New Mom on the Job
by Kathy Fitzgerald
I am a "stay-at-home" mom. This is a new job for me and "mom" is my new title. In fact, when I left my job to stay home with Grace, I wanted to have business cards made up that gave my home phone number and new home email address with the title "Grace's Mom." A cute idea, I thought, but also very practical. In my previous life, whenever I had to give someone my contact information, I would always hand over my business card and, if necessary, I would write my personal information on the back. Now I rifle clumsily through my purse looking for scraps of paper, feeling confused and embarrassed by my apparent lack of professionalism.
I am past the obligatory three-month probation period required for most positions, the time when both employee and employer can decide if they have made a good match and if not, both parties can simply go their separate ways. But this does not apply to my situation because I cannot quit and besides, who would fire me? I still endeavor to prove my worth, however, and feel compelled to report on what I do during the day, the evening, and the night. I want to prove wrong any assumptions people may be making about me, preferably before they make them. I want to explain the all-consuming nature of parenting to those who will listen. I want childless friends to know that I am not "taking the easy way" or "a kept woman" because I am not bringing home an income. I want to be sure that everyone knows I am working hard and doing everything possible to be good at my job.
I recognize that my efforts are really pre-emptive strikes and that I do not ever really know what people are thinking. I receive positive feedback about my choice from family, friends and past colleagues. I hear that I am "doing such a great job with her," that it is so great for me to be at home with her because "they are only that age once," and that I am to be admired because "I could never do what you do." I hear these words, but can't always believe them because, as I stated earlier, I can't always know what people are really thinking.
Because I chose to stay home, I must love it. I must be a great homemaker who loves to make a great home. I must provide healthy, nutritious meals; keep a clean, tidy house; and abide by a carefully planned monthly budget. I must be wonderful with children: creative, entertaining and endlessly patient. But I am not all of these things. In fact, I am not any of these things. Does this mean that I am not holding up my end of the bargain as I stay home? Or, even worse, that I am not qualified? I feel that I am playing catch-up as I struggle to prove myself worthy of this job. I am learning to cook and try to provide meals comprised of more that one item. I try not to order in more than once a week. I try to keep up with the housework, but who would have thought that two adults, a toddler and a dog could create such a mess in one day? In one afternoon even? I try to save coupons and try to remember to use them before they expire. I even bought a coupon organizer and now keep a grocery list on the fridge so I can go to the store once a week to buy what we need, instead of every day to buy whatever I feel like having at that particular moment.
But here is the biggest secret of all. I join playgroups and music classes, not just to provide stimulating learning and socialization experiences for my daughter, but to learn how to be a mom. I don't know children's games and songs and activities. I know how to purchase craft supplies and consider myself a creative person, but I don't think that quilting or writing are age-appropriate activities for a 20 month old. I have always been afraid to sing out loud in front of others and am one of those people who always mouth the words in hope that no one is watching me too closely. This, however, is not an option when you are the only person in the room who can talk.
People tell me that I am a great mom for doing all these things with Grace. What they don't understand is that I do all these things because I want to be a great mom for Grace. I don't know what I am doing; I am trying to learn. This is the most intimidating job I have ever taken on. I laugh and tell humorous stories of motherhood to those who will listen, but want to tell of the crying, both hers and mine. I tell of the exhaustion, but want to tell how sometimes, in the very wee hours of the morning when I have not yet been to sleep, that I have thought about being dead, because then at least then I could rest. But how do you explain that without having people think you are suicidal? I tell of the long days and the monotony of it, but am afraid to tell of the utter boredom, lest people think that I do not like or, God forbid, love my child.
I want people to think I am frugal, because I am irritated when others comment on how fortunate we are to not have financial worries so I do not "have to work." I did not stop working because we had more money that we knew what to do with. I stopped working to stay home to raise my child. But I feel uncomfortable saying that. How do I speak up without seeming arrogant about my choice? Especially when talking to working mothers? How do I explain the feeling that it is not the choice, but my choice?
As I watch and listen to the moms I meet now, my colleagues I suppose, I have begun to think that maybe all new mothers are sensitive about this job and about the assumptions we seem to feel are automatically placed on us as soon as our children arrive. There are articles, books, and talk shows that constantly rehash the endless battles of the "mommy wars" and I notice that we all seem to speak so cautiously with each other about the job, no matter how, when or where we do it. While we all have our own opinions and reasons for doing our jobs the way we do, we are almost overly polite when talking with each other about our own, and each other's, choices. I think we are all so aware of the assumptions swirling around us that we are extra careful not to inflict them on our new colleagues. In this new workplace where it feels like job performance expectations are impossibly high and self-esteem can be at an all-time low, it seems to me that there is no one more sensitive to the heart of a new mom than another new mom.
So am I happy my job performance to date, both perceived and real? I don't know. I am still unsure of myself in this new job and am anxiously trying to prepare for an anticipated job review. I do this by coming up with rationales, explanations and defensive approaches for everything I do. But there won't be a performance review for this position. There will be many performance reviews, all day long, everyday, with myself, and I know that I will always be my own worst boss if I keep on this way. Can I work my way through these new-job jitters and ever get to the point where I feel I have mastered every aspect of the position? Unlikely, as the job keeps changing. So I guess I will continue working away: going to playgroups, planning meals and rifling clumsily through my purse for a scrap of paper to write my name and number on. This on-the-job training may be a way for me to find success at my job and believing the compliments others pay me may be a way to find confidence in my ability. Ignoring everything else might be helpful as well. But, alas, this is probably not something I will rectify anytime soon, things are just too busy at work right now.
Kathy is a writer and at stay-at-home-mom-in-training. She resides in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with her husband and daughter.
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