Nurturing or ambition: do moms have to choose?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a nurturer.

Some of my earliest memories involve cradling baby dolls and placing injured animals in shoeboxes so I could (usually unsuccessfully) nurse them back to health. I always loved babies, from the time I was a baby myself. And I always knew I would be a mother, probably starting early, hopefully having lots of kids. (Check, check, and check.)

But I also wanted to be a writer. An actress. A Solid Gold dancer. A teacher. A homemaker. A shop owner. And it never occurred to me that I might have to choose just one of these identities at a time.

They sometimes call those of us who are fertile and predisposed to nurturing “Earth Mother” types. I’m not sure that applies to me. I’m not particularly patient, and as I’ve had children of my own, my tendency to nurture the rest of the world has shrunk. (I’m not even big on pets these days.)

That said, one thing has remained the same throughout my 14+ years of motherhood: I enjoy being front and center in my kids’ lives. I enjoy welcoming family and friends into our home. I love puttering around my house and making it a nicer place to live.

But. I also have a fiercely ambitious side. I’ve always enjoyed starting new projects. I love dreaming big. And – shhh – I also love earning money.

I suppose somewhere along the way I internalized the message that I’d have to choose between those two sides of my personality. That I could not be both a kick-butt businesswoman and a nurturing mother. That I could not be both a homemaker and a bread-earner. That I would always have to downplay one of those sides of myself, playing either the role of harried, hurried, guilt-ridden working mom or ultra-hands-on, baking, crafting SAHM.

And I think I’m ready to embrace both identities. I’m tired of choosing.

It’s not about trying to “have it all”. As a grown-up, I am aware that I cannot be a writer, teacher, Solid Gold dancer, actress, shop owner and the kind of mother I want to be, all at the same time.

But I can acknowledge the two different sides of me in whatever way feels right, right now, and to accept that no mother is perfect at any one thing she does, whether she’s a full-time at-home mom or a full-time working-outside-the-home mom with a demanding job.

I don’t have to apologize for being equally drawn to baking cookies and building my blog. I don’t have to pretend that I work to escape diaper changes and dishes, or only because “I have to.” It’s perfectly OK to be fulfilled both by motherhood and by outside work.

I’m not arguing for or against working or for or against staying at home. I’ve been at home, working primarily around my kids’ schedules, for most of the past 15 years – and I have no regrets. There’s a season for everything.

But I am saying that our relationships to our children and our homes need not be defined by whether, where, when and/or how many hours we work. We don’t have to draw a line in the sand and declare ourselves one “type” of mother or another.

Especially now, when the world is changing so fast: it’s more possible than ever to start a business from home and slowly grow it when children are small. It’s more likely than ever that your spouse will take a front-and-center role raising children and caring for your home. Walls are coming down, fathers are stepping up, and more than ever women are in a position to embrace our dual roles, whatever those look like for us, with our individual circumstances, goals, and dreams.

Can we move forward with confidence and purpose – and support each other as we go? I believe we can.

All blog conferences have a slightly different atmosphere. The expansive BlogHer seems to say “Come as you are, there are so many of us you’ll definitely find some like-minded people to party with.” Blissdom is all about love and acceptance and figuring out your path to joy (which may or may not include monetizing your blog.)

But Mom 2.0 is unapologetically business-oriented. And there is something amazing about being in a room full of 500 people – most of them women, the overwhelming majority devoted mothers – in which nobody apologizes for having big dreams and big ambitions.

In Monday’s post I mentioned that I cried quite a bit at Mom 2.0. During one presentation called “Why Working Motherhood Is Awesome”, Kathryn Tucker, the founder of RedRover (a really cool app that helps you connect with other parents and activities in your area) told a story about sitting at the table with her seven-year-old daughter, LouLou, who was working on a school journaling assignment.

Kathryn had been feeling conflicted about the time and energy her business was consuming, i.e. “taking away” from her daughter. But when she asked her daughter to see what she’d been writing, LouLou held up a picture that said “My Mom launched a company.”

working motherhood is awesome

At this point in the presentation Kathryn choked up. “I don’t know why I’m crying!” she apologized.

But the rest of us – many of whom were crying, too (I was basically a human river by this point) – sure knew. Because we could see her obvious pride in her daughter she had raised and in the company she had built. Because we knew what it felt to believe we should be torn between the two sides of ourselves. Because we saw in her the mother and the businesswoman and realized it all came from the same nurturing spirit.

I can’t quite describe it, but there was a palpable sense of love and support in the room at that moment for Kathryn: for sharing her story, for daring to dream big, for caring so much about being a good mom. We cheered her work ethic and ambition, while sniffling and wiping away tears of pride and joy looking at a picture of her adorable, beaming daughter.

I guess we just felt at home, witnessing so much nurturing and butt-kicking ambition going on in one place at one time.

We are mothers, after all.

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