At home, my Mother has a magnet on the fridge that reads, “All Mothers are Working Mothers.” Growing up, I had a stay at home Mom whose chief executive position was to raise two children with incredibly different personalities and needs. Two decades into my life, I have always discarded the idea of staying home and raising a family despite how much I have benefited from having so much personal attention and care from a parent. Not once has it crossed my mind that I would not have a career of my own and achieve my own personal goals as a mark of my personal fulfillment and happiness. It seems that ambitious, working women always seem confronted with a crossroads between work life and family life – and that many, stuck in the mold of “perfection,” are caught feeling overwhelmed by the demands of both realms. How do you do both perfectly? You don’t. It’s simply unrealistic within the structures and contemporary society that we live in. Is America going to give me one year of maternity leave like Canada? Is America going to provide daycare services to my children like they do in Sweden so that my husband and I can work without the domestic responsibilities falling to one individual – or the two of us having to make a choice between our careers because childcare is so expensive? Is America going to rethink how it looks at work schedules, work culture, and work days so that I can reach my maximum productivity at work, but still maintain balance in my personal life? Is America going to give my husband paternity leave? Is America going to stop promoting me because I’m pregnant and therefore assumed to be less invested in my career after becoming a Mother?
I am currently in Atlanta experiencing work life at the UPS Atlanta Headquarters with a Bates alumni. He is kindly housing me in his wonderfully warm home that he built with his wife, who is also a Bates alumni. Together, they live with their two beautiful young boys in this lovely house nestled on an unpaved road in Cobb County. Everyone always talks about southern hospitality, but now I truly understand it after spending a few days with this family. The Mother, a Bates grad from the 90’s is now a stay at home Mother with a packed schedule. She takes her sons to school and is occupied late into the evening with scheduling and transporting them to activities as part of what sociologists call “concerted cultivation.” On top of this, she’s a phenomenal cook and has a great personality. Before coming to Atlanta, both of them read this blog and discovered that I loved bi bim bap, so they made it for me tonight as a special welcome dinner. You can’t imagine how ecstatic I was to see two Georgians with seaweed, bean sprouts and kimchi in their home.
One of the sons who is twelve, had a spelling bee today and placed second. When I retired to my room, I left my door open and heard the conversation that transpired between the Mother and her sons. “I’m so proud of you,” she said. He was crying and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t place first.” To listen to her console her son and to continuously tell him that she was so proud of him for placing second was such a touching moment for me to accidentally stumble upon. To be honest, I think I am incredibly afraid to think about Motherhood partially because I worry about not being able to raise my children to the best of my capacity because I will most likely be working. I can’t even begin to fathom what having children does to your life and marriage – these new little wee beings suddenly become the epicenter of your universe. It’s not that I don’t like children (I do), and I would love to have mini-Phams in my life (oh God, the world better be prepared), but this is a mind and soul you’re molding from the moment the child is born. IT IS A HUGE RESPONSIBILITY NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY. The first one is off to Harvard, the second one is off to Yale and the third one will trek back west to Stanford… I kid, I kid. It is rather unfair of me to place these undue burdens upon children who do not exist yet, and my children may not be interested in higher education or school may simply not work for them. These are things that few of us in our 20’s think about when we joke about our future darlings. As I grow older, I find that many of the Asian Mother ambitions are housed within me at a higher level than in my Mother because I grew up in Canada and understand all the structures, administration, and bureaucracy that exists when it comes to succeeding in these systems. My expectations for my unborn children are ridiculously high because I will be their Mother (this is not meant to sound obnoxious). What I mean to convey is since I am someone who has navigated the system, I know more than what my immigrant parents did about western society and its operation while raising me. I had to search for answers on my own, strike out on my own, and find opportunities on my own. When I applied to university, decided on my major, chose to intern at a certain company – it was all on my own accord. It wasn’t that I never desired advice, I did! It was simply that the questions I had, my parents couldn’t answer for me. For my future children, I have always had such grand expectations because they would be starting with everything they could possibly want in life and someone who had lived through the structures that they will go through. I have to remind myself that it’s not that straightforward and that freedom is the most important allotment I can give for self-discovery and self-understanding (arguably two of the key things in life).
People have always dropped micro-aggressions in my life in regards to my future family structure: “I can’t see you with kids. You’re always so busy.” Me: “What? What do you mean?” Person whose opinion was not solicited: “You’re going to be so busy with your job. When are you going to have time for your kids.” It is shit like this that makes working Mothers feel conflicted between having to choose between lifestyles and roles. What do you mean I can’t have kids just because I’m working? Why don’t you ask the millions of Fathers in the work place to choose between their work and their children? Why don’t you ask them if they think they’re doing a sufficient job in the house and with their children. Why don’t you ask them if they feel bad about leaving their children in the morning? Why are you placing this burden on my sex. Why don’t you ask that Barclays investment banker if he’s not going to get married, have kids, and buy a summer house in the Hamptons because his job is so time-consuming that he’s never home for dinner. Why do we as a society (both women and men) feel the need to add guilt onto working Mothers?
At the same time, these are only thoughts that I have in my 20’s. Who knows, when I’m 39, I may think differently and you may find me at home. I doubt it, but at the same time – I have a great respect for stay at home Mothers and the unquantifiable work that they do in raising a generation.