I haven’t left home to “work” full-time since 2005. What part-time work I have done in the last six years has been minimal, and I squeezed in (out?) another two babies along the way. We also did a massive, over-budget, over-timeline home renovation ourselves (with two little ones), navigated three of Den Dad’s career changes, sank to the depths of hopelessness with his back injuries, waded through some postpartum depression and some good old-fashioned depression, morphed with financial pressure caused by all the above, and tried to be partners and parents.
Sometimes, in the chaos that was our family life, there were moments of clarity and wellness. I was able to feel like I was doing my best at a very difficult job and that was enough. My kids would surprise me with their resilience and compassion, my husband would be able to support me and help me feel like what I was doing was as important as I had once believed it should be.
Other times I was desperate to get outside the house so that I could put on nice clothes, use the other part of my brain and get a pay cheque. For a particularly dark season I felt like Atlas confined; carrying the world on my shoulders around and around a chaotic prison.
I did a few interviews in those years just so that I knew I was still wanted somewhere. After all the excitement would surge through my brain, I would make some phone calls about childcare, do some math, try to figure out how to juggle everyone, and politely decline.
This is not going to work for my family and me.
We are not there anymore. Den Dad is physically healthy and has a great job. We have siding. I have felt better in the last two years than in the five before that. We all sleep most nights. No one has colic or is in diapers. Everyone talks, feeds and dresses themselves.
When I started to think about opening a day home I was not excited, but also not overwhelmed by the idea of more kids, more dishes and more seclusion from other adults. I knew I had the skill set. Logistically, it was a much better option than going back to the classroom to teach high school, though there were offers…
Turns out, I am astounded at how well things have gone. Against all odds, I am REALLY enjoying this. I am even better at all this “nurturing” stuff, I think, with six kids around than three. Ironic.
I am so sad to say that a salary and the expectations of others brought such legitimacy to what I was doing that I began to unapologetically treat what I do as a job.
Yes, caring for other children is a job, but I’m not doing anything different than I did as a stay-at-home Mom. I am just giving the job my full attention, doing more – better, organizing my day around the kids’ needs, and my personal satisfaction rate is much higher as a result.
The shame I felt about this, initially, was profound. Why were my own children not worthy of this mindset? I am not saying I neglected them, but I don’t think I ever gave myself permission to invest in being the stay-at-home Mom. In the back of my mind I always needed a better reason why I wasn’t doing a “real” job. To be home without earning any income felt indulgent… except I didn’t have time for a shower.
I am working through this…there are many answers, some perfectly defensible and others not.
I have no interest in opening a debate about stay-at-home parents and “working” parents… but I know two things:
First, my children are best parented when my husband and I are actively engaged in their lives as much as possible.
Second, my children are best served when I am happy – exercising, eating right, doing things for myself and others, being a strong role model, getting out of the house, challenging my creativity in the adult world.
Sometimes reconciling these two is impossible except in fits and seasons.
If I could go back a few years I would encourage myself to honor my occupation as a Mom more fully: unapologetically say “no” to more things to keep my attention on my little clients and serve them as well as possible, keep sacred the space in my day where they could learn and play with me instead of treating them as accessories in my life, to cherish our time instead of waiting for freedom and fretting about income. To show more respect for the skill set I was using and not feel jaded by the career options I couldn’t pursue.
Oh, how I knew that but couldn’t quite grasp it on so many days…
Sometimes the woman who undervalues her job the most is Mom herself.
I serve wonderful families as a day home provider. They love me. It was an intensely gratifying experience to have outsiders not just choose me to care for their children, but be overwhelmingly grateful and appreciative of the way I care for kids. I was shocked to find myself saying… I AM really good at this.
(The shock I experienced at this may be partially because my most recent progeny has spent three years trying to convince me that my Mother-skills are… Just. Not. Applicable.)
Motherhood is a competitive minefield. We all mother differently and we all sometimes hinge our performance review on ridiculous measures: the rate at which our babies gain pounds, the unpredictable and fickle nature of our children in public, the cleanliness of our homes, the superiority of our healthy snacks, the shape of our figure, the number of balls we can keep in the air.
These are the things that will eat your soul.
They are also some of the measures I have excused myself from because I am now “working.” I am an idiot. That freedom is something I deserved before I had three extra kids to care for.
So, Moms, I hope that everyone showers you with accolades about the all-important job you do, but I also hope that you acknowledge the legitimacy of your job – without salary, days off, glowing performance review, possibility of advancement or a retirement date.
Most days that job involves a lot of laundry and picking up of things. Some days it is a battle with the volatile, unpredictable, darling antics of our little ones.
Other days, the glorious ones, it is as easy as being who you are in the moment and just observing the miracle of your children.
Every day, no matter how you do it, it is still the most important job in the world.