The Trepidation of Urban Motherhood

photo by Michael ComeauPhoto Credit: Michael Comeau, Creative Commons

I am thinking more often and more actively about what it looks like to be a mom in the city.

I am asking more questions of friends who are moms, babysitting for friends, and finally picking up books that talk about child-rearing. I should know by now… this is how I do things. I am a researcher and fact-gatherer at heart. I want to be fully informed on whatever is my current topic of interest. I want to discuss it with anyone who will listen, and then eventually at some point, I feel ready for what is next.

In my first year of marriage, I swore there would be no babies until 2015. I was just figuring out how to be a wife and reside in the shadow of NYC, and at the time the idea of also figuring out how to be a mom was utterly terrifying. There were things I wanted to do and see, milestones I wanted to hit and goals I wanted to accomplish. Last year as I was seeing many of my friends become moms, I was staving off the baby rabies but thoughtfully and prayerfully considering my stance on the appropriate timing for us to have kids. 

As we celebrated Moms this past Sunday, I watched some sentimental viral videos and read some great articles, but none moved me more than Shauna Neiquest’s tribute, What My Mother Taught Me. As I read it, I felt hope swell in my chest. Her words struck a chord that reverberated through my soul. I was so encouraged by Shauna’s telling of her mother’s story of how she was an incredibly gifted and passionate woman, but how due to the demands of life she didn’t fully realize and embrace her holistic calling until late in life. Now she encourages her daughter and other women:

I am grateful that as I have chosen to lean into my own true life, I am now able to give [my daughter] something I couldn’t give her before. But if I had it to do over, I would not have waited so long. I would not have robbed her of the model of an authentically alive mother.”

If I am honest, the largest reason I have not been ready for children is because I have no idea how to achieve being both a successful mom and a writer.

I am terrified that I will screw it all up, that I will end up sacrificing one or the other – that I can not have both a child and a career without serious repercussions. There is a part of me that worries I will be required to give up what I love and feel compelled to do in order to love my husband and children well. I do not want to lose my identity – the person I have become over the last nearly three decades – and become relegated to just “Mom.” I am encouraged by those that have gone before me, and they have figured out how to make it work. But I do not have very many people in my current local circle to look to for this particular bi-vocational ambition.

Add to all of this the particularly stressful financial concerns of surviving with the high cost of living in the New York City area, and I can quickly find myself in a mental tailspin. How will we ever afford to even rent a two bedroom apartment in Hoboken? Does choosing to live here mean I will never own a house? This is probably compounded by the oft-asked question:

Do you really think you’ll stay there?

My mental picture of motherhood has most often subconsciously reflected my own suburban upbringing, but that way of life is no longer my context. I love and value my city life, being minutes from fantastic food and culture around the corner, but I worry that as I have children I’ll start to want something different. I worry that my heart will change, that I will tire of the urban lifestyle, that I will want to have more space and room to breathe. These aren’t bad things in and of themselves, but they can end up being contradictory to the life and mission we have committed to live.

I guess that ultimately, much like tying your life to someone else’s, it requires a giant leap of faith and trust that we will figure it out along the way. I know that I can easily let fear paralyze me, so this is me facing and fighting through it. I don’t want to allow fear to rule my decisions, but rather, HOPE and LOVE. If the life we love and we have built together here over the last four years is the one we are meant to life, we will find and create ways to make it work, even with our kids… right?

How do you (or those you know) balance both career and parenthood? Any parenting wisdom from urban dwellers?

16 thoughts on “The Trepidation of Urban Motherhood

  1. After becoming an urban work from home mom 5 years ago, I was desperate to find others to learn from to balance my roles well. There is not a lot of solid teaching, especially from a Christian perspective. I have struggled and loved all of my roles during the different seasons of motherhood and work projects. Let me know if you’d like to grab coffee and talk.

    1. Erin, I would love to talk more about this with you. After some of our previous discussions, you are one of the people I had in mind writing this post! It encourages me to know there are at least a couple families committed to being planted here. I’m so grateful for community – without it, I would surely crack under the pressure of living life in NYC!

      1. You can thrive in all stages of life, but you can’t fulfill all passions at the same time. You also can’t give 100% to every priority in your life. After relationship with God, with my husband, with my kids and friends and family, work comes last. Every time I talk to my boss about the work that’s getting done/not getting done I am shocked they are happy with what’s been accomplished. I’m really doing a good job in my work even though it’s getting the leftovers? One book I’ve read that I like some of is, “The Life Ready Woman: Thriving in a Do-It-All World” by Shaunti Feldhahn.

      2. Putting work last is so countercultural in our culture, and counterintuitive as a human being! I don’t know how many times I’ve had to revisit the theme of “you are not your work” over the last four years. Just when I seem to have finally reached a place where I am accepting and embracing that, I’m sure I will have to learn it all over again as a mom with career ambitions. Thanks for the book suggestion – I’ll add it to the reading list!

  2. Erika, I was speaking with another working mother and we discussed the inward turmoil that we deal with on a daily basis. We are conflicted because our hearts are in two places–both at home with our children and in our careers. There is no perfect solution, but rather I have to pray that God will bring contentment into my life. If you find some good advice, send it my way!

