My Mom is awesome. She is a constant example to me as I try to create my own self-styled life—such a strong example, in fact, that I feel her story and advice is worth sharing with others looking for an alternative way in the world.
There is so much to say that I need to break it down into two posts: one about her family life, and one about her career life. [Note: This is NOT some metaphor to suggest that these two things have to exist separately in life. It’s a matter of logistics so I don’t overwhelm you.] I think you’ll find that the real value in her story is how her success in one has fed or inspired her success in the other—that these two “lives” have been mutually reinforcing. So this is the story of how she let that organic growth lead to a self-styled life.
My mom, The Mother
My mom took motherhood and homemaking very seriously. She saw it as a vocation and felt no shame in becoming a mother at age 21, fresh out of university, cultivating a home instead of a career. Being a mother was not only an aspect of her self-styled life; it helped her create it. Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom from this side of her life that I feel can be used by any of us, in any path:
*Find a Support System*
The decision to get married young and start a family was met with some negativity from friends and family. Her path was an alternative one for a college educated woman—though the pressure to become a career woman wasn’t as strong as it is today, she still felt the judgment that many of us experience when we say we’re not particularly “careerist.” I asked how she handled this and she highlighted the importance of building a supportive community. She gave herself permission to realize her limits with those who were negative about her choices, and let her friends “weed themselves out” over time.
*Challenge Yourself and Keep Learning*
There was a challenge in being a homemaker that my mom relished. My parents did not have a lot of money when they were starting out. To create a beautiful home, she picked up new skills by necessity, like sewing. If something needed doing that she didn’t know how to do, she learned! She also ran a food co-op, did at-home retreats for other mothers and joined a folk group in her church. Facing challenges proactively was empowering.
Despite the tiny budget, my parents have lived richly and never felt “deprived.” They knew how to prioritize and make sacrifices to have the things that were important to them. When my older siblings were young, a “big treat” was getting a loaf of Italian bread to go with dinner! It’s almost hard to imagine that kind of frugality in a time when we’re quite used to getting what we want.
Maintaining this discipline came from a deep understanding of what those truly important things are. On one family vacation traveling across the country in a VW bus (one of many such vacations), my mom had an “ah ha!” moment when she realized that everything they needed, everything that mattered to her, was right there in that van. With that kind of clarity, sacrifice is a lot easier.
*Have A Little Faith*
Today, she sees young couples trying to have everything figured out and in place before starting a family—career, house, etc. “But you just can’t have that much control,” she says, and the timing is never perfect. That pressure in the expectation that you should have it all, all at once, only breeds dissatisfaction. Instead, take a chance and have faith in your ability to make it all work.
My mom also credits her spiritual faith with her ability to stay true to her own way. My parents shared their Catholic faith with us, but beyond the specifics of the religion, they shared the idea that a spiritual core based in any tradition can be a guide and provide meaning in otherwise meaningless circumstances. It is a catalyst for self-reflection to help cut through the noise of life and put the focus on what matters.
Full-time motherhood was where my mom’s self-styled life started out and it is the job she’s most proud of. But there were other jobs in a very successful career after she spent a couple of decades at home raising us four kids. My mom has a lot of wisdom to share on that account, and I’ll be telling that part of the story in my next post!