A few years ago, we all laughed when Kristen Wig transformed into Penelope: the nervous, hair-twirling, one-upping brunette. No one laughed because her character was funny, necessarily, but because everyone knows a Penelope. And Penelopes make us uncomfortable. Discomfort makes us laugh to keep us from crying.
Penelopes know our friends for longer; they hurt more than we hurt; they know more than we know; they have more than we do; they laugh harder than we laugh; they feel more than we feel. You cannot win against a Penelope. Not that friendship is about winning, but…when the one-uppers get as ridiculous as Penelope, it becomes difficult to built an authentic relationship.
In this new season of being a full-time mom instead of a full-time teacher, I’ve tried desperately not to become Penelope.
I try to avoid the line, “I’m so tired,” because I have an opportunity to rest during the day after my little guy keeps me up all night. Working mothers don’t have this luxury.
I had a moment this weekend when I realized that I will never understand what it is like to work full time with an infant. I will never be able to empathize with the stress that a working mother has to manage on a daily basis. I will never experience a full working day after being up all night with my little one. If I am being honest with myself, I can say confidently that I would figure out how to do it, as all of you working mamas do, but I would have to navigate a deep longing to be with my little boy day-in and day-out (as all of you working mamas do). This particular point-of-view is coming from the perspective of someone who has the profound appreciation and respect for working mothers, and is not an attempt to Penelope any of you.
But, truthfully, working moms intimidate me. Every time I am in a conversation with a working mom, I have a constant dialogue running in the back of my mind with myself as I try to sound half as accomplished as the person on the other end of the conversation.
“She probably thinks I don’t do anything all day,”
ends up turing into, “but what do I do? I get to play with my little boy all day, write in my free time, visit parks and museums, and watch every single milestone.”
Then I start to feel guilty, “she must think I am so lazy,” then turns into… “maybe I should have gone back to work.”
This weekend I had two very different conversations with two very different working mothers.
One mother was a new acquaintance; a high powered executive mother of three who works full time at a prominent and high-stress work environment. The moment she found out I worked at home, she found a way to graciously meander away from our conversation. It made me feel more uncomfortable than anything; after all, the insecurity dialogue never stops. In that moment, all of my fears were realized. She thinks I am simply a stay-at-home mom, with nothing more to offer to a conversation than my son.
The interaction stung, but with age comes resilience. I really don’t care what strangers have to think about my profession; honestly.
I do care what my loved ones think about what I do, however. My second conversation was with a dear friend; someone I trust implicitly, love, and admire with all of my heart. I have watched her walk this path of motherhood and have waited to see what she will do next. Often, I take my cues from her. If she knew that dialogue was running in the back of my head, she would have felt terribly. The goal of our lunch was not to go to mommy-battle, but to support each other. There was absolutely nothing that she said or did that made my insecurities surface. After all, insecurities have very little to do with the trigger, and everything to do with the host.
I apologized for clamming up, and affirmed her in everything that she is doing as a working mommy of a very active little girl.
Her response was one that cleansed me from my pride, and is the reason for the topic of this post. Here are three points to consider when you try to compare yourself to any other mom…
1. “Please don’t think for one second that me being a working mom sets me apart in any way.”
That’s the thing about moms, we’re all just trying to do what is best for our families. At the end of the day, we’re still just moms. I would never “Penelope” my way into a #1 mom position. Whether we work in an office or work from home, our work is valuable. Some of us get the privilege to stay at home with our little ones, while others do not have a choice. Some moms choose to go back to work, while others scrimp and save to make it possible to stay at home, even when it makes more financial sense for us to return to work.
2. “I’m juggling a lot. I am tired, but I am joyful. Despite that the days are hard, I choose to see the moments as blessings.”
With motherhood can come a motherlode of guilt, if you let it. There are moments when I wonder if little Bear would’ve benefitted from socialization in a day care, but I can say pretty confidently that there are very few moments when I question my decision to stay at home. I love what I do more than any other job I have ever had…even teaching…and I never thought I would say that. Like my sweet friend, when I have a moment of doubt, I have to choose joy.
3. “I don’t have it all together. I just try really hard. That’s all any of us are doing anyway.”
Whether you try to keep it together trying to balance working and mommyhood, or being a full-time mommy without a break, we’re all just trying to keep it together. Even the high-powered executive mother has her moments. And honestly, maybe she just didn’t like me. Our interaction probably had very little to do with our profession, and much more to do with the fact that not everyone will get along…and that is ok.
So moms, let’s just promise not to “one-up,” each other….okay? We all know that you are already the world’s greatest-est mom, no matter what you do with your days.