And you Jen? Do you work? Ahhhhh I can feel it coming from a mile away. That dreaded question that every stay at home mom fears, usually asked in a social situation while standing next to her husband - the worker. Over the past 15 years I have been asked that question more times than I could ever count. I don’t think any (or at least most) of them ever asked trying to be rude or condescending, I really do believe they were either genuinely curious or just trying to make conversation. So if that was the case then what I needed to accept was that the dread, avoid at all costs and even embarrassment I sometimes felt when that question was asked came solely from me, no one else.
I have always thought of my husbands career as something WE did, together. His passion and gift was so contagious I suppose I kind of took it on as my own.
At first I could say I was on maternity leave, then that ran out (one year in Canada everyone, the rest of the world should follow that lead) and I was left saying, “umm, well I did, then I had a baby and I'm just staying home with him for now” then I had another baby and another and another. I could have gone back to work between them and then again after I knew I was done - but I didn't. When we first moved to America our first son had just been born and I was only here on a spousal visa which meant I could legally live here but could not legally work. I got used to staying at home with my first two and as hard as it was I enjoyed the routine we fell into.
My husband travelled so much I couldn't wrap my head around me working too and having to juggle child care between us AND a 3rd party. It was just so much easier for my only commitment to be to my children, we decided jointly that I would be at home with them until they went to school. Even after I finally became a permanent resident and was allowed to work, the thought of going back truly never crossed my mind. Who on earth would organize, drive, feed, bath and take care of my family? How on earth did people do all of that AND have a full time job? How would I travel with my husband? It was a concept I could just never grasp, at least if I wanted to keep my sanity and my children in tact.
It was never just HIS dream, it was OUR dream. The "WORKER" has to see the "NON-WORKER" as part of the equation in their success in order for BOTH to be happy.
So many days I would question if I was doing the right thing. So many times I thought, “really? is this what I spent 4 years getting a University degree for”? “Diapers 101” and “How to prevent a temper tantrum in aisle 8” were not courses offered where I went to school. How did I qualify for this job anyways? It is by far the hardest thing I could ever imagine doing. I have threatened my kids more than once (I admit it wasn't my finest moment), “Mom is just going to get a job and let someone else take care of you if you don’t appreciate what I do” - they’ll probably need therapy later in life for that but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
It really is like running a small business even though many days it feels like the inmates have taken over the asylum. Clearly I am outnumbered, especially when my husband is gone!
One night (of not a particularly great day) I remember saying to my husband, “Imagine if you spent all day at work, trying your best to accommodate everyone else, making their life and their job easier. Trying to ensure they had the best day possible, only to have them leave the office that day sulking and moaning about how hard and unfair their job was and it was YOU they held responsible’? Well you get the comparison I was trying to make. It may be full of joy and laughs on most days but there are equal amounts of days when you seriously question if it would be easier to get your 3 year old down for a nap or perform open heart surgery, blindfolded.
As much as I enjoyed being home with my kids, some days I would yearn for that feeling of being amongst adults again, using my brain, being praised for my wisdom and skills. Even though I knew my husband worked hard and traveling was tiring and stressful, I would envy the alone time he had - away from the house, babies, laundry, diapers, melt downs. I yearned for that feeling of being appreciated for my hard work, my efforts. When you become a Mom you learn quickly to shelf those expectations. It’s a rare day your child looks at you and says, “Mom, you have gone above and beyond today, we are lucky to have you as part of our team.” Forget it, not happening. But holy smokes do you remember the first time your child looked at you and said, “I love you”? You may have been sleep deprived and un-showered but did you not feel like you had just won the Nobel prize for Mothering? Clearly, you were doing something right, they did love you AFTER ALL.
