While visiting my parents on vacation, my daughter came to me with an old children’s book in hand. Over the course of our trip I'd read Little Mommy countless times, and each time I read it, I cringed a little. The book was one big antiquated gender stereotype of the cooking, cleaning, mothering, waiting-for-dad-to-come-home housewife. I felt like the overall message was: Oh, what a good little mommy, caring for her doll and keeping house with such devotion! It’s never too early to start gearing up for your god-intended role of domesticity. As I turned the pages night after night, I realized that, as a stay-at-home mom, there's one very important thing I want my daughter to know: I'm still figuring it out, too.
The message of the story was almost laughable at first, and exactly the kind of thing I would've gawked at in my Children’s Literature class my senior year of college. But I realized, as my daughter and I sat down with the book over and over again, that she could see nothing discernibly odd about the book. These were the roles she saw daily: mom at home, dad off at work. There was no visible part of my life that contradicted the dated role of a 1950s housewife within the pages.
We have that same nuclear family model: a boy, a girl, a baby, a mother at home, a dad off to the office everyday. I do the bulk of the cooking and cleaning and parenting. As far as my daughter can tell, I have no “job.” I don’t leave the house at a certain time every day or work during her waking hours. I am happy to have a life that gives me the flexibility to be wholly present with her and her brothers, but as I read the book aloud for the umpteenth time, I wondered, what sort of model was I setting for them? For her?
Was being a stay-at-home mom really what was best for them? Could I be doing more to show them the vast possibilities available to women and mothers? Could I preach feminism and a you-can-be-anything-your-heart-desires attitude and expect my daughter to believe me? Would I be able to raise a son who would support his partner to achieve their dreams?
Suddenly I wasn’t so sure.
What sort of woman did I want my children to see? What kind of model did I want to set for them? Was this enough? Was I?
The truth is I had put my own dreams on hold to pursue motherhood. I decided to have children young, and I knew early on that I wanted to stay home with them when they were little. For me, that meant waiting to pursue my big dreams. The world would still be there when I was ready, and from where I stood, I could see a long stretch of life ahead of me where anything was still possible.
I thought I had come to a place where I was comfortable with that choice, but now I was looking at the situation with a new set of eyes: ones that were looking straight up at me. What sort of woman did I want my children to see? What kind of model did I want to set for them? Was this enough? Was I?
I sometimes worry that for all my ideals, my children won't have a strong enough model to encourage them to achieve their wildest dreams. I worry that my love is not enough to make them strong and independent. They need to see brawn and grit and perseverance. How on earth will they glean these traits while I am busy washing dishes and doing laundry and preparing meals?
The long road of life I'd seen ahead of me when I chose this path was still there, and that my daughter would watch me travel it all. She will see the love and passion I have for raising my children when she needs that love the most. She will see me grow and pursue my dreams as she grows and discovers her own.
As my brain took off carrying the weight of my fears, my daughter snuggled closer under my arm. She asked me to read Little Mommy again. I took a deep breath and centered myself. This book was just a book. This reading was not about instilling concrete gender roles or raging against them with feminist fervor. This moment was just about love. Love is what she needs modeled for her at this stage in her life, and I am capable of that. I am enough in this moment.
I looked at the eyes that were looking up at me. And I realized that the long road of life I'd seen ahead of me when I chose this path was still there, and that my daughter would watch me travel it all. She will see the love and passion I have for raising my children when she needs that love the most. She will see me grow and pursue my dreams as she grows and discovers her own.
And though I may feel I fall short at times, the arch of motherhood is long and beautiful. My daughter will see so much of my life unfold in the years we are tethered close together. She will see the brawn and grit and perseverance on the road ahead. She will see the love and humility and sacrifice it takes to raise a family. She will see it all. And it will be enough. I'll make sure of it.