Monday, February 21, 2011

My Mom: The Original Traveling Spouse

Inside my mother's jewelry box
This is hard to write about: my mom was a traveling spouse once, but I rarely think of her as a reference and I've only talked to her about these issues a few times.  She did a great job raising us and is a fantastic woman, but something in me doesn't want to admit we're in the same situation or want the same things.  I'm sure she didn't appreciate being moved from her friends and family into a shitty small town where she knew no one, but I feel like I've got that pressure plus the pressure to do something with myself despite the tenuousness of my geography.  But damnit, didn't she feel that same pressure?

Why do I have the right to say she's trailing instead of traveling? She probably wouldn't have much of a problem with that term, except for the Human Resource-y nonsense of it, since she knew what she was signing up for getting married in a conservative area in the 70's.  My mom's public and private stance on women's rights is different, but she has unequivocally stated throughout my life that a man is the head of a house, and women should not lead in church congregations.  When I had to interview her for a class project in 7th grade, she said she did not believe in feminism*.

It's hard to reconcile these things when you've known a person to be independent, strong, argumentative and (mostly) pro-choice.  She's worked on and off at different clerical jobs and held volunteer positions on many non-profit boards, but without a good retirement fun from my father, she would be without funds or resume.  I'm not saying she hasn't worked-- she raised two children, very well and keeps a beautiful, comfortable and organized house.  Since my father's quintuple by-pass in 2000, she's been a nurse, dietitian, physical therapist and chef.  She made herself into a fixture of the volunteer community in her town, and it's hard to find someone who doesn't know her (or who hasn't heard of her).

Part of me says, "But she could do all those things anywhere," and another says, "So could you". Yet another part (I'm in lots of pieces today) reminds me that it's hard to leave your community no matter what your job was (at home or out of it).

Readers out there know there's a bit of rebellion in this, or my need to not follow in my mother's footsteps.  Her babying of my father, outright refusal of feminism and the right of women to lead religious services was always baffling to me, she who told me I could be anything I wanted to be.  Except for what caveats?  There's a huge chip on my shoulder, but it's a shared chip with all the other women in my generation.  Do what we want to do, or worry that what we want to do is just a result of society's influence on us? I want to be a mother someday (maybe....) but I don't want to be labeled as a mother.  I want to do it without the resulting diminishment in society's eyes**.

But other than the low worth given to women/mothers by our society, am I attributing negative attributes to motherhood because of my own fraught relationship with my mother?

Stay tuned, kids. This is the first time I've delved into these waters, so I think I should do it a little at a time.

*I did not have the vocabulary to argue this at the time, and it would be years before I would call myself a feminist.
**Oh yeah, internalized misogyny checking in.  But you know what I'm saying. This culture does not respect women, and it certainly doesn't respect mothers.


  1. As a woman sharing that chip with you - I think that question ("are we doing what we want or are we conforming without questioning?") - is one that we all need to ask.

    And for me, that's always among the harder questions to answer.

  2. When I think about what I want, it's like I'm in a mirror room-- I think of what I want, then what I could want, then I wonder if I want it because I want it or I've been brought up to want that, until I have no idea whether or not to trust myself.


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