Last night, I was in the company of several other women whom I had never met before. As we were introducing ourselves, one woman said, "My name is XXX. I am the mother of six kids but I have a real job at XXX investment company."
This comment really struck a nerve. Why was she discounting her own role as a mother by saying "but I have a real job..." and why does being paid for work make it "real?" This touched on the larger question of what truly forms our own personal identity? That's something I've been thinking about a lot since I became a mother.
While pregnant, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't return to my job once the baby arrived. I had a new and astoundingly incompetent supervisor which exacerbated an already stressful line of work. The hassle of managing my manager in addition to everything else just didn't seem worth it. Then Vivi came along and everything changed. I didn't know anyone here except my husband and I missed the camaraderie I had at my job. (Sleepless nights can really make you romanticize the old days.) So after three months away, I returned to work.
During the first year of Vivi's life, I made local friends and gained some confidence as a mother. The stress at my job continued and I was really starting to resent that my salary was hardly covering the cost of commuting and childcare (especially when male colleagues of comparable age and experience were making $20,000 more a year than I was.) So after much deliberation (10 months of it, to be exact), I quit.
It was a tough decision. I felt the need to contribute financially to my family even if I really wasn't doing that during my employment. More than the money and stress though, I struggled with what my identity would be without a career. For the majority of my adulthood, I was the person who did human rights work, who traveled and had cool stories, who was (dare I say it?) interesting. Now, I was just a mom and who was going to care about that?
It has taken me a while to figure out the answer to that question. I am discovering that who I am is only defined by how I am. As a career woman, it was easy to point to journal articles, public speaking events, or quotes in Newsweek as indications of my identity. Now I hang out at the playground and am only quoted by my daughter.
But how I was then is still how I am now-- hard-working, caring, impatient, and countless other traits. Those traits helped me be productive in my paid career but the career wasn't who I was. The product of those traits now will be my daughter but she is still her own person. Even though I'll never see a penny for "producing" her, you can't get any more real than that.