‘Batman Begins’ is one of my all-time favourite movies. The line that stuck with me all these years is what Rachel Dawes told Bruce Wayne:
It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.
I am a parent.
I am a mother.
More specifically I am a Stay-At-Home-Mom (SAHM).
Sure, I wasn’t that all my life, but it is undeniably who I am now.
You would probably never guess that it’s an identity or self-definition I still somewhat struggle with and resist.
The world won’t always agree with who you are
I gave birth to my son seven years ago and have been fortunate to have had the choice of being a SAHM since the beginning.
I had a somewhat delicate pregnancy and so even before giving birth I had to make the difficult decision of going on leave and eventually resigning from my office job as an articulation coordinator/ academic advisor for an online university. I was anxious about resigning given that it was my very first job in the U.S. and wondered how leaving so soon (within 2 years) might affect my future chances for employment.
Prior to migrating to the U.S. I was an Instructor and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the top university in the Philippines. I took pride in that, and for seven years simmered in identifying myself as an ‘academic’ – thrilled and excited about enriching minds, pursuing knowledge and shaping the lives of others.
In the first few months of being a SAHM, justifying my choice to myself and others was a breeze. Actually, I didn’t need to justify anything because everyone recognised the obvious needs of an infant to be cared for by the mother. However, as the years passed by, and especially by the time my son started Kindergarten, the discomfort started to surface. Voices – both external and internal – began challenging the choice I had always stood behind.
When people asked me what I did, I sometimes struggled with my answer and normally ended up saying something like “Right now I’m a stay-at-home-mom…But I used to teach in university!” That’s the answer I normally end up spitting out when I get the “But what are you really beyond being a stay-at-home-mom?” look.
It’s as if I need to salvage my sense of self-worth and make myself seem less invisible, more valuable – categorisable.
I’ve received remarks from people who are more direct and less sensitive such as “Oh you should definitely go back to work! You could be so much more!” I’ve also been given the “You-can’t-just-depend-on-your-husband-to-support-you!” remark as if I was a good-for-nothing parasite who takes advantage of my poor spouse.
Doubting your truth
It’s difficult. Sometimes – regardless of what you know – the world can make you doubt your own truth.
I know what I do. I see the gifts of my parenting in how my son is growing up. I know the sacrifices and the amount of valuable (unpaid) work I contribute in caring for our home and our family. Most importantly, I know that this is what I want. I won’t have it any other way and this is what feels right to me and what feels true – at least for now.
Right now I love that I am completely hands-on with our family’s needs and that we don’t have to spend the extra money on childcare. I love that I’m able to prepare meals for us. I love that I’m present when my son waits for the school bus in the morning and am there to greet him when he enters the house in the afternoon. I love that I’m able to supervise him during homework time and help him with projects when needed. I love that I have the time to clean and organize our home the way I want. I love that I don’t have to struggle with my schedule when my son is sick and he needs someone to stay home with and care for him. I love that whenever I choose to, I’m able to help out at his school during parties or when volunteers are needed. I don’t mind doing all of this and being defined this way. This is who I am.
I am not going to say that I’ve lost my ‘self’ by choosing to focus on being a parent. I’m an introvert and I have no issue with staying home, staying in and having this routine. This life has allowed me to explore my passion for writing, a route that would not have been possible if there was an office job draining me of creativity, time and energy. So you see, there is nothing in what I do now that is slaying an important part of myself. So why would anyone else insist that I could be happier being something else? Through my role as a SAHM, my two greatest passions – loving and (reflective) writing – have found their greatest expression.
I have never felt more like my true self.
Your truth is key to finding your passion
Determining your passion, acknowledging it, and embracing it regardless of what it is or where it can take you, needs not only courage but more importantly – authenticity.
You need to be true about who you are, what your interests are, what you’re good at, what fires you up, and most of all, what you value.
You need to have the courage to heed your inner voice, despite the possibility that this voice can easily be drowned out by external noises.
One common area people get stuck in is with the idea that one’s passion should automatically translate in to a paid career. This is a narrow-minded point of view, as why can’t we allow ourselves to have passions that aren’t exactly translated to into paid employment? Won’t this belief engender an even greater sense of alienation for those who hold jobs that they don’t feel passionate about? At the end of the day, what’s important is that we somehow find a way to express what is true and important to us within our busy lives.
I may (just) be a SAHM to some, an unpaid worker, and even ‘wasted potential’ to others because I’m not pursuing a career and am seen as an antithesis to the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world. But if I drown out these external noises MY truth is that I’m passionate about my role as a SAHM and find meaning in what I’m able to do and give at this stage in my life. It fulfils me and why would I allow myself to be forced to want ‘more’ and be someone I’m not?
There’s another thing to acknowledge when it comes to ‘passions’
They may change.
You are allowed to change your mind. Circumstances change all of the time and as we evolve, our interests may change too. What suits us now may be different from 5 years from now. I acknowledge that I may not be a SAHM for the rest of my life. Or maybe I will. I’m not going to worry about that, just as I’m not going to worry about those who question my decision and undermine my sense of self-worth by constantly insisting that who I am now is not enough.
This is my journey, and I will not let others’ standards and expectations navigate me. That would be the quickest way to feeling completely lost. There is also clearly no authenticity in that, and therefore, no chance for any genuine sense of fulfillment or joy.
Every choice is a vote towards self-definition
Our lives are full of choices, with the choices we make defining us.
I chose to be a SAHM.
I chose to give up, or at least take a long or indefinite break from the corporate world, the academie or whatever else was out there for me.
I did this because I knew it was what felt right for me and my family. I did this because I knew it was where I could make a bigger difference. I chose this because I had no doubt that this was the door, that if left unopened, I would most regret for the rest of my life. I simply had to take a leap of faith and walk through it myself.
When you walk through doors feeling empowered, when you cross thresholds with your eyes wide open, there will never be any space for regret. There will only be growth and gratitude.
I can’t guarantee that making your choice will be easy.
SAHMs like me still feel a lot of push and pull with the choice we have made. Some say it is an honorable choice, while some look upon us as those who are “dumb”, “unmotivated” or “lost”. It is a choice that gets a lot of admiration as well as criticism, especially when we have all been made to believe that women can do AND have it all (whatever the hell that means!).
It’s true that in almost everything we do – especially with the difficult choices we need to make – there will be a push and pull. My hope for all of us is that we always find the strength and clarity to move towards our space of authenticity, even when it means having to break out of a mold that we always thought would fit us.
Just remember…It is far easier to drown out external voices than to deny what resonates from within. People will never run out of things to say, but eventually they will tire out.
The soul knows what it wants and where it needs to be. It never tires of crying out until we listen and stop starving it. And only through a life of authenticity can we find true satiation.
About Joy Page Manuel
Joy Page Manuel was born and raised in the Philippines and now lives in mid-southern U.S.A. with her husband and son. She holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Sociology and taught in university for 7 years prior to her migration in 2004. Joy has been actively blogging since 2009, intermittently since 2006, and was recognized as the Top Mom Blog of 2013 over at voiceBoks.com, a parenting community. Joy also has several featured member posts at Blogher. Other than her current career as a full-time SAHM, her interests lie in food, cooking, home organization and social media. She is a self-professed dreamer, hopeless romantic and over analyser. These are the facets of her personality that Joy gets to indulge when she writes on her blog site Catharsis.