Dear Carolyn: As my spouse and I decide when to have children, I find myself, the female partner, ambivalent about “motherhood.” It feels like being a “mom” in our culture is so all-consuming and definitive of who you get to be and how you get to live that I worry about the rest of me and us.
It doesn’t seem like my friends have this same anxiety at all. Do you have any words of wisdom? Can I just get over it? It might not shock you to learn that culture and gender are fields I studied in graduate school, and that yes, my field is slightly-to-quite hostile toward pregnancy/childbearing.
Want to Parent, Not Sure About Being a “Mommy”
It is daunting to be idealized, pigeonholed, publicly judged, minimized, lionized, objectified, weighted by arbitrary expectations, stereotyped and, literally, vomited on. Maybe your friends are particularly grounded or just not talking about this with you, because ambivalence is the old cheese stick in everyone’s diaper bag – dads too. If it’s not kids themselves that give you doubts – get used to this now, you can’t make them sleep, eat or poop – then the effects on your marriage, career, calendar, waistline, decor, bank balances, restaurant/vacation/car/neighborhood options will.
I realize you’re talking about the gendered aspect, that a male parent is a man and a female parent is a mom, but the baby’s control of “who you get to be and how you get to live” is over both parents, and you both get more say in the process than you might think. Society can’t shape your experience as a mother anywhere near as profoundly as you and your spouse can, because you'll have your strongest feelings inside your home and you'll (still) have agency outside of it. Your field is hostile, OK. You’re an educated woman – fight it, finesse it, find a new line of work.
The drawback of being momified, while real, isn’t so much a defining element of the motherhood experience as it is just another front in the war against being seen as a sex versus an individual.
Is it a front you want to open? Fair question, and “no” is a valid answer. I wonder, though, how consuming you find these concerns in other areas of your life, and whether you’ve let them make decisions for you before.
Because of your concerns, a “yes” does mean you need to be more transparent with your spouse than maybe other prospective mothers do about wanting gender-blind divisions of labor (though something tells me he knows), getting chore-by-chore specific. Who will make and go to doctor’s appointments, keep the calendar, be the first emergency contact?
You also need to decide whether you’re ready for having children to affect your career, and to have Plans B and C at least in their formative stages. You need to measure your appetite – at work, at least – for being a pioneer and for watching mere choices have the impact of statements, fairly or not. You obviously care where you stand with others, so it’s time to find out exactly how much – and why.
And you need to be mindful, ironically, of the hazards of overthinking. There’s no better way to make concerns into problems than dwelling on them.
Unfortunately, the most prominent voice in the matter is one you can’t hear in advance: Your child’s. That’s why plans and expectations are useful only up to the point when reality takes you elsewhere. He or she could be the first domino that eventually changes where you want your career to go – or could have needs that make philosophical ruminations on motherhood a luxury you can’t afford.
Where plans come and go, your strengths, weaknesses, wants and needs tend to remain givens – so let those tell you whether you’re up for this. Letting other people’s opinions run your life is no more recommended here than it is in any other decision we all face; it’s how you feel about those opinions, and how good you are at keeping them in perspective, that’s really going to count.
Hi, Carolyn: My son’s partner of eight years is nice, yet distant and self-centered. “George’s” mother enabled this behavior from a young age.
We host all for dinner a lot. George refuses to chip in or help out when we get together. Thank-yous are few and far between.
My daughter and I have approached George and my son regarding this concern, but they both are defensive. How do I handle this? I don’t even want to treat him anymore.
In choosing to be close to your son, you choose George, too, in all his ungrateful glory – unless you decide George is bad enough to cost you your son. I wish parsing the details could change this basic math, but it can’t. You handle it by choosing your son.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.