Recently, two things have converged:
- For the first time in my life, I am not making money.
- For the first time in my motherhood, I have no children at home.
It’s a shit shame storm, Randy!
(I have also been watching too much Trailer Park Boys)
To say these things have left me reeling would be an understatement. Since Littlest started grade one and my book’s funding came to an end in September, I’ve held the possibility of having to meet the convergence of these truths like a cold ball of steel wool in my palm; something that cuts if you pick at it too much and stains as it rusts. But I tried not to pick or look too much because there was a chance this truth wouldn’t be true.
But on Friday of last week, it was confirmed. While the book I’m currently working on was added to a “highly recommended for funding” list, no money is coming my way… and after selling my business last year to write the first book, there’s nothing to fall back on.
I am a stay-at-home mom without children at home during the day, five days out of seven.
I am a woman who lives fully off the income of her husband.
To write without pay.
Without children at home.
As a previous work-for-cash-and-write-for-glory fulltime parent,
This is tough to wrap my head around.
I feel like there are too many hours in the day.
And I feel ashamed.
Ashamed I’m not contributing, ashamed I’m not doing more, ashamed I’m writing when I could be cleaning or cooking or ‘earning my keep,’ ashamed for having such old fashioned notions, ashamed for cooking and cleaning when I could be writing myself out of this problem, ashamed to judge other women in this situation, ashamed for being so privileged to have this problem, ashamed I even just called it a problem, ashamed for feeling so ashamed!
And there’s no easy outside answer to this shame spiral. I could get a job, but with the nine-year gap in employment the likeliest wage I’d earn is minimum and even though the kids are in school, they are so often out. With Husband’s sporadic scheduled and no family nearby, paying for before school/afterschool and out-of-school childcare would all but eat up whatever small pay I could collect. Besides that, we can manage without my income for now and when presented the option to work outside the home or write for nothing in it, the latter works best for my family. There is greater potential for collective happiness if I’m home holding down the domestic fort…
And now I feel shame for not contributing more to this collective happiness!
You guys, I realize others have it so much worse.
So much worse.
But that doesn’t fix this shame. And shame grows in silence.
If you want out, you’ve got to talk it out.
So I have been. For a few months I’ve been putting myself out there with other women, answering their “how are yous?” with:
“Well, both kids are in full time school now, and I feel like a lump. I’m not making any money and no one needs me like they used to. It’s really uncomfortable and a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’m really struggling with my worth.”
And, because vulnerability begets vulnerability, I’ve heard other people’s stories. I’ve heard from women who exited the workforce to mother and women who juggle career and family and women who are not mothers at all. I have heard from women in the arts and women in corporate positions and women in school. I have heard from women who are married and women who are divorced and women who are neither. And here are the things I have heard:
I feel like I’m a bad example
I feel like I’m a bad mom
I feel like I’m always at risk of sliding out of relevance
Sometimes I’m scared I’m hurting other women by killing myself to meet standards that they’ll think they have to meet too.
I feel like I’m not doing enough
I feel like I should have accomplished more by now
I feel like a failure
I feel like I’m stealing from them
I’m embarrassed to leave the house during the day when other people are at work. I feel like people think I’m a mooch
I’m feel like my kid’s teacher judges me for not volunteering more
I feel like I can’t spend money because I’ll never make as much as my husband
I feel guilty even resting in front of him because he works longer hours than me
I feel like a cliché
I feel like, if I don’t sleep, I can be eight of the ten things I’m supposed to be. But all people see are the two I’m not.
I don’t know what to say when people ask about my life
I feel selfish
I feel stupid
I feel used up and useless
I can’t get it together
I feel like people would just blame me for making bad choices if they knew how I felt
The interesting thing about these stories is when you take away the details, you wouldn’t be able to guess which woman in what situation said them.
Which has shown me that making an outside change won’t fix this shame problem, because shame is not a doing thing. It’s a feeling thing.
We need an internal answer for this internal problem.
So I thought to myself, “Self, what would you say if one of your children felt this way?”
If Littlest or Eldest, all-grown-up, said,
Mom, I feel like such a lump. I’m not achieving the things I should be and I don’t know what I’m doing. I am so useless. I’m such a failure. I don’t know what will happen next. I can’t imagine how anyone could love me or see me as anything but a burden. I’m worthless.
I would not know whether to first laugh or to sob.
I would hold her hand and say:
Sweetheart, your worth is non-negotiable. You are divinity on legs. There is no other you, and what you are going through is molding this precious you into the just-as-precious you that is yet to come. From the moment you took your first breath, you were made of gold. Your every thought has changed the world in immeasurable ways. When you are in a place of kindness to yourself or others, the whole world is better. When you are cruel to yourself, the whole world suffers, because to devalue your intrinsic worth is say to every other human just like you: ‘you are not important either. I hate me, so I must hate you.’ And my daughter, you weren’t raised up to pull others down.
And then I would say, why are you carrying steel wool?
And she’d really look at it for the first time and say, I don’t know. I guess I felt like I had to hold onto it.
And I’d say, give it here you wonderful little weirdo.
And then I’d throw it out or put it under the sink and find a pencil and paper and pour us each a cup of tea so we could make a list of plans and goals and priorities and hopefully she’d stop beating herself up because I’d remind her,
There are a million and two ways to contribute to this world,
And it’ll all be okay.