Just A Mom

I was reading an article the other day on Salon.com about autism. It was a personal essay written by a novelist and somewhere in there she dropped the following quote from anthropologist Kate Barrett:

“Parenting today has become an acceptable out, what we call a ‘master identity.’ It’s become a way we don’t do other things in our lives: whether it’s fashion, whether it’s work, whether it’s romance, whether it’s fitness. Being a parent — especially being a mother — becomes an acceptable excuse for not doing other things.”

The novelist used this quote when she was talking about mothering a child with autism. She  was explaining about how she didn’t relate to mother’s who devote their lives to the care and advocacy of their child when there are other things they could be doing. Gosh, did those two thoughts stick with me. The idea that just being a mother is not enough.

I’m not sure I completely understand what anthropologist or novelists do, but I do know what I do. I am the interpreter between my child and the world. I am his advocate. I am a researcher, a teacher, and a therapist. I am the protector of his health and a record-keeper. I am preparing as best I know how for his future–pushing skills like reading and writing, investing in technology, and watching closely when others with similar disabilities succeed.

baby in a white hat

I am NOT a powerhouse mom. I’ve never spoken at the State Capitol about the need for services–although my state is one of the few that wait-lists children with disabilities (for as long as ten years). I still haven’t bought the dang Wright’s Law book even though people have been telling me to for two years now. I’ve never organized a group to walk or fundraised for cerebral palsy, or epilepsy, or even the March of Dimes. I’ve been to one PTA meeting and found it overwhelming to say the least. I admire the women who do these things, but I’m not one of them. I waste precious time on things like finding coordinating outfits for a special occasion. I goof off on Twitter, and obsessively update my Goodreads profile. I’ve probably wasted weeks of my life on Facebook.

Baby in a white baseball cap

I am just a mom. Some days I find myself scarily unambitious.  I’m not secretly filled with a novel or dying to start my own business selling jewelry or candles or cooking supplies. Most days I’m too tired to attempt anything more ambitious than reading a book.

two babies in white hats smiling at each other

It is enough–being just a mom: being a cook, a therapist, a teacher, a guide, a chauffeur, a nurse, an advocate, a cheerleader, and a personal assistant; being entrusted with mindless jobs like making bottles, reading food labels, scheduling appointments, wiping butts, singing silly songs, and reading that story one more time. Really.

 Boy in a white baseball cap


Maybe when my kids are older (and less needy) and I’m getting a little more sleep,  I’ll do something that the rest of the world finds more valuable. I could go back to teaching, which I found incredibly rewarding, or spend a little more time painting. They won’t ever convince me, however, that these jobs were more important than the one I’m doing now. It’s unglamorous and truly, anyone can do it, but that doesn’t make it less. I’m giving my children the foundation upon which the rest of their lives will be formed.  I’m passing my values on to my children in a physical way–hoping that this will help create adults who do the same. I’m walking the walk even when it’s messy, painful, and exhausting.

So yeah, I’m just a mom, and that’s fine by me.

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  1. Denise Thompson says:

    Very well said! I have read your tweets and am amazed at all that you do! I feel ashamed to tell you that tonight, my college daughter called with yet another problem – they always involve money. The past month her car and irresponsiblity have cost a couple of thousand dollars. I read your post and see your patience and see that I should not be so short with her and know that that this too shall pass. You are a great Mom and best of luck on the little one! You are brave! – Denise

    • Denise, you really are too kind. I worked with teenagers for years and find that time of development to be both awesome and incredibly frustrating. Sometimes it feels like they are actually shooting themselves in the foot on purpose! I’m really not patient, but I’m dedicated to getting over things as quickly as possible and focusing on the positive–life seems easier that way.

  2. FABULOUS KATY!! You nailed this one.

  3. Dear Katy,

    Thank you for this. I’ve had some inner turmoil recently over my “accomplishments” as a mother, a woman, and a contributing member of society. I’m not the super-woman I hoped to be so when II read that quote by Kate Barrett, I seriously started to cry. It was just one more “important” person devaluing my life’s work. I’ve had two encounters recently with other women who’ve made the comments like “You know, staying home with the kids just wasn’t for me but some people, they’re just more suited to it.” This said while they’re in body hugging business suits and heels and I’m sporting breakfast jam on my white tee-shirt and a baseball hat to hide the fact I missed my window for a shower.

