When I was a working mom, I envied my stay-at-home mom friends. From my side of the fence, their lives looked pretty cushy. Their husbands left in the morning to grind it out all day long at some complicated, grueling office while the moms got to wear their slippers and pajamas all day long, cook heart-shaped pancakes for the kids, and watch the morning shows and slowly sip coffee from a mug with their children’s faces on it. On the occasional day they wanted to get dressed before noon, they had adventure-filled playdates lined up or shopping days at the mall with a delicious lunch at one of the cozy bakeries all the worker bees could never enjoy. I was certain that children of stay-at-home moms were also better behaved because they received all that attention and love. Spending the days outdoors with my well-mannered, pleasant children while my husband worked seemed like a dream … until it actually came true.
Leaving my firstborn daughter at day care and going to work for a boss that put my stomach in knots became more and more difficult to cope with. One day, as I tried to gently tiptoe my way past my boss’ office without her noticing for the fourth time that week and squeeze by her just-as-evil secretary, it dawned on me that maybe I could find a way to stay home and become part of the special group of women who called being at home with the kids “work.” With a little corner cutting, coupon clipping, a few less pedicures, and more home-cooked meals, my family and I could make this work, right?
Two years later, a second daughter, and more playdates than I care to show up at, I have decided that staying at home with two children under the age of four is much more difficult than working for that micromanaging, perfectionist boss I used to have. On certain days, I would liken it to having paper cuts all over my hands and then submerging them into lemon juice. Now that annoying committee in my head is pointing out that I am in fact the world’s worst mother for even writing that. But putting it down on paper somehow makes the thought less dark and terrible. I am sure my husband has the same thoughts about parenthood from time to time because occasionally he says, “Okay, sweetie. I’m off to take a break at work! Good luck with the girls today.” He really should just shout, “Yippee! It’s Monday and I’m getting the heck outta here!” Although I am still in my slippers and worn, soft pajamas, I have already performed numerous tasks by 7 a.m. and my “new” bosses, the nineteen-month-old and three-and-a-half-year-old now have me tiptoeing past their offices as well! The glorious morning I envisioned is nowhere near the reality.
Heart-shaped pancakes get made by those who actually have a moment to think without their three-year-old bouncing off the furniture while having her second temper tantrum of the day, and their infant chasing the cat around to find out if his tail will come off if you pull hard enough. Morning shows consist of every mother’s favorite channel, Nick Jr., and are put on in order to clean the morning dishes and have a decent-looking kitchen. God forbid if my kitchen looks as though I’m one of those disheveled, unorganized, overstressed moms. My coffee cup with my kids’ faces gets shuffled from place to place all day long and I have learned to take big, hot gulps. Sips are for those who have time, those who go to an office of some kind for work. The mug almost laughs at me when I throw half of it down the drain each night. “Ha, ha, ha! No warm coffee for you!” I have to actually wake up earlier than my husband so I can have a few moments of peace, of prayer to ask God to guide me today to be a good mom, a patient mom, a few moments to check emails, world and local news because I need something to keep me connected to the outside world, the adult world. I miss being a part of the break room conversations, the everyday pleasantries with work colleagues. I miss getting into my car at the end of the day and feeling exhausted but accomplished. On some level I know I am in the midst of working on my biggest accomplishment: my children. However, I cannot escape the feeling that little by little I am losing myself. Like a tight, new tire with a tiny hole. Little by little the air hisses out until it completely deflates, making it utterly useless.
Then, this thought grabs me and says, “So what? So for these first few precious years of your daughters’ lives, you lose yourself.” It’s as if I have to snap out of my Dora and Boots, peanut butter and jelly, pink everything induced comma and give myself permission to not need to have it all as the world has suggested I do. So what if I don’t have my twenty-five-year-old body anymore and my career is at a standstill? I remind myself that I will get back to those neglected parts of me at some point. The treadmill will still be there and so will my career. Maybe I missed the point somewhere that, that’s what a stay-at-home mom sacrifices, a little or a lot of the personal desires and goals. Not forever, but at some points along the motherhood road these sacrifices may be necessary to feel like an accomplished mother and get those joyful, well mannered kids every parent hopes for. I tell my deflated ego that losing myself does not make me a loser. It allows room for my family. It allows time for nurturing and for the play dates in the park and enjoying the not so quiet mornings with my two favorite girls in my slippers. Through all the dilemmas of leaving a job or career to be mommy, I do know that I will never regret taking the time to really get to know my daughters without the rush of the working world. Childhood is but a brief moment in their lives and my children deserve to have me capture and witness as much of it as I can, temper tantrums and all.