The Washington Post

Not my mother’s world: Taking different roads to motherhood

Diana Reese helping her mother, Carole Reese, read the local newspaper. (Family photo)

I felt like Betty Crocker’s daughter growing up. My mother had won the General Mills Homemaker of Tomorrow Award for the state of Missouri in 1955 when she was a senior in high school.

It was appropriate: From the time she was a little girl, she dreamed of getting married and raising a family.

The award came with a college scholarship, so she enrolled at what is now Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. There she met my dad, a Korean War veteran. They married and raised two children.

She did work part-time occasionally to help supplement my dad’s salary as a mailman. She taught piano lessons, sold Avon and was a substitute teacher, but she was always home when we needed her and she made dinner every night.

She also wrote several first-person humorous essays for “Kitchen Klatter” magazine, published in Iowa.

I think I was 8 years old when she sold the first piece. There was her story in print, along with her byline (though she might not call herself a feminist, she included her maiden name). And they sent her a check!

Without intending to do it, she fueled my career ambitions.

Although I was state runner-up in that same General Mills contest – renamed “Family Leader” instead of “Homemaker” by the 1970s, I rebelled against my mother’s aspiration of marriage and motherhood.

I went away to journalism school at the University of Missouri in Columbia and then had a series of jobs, moving up the editorial ladder to a position with Whittle Communication in Knoxville, Tenn.

For three and a half years, that job was my life.

But after I turned 30, I started wondering. Is this it?

I moved back to Missouri, supported myself with freelance writing and looked for Mr. Right, who remained stubbornly elusive. Getting pregnant accidentally during the summer when I was 33 changed everything. Halfway through my pregnancy, I met a man who fell in love with both me and the baby. We married, he legally adopted our daughter, and we had a son together.

I did continue to freelance part-time: I remember doing a phone interview with a pediatric emergency physician for an article on first-aid while nursing my infant daughter to keep her quiet.

The doctor asked about the baby he’d heard who was no longer fussy. I explained and I swear he blushed over the phone.

My dad’s unexpected death just six weeks after his diagnosis of multiple myeloma made me reconsider trying to combine work and motherhood. My son was only five months old, my daughter six years and growing up fast. I was tired of writing about health and medical issues, my specialty in those days. My husband’s salary had doubled from what it was when we were first married. We didn’t need the money I could make from a few articles that always seemed to disrupt our lives.

I became my mother. I embraced the life of the stay-at-home mom with a vengeance, cooking dinner every night, taking my daughter to dance lessons, watching my son’s baseball games, baking cupcakes from scratch as I volunteered for room mother every year.

But the year I used Microsoft Publisher to write a Christmas newsletter, complete with headlines, photos and captions, I knew it was time to get back to work, at least part-time.

Then in 2008, my husband was laid off from the job he’d had for nearly 20 years, taking pay cuts as he learned new skills in other positions. Work for me became a financial necessity.

It’s not easy. Next Friday, do I cover first lady Michelle Obama’s speech in Topeka, Kan. or do I help my daughter move out of her college apartment?

I constantly juggle. I try to cram everything in but I feel much more frazzled and sleep-deprived than my mom ever did.

I look at friends who never stopped working and feel envy for the career I could have had.

Then I look at my kids – and as schmaltzy as it sounds, it’s true – I realize, that for me, I made the right decisions.

Women told us about how their lives differed from their mothers’, particularly in the professional space. Read about how expectations, choices and opportunities changed across generations: Not my mother’s world.


Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

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