The Black, the White, the Gra| May 23, 2023
I spoke to my friends (#bossmoms). Almost all of them were going. Most didn’t even understand why I was hesitating
When I received the invitation to the business conference, I was excited, but also confused.
My business had been open only a few years, and I knew it had a lot of room to grow. I deliberately hadn’t taken it there, though. I had a whole brood of little children at home who needed my love and attention, and I was determined from the start to keep my family front and center.
But baruch Hashem my product had been steadily gaining popularity, and was bringing in solid revenues. I was excited at the idea of meeting other likeminded frum women, who knew what it was like juggling family and a business.
The conference program sounded wonderful. It would be a full-day event, held in a luxury hotel, featuring expos, business trainings by famous experts, and a networking dinner.
Oh, and the hotel was four hours away. I’d have to sleep over the night before and the night of the conference.
I spoke to my friends (#bossmoms). Almost all of them were going. Most didn’t even understand why I was hesitating.
“You need to have a self, an independent identity, self-care… it’s what makes you you,” was basically what I heard, in varying disapproving and all-knowing tones.
Part of me desperately wanted to go. The idea of getting away, enjoying adult company, having a night off (two!) from 12 a.m. night terrors and hectic morning marathons and long afternoons spent running after hyper kids was tantalizing.
I was still uneasy about it, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. So I signed up and came home bouncing with excitement.
But the second I told my husband about my decision and saw the silent disapproval in his eyes, I understood. I found my own disquiet mirrored in his expression, and I finally realized what was bothering me. Going away overnight for the conference would be a silent admission that much as I may have liked to claim otherwise, I wasn’t mainly a wife and mother. That my business had value in and of itself, and not just as a necessary measure to earn money.
In the face of his disappointment, all my latent conflicting feelings rose to the fore, popping open like a jar of olives. It wasn’t just about the logistics of the event. It was the fundamental conflict I was grappling with: Who was I really?
Sometimes, as I build and nurture the working woman in me, shadows form over the mother part of me, the part I used to hold as a supreme ideal.
I knew what happened when I slipped into my working role. I had to sell my business, sell myself. I dressed the part, in my houndstooth blazer and pleated skirt, with lace-up booties and wavy wig. I talked the talk, and perfected my “businesswoman voice.” I was cute, strong, knowledgeable, sweet, and friendly all at once.
But somehow, that power, that persona, created a dissonance with the woman I was at home. I was someone else all day. Not a woman, a businesswoman. And sometimes, after a long day of work, I would see that persona seep into my afternoons.
I’d find myself impatient with banal activities like building blocks and doing baths. I felt resentful that I always had to handle the home front, the kids, and the cooking, and the laundry, while my husband got to go out and learn. And the take-charge attitude I prided myself on at work somehow didn’t jibe with what I’d learned about tzniyus.
I fought my conscience. I told myself I needed to develop this other side of myself. And I had to work — we needed the income — so why shouldn’t I do things all the way?
And now, the conference….
I wanted to go. I wanted to revel in the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself, something grander than cleaning up spills, and even something bigger than my office in my garage where I worked in isolation.
I told myself that networking and joining events like these would prevent me from feeling burned-out at home. Give me new energy. Allow me to keep my business small and still feel sippuk.
But I didn’t totally believe that.
I was afraid I would meet all these successful women who were actively growing their businesses, and feel confused and conflicted, unsure of myself and my choices. Would any of the other participants value that my current business load allowed me to take off when a child was sick and be around when my three-year-old got home from playgroup at three?
I so badly wanted and needed what work provided for me. It was fun and exciting and stimulating. And I wanted the thrill that going to the conference would give me. The validation that I was talented, valuable, able to accomplish and succeed. There was so much to gain. And really, was there that much to lose?
But really, in that still quiet place where you hear your inner truth, I knew there was.
Each step I take delving further into that world takes me one step further from who I truly am, my essence as a wife and mother. Every moment spent absorbing the thrill corporate culture has to offer hampers my ability to be present with my kids. It creates a film, frosting my vision of my goals, my feelings of success when I do bedtime calmly, when I kiss my kids good-night, and listen to them yap about their day.
Sometimes, when I sit in my slinky skirt and snood (but still wearing makeup and my favorite diamond studs), watching my kids rollerblade around the driveway, I put my phone away and join in their fun.
I provide running commentary: “Wow, you got your right foot, now your left and… whew, you fell… that’s okay. We get back up again. Let me kiss your boo-boo.”
In those moments, I know I’m doing what I was created to do. I want this more than anything. I’m building humans, creating worlds, serving as Hashem’s messenger to help my children go forth into the world. In those moments, I know I am more powerful than the most successful businessman.
Can I propose a new movement? “Make mothers great again.” Women should be valued, cherished as women. No one in the world can have a child and provide for a child like a mother. No one in the world can give a husband what he needs like a wife.
A woman is the moon, a reflection of Hashem. But if I fill myself with light, I can’t reflect His.
Sometimes, it’s hard. When I feel like I’m waning, not so much more than a sliver, it’s hard to feel like I am so special, the purest vessel to embody Hashem’s light.
I want to go to the conference. But I shouldn’t. Or maybe I should?
The choice isn’t black-and-white. There are so many hues of iridescent color, and I can scarcely tell them apart. But I hope that when I choose, I choose white.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 844)
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