From the Homefront: From the Homefront: Why every mom needs a purpose beyond motherhood

Published: Tuesday, March 15 2011 7:00 a.m. MDT

A few months back, I had a career crisis.

For eight years I have been what most would term a stay-at-home mother. I stay at home with the kids while my husband goes to work, or in our case, six years of graduate school. During that time we’ve had lots of little boys and ping-ponged across the United States four times.

So last fall, after graduation and yet another major move, I woke up to a glaring realization.

I did not want to be a stay-at-home mom any longer. In fact, I was sort of done with motherhood in general.

For one, it didn’t seem to be doing any good. Despite the hours of time I put into teaching my children and reading parenting books, my four boys were unruly and just plain wild. I went to bed most nights in tears.

But there was something else, a niggling, restless feeling in me. I had supported a husband through graduate school, literally hunkering down that last year, by far the hardest year of our lives, while he plowed through the dissertation. I was full-time mom and dad during that year, and through most of the previous years while he tapped away on articles and papers, six days a week, late into the night.

I was burned out. I was completely empty.

I started looking for teaching positions, storytelling positions and graduate degrees. I wanted out. I figured my kids, who didn't seem to be doing that well under my tutelage, would do better in daycare, and I could finally realize all of my dormant aspirations.

To understand this, you have to know that I had an incredible mother growing up. She had energy and drive and creativity. She also often said this: “All I ever wanted to be was a mother.” She majored in early childhood education and poured that passion into raising her six children.

I did not major in children. I majored in journalism because my mind has always been filled with words. I love the written word.

Oh, I knew I wanted to be a mom, too. In fact, I assumed that when I had kids I would come to feel just like my mother. I would lay aside my love for writing in a deep and dusty box and jump with both feet into motherhood.

Which is exactly what I did.

Only I am not like my mother in this regard. I love being a mom to my four boys, but I still have all these words running through my head, stories and poems and thoughts, and when I don’t write them down, I start to go unhinged.

The question I faced last fall was one every mother must ask, at almost every phase of child rearing: “How much of my life should be mine, and how much should go to my children?”

This is the tug for every mother, whether they work out of the home or not. When you have a child, you give up a piece of yourself. Quite often it is a large piece.

I was talking one day to a neighbor who teaches nursing at the University of Minnesota. She told me that after several years, she has never reached full professor status. She shrugged and said to me, “I wanted to raise my kids. I couldn’t do both.”

I keep a running tally of the passions I would love to pursue. The list is oh so long: Get a master’s degree, join the civic chorale, write books, teach college, canoe the Boundary Waters and squirrel away time to read The Hunger Games. I’m just giving you a sampling here.

The question is, as mothers, how much of this do we lay aside for our children?

I used to think it was nearly everything. That’s how you show your true devotion to motherhood. I remember a point when I made a very silly statement to my husband: “I don’t want my kids to ever know I was a writer. I want them to grow up and never know that mom got up at 5 a.m., and stayed up late into the night to write.”

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