My mother is one of the smartest people I know. She’s strong, brave, and has so wicked of a fashion sense that I steal her clothes. She’s moved from continent to continent to hold our family together, she’s given up so much to even have a family, and she even laughs at my dad’s corny jokes. I wish I were as brave as she.
Her story is, minus some transcontinental moves, pretty typical. My mom worked her ass off and earned her J.D. from Indiana University, meeting my dad in the process. She gave up practicing law to become a law librarian when she was pregnant with me and, once we moved to Switzerland, gave up her profession all together.
It’s that last part that drives me to write this piece. All over the internet, the TV, even the front page of The New York Times, are people definitively stating that there is only one true way of being a mother and, thank the good Lord, we’ve finally found it! Well, until the next week, anyway.
I won’t claim to have the answer to the debate on whether a mother’s role is to stay at home or work, although I will say with certainty that the term ‘mother’s role’ is maddening. Frankly, I don’t think there is a good answer to the debate. Every role is reality for one family or another, and yet the world keeps on turning.
Young women in our generation look at the ongoing struggles over what it means to be a mother, and what it takes to be the perfect mother, and we walk away more confused than when we initially scrolled down to the comment thread on that one article. We’re told that to make the choice to stay home means we’re anti-women and anti-feminist. But God forbid we go back to work, because then we hate our kids. The whole thing is ridiculously stupid.
Let’s be real here, there are wrong ways to be a mom. Maternal neglect, abuse, and even worse haunt the headlines of the leading papers and cause nightmares. But I highly doubt that a mother who agonizes over the decision to work or stay home, no matter which she chooses, will be a bad mother. Anyone devoted enough to care that much will continue to care.
The only true answer is the one that every mother comes to individually. It takes courage, it takes having a strong sense of your own personal compass, and it takes a lot of thought. In the end, I don’t think it matters what mothers choose to do with their own lives. It’s that they choose that makes the difference.
I look at my mother and I know that she made a choice, a difficult one, and I respect her more for it. Her strength, resilience, and ability to deal with my annoying little brother make me wish I could be so tough. The best thing a mother can be is a role model, whether she stays at home or works full-time, or something in between.
Part of me, the same stubborn streak that made me refuse to eat broccoli, wants to complain that staying at home instead of working shows weakness. Being dependent on someone, even if it’s my goofball and loveable dad, seems to go against my near-innate sense of independence. But I look at my mom and everything that she’s done for our family, everything that she’s sacrificed, and I know that she’s not weak. She’s the strongest person I know, and seeing her bravery has made me who I am.
I walk in the same steps as my mother. I struggle to keep my eyes awake during a late night study session in the library. I balance my life as a student with my often-overwhelming extracurriculars, and even call home from time to time. I love my family. I don’t have one of my own, and I don’t know what choices I might face if I get around to it sometime in the very distant future. All I know is that I wish I, and all women, have the courage to follow their own moral compass once they do.
I look around me in the world, and I see real problems. Women are paid less, work less prestigious jobs, are discriminated against, and are sexually harassed—if not assaulted—every single day of the week. These are incontrovertible facts. These are the issues that define the feminism of our day and age, not what a mother decides to do with her life. Really, it’s as simple as that.