December 1, 2016
Dear Cherished Heart,
I recently went to watch my son play soccer. Each indoor season half of the team changes as kids move into or out of age divisions according to their birth year. I sat with a group of moms I hadn’t yet met. I am a socially capable introvert: one who feels discomfort amidst strangers, yet can easily converse and connect through honed social skills, which are driven by a need to be liked—everywhere, and by everyone. This is not an easy path.
When I sat down, I exchanged the usual—which one is your kid, and what team did he play for last year—chatter with two women. During the second half of the game, one of the women stood up and I noticed that she had a stunning picture painted onto the thigh of her jeans. Given my interest in fabric and clothing, I asked her if she had painted it herself. She had; she’s an artist; she showed us several pictures of her paintings-on-clothing. Jaw dropping images. Not kidding.
I believe strongly in the purposeful encounter of coincidence. Just the day prior, I had been looking for courses that I could take on “Fabric Art”. I am engaged in a spiritual journey with a coach at the moment, and some of the creative work I am doing relates to fabric, fashion, and design. So, meeting a woman who could create art on fabric made the hairs on my arms stand up.
Artist Mom lamented the fact that she didn’t have as much time for art as she would like. “When I was in Hong Kong, before having kids, my job was very busy,” she said. “Now I find that I don’t have the time to dedicate to it.”
The woman seated next to me said, “Your kids are in school right? What do you do all day?” The question sounded like a cross examination in a court room; it was not asked with a drop of curiosity, but instead oozed sanctimonious judgement.
My throat tightened.
Artist Mom explained, “I clean the house, buy groceries, and I’m cooking every day at 1:30, to get ready for the evening meal before a night of activities.”
“Come on,” said Sanctimonious Mom, “Don’t give me those excuses. I work full time, and still have to do all of that. You ‘stay-at-home’ Moms.”
My heart rate shot up; sweat began to drip from my arm pits; and a voice inside of me screamed. “Ummm…” I said, keeping my eyes on the game, but leaning toward her, “What are you saying about stay-at-home moms exactly?”
“You have all the time in the world, but you’re always complaining,” she said. “You are so lucky that you don’t have to work.”
Fireworks went off. I turned my face toward her. “I would be EVER SO HAPPY to have a conversation with you about HOW LUCKY I AM that I chose to work from home raising my kids, and am no longer employable! . . . but this is not the place.”
“Well…” she said, but was interrupted by a mom sitting in front of us who clearly wanted to instil peace; she said, “You have no idea what it is like for moms these days, there is so much pressure to keep up with the Jones’s.”
I shook my head. Really? Not helpful.
I spoke with controlled calmness, “I would recommend that you do not judge others until you have walked in their shoes.” At that moment I began to cry. Hot. Angry. Tears. I got up and walked away.
For twenty-one years, my husband and I created a system of support that took into consideration what each person’s strengths were. I gave up my career when I became a full-time mom because motherhood was the job I wanted to dedicate myself to. My husband, a physician-specialist, became the sole income earner in our family. He agreed that looking after our children and home was important, therefore we pooled our resources. It made perfect sense. Our family grew and so did my responsibilities. I have never worked harder.
We both worked and supported each other in a myriad of ways. The truth that he made all of the money did not enter into my consciousness throughout our many years together. For one thing, he never saw it that way. But moreover, doing my job well enabled him to do his job well. We were a team. Not all parenting teams are made in the same way; not all parents have the choices that I did. I respect and understand that. I have always felt blessed that I didn’t have to generate income; that my work with our family was seen as necessary and valuable.
I felt equal entitlement to my husband’s salary right up until we separated.
And then I felt like shit.
I had to rely on him for my daily existence; I worried about financial security; I knew that I had no skills that would procure a job or money. I knew I could not provide for my kids, without him. My skills and accomplishments—my resumé—would not impress anyone (for that matter neither would my age!). Suddenly, my chosen stay-at-home-mom path seemed foolish at best, and doomed at worst.
So when Sanctimonious Mom spewed her unwelcome viewpoint into the stands, I felt a torrent of thoughts and emotions rise rapidly like stomach acid. It wasn’t what she said. Why would I care what she said? She was a stranger. (And yet…seriously…who says that shit to a complete stranger??) No, it was how her words made me feel. Sanctimonious Mom unwittingly made me feel <less than>.
How could I feel that I had made the best decision for our lives by staying at home, and then in a flash feel like I had no value without my husband’s eternal love and support?
I think it is the word “support” that rattles me. Down the road, when the dust settles, there will be a separation agreement. However, it will be a one way road in a busy village. The agreement will only detail the support or benefits he gives me—in financial terms, it will not detail the support or benefits I give him—in my role of managing the emotional and physical needs of our children, and home.
I becomer the pitiable one. He, the provider-hero.
I realize, Cherished Heart, that these thoughts and feelings are part of the journey, and as transient as the chinook winds. But chinook winds can gust in excess of hurricane force; and to deny their existence would be very foolhardy indeed.