This guilt we feel, constantly questioning whether we are doing the right thing. To go back to work or not? How do you decide to go back to work full time and not worry if you are missing out on your kids? How do you stay at home and not worry you are giving up on yourself? Not setting a good example for your own daughter to be an independant woman? How do we know if when our kids are grown we will not look back on the choice to work or not was the right one? For us? For our family? We can’t know, hence the guilt and self doubt. We go with our gut, maybe we go with our circumstances instead because they don't give us the option to choose.
Last year my youngest went to Kindergarten and I was finally a stay at home Mom who had her days free with all her kids in school. Oh how I had waited for this, longed for it, all this time to MYSELF. The first week of school (not gonna lie) was bliss - so much time alone and with other adults, it’s like I had crossed the stay at home mom finish line. You know the one where champagne, leisurely lunches, a perfectly maintained home and dinner on the table at 5 awaited everyone? Or did it?
I remember on multiple occasions saying to my husband, my friends, myself… “When all the kids are in school I will go back to work. Not what I did before but something that I enjoy, I’m using this time to figure out what I’ll do”. I envied the people I knew who had a “passion”, something they were undeniably good at and something they loved to do - OF COURSE they would one day return to that, how could they not? I would take the time of being at home raising my kids to figure out mine, to find my passion.
And so the second week of Kindergarten came and the oddest feeling came over me that I couldn't make sense of. I wasn't celebrating on the other side of the finish line like I thought I would be but I also wasn't desperate to cross back over it. Sure I missed my kids… and I did realize that a chapter in my life had come to an end but that wasn't it either. Every day I felt like every conversation I had I was on the brink of tears and I swear I could not understand why. Then one day someone said, “how are you liking having all your kids in school? what are you going to do now”? and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had forgotten. I’d forgotten to make a plan, to figure it out. I’d had 14 years to decide what to do, to start, to make my OWN - and I didn’t, I had no plan. How had I let this happen? How was I going to start now? I would literally be blowing the dust off my resume. What would I say?
Please list your biggest strengths:
- making 4 different meals at the same time (short order cook?)
- stain removal (crime scene clean up?)
- driving back and forth to the same location multiple times a day (chauffeur?)
- birthday party planner extraordinarre (chuck e cheese?)
- whispering / threatening in a low and scary voice (hostage negotiator?)
None of the career choices I saw that matched my current strengths appealed to me (shocker) and it was time for me to figure something out. I don’t do well sitting still, feeling like I don’t have a purpose throughout my day, feeling like I haven't accomplished something. I suppose this blog, my Instagram was my first step down that path. My attempt to connect with other women who may be feeling the same way. What I have realized is that you don't need a paycheck (although it would be nice) to say that you WORK.
Not technically working over the last 15 years has allowed me to learn and experience things I would never have had the chance to if I'd gone back to my office. It has allowed me to tap into a creative side I didn't know even existed before then. I found a love in decorating, party planning, travelling, photography, fitness, cooking, creative thinking! Who would have thought? Not me.
If you have found your balance, found your answer to the motherhood / work balance than be thankful because I would imagine it would be like finding a pot of gold. If you have found total peace with being a stay at home Mom or being a full-time working Mom than you are ahead of most of us... again, be thankful and PLEASE share your secret with the rest of us! Or maybe you are like me and just taking it day by day, believing that if your kids are fed, clean, homework done and still breathing when you put them to bed and MAYYYYYBE you had time to squeeze in work or something you are passionate about than you are totally winning in the Mom department.
Whichever category you fall into, own it. Don’t second guess yourself, your choices - that’s what makes you a good role model for your children. For all you stay at home mommas who feel like you need to defend the reason you don’t work and all you working mommas who feel like you need to defend the reason you don’t stay at home….. let’s just agree that Mothering is the hardest (and yes, best) job in the world and cut ourselves some slack. I never did come up with the 'PERFECT' answer to say when asked if I worked. I guess I realized there wasn't one. If I was confident in what I did than the answer I gave didn't really matter, I just had to believe it and own it. In this tribe of Motherhood we need to build each other up and give ourselves and each other the credit we are due.