The XX Factor

Advice From One Woman to Another (Who Both Just Happen To Be Moms)

I wrote this delicate and thoughtful response to Amy , much of which is below. But I really wanted to let go of the politically correct dance I was doing and shout, along with commenter Jewellya : Maybe it’s time to change course. If you’re a college-educated, driven woman who puts a lot of pressure on herself and you’re putting all your energy into being a self-described stay-at-home-mom-AND you’re unhappy, maybe the problem isn’t your marriage or your city. Maybe you’re just freakin’ bored, and freaking out.

It is true that it-and by it, I mean life with small children-gets easier, and that after it gets easier, it does indeed seem to have gone quickly (or perhaps it’s just blurred by lack of sleep and the grinding sameness of every day). It is also true that once it’s over, it’s over, and there you and your husband will (one hopes) still be. That’s what Elizabeth Weil only touched on in her NYT piece on her marriage -her kids are in school, and she and her husband discovered some additional mental real estate that they could give to one another. (Whether they chose the best way to do it is another question.)

If Amy, who describes herself as a college graduate, is putting all of her energy into being a good “stay-at-home-mom,” while her husband wrestles every day with wearing all of the hats that owning a business entails and then comes home and gets to be a dad, too-then I see some inequities there that may be contributing to making Amy unhappy. Of course being a mom is hard and challenging work, but it’s only one kind of hard and challenging work. She’s “working [her] tail off, tired stressed and unhappy”-and believe me, I’ve been there. What I’m saying is, maybe there’s a way to reach a tired, stressed, and happy state (that being, unfortunately, about all you can hope for with a 4-year-old and a baby).

Elizabeth Weil talked a lot about her fear of losing herself in her marriage in her NYT piece on improving the state of her union. Losing yourself to parenting, especially in the early stages, is even easier. I think nearly everybody does it, and I’m willing to bet that Amy is right in the grip of that. My advice to Amy (man, who doesn’t love giving advice) would be that, as she and her husband grapple with some of these bigger questions, like whether New York is the right place for their family, how important private school is, and how to balance their lives, she needs to find something that grips and consumes her outside of raising her kids, and a place where she can see herself as Amy, not just as the mother of two needy children. Because, as you’ve pointed out, she won’t be the mother of two entirely needy children for long, and because it’s nearly impossible enjoy a happy marriage and raise a happy family without some grip on your own happiness.

Amy and her husband can work together on their family and their plans for their children. But Amy, the only person who can figure out what’s going to make you happiest is you. Find that, and then make your choices and compromises around it. Rachel’s right to reference Dahlia’s theme that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything, so I’m not saying you can have it all. Maybe you’ll have to wait to make changes, or plan trade-offs. What I am saying is that if you don’t take a hard look at what you want to have, you’re likely to end up with only what others want to give you.