In this series, I want to explore issues regarding home and career from a very personal perspective. I know that all mothers work, and perhaps I work harder than many–as one friend said I don’t always make things easy for myself. While challenging at times, staying at home is definitely the easier option for me.
My mother, whose yahrzeit is this week, stayed home with us. In the early fifties, even married women rarely went out to work. She told me that at their wedding my father, a Holocaust survivor, had $300 in his pocket and owed $300 to his aunt Shirley. Still, she stayed home and scrimped and saved while my father taught in a Talmud Torah and earned a PhD. She took care of my father in a way that is unheard of today, taking care of all of his needs and allowing him to focus on his scholarship.
My mother prepared me for motherhood as well as she could and taught me the value of homemaking. When I married she told me that I shouldn’t feel obligated to work, and that making a home for my husband and myself was a valuable use of my time. (This statement was as heretical in the late 80s as it sounds today.) With our lifestyle at the time, finances weren’t a concern and my husband didn’t feel he needed to have any say in what I did. I worked part-time and finished my MA between the time I married and the birth of my oldest.
Motherhood was a shock to me. I grew up the youngest child of older parents, without any extended family nearby. Except for babysitting, I had little exposure to young children, and frankly I was never really very good at dealing with them. I found myself with few natural instincts when it came to mothering my first child. Well, let’s say that I know now that all mothers have them, but mine were as yet unearthed. My mother guided me long distance, I read a lot and I observed other mothers. It wasn’t really enough, though, and I wish I had made more of an effort to find experienced mothers who could have “mentored” me. Part of the problem was that I was very independent and was used to managing on my own. I thought I could learn everything from books. Also, I didn’t really know what kind of mother I wanted to be. My mother never yelled or hit, and I valued that, but her old-fashioned, Dr. Spock approach didn’t appeal to me. Because I breastfed and she hadn’t, there were many things she couldn’t teach me.
Update: My older sister pointed out that my mother had told her that she was always very proud of breastfeeding all four of us. That may be so; my mother told me that she stopped nursing me at a month old because “she didn’t have enough milk.” I’m sure that what she told both of us was accurate. The fact remains that she did not have much basic breastfeeding knowledge.