The many mirrors of modern motherhood and work

For a long time I’ve wondered whether the reason modern mothers have a subtle edge to them is because we’re constantly adapting to so much change in the world, and yet, so much hasn’t changed about the actual work of motherhood.

For the modern woman, that presents quite the dilemma.

Raised to expect equality in relationships, at work and in life, in a culture that largely continues to operate from old-fashioned paradigms, it can be a rude shock to realise the promise of equality has little connection to the actual experience or reality of motherhood. 

Unconsciously influenced by deep-rooted cultural, familial, historical, and social beliefs around what a mother ‘should’ do and who a ‘mother’ should be, it’s no wonder so many mothers feel conflicted and ambivalent about ‘how’ they’re navigating motherhood and work in 2016.

I’ve found motherhood to be one of the biggest blessings and challenges of my life. It opened my heart in ways I could never have anticipated, changed who I thought I was and revealed surprising strengths and limitations. It triggered a spiritual awakening, forcing me to ruthlessly examine my beliefs, illusions and assumptions. It highlighted the deep prejudice that still exists against women in our culture, especially in relation to work.

And it raised an inner conflict I’m certain I’m not the only one experiencing: that I’m hard-wired to love and nurture my children and contribute to the world in a meaningful way. It's paradoxical to say that, because motherhood is profoundly meaningful work. For some women, motherhood is their main calling and contribution. 

But for other women, the call to not only mother but work outside of parenting can create deep conflict, guilt and confusion inside. Because the ‘professional’ and the ‘mother’ in you rarely values or desires the same things. You literally have to live into the questions, try, stumble, fail, and try again to figure out how to do this in a way that authentically meets your needs and the ever-changing needs of your family. 

I want to shout out to all the mothers bravely attempting to juggle multiple balls at once that what you are doing is a big deal. You are raising the next generation of human beings. What could be more important than that? And you are trying to do great work in the world. 

It isn’t easy and many of the choices you've made and will make in the years to come won’t be validated by the outside world, but if it’s in alignment with your values, and your family’s needs, then that’s all that actually matters. 

So much of the private struggle that goes into figuring out the work/family equation is shared by other mothers, even if they don’t let on. You've made sacrifices to become the sort of mother that feels right to you. We all have.

For some of you that sacrifice might be the years of education, experience and career advancement gathering dust as you do generic work that allows you to collect your child from school. It might be the glass ceiling you bumped up against the minute you shifted to part-time work. It might be missing an important event at your child's school because it clashes with a client presentation. Or the career you gave up to become a stay-at-home mother. 

In the early days of pregnancy you imagine you’ll be able to do and have it all. You'll be the perfect mother, excel in your career, maintain friendships and keep your relationship intimate and flourishing. Yet it’s pretty clear ten plus years down the track that the reality for most women is there’s no such thing as a perfectly balanced work/family life. 

I can almost hear the voices of older generations in my ear saying: ‘your generation expects too much’, and the younger generation replying ‘that won’t be us, we’ll outsmart them all’.

When reality hits, you realise it’s impossible to keep all the pieces shiny and malleable all the time. Instead you're called to dig deep to creatively respond to situations you never expected to find yourself in.

And that’s part of the game. The “i’s” don’t always get dotted or the “t’s” neatly crossed. We don’t get to control the outcome, as much as we’re desperate to. It seems to me today's mothers face a minefield of imperfect choices. That’s just how it is: messy, raw, exquisitely imperfect. 

Perfection isn’t desirable or achievable, especially in motherhood. 

How do you feel about the choices you’ve made? How has motherhood changed you? How are you navigating the work/family balance? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.