One Sunday a few months ago, I taught two of the most important people in my life how to put on their shoes. My preschool-aged daughter was learning how to get dressed, just like her peers. But my mother had recently suffered a stroke. And after decades of self-sufficiency, she was now painstakingly re-learning not only how to dress herself, but also how to speak, read and follow simple instructions. That day signaled the start of a new chapter in my motherhood journey, one that I could never have anticipated and I was unsure I was equipped to handle it. As I curled up in bed that night, all I could think about was whether I’d succeed in navigating this new normal.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I want to acknowledge how common my experience of simultaneously mothering both a child and a mother is – roughly half of the millennial generation already actively takes care of its parents. I also want to celebrate the moms who helped me survive not only this challenging moment in time, but the many other unexpected hurdles I’ve navigated on this wild ride that is modern motherhood.
“It’s every woman for herself,” said no mom ever
My journey as a mom began in late 2017, when I first learned I was pregnant (I took at test just before 6 a.m. and woke my husband from his sound sleep by jumping on the bed and screaming, “It’s positive! It’s positive!”). As soon as we shared the news, women started coming out of the woodwork to show support. They offered me advice, hand-me-downs, phone numbers for babysitters and doulas, and more than a few good meals. I was incredibly appreciative, but I didn’t grasp the full extent of the powerful network I was tapping into until I gave birth. No one showed up with an official “Moms’ club” platinum membership card.” But my personal experience was that collectively, moms represent the exception to the “every man for himself” rule that dominates so much of our society.
When I came home from the hospital, more than one mom showed up at my house and insisted on doing the dishes, including hand washing the 17 different attachments to my breast pump. They tactfully tidied the piles of useless items ordered from Amazon late at night when my newborn refused to sleep. The phone calls and texts were overwhelming, in the best way possible – my daughter was born very early, and I swear every NICU mom in the United States who had ever met me reached out.
This tsunami of support extended far beyond people I had known in my pre-mom life, beyond people I knew, period. No question I put in my Facebook moms’ group was too dumb. Once I asked whether I should wake my perfectly content baby from her nap and move her to a different room because our monitor indicated that hers was one degree warmer than the “recommended” temperature for newborns. More than 10 women – all perfect strangers –responded to my post, and not one ridiculed me or repeated the phrase every human on the planet has likely heard: “Never wake a sleeping baby.” Out in the “real world,” any time I couldn’t find something in my diaper bag, a mom popped up seemingly out of nowhere and handed me the very thing I had left at home.
You might think these connections evaporate around the same time that our maternity leaves do (that is, if you work outside your home and are also fortunate enough to be able to take leave). But they don’t. My daughter turned four last month, and I swear not a week goes by without me making a new mom connection that comes easily as the ones I made when she was just a tiny NICU baby. I’m also fortunate to work with many mothers, and the instant camaraderie established through simple phrases like “my kiddo” never ceases to amaze me.
This blog is not intended to be a recruiting piece by any means, but I would like to put in a small plug for Allison+Partners. We have wellness days, and we’re encouraged to use them. We have unlimited PTO, and the intention is that we take it. We have 20 weeks of paid maternity leave (yes, you read that right). And above all that, we have a culture of respect and collaboration. When my daughter popped up on a Teams call a couple of months ago, one of my coworkers remembered that Dora the Explorer was her current favorite show and started singing the theme song.
To say it’s been hard to be a working mom over the past two years is the understatement of this third year of the COVID-19 pandemic (not that the struggle isn’t just as real for moms who don’t work outside their homes). My current work environment plays a huge part in keeping me plugged into the professional world in the face of inadequate childcare, limited time for self-care and a healthcare system that often fails to accommodate its littlest patients outside the hours of 9 to 5.
A note about how we define motherhood
Being a working mom is exhausting, and I’m sure I’m not alone in sometimes struggling to relate to friends or coworkers who aren’t on the parenting path with me. You were home sick all day and did nothing but watch Netflix on the couch, alone? Sounds like a dream! You’re tired because you stayed out too late having drinks and adult conversation? Can’t say I’d complain. You couldn’t finish your dinner? Must be nice not to have to share your food with a little person! I admit that at times I’ve had an “us versus them” mentality, which was only worsened by the pandemic.
But when my mom suffered her stroke, many of the people who stepped up to support me in the same selfless ways the “moms’ club” had when my daughter was born weren’t moms – at least not by our traditional definition. They are women whose own mothers (and fathers) have suffered similarly devastating health events and need their kids to care for them. They are women who are parenting parents. Like me, they are struggling and sad. Like me, they are mothers, regardless of who they are mothering. On Mother’s Day, I’d like to suggest that we reconsider how we define motherhood and celebrate all the amazing women who parent up and down the generations – and still manage to make time for their family, friends, coworkers and a whole host of perfect strangers.
Coming full circle
I celebrate all the amazing moms who have taken me under their wings and made investments big and small in me and my family. But nothing I’ve written in this blog is meant to minimize the incredible struggles that the majority of modern mothers face. And these words are certainly not intended to imply that the fact that we support each other is enough – far from it.
Moms deserve so much more than the support of other moms. We deserve childcare, self-care, and healthcare. We deserve an extra glass of wine and the time to finally read that book sitting by our bed. We deserve vacations, pay raises, PTO and career paths on par with those of our male peers.
I hope we have all that and more by the time my daughter becomes a mom, if that’s what she decides to do. But in the meantime, as trite as it may sound to some, it is absolutely true – we have each other, and that’s no small thing.
Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you beautiful people raising children and raising parents. You are all survivors, and you should all be proud AF.Category: Health