Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Mother's Performance Evaluation: Do I Measure Up?

Mother's Day always gives me an amusing but valuable view of my son's perspective of me and my parenting of him. You know how our school-age kids make some cute Mother's Day projects in school and it's always accompanied by a sheet or two of these fill-in-the-blanks, slumbook-esque items or questions which are supposed to describe the Mom? Well, of course I got them too and let's just say it offered me not only the sweet 'Awwww's', but also the disturbed 'Hmmmmm's....'.

Let's first deal with the superficial stuff.  Apparently, my son thinks I am 6'1" tall.  (He actually wrote 4'25" under height so I had to bust out my math skills to correctly interpret that one).  I also only weigh 75 lbs. in my son's eyes which is really sweet of him, although combining that with my newly assigned height, makes me cartoonishly- and freakishly-skinny.

My interpretation of how my son possibly sees me.  (Yes I have no drawing skills!)

What interested me the most was the fill-in-the-blank item that says "My Mom is good at many things.  One thing she's best at is..." and he wrote, "...her work blo(g)ging and cleaning".

I'm glad that my son recognizes my writing / blogging as 'work', which means that to a certain extent, he also probably recognizes my identity as a 'writer/ blogger'.  This, of course, makes me happy since it adds a dimension to how he perceives me; that to him, I can be good at things other than housework.  

However, I couldn't help but really reflect on that item and ask myself what I'm really good at and what I'm good for these days.  I have been out of the paid workforce for seven years now and I do wonder about what marketable skills I have that are still recognizable by individuals who don't share my home address.  

Perhaps this is why in the recent months, I've been more focused on taking my blogging more seriously and have been thinking about taking it to the next level, whatever that means.  I know that I can no longer claim my previous identity as an 'academic' given that I've been out of the academic world for so long.  When I tell my son of the 'good old days' and that a long time ago, Mommy was an Assistant Professor teaching college kids / older kids, he just stares back and appears like I'm telling him some fictional tale.  It doesn't make much sense to him and can't seem to imagine me holding a job outside of our home.  

And so I've been a bit panicked, trying to figure out what I am now, other than 'wife' or 'mother', and if ultimately, in some way I'm actually shortchanging my child.

Which of course begs another question.  What is so bad, or so lacking, in having just the identity of 'mother'? According to my 'bosses' --- the only two people who truly have the right to evaluate my performance, my son and my husband --- I do a pretty remarkable job!  I don't think there is any question in that, even though I'm far from the vicinity of Martha Stewart-ville.  

But let's face the truth and not sugarcoat things here.  None of us is one-dimensional and it is natural to seek affirmation beyond the confines of our families and those who love us dearly.  We have been taught this since childhood through our introduction to the education system.  By being in school, being around other children and adults other than our parents, we learned that we need to play by objective standards; standards set out by institutions that don't function based on affect or mere emotional ties.  We have known all our lives that being evaluated objectively by the outside world shapes our identities, gives us affirmation and boosts our self-confidence and sense of worth.  I'm not saying external affirmations should be the sole source of our sense of identity and value. But it is true that a part of each of us craves it and helps validate us.  I'm also inclined to believe that this craving, this need for outside validation may be stronger for those who were once over-achievers or 'performers' as students, such as myself.  

I have no doubt that my son gets all the love that he needs; all the support, the nourishment, the care that I can possibly give.  I know he is a happy and healthy child.  I know that my being around him and staying home to remain focused on our family give him joy (no pun intended) and he has repeatedly told me that he doesn't want it any other way.  He even protests to the idea of having a sitter or a nanny, or having to go to an afterschool program should the time come when I decide to work outside the home.  Our arrangement now is what he wants.  This is also my desire and am grateful that our family can afford for me to stay at home, 'work' at home.

But a part of me can't help but wonder if I'm enough to my son and if I'm setting a good example to him. We look to our mothers for love and guidance. We consider them our anchors and the most powerful role-models in our lives. All that said, can I be sure that I'm showing him a good work ethic and values regarding gender roles and gender equality?

I'm reminded of what a good friend of mine asked me several months ago. She was thinking of cutting back on her work hours to be with her family more. But she was concerned about the impression it would give her daughter about women's roles in society and what we can truly achieve.  I gave her the most honest answer I could at the time.  I told her that I grew up with a career-oriented mother.  She held a high position at their company, but also worked hard at home to make sure we were well-cared for.  However, if you asked me what my most treasured childhood memory is, even to this date I'd tell you that it was those afternoons when she baked brownies for us while we were forced to take our nap.  Sure I admired her for being a 'career woman'.  I saw my Mom as highly intelligent, driven, hardworking, but also very exhausted. The fact is, I still think the brownies and the bread pudding and her presence during school functions were more memorable than the clothes, the cars or restaurants we were able to afford at the time.  Those are the things that stuck to me, the things that truly made an impression.

It made so much sense then when I gave this 'advice' to my friend.  I hope it makes sense for me now that I'm asking myself about my own sense of self-worth and if I'm simply enough.


  1. Love the selfie in ink! I'd recognize you any time. :D

    I think what you're really asking, Joy, isn't "I wonder if I'm enough to my son" but "Am I enough to myself?" It's a healthy question to ask.You're in a great position, knowing without a doubt that you are fulfilling to the maximum your roles as mom and wife. Therefore you can come from a place of abundance, not lack, and proceed with grace toward growth, not scratch for survival. Your son will of course express his preference for having unlimited access to you indefinitely. But we know children turn into teenagers, and the preference for having his privacy and his own path takes over. You don't want to wait until then to answer your question.

