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Guest Post: The Good Mother: Selfless or Selfish?

Most parents lashed out at Rahna Reiko Rizzuto when she confessed that she left her children in order to pursue her own dreams and find herself after five years of motherhood.  Readers practically flayed her on the stake, condemning her for choosing herself over her children.  Was it really necessary to accuse her of being “worse than Hitler”? Does being a good mother really mean we have to give up being ourselves, sacrificing our identities at all costs?

Before children, I had always been somebody, whoever that somebody might have been: the ugly duckling (towering two feet above my still-prepubescent second grade classmates with startling B-cups, braces, coke-bottle glasses, and a hideous Dorothy Hamil do), the funny one (to compensate for the unattractiveness), the pretty one (the universe works in mysterious ways), the brain (until being out-nerded a hundred fold at an academic college), the flirt (*ahem* the slut), the trusty best friend (except that one time I was a boyfriend-stealing backstabber) and the ambitious career woman (temporarily on hold).

At every stage, regardless whether I hated it or milked every second, I knew who I was and I was free to be "me."

But after my first, Jane, was born, I stopped being anyone or anything that I used to know.  For three months, I was what can only be described as a giant udder of liquid sustenance, good for nothing more than a sleepless shoulder to spit up on and an all-night eardrum to wail into.  Any semblance of my former selves were gone.

Pretty?  Sure - if you consider 30 pounds of mushy mom weight, blood-shot eyes and blotchy, sleep-deprived skin attractive.  Brainy?  Definitely - if you're talking a “mom brain” that boasts a two-second maximum short term recall and makes me put bananas in the freezer, socks in the microwave and the kettle in the fridge. Funny?  Well, at most, maybe funny-looking.

But I thought to myself,
"Okay, this is motherhood.  I'm a mom, and I'll take that any day over a shiny blowout, skinny jeans without a muffin top, and alone time for myself."

Then just as I had gotten used to the idea of being a mother:  *poof* it vanished.  A stranger came to my house every day to be a surrogate mother to my little girl while I dragged my zombie-self to work.

My colleagues (all men) had bets going on whether I would return after maternity leave and if I would continue working full-time.  Desperately hanging on to my old workaholic self, I set out to prove them wrong and to prove to myself that I hadn't become any "less" of a lawyer or a "worthless" mom in the workplace.  Even after getting knocked up three months back to work, suffering through six months of morning sickness and taking care of Jane - not yet even a year old, I kept grinding day and night and telling myself, “I’m a lawyer dammit; it’s what I do; it’s who I am.”

But when Sam was born and the sleeplessness and stress multiplied exponentially, I realized:  something had to give.  I couldn't be the old career only-focused "me" anymore.  I was a mom now, too – whatever that meant.

So I scaled back to a part-time schedule and gave up my hard-driving professional identity to focus more on my new emerging self:  a combination of part mom, part lawyer and random parts of my pre-children identities.  (No; none of the interesting ones like the backstabbing slut have made a reappearance!).

I still struggle to figure out how to be the best mom, the best attorney and the best “me,” after Jane and Sam blew my vision of who “I” was to smithereens.  There are days I wholeheartedly embrace my motherhood and would give anything to be a SAHM.  And then there are days I wish I could do exactly what Rizzuto did - reclaim my pre-babies life or be "that 1950s mother we idealize who was waiting in an apron with fresh cookies when we got off the school bus and wasn't too busy for anything we needed until we went to bed," like the part-time mom whom Rizzuto describes.

For me, sticking with my family during this process is the only acceptable choice.  For better or worse, Rizzuto had to leave her kids and husband to find herself and her happiness.  Redefining who she was within the cookie cutter confines of mainstream motherhood didn’t work for her and she bravely chose her own definition of motherhood on her own terms in order to preserve herself.

There’s nothing selfish in that.  We can put ourselves first without being cruel or being bad mothers.


“There is no need to worry about helping others.  Help yourself to be a happy person and you will end up helping others,”

a monk once told me.  His words have never been more apt.  Today, while I would sacrifice anything for my children, it's clear that completely giving up selfishness for selflessness would do our family more harm than good.  Rizzuto's so-called selfish choice may have been hard to swallow for some, but from where I sit, she's far from "human garbage" and you might even say, a "good mother."

~ The Outlaw Mom

Salt & Nectar thanks The Outlaw Mom for guest blogging today. The Outlaw Mom is officially a high-risk pregnancy, as her brother affectionately labeled her on her birthday this year.  She's been in the law game for over ten years and joined the ranks of Motherhood two years ago.  Not one to wait around for those good things that come in small packages, she had her two babies, Jane and Sam, more or less back to back.  At The Outlaw Mom, where she documents her daily life with Jane and Sam, you can witness firsthand her discovery of the laws of Motherhood and how she irreverently breaks them (often more than) one at a time. At The Verdict, she blogs about chasing the ever-elusive state known as "work-life balance."

