In a few weeks it will be Mothers’ Day, and we will be celebrating all the mothers we have known. Motherhood has changed over the generations, as women’s roles have evolved and families now come in so many constellations.
In some cases mothers work full time, some work part time, and some take the traditional role and stay home while their children are young. People are starting their families at an older age than before, so it’s not unusual to see small children with parents in their 40’s. With the advances in fertility treatment multiple births are more common, and with international adoptions it is not unusual to have families where no one looks even remotely alike. I spoke to some mothers about the challenges and joys of being a mother in the 21st century, and what is different today than in years past. There are also different challenges and perks depending on the age of the children, whether they have any special needs, or how many children are in a family, particularly if there are any multiple births.
Kristin, a 42 year-old psychologist with two children ages 9 and 5, talks about how to carve out time for herself. Because she works part time, that helps her balance work and family. She says, "You are never fully in one world or the other. It’s hard to do anything with divided attention. Unless I actively engage in the process of carving out time for myself and do certain things to put it into place, it doesn’t happen and then everybody suffers. I talk to my husband to make sure it happens, and I have to physically and structurally carve out that time, and both parents have to be cognizant of carving out that time for themselves and each other." Maria, a 47 year-old speech pathologist has three children ranging from 14 to 19. When they were younger she found it hard to balance work and home life. She says that she had to be "extremely organized, especially with house stuff like laundry and dinner, and always make the kids the priority. That meant that sometimes work suffered in terms of paperwork, or having ideas that I didn’t have time to get off the ground, but my family was always my priority."
Cristina, a mother of two, who has chosen to take time off from her teaching career to stay home with her children, agrees, "For my particular situation, I don’t feel there is a balance; my family obligations come before myself. However, it does appear to me that I am now able to participate in activities for myself that will ultimately benefit my entire family." One of the biggest challenges, for her, is finding the support to give herself and her husband a break when need be. She says, "I find the biggest challenge with my children (ages 5 and 3) is not having a support network such as their grandparents and available aunts and uncles to provide a respite period for my husband and myself."
When asked what made her choose to stay home during these early years, she responds, "My husband and I decided the most effective way to run our household was for me to take time off. This decision allowed him to spend more physical time at his business and implement his ideas first hand. I was afforded the opportunity to experience my children in the young stages of their lives, and was able to create an environment that my husband and I selected (rather than a third party)."
The birth of twins creates an entirely different family constellation. Jennifer, a 40 year-old psychologist has 18 month old twins and a six year old as well. She describes the challenges of having more than one baby at a time: "Having two kids at the same developmental stage means doing most things for two at one time. They both need the same thing at the same time. Often one cannot wait while you take care of the other. Now that they are mobile but not safe, it means always running around after them. I can’t let them walk around in public yet, like I could with one. Also, they set each other off – they are WILD! I have been saying for a while now that 1+1 DOES NOT EQUAL 2!!! It’s AT LEAST 3 or 4!!!”
As children grow, there are different issues, such as helping them launch their lives. Maria says that the hardest part of parenting children at this stage is letting go and stepping aside rather than smothering them. She says, "It’s a very difficult transition for me, letting them make their own decisions and trusting them with what we put into motion. We spend time now reflecting on how far we have come. All you think about when they are little is prepping for their future, for college, giving them values, all those things, and at this point we’re worried if we’ve done a good job." While she says that there is added stress about her children driving, there is also the relief of not having to carpool anymore. In fact, she says that the easiest part of mothering two children who drive is that "they are able to transport themselves places."
What if you have a child who has a need for special services or tutoring? Kristin’s daughter has needed some support as she has started school, and shuttling her back and forth to these sessions as well as after-school activities, has been a challenge. "Because I only work part-time it makes it easier to handle appointments, sports, and activities, I try to do them on the days I don’t work, and have a babysitter to do some of that when I can’t. What’s nice is that if your child needs early intervention, those professionals come to the house, but there isn’t a choice of who comes, so the quality might be variable. We took our daughter to private people as well as getting services from the District because we wanted to supplement what they were offering us."
It seems to me that the key for many mothers is balance, whether balancing home and work, their own needs with those of their children, or being nurturing and cautious while at the same time letting grown children leave the nest. My hat is off to the mothers who do it well and make it look so easy. Happy Mothers’ Day to all of you.