This is my latest post for Feminist Studies in Religion. Working moms have many challenges and it is important to find different strategies of survival.
Being a mom is one of the busiest, fullest, and the happiest adventures in life. At the same time, it is the most challenging, craziest, and disappointing role one can take on. Some women we see in the news make motherhood seem trivial and easy, such as Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who returned to work soon after giving birth to her first baby.
Moms like her make us ‘regular moms’ look like we are doing something wrong when we complain, sweat, toil, and hang on by our fingernails.
I remember giving birth to my firstborn. It was a hot August day and I was in pain for weeks after delivery. The stitches fell out, my breasts were sore, my body was stretched and aching so long that I thought I would never recover. I couldn’t believe that other women could return to their routine so soon after birth. I look at them and wonder “What is wrong with me?”
Jump ahead 15 years. I am now a working mom of three beloved children. I can’t tell you how busy they keep me. I sometimes can’t remember when their soccer games are scheduled or when their piano lessons occur during the week. Every week and every day is a challenge for me to survive as I maneuver working with the obligations of motherhood.
One of my survival strategies is to expend most of my energy on my oldest child and hope (with crossed fingers) that the goodness will rub off or ‘trickle down’ to the younger siblings. If I instill good study habits on the oldest child, hopefully the two younger ones can pick it up. If the oldest plays the piano effortlessly, then the younger two will play along, too.
In one way or another, this method has kept me afloat for the past 15 years. I am barely surviving with my work as I try to manage the livelihood of three young kids.
There is a downside to this method, as I put less money, energy, and time into the younger two kids. When it comes to the third child, hardly anything is spent on him. So little energy is spent on the third child that he is barely seen on my radar. I tell everyone that he gets away with everything. This may be true since I simply do not notice his faults or failures.
As the three kids started school this past August, it dawned me that my two older children are very busy with their extracurricular activities at school (clubs, choir, orchestra, plays, teams, vice-president) but my youngest has only been part of choir.
Since I have suddenly become aware of his lack of participation, I had a one –to- one talk with him to get him involved at school. He eagerly decided to run for vice-president of his class. Each candidate had to give a short speech and he told me that his was the funniest. He said that he ended his speech with ‘….. And this message is approved by Joshua Lee’ to which the students all roared into laughter.
Well, the election came and went and he didn’t win. He didn’t seem disappointed, but trying to be a good mom, I kept assuring him that winning wasn’t the point and it was just important to be more involved.
The next day at school, he said that students can run for treasurer and that he will give it a try. I strongly encouraged him to run. I told him again that he didn’t have to win, but that he needed to run and give it a try.
The next day after school, he came home with a huge smile on his face. He said that he is the new treasurer. I am a beaming mom. I hugged him a thousand times, kissed him all over his face and did a little dance with him. My joy didn’t come from his being a treasurer, but that he will finally do more than just sing in the school choir.
I was truly proud of him and what he is becoming. It became a redemptive moment for me as a working mom. With all the busyness that comes with work and raising children, little moments like these make it all worthwhile and a means of saving grace. Redemption is an ongoing event which continues to embrace us with God’s faithfulness and mercy. Redemption happens to us at the most unexpected moments of our lives. And when it does, it showers us with love, wholeness and goodness.
I know I will never be the “Marissa Mayer” who makes motherhood seem like an ‘un-interruption’ to her life and career. This is not normal for most working moms. Motherhood is an interruption and in many ways a good one. Many of us cannot do it all, but we can certainly try to do as much as we can using different methods of parenting.
Somehow, my youngest son being elected treasurer assured me that even with the lack of attention to the two younger ones, it will be alright. That somehow things will work out beyond our control, plan or lack of plan.
Later that evening, my youngest crawled into my bed to give me a goodnight hug. He talked a bit about his day at school and then asked, ‘By the way mom… what is a treasurer?”
Gotta love him.
[read also: Back to School]
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University. She is the author of 4 books, Reimagining with Christian Doctrines co-edited with Jenny Daggers (Palgrave forthcoming), Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave Pivot), The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press). She is a co-editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for the Palgrave Macmillan Book Series, “Asian Christianity in Diaspora”.