The “Who Am I?” Moment
A woman used to be judged by her tuna casserole. Or by what her husband did for a living. But for the Gen X girl who grew up singing along to “Free to Be You and Me,” a professional identity is as much as part of her as her gender.
When I was pregnant with my second child and working from home on a proposal for this book, my husband and I were trying to buy our first house. We met with a mortgage broker, and I had to explain to him my income from my various careers over the past decade. I was a Capitol Hill press secretary, a network TV producer, a public relations director, and now a so-called writer working on a yet-to-be-sold book. Like many career women, I wrapped myself around my professional identity. It defined me, it validated me, it made me feel, well, important.
But the bank and my mortgage broker apparently did not see me that way. When our mortgage papers came back, next to my name and my occupation was typed in obnoxious, bold letters “HOMEMAKER.” I stared incredulously at the ink.
A homemaker? I was stunned and frankly terrified by being labeled with such a retro and sexist identity. I realized that my reaction to the label “homemaker” stemmed more from my fear of losing my identity, the woman with the Big Career Plans, the girl who was supposed to take on the world, than from the old-fashioned label itself.
For me to have no other occupation aside from raising my kids, noble as motherhood is, frankly makes me break out in a cold sweat. For many reasons, ranging from the rational to the paranoid, I know I must work.
Dateline NBC producer Soraya Gage says she realized how much her career was intertwined with her personal identity when she was taking on extended leave of absensece from NBC after her second child was born. She tells me about a conversation she had at a dinner party when she on maternity leave:
“A group of women asked me what I did for a living, and when I told them I was a TV producer, they said, ‘Wow, that’s a really cool job, how could you give that up?’ I think it’s hard to be an at-home mom, I really do because I think there is a lot of pressure in society to have a job and to talk about a job.”
Because our culture gives little prestige and no compensation to a career in parenthood, it comes as no surprise that Stay-at-Home dad is not a job that most men want or can usually afford to embrace. Yet, history women were supposed to be prepared for dedicating their lives to motherhood. At a time when women are blazing ahead in exciting careers and achieving financial independence that was unheard of in their own mother’s day, it’s no wonder that surrendering to motherhood can feel compliated and bittersweet.
On the other hand, we are besieged by images of seemingly perfect moms from models and actresses to supercharged career women who all appear to be bathing in the bliss of motherhood. These images so inundate popular culture these days that if you’re not looking adorable with your pregnant bump poking out underneath a tight T-shirt and you’re not feeling particularly giddy about maternity, you wonder if there’s something defective in your own chemistry. But on the other hand, as the first generation of girls who were encouraged to delay marriage, go to grad school, and make partner, giving it all up for motherhood sounds frankly hypocritical.
Photo by: jekrub