My mom worked full-time as a public school teacher from the second she earned her bachelor’s degree until the second she retired. Even now, in retirement, she still substitute teaches quite a bit.
Growing up, never once did I hear my mom complain about her job.
Never once did I hear my mom long for an alternate life where she didn’t have to work as much.
Never once did I hear my mom wish she could be a stay at home mom.
Never once did I hear my mom question her purpose in life.
She just did what she needed to do. She did what she loved. She made it all work. She worked full-time, cared for three children, tended the household, supported my dad who worked two jobs (full-time teaching and part-time car sales), made delicious homemade meals, kept beautiful flower pots, sewed and mended things as needed, hosted a garage sale every year, and so on.
Between mothering, teaching, cooking and tending house, my mom was in her glory. She seriously DID. IT. ALL. (Although note I didn’t give her any credit for awesome self-care practices along the way. Mom, you know we always want you to do more for yourself.)
Before I became a mother, I assumed I would follow in my mom’s footsteps. I assumed I’d be 100% ALL IN for the balanced lifestyle of full-time work and full-time motherhood.
Yeah, before becoming a mother, I knew so much about balancing work and motherhood, that for years, I silently criticized moms who had college degrees, but chose to stay home full-time with their kids and “do nothing with their lives.” To put it more bluntly, if a mom had a college degree and she wasn’t actively using it towards gainful paid employment, I thought she wasting her degree, wasting her life away. Yep. What a waste.
Man, do I need to EAT my silent, unspoken words now.
Please forgive me, moms.
Please forgive me, college-educated moms who aren’t employed full-time in the workplace.
Please forgive me for criticizing you when I had no clue.
Please forgive me for placing judgement on you when I had no experience.
Please forgive me for assuming such harsh things about your life and your decision-making capabilities.
Please forgive me for being so narrow minded that I couldn’t understand why a woman would have gotten a college degree in the first place if “all she was going to do” was stay home with her kids.
Yeah, I had no clue.
By the time I returned from maternity leave after our first child was born, I knew this full-time working and full-time mothering gig wasn’t going to work for me. Nevertheless, I survived 1 1/2 years of full-time employment as a mom because the truth was, at that time, we couldn’t afford to have me stay home in any capacity.
Approximately 18 months into motherhood, my husband got enough of a raise that allowed me to stay home one day a week. I applied for a part-time leave, and by the time our son was 22 months old, I was working four days a week. Life felt much more comfortable.
Things shifted again when our second child came along.
And when our third child arrived nearly seven years after that, things shifted yet again.
There’s only one thing I know for sure after 12 1/2 years of mothering. I have NO. IDEA. HOW. TO BALANCE. WORK AND MOTHERHOOD.
It’s clear, okay?
I have no idea how to do this.
The proof is in the pudding.
As of 2015, I’ve DONE. IT. ALL. as far as work-motherhood balance.
I’ve worked 5 days a week. 4 days a week. 3 days a week. 2 days a week. 1 day a week. And now, in 2015, for the first time ever in my mothering career, I’m home full-time.
Yes, I’ve become the woman I silently criticized.
I have a bachelor’s degree. I have a master’s degree. And I’m staying home full-time.
Writing this truth makes me feel kind of icky. You know? The kind of icky like I had to eat all those ugly thoughts and words I kept to myself about college-educated stay-at-home moms all those years. Icky like I should be working today, bringing in some income for our family other than just sitting here typing away on a blog, hoping and praying for a writing career that will actually pay something someday. Icky like I have NO IDEA how to strike the magnificent work-motherhood balance that almost everyone else seems to have found?! Icky like this is NOT the balance my mom struck. Icky like this is NOT the balance my neighbor struck. Icky like this is not the balance my husband’s female corporate colleagues struck. Icky like this is NOT the balance I envisioned for myself.
We’re modern women, they say, pioneers of a whole new generation. We’ll make our own way. We’ll establish our own place at home and in the workplace. We’ll land somewhere comfortably between the old-fashioned housewife who was expected to stay home and abandon her own self-fulfillment and actualization, and the feminist who burned her bra, abandoned all traditional notions of motherhood, embraced equal opportunity employment and fought hard against the so-called glass ceiling. Yes, they say we modern women can “Do It All In Our Lifetime.”