    Even more bothersome is my own depreciation of the job I’m doing. One of my worst fears is running into one of my former professors and having him or her ask me what I’m doing these days. I’d have to admit to them that their promising and invested in student is staying at home with FOUR children, and is sadly unpublished.

    Katy, I can’t tell you much it means to me that you value motherhood. I admire your humor and intelligence; I value your opinions and experiences—you are me. We are doing the same things and I take comfort that I’m not alone in the incredible and often overwhelming task of raising children.

    • Thank you so much Heather. I wrote this because I really believe that a stay-at-home mom is her own worst critic. That’s why when an anthropologist says something like that, no one even bats an eye. We’re all too busy questioning whether or not we’re doing exactly what she says. I mean, I’m all for living the fullest life possible, but doing it for us is the important thing–not doing it so we’ll feel accomplished.

      And I do respect an admire women who work and raise their families–they too are raising children. I just don’t necessarily think I’ve failed because I’ve made different choices.

  4. Barbara says:

    *fistpump* Predicting you will not regret your choices/decisions, Katy.

    Yesterday while driving our youngest home from college she commented she will be ‘more adventurous’ than we have been. (Part of a long discussion about similarities & differences between herself and her parents.) I responded that in part the decision was based on money – that if we added up the $ invested in her education she would be astounded. One time I did add up the cost of providing both children karate from beginning to black belt and it was $6000. Her response, almost immediately, “that was worth it”. (Priceless.) She also commented that for that much money we could have ‘gone to Paris’. She ‘gets it’ and seriously does not want children, right now. (Thank goodness. Predicting she will change her mind.)

    We do not regret our decision to raise our children on one income. The importance of one parent primarily in the home is not only underrated but bashed in a way that is almost evil – tempting women away from a lush garden of satisfying homelife to an ephemeral fruit-like employment. Each to her own I say.

    • I agree with you–I don’t think that being a working mom is a bad choice–but in my case, I knew there was no way a stranger would put as much time into Charlie’s development as I did. I spent a long time feeling like I wasn’t doing anything, but I’ve come to realize that I AM doing something–and it’s something important even if there’s no money or prestige to validate my actions.

  5. I think You are superwoman!

  6. You are a hero to me. You work SO MUCH harder than all the women I know and I admire your strength. Happy Mothers Day to you!!

    • I really appreciate that! Not sure if I work harder than anyone–there’s a very large laundry pile staring me in the face right now. And thank you for the Mother’s Day wishes–it kind of snuck up on me this year.

  7. Well said!

    Just yesterday I had a complete meltdown about ALL that I have to do as a Stay at home mom and even posted on Facebook that I feel completely inadequate to handle the task that I have been given. I cannot imagine trying to juggle a job and caring for Emily (just saying that to you makes me feel silly since I only have ONE child). I do feel like I have to be mom, doctor, therapist (PT, OT, SLP and vision), teacher, taxi driver, weight lifter (she isn’t getting any smaller!) and various other things each and every day. Even in those crazy days when I feel like I cannot handle one more thing, I wouldn’t trade it for any paying job in the world! I am so thankful that I get to be home with my girl – watching her grow and learn new things. In my book, there is no better way to spend my time!

    • Dawn: I so get what you’re saying. The way my life has gone recently, my husband works long hours, and I am in charge of pretty much everything at home. There never fails to be something else to do and most days I feel like I accomplish almost nothing. It would be nice to have a quiet space and be able to work on one thing at a time, but that’s not what mom life is about!

  8. just substitute job/career for parenting in her article and you’ll probably see a woman who’s busy working and doesn’t do any of the things that she says mothers don’t do because they “claim” they are busy parenting.

    what’s her point? we all make choices.

