Every culture has their myths. These myths could be an inherent part of their religion or an ethereal part of their superstitions, but no matter what they are important. Myths are created out of a desire to better understand and explain the world around us. They are created to give us a common understanding of what makes the wind blow and the sun come up, but a myth is more than just a story about why the world is what it is. It is something to make the world outside seem a little less frightening.
Different cultures create different mythologies because their experience in the world is different – their climate and environment is different, as is their definition of a gallant hero, a great beauty or a terrible monster.
Today we still live with our own myths, particularly when it comes to motherhood. Now, that doesn’t mean that any one group of mothers are running around like feral wolves or sticking their collective heads in the sand against all truth and logic. Rather, every mother’s mythology is different. What scares them and strengthens them is different and the monster knocking at their doors are not the same. The ideas that they believe in, that allow them to sleep soundly at night are different.
As a working mother I face other mother’s myths constantly. I’m told both directly and indirectly that if I was willing to make more sacrifices then I could stay home with my children. It is the Sacrifice Myth, and every culture of motherhood has one. So, trying shamelessly to adapt to another persons ideals I pinch my pennies and rack my brain long into the night writing budget after budget in the hopes that I can find that special combination of sacrifices that will allow me the life I wish for with every fiber of my being, but it remains illusive. It is a beautiful story, one that I carry with me and read often, but to me, at this exact moment in my life, with all the truths about our environment, with our own personal monsters to battle it remains just that, a story.
The truth is my motherhood mythology is different than yours no matter how much I wish it was the same. My environment is different, my demons are different and so the stories I tell myself at night are different. In less poetic terms my mythology is shaped by crime rates, utility rates, medical expenses, dietary needs, education of the past, present and future; it is shaped by everything and anything down to the cost of milk and it changes my mythology and it changes my definition of sacrifice.
The truth is that no, not every family can afford to be a single income family and it’s not for lack of sacrifice; many of us make the same type of sacrifices I see on every “how to be a stay at home mom” list – we pinch every penny, deny ourselves vacations, dinners out and new anything and no matter how much we try it won’t work for us, not now and maybe not ever. Perhaps we are working just for the insurance because our family needs it, perhaps we are paying off medical bills, and perhaps our breadwinner has been victim to downsizing and layoffs or taken a paycut so that he too can enjoy time with his children. All of these things change our notions of heroes and monsters and all of these things change our notions of sacrifice.
My mythology has a Sacrifice Myth of it’s own – one in which a struggling heroine see’s that a paycut before the birth her first born left her breadwinner without enough to afford food after keeping a roof over their heads – a paycut chosen so that he might see the child he made more than a few hours a week. In my Sacrifice Myth the heroine chooses to work, with all of it’s costs and downfalls, because the other options is assistance programs and stressful, depression racked nights – all of which can be avoided by a job. The heroine chooses a job that gets her up while her child still sleeps so she can be home sooner, a job that is flexible and stable. She chooses that her sacrifice will be her own desires for she has a great desire to never leave her children’s side, until things get better.
It is still a sacrifice. It just might not be your sacrifice.
Working Mothers and Stay at Home Mothers are all judged based on others supposition of what their life should look like too often. It is unfair to you and to me. Unless we know the minute detail of a family’s needs and fears, unless we can see into the minds and their pocketbooks we cannot judge them for not making the right sacrifice. We, as mothers, will only gain peace and understanding by accepting that what might but an unalterable truth for one family is only a fairy-story to another.