Yesterday morning as I was exchanging pleasantries with our nanny Anna, she commented on how much fun Bruce has at the park with his friend Nason. Nodding along while I packed up my laptop, I smiled at the thought of Bruce getting his outdoor time and socialization with other little kids and thanked the Gods for our blessing of a nanny. Anna added that they spend so much time with Nason and his nanny, that Bruce now calls them by name. To show-off my son’s brilliance she asked Bruce if he was excited to see Nason and Olivia at the park today and he cheerfully responded, “Na! Lolly!”
At this exclamation, something switched inside me. I felt nervous and agitated, and I hurried out the door, glancing back through the window to see Bruce sitting happily in his highchair while Anna moved around the kitchen preparing his breakfast. While driving to work I couldn’t figure out the cause of my sudden anxiety.
Was it the fact that my 17 month old is making friends with little kids and nannies that I don’t know?
Was it the fact that he gets time for playdates and socialization with Anna and not me?
Was it the fact that he says “Na” and “Lolly” but still can’t seem (or doesn’t want) to refer to me by name?
Was it the reminder of the incredible relationship Bruce and Anna have and the subsequent guilt and anxiety I have about losing Anna?
Once in the office, coffee in hand, I was still stymied. About fifteen minutes later, while half-heartedly perusing e-mails, it hit me. I’m afraid I won’t be a good mom once I’m home full-time.
What constitutes a good mom? Someone who reads all the books? Someone who reads all the books and actually puts them into practice? Someone whose baby never cries or sleeps through the night by 12 weeks of age? Someone who feeds their kids only organic food? Someone who exposes their kid to every activity and class out there by the age of two? Someone who vaccinates? Someone who co-sleeps and breastfeeds exclusively? Someone who works to pay the bills so their kid can go to private school? Someone who stays at home and wouldn’t dream of working? Someone who has a nice kid that gets along with everyone? Someone who tries their best every day to do the right thing for their kids? Someone with happy kids?
I have no idea what makes up a good mom. I know my own mom is a great mom, but I know I am a completely different person than my mother so what made her a great mom to my sister and I will probably be a far cry from what might make me a good mom for Bruce. I know that in my current situation, I don’t feel like a particularly good mom, which is a major reason why I’m quitting my job in the first place. Thanks to yesterday morning’s conversation, I just now realize that I’ve been operating under the assumption that by quitting my job, I’ll all of a sudden be a good mom. But why? Because I’ll have more time to parent my son? Which begs the more interesting (or frightening) question, why did I assume that just because I’m around all the time to parent, that makes me a good mom? Well it doesn’t, which is a really scary realization.
When it’s just Bruce and I, will he thrive as he has under Anna’s watchful eye and encouragement? Like most working moms, my interaction with Bruce has been fairly limited since I went back to work from maternity leave. He hangs with me in the bathroom while I put on make-up in the mornings, and I read him stories and sing him songs before he goes to bed. Our weekends are a chaotic jumble of music class, errands, and trying to feel like a family. “Quality time” with Bruce typically entails corralling him while I simultaneously check e-mails, make a grocery list, and have a conversation with Dean. When Monday rolls around I’m typically exhausted from the weekend and admittedly ready for a little “me” time at the office, happy to leave dirty diapers, tantrums, and the lions-share of childcare to someone else. I leave home relaxed and confident every morning, because I am incredibly fortunate to trust Anna 100 percent and Bruce adores her. Every morning she prepares his breakfast and then takes him to the park and encourages him to play and make friends. But can I do that? Can I pick up where she will leave? Will he have as much fun with me as he does with Anna? Will I be, gulp, as fantastic as a caregiver that Anna is?
With Anna’s proud announcement that Bruce is referencing his friends by name, I was somehow directed to a latent fear that once I quit, I won’t live up to the mom that I imagine myself being. Will I cheerfully roll Bruce up to the park for playdates every morning? Will I feed him three healthy meals a day and chart his progress? Will I patiently work flashcards and puzzles with him? Selfishly, will I enjoy it?
Two working mom friends have told me separately in the past six months that they can’t imagine staying at home with their kids. That they don’t derive any interest in managing coloring books and playdates. One of them confided that she truly believes other caregivers are much more effective than she would be if she did not work. Yesterday as I pondered my morning conversation with Anna, I wondered the same thing about myself.
Since having Bruce, I’ve felt a lot of fear about mothering while working. Fear of missing Bruce and all of his milestones, fear of not getting enough time in the day with him, fear of performing poorly at work. Since deciding to quit, I’ve felt like life will be magically easier, and that I’ll be in a new natural state of maternal instinct (just like breastfeeding, of course) once I am home full-time. The few fears I’ve had about becoming a stay-at-home mom are professionally focused, and I haven’t once doubted my ability to simply be mom. I’ve been deluded into thinking that the real challenge in quitting my job will be passing over my heels every morning and that imparting discipline to a toddler will be a breeze. Until yesterday.
I think I just got my first taste of what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom, and the whole new suite of fears and insecurities and guilts that go along with it. Welcome to the club?