Back then I wrote grants and developed programs and came up with evaluation plans. I was trained to look for innovative methods for defining progress.
It’s nice to know how your work measures up, and it looks good on paper. But in the world of social work, it’s more than just nice: it’s critical. It’s how you defend the need for your job when the dollars are scarce.
I evaluated our work in several ways: progress notes. Feedback from clients. An annual performance review. When I gave presentations I passed out evaluation forms, little scales and fill-in-the-blanks that told me how effective I’d been. There were quality assurance teams. Committees. There were boards of directors to oversee it all.
There were surprises, good and bad. But I usually knew exactly where I stood. I made a difference every day and it felt good.
The day I gave birth to my daughter everything changed. I’d crossed the threshold, suddenly, from social worker- working mom- to stay-at-home mom. The days were long and there was no break for lunch. There was no office, no way to close that door to the world. My tiny coworkers weren’t interested in the book I was reading or my clearance-bought shoes. And perhaps the most jarring thing of all was this: there was no one to tell me if I was doing it right.
As a mom those measures of success are harder to define.
In the weeks after the birth of my daughter I struggled to quantify my time. I kept a log of soiled diapers and took notes when she slept. I was opposed to putting my newborn on any kind of schedule, believing it was best for her to lead the way. I even sent emails to my husband to prove to him that I was working hard:
7:30-7:45 Nursing (she fell asleep)
7:45-8:30 Made breakfast for the boys, cleaned
8:30-10:00 More nursing on and off, played with boys
I was searching for a supervisor, not used to being on my own. I needed his feedback like a performance review. Eventually my rational mind rose to the surface and I regained my footing, but for weeks I was out of control, all willy nilly and wild.
That’s precisely the point. Motherhood can’t be standardized. It doesn’t translate well. There are no checklists or inventories or performance reviews. So much is beyond our control. There are scraped knees and heartaches, failures and friendships betrayed. There are time-outs and messes made and candy stolen from the corner store.
But as mothers, there is also this: a lap to sit on. A storybook. A lesson from our own experience to soothe the heart.
There may not be measures for defining success like there are in the world of work, but there are guideposts along the way.
There are pats on the back. Encouraging words. Silent nods from experienced moms in the grocery store during a blow-out toddler tantrum. There is mother’s intuition. There are the stories of other women. There’s an invisible line connecting the hearts of every mother throughout time.
Working at a job and working at motherhood require different skills and lean on different parts of the brain. I may not be in an office with a door. A desk. Four chairs. A bookshelf.
But I still have a window, and I can see all the way to their futures from here.
Photo Credit: Aussiegall/Flickr
Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.