I'm just going to say it: I don't like kids. I've never been one of those people who sees a baby on the street and squeals. At my baby shower, while everyone ooh'ed and ahh'ed over various baby paraphernalia, I was like, "Thanks... but what does it do?" And I definitely used to be that jerk in the restaurant who rolled her eyes at crying babies. Because of this, I knew I'd love my child once I became a parent, but I also thought I'd also be all about my adult time. I thought I'd relish going back to work, to be around people who could speak in full sentences, to be surrounded by hard work and creativity, and to be around people who didn't need me to wipe their bums. But like most things in life, everything I thought I knew turned out to be wrong. And honestly, the biggest surprise I've gotten from parenting was how much I like it. I had no idea how much I'd love being just a mom. So much so, that when it came time to go back to work, I decided not to.
For a long time in my adult life, I didn't want children. In fact, it was probably one of my defining qualities. I'm sure more than a few people had a WTF moment when they heard I was pregnant. My dislike of children obviously fed into my choice not to have any. But I also think that for much of my 20s, I simply wasn't ready to give up the life I had — and I was also under the assumption that I'd have to give that life up once I had kids of my own. My life before kids was focused mainly on my partner, my friends, and finding a job I could turn into a career. The problem was, I couldn't seem to find that job. My career (or lack thereof) has always been a source of personal stress, basically since I'd graduated college, and that's mostly because I haven't been able to find the one thing that made me excited to jump out of bed every morning. I struggled to find the spark — the confidence, the motivation, and the inspiration — to make anything of, well, myself.
It turns out, though, that motherhood was that spark. Isn't it funny how before becoming a parent all I could think about was what having children would take away from my life but I never gave any thought to what my child might give me? Well, motherhood gave me the confidence, motivation, and inspiration I couldn't find before because it gave me a new purpose (but not my only purpose and not a better purpose). The best way I can describe it is that the thing that stressed me out the most — finding a career I was passionate about — became easier because it was no longer just about me. When I thought about the type of job I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to have a job my daughter could see me doing, excelling, enjoying, and, most of all, loving because I knew it'd set the best example for her.
What motherhood did for me that I never expected it to was to re-prioritize what was important to me.
I won't say that motherhood is the end all, be all of my existence, because for me, motherhood is hard. It doesn't always come naturally to me. It's not glamorous. Motherhood can be isolating, boring, lonely, stressful, scary; sometimes all at the same time. And I thought this would make me want to go back to work, that my love of personal freedom (and personal space) and that the hard parts of parenting would make my decision to return to work at the end of my maternity leave easy. I thought I was a working mom. But it turns out, I wasn't at all.
I think there is something pretty noble, pretty sweet, about wiping someone's butt or drying their tears or mashing up their food. My purpose doesn't have to be big and grand and global to have an impact. It can be just as important and just as affecting to one little person. My little person.
This realization was difficult to come to. Not only because of the practical problems like, could we afford for me not to go back to my old job? But also because of far more personal ones; mostly, feminist ones. It felt important to me to define myself as something more than my daughter's mother or my husband's wife, and finding that definition through my job. But the idea of going back to work left me feeling unmotivated, unfulfilled, and unhappy. So I was stuck between not wanting to be "just a mom" (though there's absolutely nothing wrong with being "just a mom") and not wanting to be a working mom, either.
I'd been raised by a strong career-driven woman. When my parents divorced, I was only a toddler, but my mom did everything to ensure I'd be OK and that she would be OK. She demonstrated to me first-hand that the best way to be a good mom was to better yourself. She worked full-time and went back to school and was still supportive and loving, firm and fair. But most of all, my mother taught me the importance of a woman having independence — financially and personally — from their partner.
To decide to become a stay-at-home mom felt like I was disregarding my mother's most important lesson. But what motherhood did for me that I never expected it to was to re-prioritize what was important to me. If I was going to spend up to eight hours a day away from my child, I wanted that time to be for a career I was passionate about — and I want to acknowledge just how privileged I am to have the opportunity to find out what my passions are and not be forced into working a job I don't absolutely love because I don't have to. As much as I loved my team at my old job, I just wasn't passionate about the work I did. But I was still passionate about writing. And it turns out that motherhood also gave me that, too: writing. The inspiration, the confidence, and the motivation I'd needed to share my heart with others came from becoming a mother. And isn't that what feminism is kind of about, anyway? Having the choice — as a woman — to do what we want, either inside or outside the home?
Today, believe it or not, I still don't love kids — though I am prone to pointing babies out to my partner when we pass them on the street now. But being a parent has opened my eyes to the more redeeming qualities of those smelly, sticky, selfish little creatures we call our children; the way my daughter helped me realize what's important: my family, my writing, myself. And I think there is something pretty noble, pretty sweet, about wiping someone's butt or drying their tears or mashing up their food. My purpose doesn't have to be big and grand and global to have an impact. It can be just as important and just as affecting to one little person. My little person. Motherhood has opened my eyes to an incredible community of men and women all over the world who know what it's like to wear your heart outside of your chest. And it opened my eyes to the most surprising qualities in myself: that I can be just a mom, and that is absolutely, totally OK.