Reader Comments (17)

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April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCira Chasin

I loved this post. I completely relate to that feeling of trying to "remember" who I was before I became a mom. What on Earth could be wrong with that? It doesn't make you "selfish" at all. My kids are growing up fast and while I am very blessed and enjoy being a SAHM now, I realize one day they will be off in the big bad world and where will I be then? I need to rediscover those parts of myself that brought me joy and passion in life. If that means going back to work (which I intend to do very soon) then fine. If I decided to stay hom, fine. My kids aren't going to suffer for it either way. They are happy and active and have their own lives, so why can't I? And if Mom is feeling more fulfilled in live and getting all she can out of it, that is a great example to teach her kids in my opinion.

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShe's a Maineiac

Thanks, She's a Maineiac! I wholeheartedly agree with you that a happy mom = happy kids. It's tough to get to that place, but that shouldn't stop us from trying :-)

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Outlaw Mom

[...] Read my take in today’s Salt & Nectar Guest Post “The Good Mother:  Selfless or Selfish?“ [...]

[...] Read my take (and see whether I qualify as a “good mother”) at Salt & Nectar’s blog here. [...]

Agree with all of the above. Here's the male perspective: I'm at work all the time. I miss time with my kids, but I hope someday they will see me as role-model and realize how hard I worked to give them a good life. No reason why moms can't do the same thing. Kids will be happier with fulfilled, successful parents.
Nice job Outlaw Mom!

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Absolutely. And we shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to have a life apart from our kids sometimes. We still love them dearly, we still make lots of sacrifices for them. That doesn't mean we have to completely give up our entire identity. I wrote a post about hiding in the bathroom and I couldn't believe the nasty comments I received insinuating that I should never have had have kids or I was a horrible mom...just for wanting five minutes to myself? Please!

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShe's a Maineiac

Great post. My wife works, and she struggles with many of these same issues constantly. There must always be a balance between putting your kids' needs first, and still being able to take care of yourself.

For myself, I struggle with the opposite question: can a non-working dad still be a good father? I try to be. But issues of identity and self-worth are always rearing their ugly heads.

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Silvey

Thanks, David and Jeff Silvey! I really do believe that this is not a gender issue - which the media has made it out to be. As parents and as humans, we all need to find the balance between being a life force and caretaker for someone else and keeping our own identities alive in the process.

Btw, glad I found your blog through this comment, Jeff :-) Nice stuff.

She's a Maineiac - your hiding in the bathroom post is what got me to your blog (http://miraclemama.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/quick-mom-run-and-hide/) and now every time I take an extra minute or two in the bathroom just for some peace and quiet away from the kids, I chuckle to myself thinking of your hilarious post!

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Outlaw Mom

great post, outlaw mom! i am a professional woman in my early 30s, contemplating kids at some point, but plagued by many of the same concerns that you describe--dilution of identity, loss of freedom & spontaneity, fatigue, un-sexiness. as more women are prioritizing their careers and putting off motherhood til later in life, these are important issues that should be recognized more publicly....and not left for women to privately grapple and torture ourselves with.

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternot a ma yet....

While I agree with your position, and relate to your post, I still think Rizzuto took putting herself first too far. I have lost myself in motherhood, struggling to find a new normal. The part I relate to the most is the swinging door of motherhood. Some days I dream of being a SAHM, idealizing it, and other days I run to work with a smile on my face that I can leave the house and get a day away from my kids, to be a professional woman with clear duties. I get so lost in motherhood, it involves a prodigious amount of multitasking, an amazing set of hats to wear, and no day is the same. Some days this is refreshing, other days, its exhausting, and disheartening, but nonetheless, my commitment to my children is always there. After all, they are the children, and I am the adult, capable of doing the right thing, even when I don't want to.
I think this perspective, and this distaste for Rizzuto's choice comes from my own personal history as a teenage Mom who had to put my life aside and become a parent. It was a difficult journey, one that forced me to leave myself behind before I'd even found myself. I admit to being a little envious of those like Rizzuto, and at the same time undeniably angry. I chose to put my kids first, and give up all my dreams, so why can't THEY? I also struggle with anger at these types of choices, having lost my nephew to SIDS when he was a mere 8 weeks. My twin sister and I have mourned the loss of our angel for 2 years now. I had my second child a week after he was born, and we had such plans for our "twins." To think anyone would purposely set aside something we've so tragically lost, angers me too. This has greatly colored my view of such matters. It has colored my whole life, really.
I've come to realize though, that in the end it is her choice, and no matter how selfish I think she is, it really isn't my place to judge. This realization has been brought about by many things, including your post. I know that not everyone's story/choice mirrors my own, and so as much as I would NEVER make a similar choice, I cannot dictate hers. Simple as that.

