The Mother’s Dilemma


by Karolyn Benger

“I’m making superlawn” my three year old son said as he stuffed wood chips and dirt into the plastic cement mixer at our nearby playground.

“What’s super lawn?” I asked and he explained in great detail about food you could eat from dirt once it had been mixed up enough in a cement mixer. It was around one o’clock and since my son didn’t nap anymore we were outside for our post-lunch half of the day.

I was predominately a stay at home mother. I say predominately because I worked outside of the home part time, teaching a class or two at a university. My teaching would take me away about three hours each week and any additional work I had writing lectures, grading, etc. was done at night so I could be with my son.

Before I had children I was fully committed to my career. I defined myself by my work and was goal-oriented and driven. I couldn’t imagine a life without my research, trips abroad to conduct interviews and review primary sourced documents. After having children, I could not imagine being away from them.

Although a two-income household is the reality, and perhaps a necessary one for many families, I realized shortly after my son’s birth that I just could not be a full time working mother. Growing up, my mother stayed at home and as an adult I can look back and appreciate her presence in my life. My husband was raised to believe that he should be the breadwinner of the family regardless if the wife works so he supported my decision to stay home.

I did not anticipate how many times this decision would haunt me. Over the past five years I have had numerous identity crises. When you define yourself by a profession once that profession is gone, you lose yourself. Of course, defining myself as a mother one role that I play in life is not healthy either and I find myself looking for opportunities to be me and not “so and so’s mom”. These opportunities come less and less under the time constraints and sheer physical strain of parenting multiple small children.

My children are reaching an age when they will be in school for most of the day and I am at a loss as to what to do with myself. The nature of academia prevents me from returning as anything other than a part time lecturer. I have no training in anything other than the research and teaching that I did. I loved my career but not at the expense of my children and their needs. I recognize that I need to find a new career, something that I can be passionate about but will not take me away from home for more than eight hours a day.

Here I am and I don’t know what I want to be now that I am really grown up.

This dilemma has created its own fair share of confidence issues, self-doubt, and fear.
Frequently I question if I made the right choice. I find myself sometimes feeling inadequate around other women who maintained their professional life despite having children. If I worked full time, maybe I would not feel inferior. If I had a seamless resume, I would not have self-doubts about my abilities. If I had kept both feet in the professional world I would not be terrified at the thought of finding a new job.

But I know that had I made different choices I would face different problems. I would feel guilty about the time I was not spending with my children. I would have tremendous pressure to get everyone ready and out the door in time for daycare. I would face the logistical nightmares of canceled school, early dismissal, and sick children while I am expected to be at work at least forty hours a week. Either path has its obstacles and I take comfort in knowing that the problems I have today were of my own choosing.

The other day I ran into a friend at the park. She is the mother of three children and she works full-time as a lawyer. While our children were playing, we chatted about our professions and our children. I mentioned that I chose to leave my field in order to be more available for my family. She mentioned that a friend of hers once said, in twenty years you will still have children they grow up either way you just have less money.

That may be true. But in twenty years no one else will know what superlawn is.