To Work or Not To Work – Another Story

Deb posted the story of her working motherhood in this post recently, and I wanted to share mine, as well.

It’s quite opposite!  All mommas and all families are so very different.  And these two stories, which have unfolded in an intertwined way (we are besties in real life, if you didn’t know) puts me in awe of how our plans are not God’s plans.  I would never have pegged us for the kinds of moms we are today, had you asked me before we had children!

working mom or sahm

(Why a pie?  That’s a little later in the story!)

I never, ever, intended to be a stay-at-home mom.

In my early adulthood, I wasn’t even certain I wanted to have children at all!  But once I settled on a career path (education) I definitely decided that I was never “quitting my job” to “stay home and clean.”

Straight out of college (that would be 1 1/2 years into marriage) I got a teaching job.  I – surprise!- was pregnant with our first child during my second year of teaching.

I love teaching.  Teaching while pregnant wasn’t that difficult (I even directed a musical that first nauseating trimester!) and I had every intention of returning to work.  I took a 6 week maternity leave during which my (also a teacher) husband substitute taught for me, but I was itching to get back in that classroom.  My husband stayed home with our son, and off I went (breastpump in hand – what a drag!)  I had a student teacher in my classroom that year, and she’d play with the baby sometimes while I worked after school.  I found myself nursing a baby while meeting with colleagues in my classroom.  We played baby shuffle (husband dropped off baby after school, rushed to a job running a teen center after school hours, I returned baby in the evenings to direct music in church, attend extracurricular practices, etc.)

I was a working momma for two years.  I occasionally had to cancel a practice or bow out of an activity for a sick child, but it was definitely manageable.  I always scooted home for dinner and bedtime, often returning to my classroom after my son was sleeping to finish grading papers, preparing centers, writing up progress reports, or rearranging desks.  My students and colleagues loved my son and he enjoyed hanging around school.

Then the climate of my school shifted – administration changed, faculty began to turn over, some difficult families came through my classroom.  I began to feel burned out, like I was giving 120% to my job and getting little but Mom Guilt in return.

I actually had a second baby in order to quit my job with a clean conscience.

To be fair, we wanted another child and the spacing was ideal, anyway.

That spring, I realized that rather than trying to impart knowledge and life skills to 25 kids I hadn’t parented until the age of 13, I wanted desperately to be home with mine and parent them from the get-go.  I wanted to hang out laundry, and babywear, and make pie, and teach babies German, and read aloud, and go on walks.  I suddenly had a very clear vision of what I imagined my life to be like, and that job in that moment was not it.

So I directed one last musical while severely nauseated, wrapped up one last round of graduations and Algebra placement tests, packed up my classroom, and went home.

 

And it was a learning curve, don’t get me wrong.  I am by no means a born stay-at-home-mom – I’m scatterbrained, and sarcastic, and a night owl, and not patient, and massively disorganized, and prefer the company of adults or solitude.  I spent a few months drowning in my new role and having no idea how to manage homemaking or two small children or how to be a living person and not just a soggy mess.

But I’m also fiercely stubborn.  I was determined to make a success of this stay-at-home-mom gig.  I made schedules.  I made lists.  I planned activities.  I walked every day.  I drank a lot of coffee, and said a lot of prayers, and tried to learn patience and humility and self-denial.  I’m still learning all of those things every day.

But I’ve never regretted going on hiatus from teaching.  I fully intend to go back, when my youngest child is in kindergarten.  I still love the job ( I even substitute and help coach drama at my husband’s school, because I do miss the atmosphere and the big kids!) but I have learned to love being a professional mother.  I’ve learned to see it as a real vocation, with skill to be gained and talents to be applied.

 

I was not born a stay-at-home mom.  I’m not probably a typical one, either.  I don’t homeschool, I don’t iron, I don’t exercise, I don’t sell anything, I don’t manage sports teams, I don’t have “girls’ nights” or “Mommy and Me” mornings. But this is where our family ended up, and we are happy.  My husband is happily teaching full time, and I am working every day to make our home run smoothly and simply, getting my self-fulfillment from lots of coffee and blogging and YouTube, and spending these years with my goofy little boys.

 

And I rarely make pie.  (Pie makes me frustrated!) But I COULD if I wanted to!

working mom or stay-at-home mom

 

 

Let Go of Mom Guilt: Capturing Memories

Mom guilt takes up residence in all kinds of sneaky places.  Let’s address one of those today.

I am never here to mom-bash, so I am definitely not linking to this or mentioning usernames.  While meandering on Pinterest, I saw a pin about mom checklists, specifically “Can’t Miss Photos of the Month.”
There were something like 50 photo opportunities listed here!  If this were a list for the whole year, it might be conceivable.  Being a checklist of 50 photos you “can’t miss” of your kids each MONTH means 90% of people pinning that are going to fail, miserably.  And with that idealism + failure equation, mom guilt sets in.

Do you have a handful of pictures of each kid each year?  You’re doing fine.  (Bonus points if YOU are in any of them!)

I had a looming fear when I had a second child that I wouldn’t take “enough” pictures of him.  Whatever “enough” means.  I love taking pictures, and I had taken a plethora of my oldest because he was so stinkin’ adorable all the time.  Probably ridiculous, but one of my biggest concerns about adding a second child was that they wouldn’t feel as special because I wouldn’t focus solely on them – wouldn’t take as many pictures.  That there would be digital and print evidence that I “loved the older one more.”

After child #2 being on the planet for a full year, let me tell you.  There are just as many pictures.  In fact, I upgraded to a smart phone recently so there are actually BETTER pictures this time around.  Gasp.  There are so many sweet moments between the two boys that I take photos on an almost-daily basis.

I have my own checklist – make sure I take a photo the day a child joins our family, and on each birthday.  Sometimes I remember to take one on “firsts.”
But about “firsts.”  I have learned this – it is far more important to be engaged, present, actually watching the firsts, than it is to be taking photos or videos.  In 20 years, it might be fun for your child to page through photos of their firsts.  It might impress or entertain some relatives or a future child-in-law.  But really, those firsts are the most important to you as their parent.  And what you hold most dear will be a strong memory of having actually witnessed this event, not a sterile photo of it taking place.

While we’re on this topic, let me address scrapbooks.  If this is a hobby of yours, wonderful!  Go forth and craft.  If it’s not, let it go!  Remember our moms’ photo books of yesteryear?  There were some pictures with names or dates scrawled on maybe half of them, jammed into photo albums.  Done.  And our lives weren’t any less rich for it.

Maybe a lesser guilt: printing physical photos.  This is one I feel distinctly, as a natural cynic.  I assume that the internet is going to fail me at some point in the future, and my photos backed up in the mysterious “cloud” will disappear.  And then who will get to see all the badly-timed smartphone photos I took?!
I have decided to let go of that mom guilt by specifically printing photos once a year.  Around December, after everybody’s birthdays in November, I go on a spree one night and choose pictures to print.  I get them done “overnight” to our local-ish Walmart and pick them up the next day when I go to pick up my photo Christmas cards.  Sometimes some of them make it in an album.  Good enough.
I’m going to try photobooks this next year – supposedly I can use my Instagram and have them automatically curated and delivered to me.  Sounds wonderful!

Be present with your kids.  Put down the camera/phone.  Watch and encourage and feel.

That sense of family created by memories is what you’re really after.  Photographic evidence that it existed is just extra.