Moms Can't Help But Help
After my last post, even though I thought I had erected a high anti-comment barrier, my mom sent me an email. Here’s an excerpt:
If it is at all helpful, I went through the same feelings when I was around your age. I felt I had all these skills which went unused. Now all I have is a lousy golf swing (LOL) — but I do have two wonderful daughters that I was able to devote quality time to, two super sons-in-law and four phenomenal grandchildren who have between them all my abilities and skills plus brains, beauty (handsome), athletic ability and so much more. I still feel if I had chosen a different path, I would have had greater material success, but I probably wouldn’t have the family dividends. I chose correctly.
I shouldn’t have expected anything different -- It’s exactly what a great mom would do, and it’s also why motherhood so essential to a child and so rewarding for a mom. My mom reached out despite my suggestions to stay away because she wanted to help. And yesterday, my heart just swelled with love for her. But a day later, I also had to wonder about the fact that she identified so closely with my feelings. More than twenty-five years between our experiences, and she had felt the same way?
So today I am wondering: did the female art expert at lunch exude her knowledge because she was managing her own insecurities? Is the reason I see so few spouses at some of the grander leadership events I dare to attend with Jim because they don’t want to have to manage feelings of inadequacy? And inevitably, I also wonder about the larger question: how can it be that women who choose to prioritize family over profession remain so uncelebrated as individuals in a larger social context that they often end up feeling inadequate or unaccomplished? Or do I have it all wrong, and society isn’t the issue, but we women, who know “having it all” is a myth, still just struggle with how the choice we are all overwhelmingly positive was the right one subordinates our individual identities into a larger one that, in social situations, just doesn’t feel all that special or exciting.
My mom’s email made me realize that there are probably a lot of highly accomplished family-first women who feel this way. Maybe instead of feeling small or less, I should remind myself that there is a good chance that the person making me feel insecure may be feeling the same way. Maybe I should celebrate her choices, allow her to claim her areas of expertise, and stop trying to mentally match them to my accomplishments. And maybe in those situations where my resume isn’t written on my name badge, I should congratulate myself for attending the event anyhow and stand proud in my choice to be essential in my own way and on my own terms.
It’s up to each of us to manage our own psyche in these situations, and that is far from easy. But it’s also up to us to proudly own our choices and celebrate them. The more we can do this, the more it will become the norm and the fewer emails moms will need to send to their daughters (maybe children?) in the next generation.
I'm going to try to remember this next time.