What’s Your Threshold?


We all have different thresholds for what we can handle as working moms.

I often think of my friend’s mom. Her family chose to have one child because, bluntly, her mom was “easily overwhelmed”. Her working parents knew their limitations. They were good with one, not more.

On the opposite end, my paternal grandparents had nine kids. NINE. I think of this often too. Of course, it was a different time then. For example, my Memere didn’t have a license, so no one got rides anywhere. They lived in a walkable neighborhood with a pharmacy, grocery store, and other necessities nearby. They walked, rode bikes, hitched a ride with Pepere, or just didn’t go. As the older kids aged, they were able to help with the young’uns. (Memere’s OB/GYN advised her to stop having children after six, but she kept on it. Guess she felt she had capacity for a few more! Or, more likely, birth control was frowned upon by the church.)

Like many kids in the ‘60s, my dad and his siblings weren’t involved in official after-school activities. They played hard in the street and town parks, but no one was waiting for Memere to drive them to practice, and she sure as hell wasn’t chaperoning much with a litter of children at home. As for work, she made extra cash as a seamstress her entire life.

Only two more kids to go!
Only two more kids to go! (My dad is front and center)

My mom is one of six. Starting as a newlywed at 19, my Grandma had them all by the ripe age of 27. Shortly thereafter, she legally separated from her husband in an era when very few women did this, even if they were married to abusive alcoholics. Years later, my Grandma defied her Catholic priest, who assuredly declared she couldn’t make it on her own. And for a while, she couldn’t. At a low point, she enlisted her cousins, siblings, and family friends to each take a child for a summer until she could get on her feet. She visited them as much as she could, and she once told me that her “arms ached for her babies”. All of them. (She also told me that she loved babies and teenagers, but wasn’t so thrilled with the ages in between – ha!)

My Grandma, who mostly stayed home but worked some evening shifts as a young mother, joined the workforce as a switchboard operator, secretary, and church assistant out of necessity. Although they were broke for a long time, she made a series of wise decisions that, in time, turned her fate around.

She rented out their house while the family downsized to smaller apartments. When they were able to move back in, she rented bedrooms to flight attendants to help pay the mortgage, and painted one side of her house herself every year, so that it never needed a full paint job. As her children grew and moved out, my Grandma climbed the professional ladder, traveled abroad, and eventually retired in a comfortable lakeside house.

I have no idea how she knew how to make it work. She was a single woman with six kids, and no college degree. My Grandma’s tenacity and will runs through my veins – I aim to be as determined as she was, and I think of her frequently.

Some days I feel overwhelmed by the demands of working full-time with two kids and a great partner. Other days, I like to fathom – simply fathom – what having more kids would look like. Not six or nine; that’s crazy. But I consider how different expectations of raising a family are now, compared to a few generations ago. I think of all of the shit we feel pressured to do, to fit modern perceptions of motherhood. I think of what it means for women to be integrated into the workforce. And I’m so damn grateful for birth control.

8 comments on “What’s Your Threshold?”

  1. Its amazing isn’t it? All the different choices people make and the ways they make those choices work. I always wanted a fourth but my wife (the primary child-carer) wasn’t on board so 3 it is. 3 years later, I’m finally coming to terms with it and feeling like we have the right number for us. Great piece!

  2. Almost immediately after I had my first two children, I knew I wanted more. I can’t say the same about the time period after my third. There was no debating that we were DONE. It is interesting to hear how others came to the same decision for their families. Great piece!

  3. EXCELLENT read. I have 2 and wonder about 4 (even though that will not be happening after the snip snip my husband quickly had after our second). But I can’t help but think of my own threshold, how people make it work, success stories like that of your grandma, and just how different times are…great read and great story. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kristin! Truly, every family is different. Neighbors just had their fourth, and I thought WOW. Some of my friends are DONE after one. Different strokes 😉

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