Anyways! Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer! I did rather enjoy this post, as it got me thinking, and challenged my view in such a disarming way! I can really relate to your loss of self in motherhood!

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermadmothermusings

not a ma yet, thanks for your comment! It really is easier to go through the process when you have friends, family or even the online community to help you through the process. As my mother said to me, it is "exquisite" that there's such a thing as blogging nowadays and that there are so-called "mommy blogs" so you don't have to go through everything alone, especially if you don't have loved ones or close friends nearby. It's a particularly difficult shift for new moms in their 30s and beyond who have been focused for so long on themselves and their careers. Personally, I had gotten so used to living alone and being able to do whatever I wanted - whether that meant 14 hour work days or spending my Sunday mornings in bed watching movies - that even marriage was an adjustment for me when we finally moved in together. You're not alone in thinking about all the issues you mentioned and trust me, once you have children, the issues don't get resolved - just more complicated!

madmothermusings - thanks for your wonderful comment and sharing your perspective on such a personal level: it's not Debbie Downer at all! I actually would not - make that could not - ever leave my children like Rizzuto did, but like you, I am resigned to not judging her or calling her names like so many did. Motherhood and the way anyone chooses to live their life, really, is different for everyone and has different consequences, positive and negative. To me, the controversy surrounding her personal choice was surprising given that there are children who are truly abandoned in the sense that they aren't clothed, fed, nurtured, loved, educated or they are physically or emotionally abused. Having a parent like Rizzuto, who appears to love her children and takes care of their well-being -- as best SHE knows how -- even if we all don't agree with her idea of parenting - seems to me the better alternative and not something to be so totally condemned.

April 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Outlaw Mom

I absolutely 100% relate to what you, Outlaw Mom and others have said thus far. As women, I think our essential nature IS to be multitaskers, to be juggling the various aspects of our visions of ourselves and to keep our families happy. I am a working professional mother, and I believe that the pull of being a SAHM and a 'free' hard-driving professional hot on the career path are a very integral yin and yang in my life. In some ways I do feel blessed that I haven't had to choose either or. In the end, most women will gravitate to the needs of our families, and I applaud those who can recognize and pursue what they believe they need to lead a balanced, fulfilling life.

April 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

Thanks for your comment, Caroline! Good to know there are others out there in the same boat :-)

April 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Outlaw Mom

Nice post outlaw mom. I am on the flipside of this issue as a lawyer dad struggling to make work/life balance work. Glad I found a commiserating blog to see how it being done.

April 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercgrewe

[...] been fans of the Outlaw Mom for a while now, which is why we shared her awesomeness with you back in April. From her Crave It. Covet. Love It. weekly shopping feature to the immensely [...]

i am Mrs mercy i am hear to give testimony of how i got back my husband, we got married for more than 2 years and have gotten two kids. thing were going well with us and we are always happy. until one day my husband started to behave in a way i could not understand, i was very confused by the way he treat me and the kids. later that month he did not come again and he called me that he want a divorce, I asked him what have i done wrong to deserve this from him, all he was saying that he want a divorce and that he hates me and do not want to see me again in his life, i was mad and also frustrated do not know what to do,i was sick for more than 2 weeks because of the divorce. i love him so much he was everything to me without him my life is incomplete. i told my sister and she told me to contact a spell caster, i never believe in all this spell casting of a thing. i just
want to try if something will come out of it. I contacted DR. omoba for the return of my husband to me, they told me that my husband have been taken by another woman that she cast a spell on him that is why he hates me and also want us to divorce. then they told me that they have to cast a spell on him that will make him return to me and the kids, they cast the spell and after 3 days my husband called me
and he told me that i should forgive him, he settled to apologize on phone and said that he still love me that he did not know what happen to him that he left me. it was the spell that the Dr omoba shrine casted on him that made him comeback to me today,me and my family are now happy again today. thank you DR. omoba for what you have done for me i would have been nothing today if not for your great spell. i want
you my friends who are passing through this kind of love problem of getting back their husband, wife , or ex boyfriend and girlfriend to contact dromobaspellhome@gmail.com and you will see that your problem will be solved.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermercy

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