Wednesday, May 05, 2004

If Donald Trump were a monk...

As I’ve researched my upcoming book, "Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family," I have noticed a recurring backlash against the idea that an economically privileged mother’s happiness really matters. Most disturbing to me is that this questioning often comes from women who are themselves mothers who have lived through the transition from a career woman to a Stay-at-home-Mom. This ambivalence, tinged with strains of self-loathing, is exactly what I hope to cut through with Mojo Mom.

In her New Yorker essay entitled “Mother Courage: Kids, career, and culture,” Elizabeth Kolbert, mother of three, asks, “How worried should we be that these women, which is to say ourselves, are feeling? If a woman wants to take time off from her career to raise a family, and if she could afford to do so, what more can she reasonably desire?” Mysteriously, the father’s role in the family is rarely questioned, even by feminist critics.

On an individual level, the transition to motherhood can be the adventure of a lifetime, or it can signal the death of the Self. For most of us, it will be something in between: an ongoing negotiation of who we are and how we divide our energies. To each woman, the question of who she is, and whether she can reserve some of the best parts of herself—for herself!—is an essential question.

On a societal level, wouldn’t it be newsworthy if Donald Trump left his vast empire behind to become a monk? How important would it be if a significant portion of the most talented, up-and-coming male employees chose to leave the workforce to follow The Donald to the monastery for five to twenty years? Wouldn’t the business world be incredibly concerned with finding ways to bring these valuable workers back after their years of sequestered life were over?

Of course the business world would be shocked if men started doing this. The choice of a professional woman to stay at home, or to find a way to return to her career, is no less interesting to me. I see in every Mom a complicated person with a great deal to offer to her family, her community, and the world.

I use the monastery example because in my experience, motherhood is more like a calling than a job. Before I had my daughter, I was a teacher, which was another “calling” profession. I always said that being a teacher was the best job in the world if you really loved it, but would be the worst job in the world if it wasn’t what you really wanted to be doing. Low pay, incessant demands, little societal recognition….characteristics of teachers, monks and mothers alike. The intangible rewards of motherhood are priceless, but the daily demands can come as a shock to a typically unprepared new Mom. Loneliness, frustration, boredom, and a loss of control are real challenges for women who are used to being masters of their own universe.

Mojo Mom will take an honest look at the dangers and opportunities that come along with the transition to motherhood. The book explores ways that women can support each other: honoring ourselves, nurturing our dreams, and capturing all that we have to offer to society in addition to recognizing the vital work we do by raising our families.

Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question. –Tennessee Williams


“Mother Courage: Kids, career, and culture,” by Elizabeth Kolbert. The New Yorker, March 8, 2004, pp. 85-87