Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work March 19, 2013

This is post number 2 in the “No More Mommy Wars!” series of guest posts that I’m hosting this week, and will be returning to the week after Easter. Today’s post comes from the wonderful Molly of Molly Makes Do, one of my absolute favorite blogs to peruse for inspiration and ideas. Welcome and many thanks Molly!




We’re all back in school, sitting in adjacent desks with spindly metal legs and pressed wood tops.  We’re each being given a test – it’s long and complicated and at some point we will probably be asked to answer the multiple choice questions with an essay and vice-versa.  Somewhere during our cram sessions and study prep we got it into our minds that it’s not just our work that determines our grades, but how our answers and results compare to those sitting around us.

That test we’re taking is motherhood and we’re all trying to cheat off our neighbors.

In a perfect world that would be the perfect way to ace the test, just look over at Ms. Across-The-Aisle who started her test a few years before you did and you’ll have all the answers and ace the test.  Except that we don’t have the same answers; in fact we don’t even have the same questions and in most cases we’re be given a completely different test.

That is what motherhood feels like to me, a great big test where the questions I face and the answers I determine are not like my neighbors – except my neighbors, often out of good wishes and desires, are trying to help me until I’m trying to figure why Ms. To-The-Right-of-Me is convinced that the Pythagorean Theorem is the only way to answer my essay question on the working conditions of Elizabethan blacksmiths’ horses.  At the same time Ms. Behind-Me-And-Slightly-To-The-Left is aghast that I answered D to question 372 and not N.

I’m waiting for Teacher to get wise, rise from behind her desk, stroll down the aisle with all the authority of a prison matron and demand to my overly helpful neighbors to “Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work!”

As a mother I’ve felt a little judgment about some of my parenting choices – folks have been equally aghast at my babywearing and co-sleeping as they have about my formula feeding, but in no other area have I had to weather more rudeness than when someone, usually a stranger, finds out I’m a working mother.

Why they’re so entranced with the answers to my test I’ll never really know, but…

They tell me my answer is selfish.

They tell me my answer is damaging my child.

They tell me my answer would be different if I was willing to make a few sacrifices.

Their answers can be hurtful.  Their answer can be confusing.  Their answers for my questions are often completely wrong.

They don’t realize that there are no vacations, fancy clothes or Smartphone to sacrifice.

They don’t realize that my child is fine and thriving and surrounded daily by people who love him – even if that person is not me 100% of the time.

They don’t realize that I don’t work for me.  I don’t work for my personal satisfaction (though some do); I work to put food on the table and shoes on our feet.

They don’t realize that if I could I would, in a heartbeat.

They don’t realize that for us, right now, a little work and a little daycare is what we need to pass the test.  It’s not always an easy answer to accept, but it’s the right answer for my personal test and all the unique challenges and joys that it presents.

I have spent a great deal of time wishing I was taking someone else’s test.  I wish I was taking the test of a woman with no student loan debt.  I wish I was taking the test of a woman whose husband made the median wage of the country, because we could live on that with ease.  I wish I was taking the test of a woman whose anxiety about finances wasn’t crippling.  I wish my test had different answers.

But I’m not taking your test.

As a mother I love when my fellow test takers slip me a helpful piece of information and I’m thrilled when I can answer a question in return.  Sometime we can know the right answer to someone’s question.  However, we could all do each other a favor by realizing that on every test there will be a question that we can’t answer for each other. Sometime the best support we can give each other is to turn around and keep our eyes on our own work.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Nice! I love it. and I agree. The answers to my questions change with time and experience…and as more questions come up. Good post.

  • Well said. Your metaphor made me think of some of the schools we recently toured for our oldest, and how so many classrooms now have tables for collaborative work instead of the familiar desks we all had (and you describe so well!). I wonder what would happen to motherhood if we turned the metaphor on its head and tried working together at the same table. Maybe instead of copying or competition, we’d find some collaboration for our callings…

  • KJL

    I’m loving this series!

  • Michelle – Thank you! I’m finding that as well. In fact when I hear certain “opinions” voiced I often ask them “What makes you think this is permanent?” In fact I’m working right now in the hopes that I’ll be able to go down to half time or less in X-many years once my husbands salary reaches a liveable amount and our student loans are paid off. In 5 years I fully expect that our necessities and means will have changed and I’ll have different answers too! p.s. I still come back to your WAHM posts when I need a pick me up!

    Laura – Thank you! And I love the metaphor extension – in a very real sort of way too. I know too many men and women who could take advantage of different job opportunities if they had better support resources – like help getting kids to school or a kind, trustworthy neighbor who could watch a kid (or kids) for a couple hours a day or week. Often that would be the difference between 50-100% work, the hours they start or leave work, the possibility of work-from-home or even the amount of time spent in a daycare! Encouraging community is key!

  • Pat

    Sarah, thank you for having this guest writer. Molly, thank you for the post. I agree with you entirely. And what an engaging way to frame your description of the situation. My sisters worked outside of the home. My friends worked outside the home.

  • I love this.

  • Amy

    Gosh, so true. My husband also doesn’t make the median wage of the country, as you so eloquently put it. I am struggling a lot with whether to go back to work, and how, and how this will change my self-image/what people think of me/my son’s happiness/etc etc etc… this is so reassuring. Thank you.

  • sayin’ i love you

    I believe that a mom has to do what is best for her family. If a woman has to go back to work because of financial reasons, she shouldn´t be judged. If a woman goes back to work because she wants to, she shouldn´t be judged either. A baby is not better off with a stay-at-home mom who is constantly worrying because she and her husband can´t make ends meet, knowing that if she went back to work they could. That same baby is also not better off with a stay-at-home mom who just stays at home because she feels that is what society expects from her but inside she is unhappy and frustrated with this decisión. A baby is better off with a mommy who is happy and fulfilled, and not stressed and resentful.

  • Andrea

    Commenting years after the original post but…Wow, what a helpful post. And hilarious as I’m a teacher!! I’ve been so sad and to be honest guilty and angry after having to return to work full time this year. Looking forward to spending more time reading this awesome blog. Just curious – I’m struggling to manage the emotional energy teaching takes out of me but my husband’s hours are long and not flexible so school holidays so precious to me and necessary to give grandparents who share child care a break! Any advice at all on how to switch off from work when I bring work home almost every day?