The Inadequacy Syndrome Plaguing 21st Century Mothers by Amanda McCarthy
What a privilege to live in a society and in a time when women can be anything they want to be. As a young girl studying hard at school I was told to try my best at everything and keep my options open (because my generation is one of the first to be blessed with so many options). When it became clear to me that I loved English and Politics above all else, I went to University for a double degree and post graduate diploma. I then pursued my career as a teacher with enthusiasm and what seemed like limitless ambition, even completing a Master’s Degree while teaching fulltime. Fast forward 8 years, I find myself at home with two children, having resigned from a permanent teaching position when my second son was almost earth side.
You see, as much as I love teaching, I love being at home with my sons more, and the idea of dropping both boys off to childcare and the feelings of guilt as I walked away during yet another episode of tears was just too much to bear. Do I feel like I 100% made the right decision to walk away from my job in a competitive industry at a time when permanent teaching jobs are like hen’s teeth? Not quite. You see the downside to all this choice afforded to the modern woman, is that we now have to make……a choice.
As a mother who has both returned to work well before my first son’s first birthday, and then later decided to be a ‘stay at home mum’ to two boys (neither one of them in childcare or pre-school), there is one thing I have found to be consistent in both scenarios: this feeling of inadequacy. While juggling motherhood and a teaching job, I felt that I was incapable of doing either to the level of proficiency that I desired. Late nights spent bleary eyed and marking essays made me rush through the bedtime routine and dread the pile like never before. Nights spent up with a feverish or vomiting child meant no sleep and ultimately no amount of caffeine could hide the fact that the following morning, I just simply did not want to be in the classroom, even driving home in tears once from simply nothing more than sheer exhaustion. At no point in time did I reflect at all on what I was accomplishing, squeezing every inch of worth from the day with an efficiency only likened to a cordless Dyson, I simply felt depleted and like a failure.
As a stay at home mum, I am also faced with feelings of inadequacy, mostly attached to not earning my own income and contributing to the household financially. I also question whether I am doing enough for my boys as their sole educator and whether I work hard enough on days when nothing quite goes to plan and dinner ends up being pizza. I am really fortunate that I am raising my children with a man who works incredibly hard and, when home, is up to his elbows in dirty dishes and shitty nappies as much as a dedicated dad can be. He does, however, travel a lot for work, and based on decisions that we both have made and his capacity to earn a higher salary, the bulk of domesticity and caring for children has always fallen on my shoulders. I am blessed to have the choice (which many women do not have) but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with knowing which choice is the right one.
One thing that working mothers and stay at home mothers have in common, other than this feeling of inadequacy, is a deep unselfish desire to provide our children with the best possible life we can give them. For some, that means returning to work very soon after giving birth in order to pay the rent and buy food, for others it means not returning to the workforce at all or in a very limited capacity because that’s what’s best for that family. Having had both an emergency caesarean and a VBAC, my Obstetrician said to me (after I complained that the tear and episiotomy were not much more comfortable or convenient than my c-section recovery) that “there is no easy way to get a baby out”. This very sentiment can be said for the stay at home mum and working mum debate. There is no easy answer to our feelings of inadequacy if we are not participating in the workforce and bringing money into the household, or our feelings of inadequacy when we fall asleep during the staff meeting or have to take a carer’s day.
The only solution is to stop trying to be the person you were before you had a baby. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean losing yourself and forgetting about your own needs. It means embracing this new stronger, more selfless, more efficient, more sensitive version of yourself. The version of you that has stopped caring about the little things because she quite simply doesn’t have time. The version of you that discovered elasticated waistbands during her pregnancy and is never going back to zips and button. The version of you that will one day have a lot more time on her hands (and a lot more sleep) and has made the decision to spend her time either at home, or at work, because that’s the best decision for her and her family. That chick sounds pretty cool to me.