    1. It’s strange, because I guess I used to think I’d have somewhat of an “out” if I tried to work from home. I’d be home and working, but still with my kids! Everybody wins! But that’s not necessarily going to be the case. I may not work 40 hours a week in an office, but if I plan to write, even if it is just for this beloved little blog, I will still be juggling. Keeping you and all the other mamas in mind who are striving to strike a balance!

  3. I have wondered and asked all of these things before! (I realize that may sound premature). Do I have to give up one side of me to have the other? Can both flourish at the same time?

    1. Well, not THAT premature… you’ll be a married woman in four months! Clearly, I’ve been wrestling with these questions for at least 3-4 years now as a married person without children. I think this issue is held under a particularly strong microscope for women in the NYC area, and highlighted at every opportunity by the media. I suspect it will take much failure and much grace to have both kids and work that flourish.

  4. I love this discussion. Thank you Erika for being vulnerable and taking a risk by sharing. I can relate to all the questions and really love that you’ve captured the heart of women in society today by asking them. the beauty is that in Faith God is true and amazing and provides answers in the most surprising and encouraging ways. I look forward to hearing what you and the other readers discover as He reveals answers to you as He has for me. Starting with, while He may have created us in ways that makes us capable of doing it all it doesn’t mean we have to do it all at once.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Susi. I suspect I still have a lot to learn when it comes to daily relying on God for “His power to be made perfect in [my] weakness.” (I may have a slight issue with perfectionism!) Motherhood will certainly be a breeding ground for humility and will provide ample opportunities to listen to God!

  5. I suppose Knoxville doesn’t count as urban but I have done the working mom, stay at home mom and work from home mom and they all came with their own struggles and heartaches. I despised working outside the home when I did and was quite miserable so I knew I wanted to stay home. When I strictly stayed home I felt almost as though motherhood and homemakeing was smothering me and that my education, talents and capabilities were being wasted so I decided to work from home. I started doing that and it was a struggle to find the balance of it all but we are making it work by sticking to a very structured schedule of work and family life. Somedays I sti want to I back to work full time or just stay home, which makes the old adage, “the grass is greener…” Even more true. (: you might have to experience all of the roles like I did before you find what works for y’all but honestly, whatever you decide just remember it is ONLY for a season and it won’t stay that way forever. It is literally a mantra I repeat multiple times a day- a good reminder to take this day and moment with Carter and treasure it but also to look forward to the adventure that lies ahead.

    1. There are certainly areas of Knoxville that count as urban 😉 But the working mom thing seems to be becoming even more universal! Thanks for sharing your experience – I always appreciate and value your feedback. Creating the structure to have both a work and family life will be a real challenge if I work from home – hello, BOUNDARIES – but I am glad to know there are others who are making it work! This is where I suspect having a supportive partner in these endeavors will make all the difference.

  6. Erika-
    Would you believe me if I told you I literally wrote a “pros and cons” list of having a baby now verse later? Truth be told, on paper, the odds were not in Watson’s favor (pinky swear you will never tell him ok). But two years later, here Ryan and I stand with the best decision of our life together.

    My role as a working mother is not dissimilar to that of a circus ringleader. There are so many interdependent things going on at one time, just when I think I have it all together the “animals” start acting out, and somehow miraculously the show comes together (most of the time).

    What helps me the most is having a good support system. That includes a husband who equally if not more splits the household duties, a kicka$$ nanny (yay ashie!), and friends and family to help burden the extra load. I mean who needs a two bedroom apt anyways? The sleeper sofa is working just fine for us 😉

    Anytime you wanna pick my brain feel free!

    1. Melissa, thank you so much for your input on this! I love that you wrote a pros and cons list, but that Watson made it here anyway 🙂 I know that when the time comes, raising our kids is something we won’t be able to (or have to) do alone. I am so grateful to know there is a community of wise, faith-driven, and many working mamas here in Hoboken to learn from.

  7. Erika, I absolutely LOVE how much you think about this. I don’t think I put much thought into it and BOY was in for a shock when it all unfolded 5 years ago. I have learned that for me I can’t have it all … DEF not at the same time and not in peace. I have learned that seasons come and go quickly (an invaluable lesson). That there will be times when certain passions of mine will get more attention than others. I would be lying if I said there haven’t been days where I looked into a mirror and wondered who this new person is looking back at me. This new person still has the same passions but she has evolved, she has changed, she has grown. However when I look deep (some days you have to look REAAALLY deep) I see she is at peace (actually feeling that peace daily…well that’s a different story :). You too will find that balance. My biggest and greatest support is Chris. I honestly don’t think he has ever NOT encouraged me chasing a passion of mine. We have a mutual trust. If I say its something I want to pursue he trusts I have thought it through and vice versa. The trust is based on the fact that we both want to love and honor God first and our family second. Knowing Nick and knowing how crazy he is about you, I know Nick will be involved and active in making sure you feel balanced. No, it won’t be easy, there will be trials and errors ESPECIALLY in the beginning. There will be moments better than others but I trust you will find it, lose it and then find it again 🙂
    Your passion of writing, communicating, loving, reading ALL that can still be done once you are a mom. Maybe it will look different. Maybe it won’t be as top notch as it currently is. Or maybe it will be the muse that fuels your best writing yet. Either way, I’m looking fwd to it! Love you!

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