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Settling for Second Best
I cook. I carpool. I volunteer. I do everything for my daughter. So, of course, her role model is … her dad?
On my way to volunteering for PTA duty at my 13-year-old daughter’s middle school, I saw a picture of her staring at me from the main school bulletin board, and it stopped me in my tracks. Marina is the school’s student-body president, and she was featured along with the other council members. In the picture, she had a confident smile and that “I can do anything” look I’ve seen on her face so many times before. Curious, I read the profile below her photo and smiles at her answers. “Favorite food: sushi. Favorite sport: soccer.” Then, “Role model: my dad.” I did a double take and peered closer. Surely it said “my mom,” too? Nope. Just two lonely words: “my dad.”
Half of me swelled with pride, knowing I’d made the right choice of a husband and father to my children.
The other half of me screamed, Wait a minute – how come I’m not her role model also?
Yes, my husband, Mike, is a generous and loving father. But I’m the Room Mom and the Team Mom! I chaired a school fundraiser that took months of preparation! I plan all the birthday parties! I scour cook-books for nutritious dinner recipes! And who’s there for the kids every day when they come home from school? Me!
But I don’t bring home the bacon – and I had to wonder if that’s why Marina chose her dad. After all, his successful career has provided us with a nice home, extravagant vacations and private sports clubs for her and her little brother. Also, Mike works hard at a career he enjoys, something we have taught our children to value and take pride in. He also devotes almost all his free time to his kids.
Of course, he doesn’t spend as much time with them as I do. I became a stay-at-home mom when my daughter was born – a role I never expected to have and one that, like many women in my position, left me conflicted. I felt blessed to be with my new baby, but I was also terribly lonely. I had sacrificed not only my career as a teacher, but also all my friends and my social network. I missed my students and the sense of purpose I got from my job. Every morning, I watched Mike with envy as he left for work. Little had changed for him. He still got to interact with adults and attend leisurely business dinners with uninterrupted grown-up conversation. Me? I went to the library for toddler reading time and sang “The Wheels on the Bus” at Mommy & Me classes.
But soon enough I grew accustomed to full-time motherhood and it became my life. I wasn’t a paid teacher anymore, but I was still teaching two young people to become kind, conscientious, responsible individuals. In other words, I was Supermom – and some say my kids would appreciate me for it!
Apparently, though, today is not that day. The evidence was right up there on that bulletin board.
I was disappointed, to say the least. Maybe more than I should’ve been -after all, any time teenagers say something nice about their parents, it’s practically cause for a parade – but what can I say? When I saw my husband’s name on that board instead of mine, I was disappointed. Still, “disappointed” was nothing compared to how my girlfriends reacted when I brought up the subject recently over lunch. They were both shocked. “I would have been pissed off if my daughter didn’t name me,” one said. We spent the rest of our lunch discussing the qualities that made someone a role model. By the end, I found myself defending my daughter’s choice of her dad.
I probably shouldn’t let it go after that, but the issue kept nagging at me. So finally, I went straight to the source.
When I worked up the nerve to ask Marina why she chose her dad, she looked surprised. Ever the diplomat, she said I was her role model, too, and she didn’t know why she hadn’t included me. Now I was making her feel bad, so I threw in the towel. “You spoke from your heart when you chose your dad,” I said, “and that’s what’s important.”
I may have swallowed my pride – or pretended to – but part of me will always wonder why this beautiful young woman didn’t choose her mother as her model for womanhood. But I think I’m finally getting over it. Because I have gotten to thinking more about role models lately I’m proud to say I have two in my life: my husband, because he is pretty amazing, and my daughter, because she’s got a marvelous independent streak that keeps even her mother guessing.
By Tina Elmore, Newsweek, January 26, 2009