Zoey discusses her journey from career-driven no-kids-no-thank-you woman to mostly at-home mother, and the things she has given up, as well as gained, along the way. She touches on issues of economic independence (and the risks of the lack thereof), the intersection of privileges and hardships, the blessings of flexible work options, and the notion of sacrifice in motherhood, and ultimately explains how she has continued, “even” in motherhood, to be a woman — to be herself.
Before I was a Mother, I was a Woman . . .
Seriously. I wasn’t always a mother.
Once upon a time, I was a woman and I was quite probably one of the most ambitious people you’d be likely to meet. And I wore really high heels and had impractical handbags. Because I loved it and because I could. I wasn’t ambitious in the conventional way – I didn’t care about earning money (although it did help with the accessories). But I wanted to have enough impact to change something in a big way – to leave something behind and say – look! I left my mark. Maybe it was because I was completely invisible in High School. But I doubt it, some people are just born that way. And although I hadn’t admitted it to anyone I was considering a move into politics because I’d grown tired of banging my head against a brick wall trying to change something from the bottom up. What was I interested in changing? Healthcare and the treatment of mental illness/drug and alcohol addiction but that is a very long story.
If you’d asked me back then what I thought about a woman staying at home while her partner works and living off one income I would have told you that the very idea made me physically ill. Because it’s such a risk to take a gamble that your relationship is going to work out. Because if it doesn’t you have sacrificed however many years of experience in the workforce, have no money of your own and are essentially left stranded to fend for yourself. It’s not about trusting someone, or believing in your relationship: it’s about not placing your future in someone else’s hands. And only a stupid person would do that. Is it becoming obvious that my parents had 6 marriages between them? Full disclosure – I may have a few broken home issues.
Also if you’d asked me back then if I wanted to have children I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, because I knew that if I was to have children I would want to put certain dreams of mine aside for a time. And I liked the freedom of selfishness. I didn’t believe that I was capable of being a ‘do-it-all’ supermum. If I was going to be a mother, I was going to want to be a mother in the home and not miss out on anything. Are you seeing a problem with this scenario? Eventually I realised that while further study and career aspirations don’t have an expiration date, having children does (at least for a woman) and I swallowed my fears about leaving the workforce and did just that. I rationalised that if I ever wanted to go back to work my husband could be a stay at home dad for awhile.
And then she was born and everything was different. Not overnight of course. For the first few days it was surreal. I remember thinking she was beautiful but not quite being able to relate to the idea that she was mine and it was permanent. Within a month I had completely abandoned the idea of going back to work full-time because I loved being at home with her and found that to be more fulfilling than any job could be. In the interest of modesty I would like to say that I got lucky and I was given the opportunity to work part-time from home. But the truth is I am really good at my job and I was lucky that my boss was able to see the value in being flexible. I was also fortunate enough to be born in a country where public education doesn’t end with High School, to have a mother who worked three different jobs to keep us afloat and to not have the kind of obstacles thrown in front of me that indigenous Australians face every single day. Not to mention my phone phobia which had led me to an occupation well suited to at home work.
But how could a woman like myself be happy at home? Had I abandoned the woman for the mother? Surprisingly, no. I am the kind of person who will not do things by half-measures. I embraced being home with my little one and wore her most of the time. I persisted with breastfeeding despite difficulties and didn’t pursue any hard and fast rules – I just followed my instinct. She slept with us most of the time too. Along the way, I found out that I didn’t feel stifled by this because by being true to who I was as a mother, was also being true to who I was as a woman. Suddenly, outside of my usual career-focused environment I was able to rediscover all my creative interests that I’d also put on hold – like writing and photography and even home renovation and I was more myself than I had been in a long while. I will stop working entirely next year and it doesn’t scare me anymore.
I would still like to leave my mark in some way. And while it might be tempting to think that the difference I will make is in the lives of my children, I hope not. Because I want to avoid influencing them as much as possible and just be excited to find out who they are. I still miss my high heels, and my handbags, and spending hours on my own. As my children get older I will actively return to my formerly ambitious self because it’s important to me that they see me the way I see myself. And I am nothing if not driven.
This week I had my first night away from my (now) 18 month old and she had her first sleepover. She was beside herself with excitement when I came back and spent the next day holding on to me for dear life, not really willing to let me out of her sight and giving me cuddles so fierce that her little body shook with force of it. And that’s when I know that nothing I’ve given up feels like a sacrifice. Not because I don’t miss the things that I surrendered, but because they are overshadowed by everything I’ve been given.
Zoey is a (mostly) at home mother of one, and no matter how many people look at her like she’s just weird, she’s still planning to have four more children. Professionally she works part-time as a proposal writer, which somehow evolved out of managing a drug rehabilitation centre for dual diagnosis women and their young children.