This is going to be an unpopular opinion.
Being a mother is not my greatest accomplishment.
Being a mother has been my most joyful accomplishment, there’s no doubt about that. I have laughed more, smiled more, and collected more happy memories with my sons than anywhere else. They have enriched my life and taught me so much that I feel I owe them a debt of gratitude rather than the other way around.
But they are not my greatest achievement. Believing that in no way diminishes their importance in my life, nor their impact. As with every parent, the course of my life was inalterably changed once I had my eldest son almost 40 years ago. I had a new path to forge, a new focus, and priorities.
Believing that also doesn’t imply that they aren’t accomplished in their own rights. In fact, suggesting that my sons’ talent is somehow my doing undermines their consistent efforts to achieve what they independently have. They are each remarkable, strong, kind human beings. Do we agree on everything? Absolutely not, but we do respect one another and treat each other with love. Am I proud of them? Wildly proud.
But they are not my greatest accomplishment. My greatest accomplishment is me. Boastful? I don’t think so.
Let me tell you why
I grew up in a cold, emotionless home where laughter, especially boisterous laughter was abruptly quashed. Where expressions of love were the rare exception, not the rule. And yet I laugh. I laugh loudly and with all the joy that I have gained in the years since leaving that house. I laugh now for all the days when I could not. And I love and show my love. I hug and hold tight to the people in my life who mean the most to me and I tell them they are loved. I know all too well how it feels to not hear that and I never want my loved ones to know what that’s like.
When I was 18 years old I had my eldest son; 18 years young to be more accurate. I survived an abusive relationship, lived with the support of the welfare system, and subsidized daycare for many months. And I fell into debt trying to provide everything I could for him and for my other two sons who followed him. I said yes to things when I should have said no. Mostly because I couldn’t bear the guilt of denying them simple things that other kids their ages had but I could just not afford. But I pulled through and I live a financially stable life now with my partner. We help our adult children when we can because we can. And because we know how challenging these times are for anyone trying to set themselves up for the future.
Even in my worklife
I found work and continued through 40 years to educate myself, increase my opportunities, and influence. I am self-taught at most of the skills that I have employed throughout my career. Throughout my career, I have been recognized by a Fortune 500 president, corporate directors, and vice-presidents but I’ve also been summarily dismissed by these same executives when a younger, less-experienced man came along to take my place. And yet I retain faith in my abilities, my strengths, and what I have to contribute to any organization I would be called upon to collaborate with.
It’s an unpopular opinion
I say this not to be boastful, I say this because it’s all true. And if I were a man, I’m sure no one would bat an eye at me saying so.
But I also say this to other parents out there who are shamed for putting their own needs or accomplishments above their children’s. I say it to parents who are running themselves ragged trying their hardest to provide a loving, abundant, fulfilling home when so much of the world’s structure works against doing just that. For the parents working multiple jobs to cover skyrocketing housing rates, food, and transportation costs, I tell you that’s an accomplishment that should be heralded.
And I say this to people, women especially, who are maligned for their decision not to have children. “How dare you?” society judgingly asks. “It’s so selfish! You’ll be sorry later.” Maybe but I’d be willing to bet that the percentage of people who regret not having children is equal to the percentage of parents who regret having them. I just don’t think anyone dares speak of that parental regret. What kind of parent would that make you?
The deck is stacked
But when society has stacked the odds so heftily against successful parenting (poor or no access to reproductive choice, poor or no access to affordable child care, unequal wages and opportunity for women, little or no paid time off for birth and sickness, insufficient mental health supports, scarce affordable housing options) it’s no wonder that parents would regret their decision.
And I say this because mine is a common story and I want other people out there, especially other young mothers to know, you are a great achievement. Just you. I see you, I feel you and I’m sending support and love to you in your day-to-day struggles.
I am grateful for my sons. And I love each one for the man they have become and I’m sad to imagine my life without them. I don’t regret having them. They are most certainly my greatest gift in life.
But they are not my greatest accomplishment.