New moms explore the truth about parenting and happiness. By Heather Cabot (Founder & Editor-in-Chief, The Well Mom)
The indelicate question completely caught me off guard. A couple of weeks ago, I was making small talk at an intimate cocktail gathering of women and someone I don’t know very well asked me in front of several other acquaintances if I had good news to share with everyone? No, I didn’t have any that I could think of.
“Well,” she pushed, “You’re expecting, right?”
No. No I am not.
Lucky for her, I’ve spent the last twenty years talking for living and tried my best to seem unfazed by the utter lack of tact. It really was an awful moment for all of the reasons you can imagine, vanity not the least of which. But after the sting and embarrassment fell away a few days later, I was simply fired up.
In the years since having my children, I’ve worked hard to transition my professional life and succeeded, including starting my own business, writing, appearing on national TV and teaching. I’ve been fortunate to do most of this operating out of my own home on my own schedule. And while motherhood has been an undeniable gift, I believe now more than ever that it does not define who I am nor is it my sole contribution to the world.
This is perhaps why I found Jessica Valenti’s provocative book, Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness (HMHP 2012) validating and somewhat comforting, especially after that awkward exchange about my reproductive prospects.
In the book, Valenti, a new mom herself, unapologetically takes on the justifications most people espouse when they announce they are starting a family in the first place and the toll the decision can take on happiness. She argues fluidly that the contemporary American ideal of parenting doesn’t jibe with what actually happens day to day. I can attest it does not.
The mythology of the super mom, able to make partner while breastfeeding on demand and making it all look effortless just cannot happen without a huge support network, flexibility in the workplace and significant resources.
And Valenti takes it a step further as she asks, is this the ideal we should be striving for in the first place? Many of us are constantly putting pressure on ourselves (and each other) to live up to perfect mother fantasies. The judging is pernicious as it is prevalent. If you are a mom, you know all this. It’s your life.
As an entrepreneur myself, I found Valenti’s take empowering, especially when she discusses the new economic realities for families today. Dual working parents are the norm in the country. Only in small privileged pockets of the U.S. can women choose to opt out. And if you had a chance to delve into Hanna Rosin’s book, The End of Men, you learned the number of women out earning their husbands or going to work because their husbands are chronically unemployed is creating an entire new model for gender roles.
Women are increasingly starting their own businesses so they have more control over their destiny and schedule… and because they can. It’s time to embrace and celebrate our rich, complex lives.
Valenti’s book makes the case that motherhood and professional satisfaction are not and should not be mutually exclusive.
Furthermore, she argues that being a mom is just one of the many roles some women fill throughout their lives and should not be elevated to such a level that it crowds out a woman’s identity and individual hopes and dreams.
I want my kids to find their passions and pursue them to the max. I would feel that I let them down if they got the idea that all those aspirations get shoved aside and buried the moment a beautiful baby arrives.
While I may not be expecting another child at the moment, I guess you could say, I’m pregnant with all kinds of possibilities.
Women 2.0 readers: What did you think of Jessica Valentin's book? Let us know in the comments!
About the guest blogger: Heather Cabot is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Well Mom. She is a writer and digital trends expert for Yahoo!. A mother of twins, she is also an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is a former ABC News correspondent and anchor. Follow her on Twitter at @wellmom.