Column: I don’t need your input

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Photo credit: Hamilton Birkeland

Strong. Dedicated. Hard-working. Sacrificing. These are some words that come to mind when I think about student moms. We are here and we are determined.

I was scrolling through a Facebook group one day and noticed a post about a young woman going back to school. She wanted advice on how to balance life as a mother and college student, and all the other labels she carried. The comments left me speechless. People were telling her to drop out. She didn’t need to go to college; she should just focus on being a mom to her baby.

She may have been asking for advice, but none of those comments were helpful. Some were men. Not that there aren’t fathers going to school, but because of stereotypes, they don’t face the guilt women often do.

According to Healthline, mom guilt is the feeling that a decision made is going to ‘mess up’ the child, one isn’t doing enough or not doing the best thing.

Everywhere I turn there are pressures on me as a mother. I get to hear opinions from people I don’t even know. People feel comfortable telling me things like,

“She watches too much TV.”

“You shouldn’t let her eat fruit snacks.”

“You need to be reading to her every day.”

“You shouldn’t send her to daycare for so long.”

“Aren’t you worried you’ll miss something while she’s at daycare?”

The people who make these comments usually have no idea what our day looks like as a family. Having a career, going to school or simply needing some time to myself does not make me a bad mom. Sure, the guilt will be in the back of my mind, but I’m learning to let go of those outside opinions because the reality is no one else knows my unique situation. No one else has that mother-child relationship that is unique to me and my daughter.

Photo credit: Hamilton Birkeland
Photo credit: Hamilton Birkeland

Being a mom is important, but this narrative that women can’t be more than mothers needs to stop. Women have a purpose beyond parenting children. Many mothers have amazing accomplishments that can be overshadowed and minimized because they have children.

I have endless stories of people telling me there’s no reason to rush through school. How many stories of this does my husband have? Zero. Why is it normal for people, who know nothing about my family or our situation, to feel okay sharing their unsolicited advice? Why doesn’t anyone tell my husband that he should slow down to take care of our daughter?

We are both parents to an awesome kid. We are both equally responsible for her well-being and upbringing; we’re also doing an awesome job. However, I’m the only one that has added pressure around the discussion of college.

I graduate in December; I am so close I can taste it. But just the other day someone told me to slow down and just take online classes because I have my hands full with my daughter.

Well, I will not be slowing down. She’s in preschool and getting her own education while I’m getting mine. So, with that logic, I should slow down and just do nothing? I mean housework and my other wifely duties.

People still talk about feminism because of these examples. My husband may not have held and grown our child for nine months, but she is half his. He is responsible for her basic needs just as much as I am.

While I am extremely grateful to have a partner who is willing to help and do the work that’s needed, that is the minimum. Changing diapers, feeding a bottle, rocking to sleep, etc. These are all normal parts of parenthood, not motherhood. People tell my husband he is, “such an awesome dad because you’re so active in her life!”

The difference is no one tells me, “You’re such a good mom because of how active you are in her life!”

It’s expected of me but not of him. That is where the change needs to happen.

Photo credit: random hiker in Utah.
Photo credit: random hiker in Utah.

I am a mother. I am also so much more than that. A writer, wife, daughter, student, aunt. I wear many hats and I claim them with pride, the same way I claim motherhood.

If anything, being a mom pushes me harder to do well in school.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 22% of undergraduates are parents. Though there are things that may delay graduation, parents typically earn higher grade point averages than other students.

I remind myself that my daughter is watching me. She sees my hard work and that will have a lasting effect. Maybe she won’t have a vivid memory of Mommy sitting at her computer for hours, with some breaks to play in between, but she will have my work ethic to look up to.

Teaching the next generation that anything is possible is important. I tell my daughter, “You can do hard things. You are incredible. You are strong,” almost every day. It’s a reminder to her and me of what we can do and what is possible, even as we have to push through the stereotypes others may not have.