But I have to ask. Have we found a comfortable resting place between old-fashioned housewivery and and feminism? I, for one, am sometimes still confused, lacking clarity as to my place. Clearly, I haven’t quite figured it out. Clearly, I’m a pioneer, often left wondering and wandering in the sea of questions, insecurities and uncertainties about how work and motherhood fit together.
I’ll become a “better mom.” I’ll have all of this worked out when the kids are older, when they’re in high school and college. Maybe I’m just not good at figuring this all out when they’re still little.
I know in my heart that this is a season, a very short time in life when I have the opportunity to be home full-time with the kids, that years from now I’ll be SO glad I had this opportunity. And I know with all my heart that this is TRUE. But right now, there’s still a part of me that feels like I’m wasting my college degree, like I’m wasting my potential at home…tending a house, caring for children full-time, wiping counters, wiping butts, writing for no pay, and doing all the most ordinary, mundane things of life like cleaning toilets and packing cold lunches.
Then, I accept the truth.
I’m a mom. I have a master’s degree. I worked for 14 1/2 years. Now I’m not working at all. My work life has been all over the board. And I don’t claim to have any balance.
It is what it is.
I don’t have any balance.
I have no clue how to achieve work-motherhood balance.
I don’t get it.
And that’s okay.
I don’t claim to have mastered anything about this parenting or mothering gig, so why would I expect myself to have mastered the elusive work-motherhood balance either?
As I stood quietly by the monkey bars at the park this past weekend, I accepted the fact that this is my life, my one true life. I have three kids. My husband has a corporate job. He’s magnificent at what he does. I’m blessed to have this once-in-a-lifetime, very short-term, seasonal opportunity to stay at home full-time while these kids are still young. Before I know it, they’ll be all grown up. I’ll long for these days, I’ll miss these days when the kids are still small, when they’re all still at home. So I will embrace this life, even if it feels a little mundane at times. I will embrace this life, even if I have to remind myself 500 times that my contribution to the human race is just as worthy inside the home as it is outside of the home.
I looked down at my jeans and Sketchers against the playground wood chips, and let the reality wash over me. Yes, this is a far cry from my favorite White House Black Market work clothes that fill the closet. But this is my life. This is a good life, too.
The kids fight over swings. They twist swings. They taunt and tease one another. They don’t go up the slide the right way, and do all kinds of potentially dangerous things. The honest truth is, we’re all a bit edgy because daddy had a ridiculously busy week and was gone six out of seven days. And yeah, we’re going out for dinner because I can’t handle more meal preparation at this point.
Life is good.
We’re going to walk home from this park.
We’re going to enjoy pizza buffet together when daddy gets home.
We’re going to do this again tomorrow.
And it will be good and grace-filled all over again.
The kids don’t have a clue about work-motherhood-fatherhood balance yet. Neither do I.
Perhaps my work-motherhood IMBALANCE will prove to be a blessing someday.
Perhaps someday my children will reflect on their upbringing and realize it’s okay to not have everything perfectly together all the time. Life isn’t always about mastering things and getting everything JUST RIGHT.
Perhaps someday my daughters will come to me when they’re confused about this working and mothering balance, and I’ll be able to tell them with all honesty…been there, done that, sweetheart. Here’s how I worked through it. Day by day. Year by year. Child by child. Follow your heart, sweet one. There’s never one best answer.
Perhaps someday when my husband’s ready to retire and I’m still working like a mad woman in all the unconventional ways, he’ll realize I meant what I said. I’m not saying I don’t want to work, I’m saying for right now, my work is at HOME.
Perhaps someday when the children are grown and we have grandchildren running in the yard, I’ll look back with peace, resting confident in the knowledge that my degrees were never, ever wasted. In that moment, all the pieces of my life put together will make perfect sense. And I’ll whisper to the mamas from the mountaintops, forget about the magical work-motherhood balance. Just forget about it mamas. You’re doing great right where you are.