    • I guess her point was just that she didn’t understand how someone could choose motherhood, which astounds me. I think there are tons of ways a person can live their life and I don’t go around bashing everyone else’s choices. I agree with you completely–we all make choices.

  9. First, I am waiting for things to slow down now that my kids are older, but it isn’t happening. I have replace the race for bottles and diaper changes with coordinating activity schedules (here is a clue, the activities never a line). I feel busier now than I ever was when my kids were infants. I should note I still have a toddler.

    Second, we have phases in our life. Nothing is permanent. Raising kids is a phase in my life right now. I am enjoying it and won’t let anyone tell me that what I am doing is not valuable. I am raising future citizens of this society. I am raising the kids that will participate in the world where this woman and others like her will have to live in their old age. I know I am hoping that parents are just as focused on raising their kids as work.

    • Wait! Don’t tell me it doesn’t slow down!!!! OK, I’m kidding. I’ve got a little of that now and have for most of Charlie’s life since he’s got approximately one million therapists. That stuff never lines up either.

      I’m huge on the idea of phases. Right now I’m mothering. There will be time for other things and right now I need to focus on this–can be hard at times, but I really think it’s the right way to approach it.

  10. You are one of the best mom’s I know. And in this phase of your life, that is where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to do. I so admire you for all of your courage and time you put into the kids. And who cares that you tweet and facebook and blog and read? Well, I do cause I love to read all of what you write!

    When you were teaching you were one of the best teachers I knew. And you also had an awesome shoe collection 😉 But that was a different phase.

    We move through phases of our lives and we should be able to enjoy each phase as it is without being made to feel guilty about how we are handling it.

    All too soon those little ones will be all grown up and you will move on to another phase and then you will be the best Katy you can be at that as well.

    Thanks for making us ‘just moms’ feel so much better about how normal we are.

  11. Pistolette says:

    This is such a tough and sensitive subject for me. One which I haven’t totally resolved yet. I spent my 20s being ruthlessly ambitious. I got a masters degree, worked in academia, foreign policy, broadcast news, and corporate public relations. Only Hurricane Katrina was able to veer me from nearly selling my soul to an FBI career (I interviewed with them 3 days before K).

    The storm made me realize that I’m happiest spending my energy on family, so I decided to expand it and make my own babies at 32. The moment I held that first baby, I knew I could never hand her over to day care, so I quit my big corporate job and got pregnant again almost immediately. Most of my ‘intellectual’ friends bailed out on me, and I had to accept the fact that I’d surrounded myself by a lot of shallow people pre-pregnancy. People who still think I’m an idiot for caving into my ‘primitive biological urges’.

    I’d never felt as satisfied and at peace with my career as I do staying at home with my two babies. The only regrets I have are that I didn’t choose my friends better before I had kids. I do, unfortunately, still deal with shame about giving up my career. I call it the feminist brainwashing. Hopefully someday I’ll shrug it off like Tina Fey and tell the clueless academics – “Your career isn’t going to visit you when you’re old.”

    • Barbara says:

      Thank you! Love that – “Your career isn’t going to visit you when you’re old.”

  12. You do so much more than what you outlined and I do think it is the lack of sleep coupled with baby brain… how is the little one growing inside by the way?
    There is nothing wrong with just being a mom, however there is nothing ‘just’ about being a mom! It is as you say a very very important time consuming job.

    As always Your boys are just tooo cute.

  13. I just posted about how much stress I’ve been feeling lately with so many little things to get done for things with the children. Honestly, this is the hardest job I’ve EVER had because I put so much stress on myself. But it’s also the most rewarding. You and me and all of us are definitely MOM ENOUGH!!! xoxo

  14. Parenting is an out? Really? I’d like to write a reply quote (starts with “Bite my…”) and I would really, really like to see that lady’s kids, if she has any. Those are my first thoughts. Her kids might be no worse off than mine. I don’t know. Katy you’re such the excellent mom. You do so much. I don’t know how you remember to even brush your hair. I really do hope you have a secret novel, though. I’d read it.