have changed. Opportunities have changed. Economies. Cultures. Marriages. Families. They have all changed to where every mother, it seems, must make a decision.
“Simply” a wife and mother? Or wife and mother and …
And a PhD.
Some women, mothers, don’t even have that choice. For them, the idea of staying home as “simply” a wife and mother would be awesome but they do not have that luxury. They are single mothers, or the primary breadwinners, or some other necessity keeps them in the rigors of a job or schooling while balancing the tension, the constant pulls, of motherhood.
For me, with three kids the ages of 12, 10, and seven, the tension plays out differently than it would if my children were younger. They are no longer a constant draw on my time. I don’t have to stop work or studies regularly for nursing or changing. I don’t have to constantly entertain or find something interactive and educational for a toddler-aged child to keep her out of trouble.
But I am still a mom. My kids still need me.
This weekend, I had to make choices. Do I sit with my kids and watch their Friday night movie, or do I get a couple more things done? Do I check my kids’ homework and let them know if they need to fix some of their math problems, or let the teacher take care of it . . . even if it means more homework next week? Do I venture into my boys’ room and work with them to clean it, or brush off the feeling with the reasoning that, “It’ll just be messy again next week”? Do I take a walk with my kids or let them play outside on their own?
During school semesters, especially on the weekends, I face that constant weighing of options. Often with this weighing, I feel a constant burden of “I’m not doing enough with my kids. I’m not spending enough time with them. All they hear from me is ‘do this’ and ‘clean that.'” My first conclusion is, “If only I didn’t have school. If I didn’t have classes to attend and books to read and papers to write and turn in, I could be a good mom. A real mom. I could bake with my kids every weekend. I could teach them to sew and build Legos with them. We could go camping . . . in our backyard or in Yosemite. Our family would be happier.”
But would it, or would there be some other pull on my time and priorities? Would I find myself wasting away hours on Facebook or my blogs so that I wouldn’t really be spending that extra time with my kids anyway? It’s easy to assume life would be one way if a certain factor disappeared, but reality is often far different. If taking classes and working part-time did not exist for me, I would likely fill my hours with the tyranny of the urgent. My house might be cleaner, but I don’t know if I would spend more quality hours with my children.
Maybe it is the busyness and the tightness of time that makes our moments together so special. That makes me strive for meaningful experiences together. When I do take the time in spite of deadlines or celebrate after them.
A constant tension is not necessarily a bad thing. It can create a constant perspective of watching for opportunities to experience life together. A continual mindset of using every moment possible to be a mom. Not perfect. But a mom.