I read today that motherhood fundamentally changes the chemical makeup of your brain. Just by way of conceiving a child, your entire psychology, along with your spiritual and physical body, morph into something else altogether. I can certainly say that this has been the case for me. As parents, we often talk about the deep love we have for our children. Rarely do we talk about the accompanying emotion that drives much of our decision making as 21st century parents: Fear.
A quiet, unobtrusive, lingering fear.
Especially when I’m hormonal or feeling down, in the quiet of the day I let my mind wander from here to there, no destination, no clarity. I feel tired and restless. A hazy, thick fog settles on my mind, and I don’t know what or how to clear it.
I like to keep busy. People always comment on my hastiness. I’m always up and moving. Quicker, faster. No time to slow down. I don’t like slowing down. When I slow down and let my mind go, it wanders to painful places. I have to put scary thoughts out of view. Death and loss can twist the mind into a pretzel of fear and grief. I once read that there is a difference between love and attachment. I love deeply, but I’m also very deeply attached to my children as well. I’m sure my feelings are a reflection of the psychodrama that has been my life up to this point.
I’m an avid story teller, and sometimes the story of my life flashes before my eyes and I sit in quiet terror as my mind shuffles through a playlist of endlessly devastating scenarios that I could experience. I’m crippled with the fear of the unknown. Fear that things I’ve experienced could one day be experienced by my own kids. Or that the worst of the pain I’ve experienced, is the least of it. That is to say, there is more to come.
When the day’s raucous laughter and dancing and silliness is done, sometimes I’m afraid. For no reason at all. Images of my children hurt or in pain flash in my mind. The images are terrifying, and the more I try to push them away, the more they come.
I remember when I was young, and in love with Justin, a terrifying thought would come to mind. I would imagine that some unlikely accident had happened, and that he had died. I would dissolve into a puddle of grief at the very thought that I could lose him. As a child, I remember someone telling me that if we put anything before God, if we loved anything more than God, he would take it from us.
What a terrible, horrible supposition. What a distorted, perverse personification of the will and character of God. Even back then, this just didn’t make sense. This figured world collided with the other version of God I learned of. The kind, loving God, who operated under the notion of free will. As with many of the religious teachings I’d been exposed too, I was often left with many more questions than answers. Still, the fear of losing a loved one to a vengeful God, crippled my young heart with paralyzing anxiety. I would often wonder…do I love mama more than God? Will he take her? Do I love Justin more than God? Will he take him?
Despite the onset of adult rationality, despite having successfully reimagined God to be more loving, kind, and peaceful, I can’t help but relive this traumatic thought over and over. The narrative in my mind has changed a bit, however. I don’t worry so much that God will take my children because I love them, as I do that he won’t protect them. I worry that in a sinister world, filled with random acts of violence and hate, my precious, beautiful children could suffer the unimaginable.
In 10th grade, I remember reading the poem titled Thanatopsis, which put forth a euphemistic, alternative view of death. An egalitarian view of death whereby all who heave that last breath, whether king or servant, are made equal. Despite the small details of our lives, and the time we fritter away on senseless arguments, career ambitions, or impassioned escapades with a lover, we all come to rest in the same way, returned to Earth lying shoulder to shoulder with mankind, no one elevated over the other. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I found comfort in the poem then, realizing that no matter what heartache or disappointments may befall me, we all will meet the same end.
Now that I have children of my own, though, the poem provides precious little comfort after all. My life’s focus is no longer on my own ambitions, disappointments, and goals. I fear for the future. What planet will my children inherit? When I’m gone, what pain will they endure at my loss?
I’ve often had well-meaning people share their opinion with me that I am too smart to be a stay-at-home mom (those exact words). I’ve had people question my decision to leave my PhD program and focus fully on the rearing of my children. I’m under no illusion that working moms, too, bear their fair share of criticism. As moms, we simply can’t win.
But I want to be honest about that decision-making process, if for no other reason than to speak my truth. If I said my motivations for forsaking my career ambitions were for wholly altruistic reasons, I’d be telling a lie. I would love to say that I stayed home because;
- I wanted to give my children a head start intellectually and morally
- I wanted to spend time with and care for them myself
- I wanted to be in control and carefully plan their lives
- And, I wanted to be there to experience their milestones
All of these are very true. But the other half of the story is this: my decision to forsake my career, in part, was made out of paralyzing fear.
- Fear that my children would be mistreated in my absence as I’d witnessed when I worked at a daycare
- Fear that I would not have the control to be the main influence in my children’s lives
- Fear of missing out
- But mostly, fear that I would squander the precious time I have with them
This is my truth. As a new mother, I spent the first three months of Alexa’s life begging my husband to accept a dramatic change of plans. I would not return to my cushy research job at the biggest university in Maryland. I would no longer receive an excellent salary with health benefits to help pay off my graduate school debt. I would not contribute to the family income. I would not realize the goals I’d moved my entire family out of state to pursue. Instead, my singular focus would be my child.
I have never once regretted that decision. That decision has given me more joy and peace than I could ever write in a simple blog post. For some, being a (now) work-from-home mom could never be fulfilling, and I completely understand that. But for a person who has met many defeats, challenges, disappointments, and trauma, the love and joy of my children has been both cathartic and healing. I will never be able to repay my husband for affording me this blessing. We have sacrificed a lot in making this decision. Thanks to VIPKID, I have been able to mesh my passion for teaching with my number one priority, being a mother to my children. But the driving force behind it all was fear, and I can admit that.