    "We have known all our lives that being evaluated objectively by the outside world shapes our identities, gives us affirmation and boosts our self-confidence and sense of worth." What I've learned (and wish I'd known in my early 20s of SAHMothering) is while the outside world does boost our sense of worth, the true source of that worth is within — our inner world. The tricky part is that no amount of positive talk, e.g. repeating "I am enough" can substitute for experiencing that this is true.

    How does one attain that experience? I'm sure there are other ways for other people, but I can only speak from my own experience. I found it in meditation. I was coming out of a regular 15-minute practice, just starting to open my eyes, when an inexplicable KNOWING came upon me. I saw myself for the first time as God actually sees me. Nothing about my past (accomplishments, failures) factored into it. Nothing about my future (goals, desires, mistakes) were in the equation. Just me in the present, a sneak preview of the glorious Self we are told we revert to when we die in grace.

    It's all fine and good for an older person like me to say. We might sound like we dismiss the value of being validated via a career because we've already been there and done that. What's a younger person in your position to do?

    To answer that, I did what we bloggers would do: I wrote a blog post about it.

  2. So much of our identity is made up of what others think of us; some of which we know they are thinking and some of which we just assume they are thinking. At the end of the day you are clearly an amazing mother, wife and role model, but you are these things because you are obviously an amazing person. I wouldn't worry about gender stereo types and equality and would just concentrate on doing what you do best; being you.

  3. I love it and I think it is absolutely adorable that your son recognised your blogging :) And in a good way it seems - not as someone who is hooked into the computer and who he never sees (my partner treated me like that at one stage...). I think you should look at it this way - your blog is a legacy to your son. It is a record or your life, and his, and your husbands, and so forth. One day he will look back on it proudly and say 'This was my Mum.'

  4. I'm going through the same thing now. I recently graduated and had plans to matriculate right into the work-force. I had Sheryl Sanburg level dreams, but then there's my daughter. And I'm just not sure I want to give all that up. I work from home for a small digital marketing company as a social media specialist. And truthfully, it's tiring. I think people hear "work from home" and start to conjure up images of me in my pj's all day watching TV. But working at home with a three year old is no joke. I miss those days when I had to "go to" work. It was easy. I had time to myself. I really had no clue how difficult being a WAHM was going to be.

    My mom was a hard-working woman and I am so appreciative of that. She had to give up quite a bit because my dad was career Army, so every 2-3 years we were moving, which meant she was hunting for another job. Most of the time it was in fast-food or as a receptionist, but she made it work. I don't resent what she did in the slightest. But then my husbands family is all about child-rearing. His mom quit college when she married his dad, so I feel a lot of pressure.

    Personally, I have still have every intention of diving into the workforce when my daughter starts Kindergarten, but some days, I can't help but worry if I'm making the right decision. I don't know if that makes me a bad mom. I suppose it just makes me human.

    Great post. You've given me lots to think about.

    1. Hi Theresa. I completely understand your situation, maybe 'dilemma' even. And I can imagine how difficult it is to be a WAHM with a toddler. I admire you for being able to do it! So I hope you are able to recognize this too and congratulate yourself.

      Guilt is something that plagues most parents, especially mothers. I'm a firm believer in just following or doing what works best for our respective families AND selves. It's not selfish to pursue a career. Neither is it stupid to choose to give that up and stay at home to care for our children. The point is that we really should not judge each other because we're all just balancing what we can, right?

      My mom worked all her life. We were just lucky that our Aunt lived right next door and she was a SAHM so we still had someone to watch over us when needed. Either that or we had a maid/househelp. (I grew up in the Philippines and this was the norm if you can afford it...and no you don't have to be uber rich. Having a nanny here in the US would be expensive.) Anyway......the point is that I think it was easier to do it in the Philippines..have a career I think. Extended family always helped out. Nannies / maids are easy to hire. Here, we're pretty much on our own for the most part and services are very expensive. So, yes, I think motherhood to a certain extent is harder here.

      We really should not beat ourselves up because we're all doing what we can. Most of all, there is no doubt that you love your child and would sacrifice anything when needed. You are NOT a bad mom. Please don't think that. The pressure will always be there. The external voices might be difficult to silence. But in the end, we really just need to learn to focus on what will make us happy and better parents. If you do what you don't want to do, give up what you don't want to give up, it will only make you miserable and full of resentment. That can never be good for your parenting and won't be a type of energy that you'd want to have your child be around. So....just soldier on and find what makes you a happy parent.

      Best of luck and thanks so much for sharing your story!! :-)

  5. I think that we are all doing what we can, Joy. It seems to me that your son is growing up pretty nicely. As for my daughter, as we moved house recently, she said that I love visiting houses. Kids pick up on everything, right?

    1. So true, Muriel. They are like sponges. And thank you for your kind words :-)

  6. I think American culture always guilts us that we should be doing more. We should be nobel peace prize winning triathletes and but yet, the perfect stay at home moms at the same time. It's not realistic or attainable. Find things that make you happy. And these little things may turn into big fulfilling things. A new career even.


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