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

 

 

To work or not to work? Is that the question? -deb

So your pregnant and are looking to the future. Are you going to stay home with your newborn or are you going to go back to work? It’s a question all new parents must struggle with. In sharing my story I’m hoping to give you some insights into why my family made the decisions we did as pertaining to working with kids.

When I caught baby fever, about a year into our marriage, my husband and I talked about how we wanted to raise our family and when it would work best for us to have our first child. We originally made plans that I would be a stay at home mom and we would adjust our budget to make that possible. This seemed like a perfect plan, my husband was on schedule with his schooling to get a full-time paid internship and then would only have one year of school left. We figured we could make the sacrifices needed to make our plans a reality.

When we found out we were pregnant with our first it seemed like our plans were falling into place.  God had different plans for us though, my husband’s school track changed. With my husband’s school track changing our plans changed and we decided that me working full-time would be the best decision for our family. My husband’s schedule changed to classes twice a week instead of everyday so he was able to be home with our daughter most of the time and when he had class we had been able to find an in home daycare for her to go to. I regretted not being home with her but I told myself that she slept most of the time anyway so I wasn’t missing much. I took advantage of every minute I was home with her though.

When our daughter was a year old I was able to be a stay at home mom. I thought I would rock at this job. This was my dream come true. I had all of my time to dedicate to my daughter and would be able to give her all my attention. I knew getting out would be key to my success, so we went to story time at the library. I had all this time and she was showing signs of readiness so we started potty training. I would had all sorts of time to do anything we wanted. It didn’t take long though till I was crazy and bored.

My daughter wouldn’t take naps when I wanted her to. I was unable to do even my short to do list. My daughter wanted me to sit and watch her play for hours. I couldn’t handle it. My one year old was emotionally draining me everyday and I wasn’t finding any joy in being with her. Although staying home was something I thought I wanted to do I was really struggling with this lifestyle mentally and emotionally.

I went back to work when my daughter was 19 months old. I worked full-time and sent my daughter to daycare. I was again struck by mom guilt with leaving my child under someone else’s care, but I realized I was able to enjoy spending time with her in the evenings and on the weekends instead of dreading the whole day when I woke up and didn’t really know what the day would bring.

I thought that maybe the number of kids affected my ability to stay home, so when we had our second child I again tried to stay home. It wasn’t the crazy boredom this time but the housekeeping that drove me crazy. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations for myself and just can’t let them go. I felt that since I was home all day there really wasn’t a reason why I couldn’t keep my house immaculately clean every day or cross items off my to do list every day.

So when I was offered a position to teach part time which I jumped on it, and here I am now working part time with three kids and for the most part enjoying the craziness that a busy schedule brings.

Do I think all parents should work? No. Do I think all families should have one parent at home with their kids? No, that has to be left up to each family to decide. I want people to realize that there is more to consider in the decision making process then can we afford this option or that option. Leave yourself open to both options if at all possible. Be aware that what you always saw for yourself as a parent may not be what works best for you in the trenches of parenthood.

Are you a stay at home mom or a working mom? Do you have any pointers on how you made the decision to work or not to work? Leave a comment below.

Tired SAHM? The Physical Task of Mothering

Nobody tells you that mothering (especially full-time, professional mothering) is such a physical job.  That “tired stay-at-home mom” is redundant.

If you try to list physically tasking jobs, likely to make the list are vocations like construction work, power-lifting, professional housekeeping, high-rise window-washing, nursing.  I can’t claim to have any personal experience with any of those careers, and I certainly don’t downplay any of them.

It was just a surprise to me.

And I’m not just talking about the physical aspects of pregnancy, delivery, and those first “lost weeks” postpartum.  Of course those are a Herculean physical strain, but I think those are decently well-recognized.

I’m talking about the long term.  The sleep deprivation doesn’t stop, it just changes.  After you teach your child to sleep through the night, you start sacrificing sleep to things like housekeeping, hobbies, tea with yourself, and worrying.
Instead of enjoying your soft pillows at 9:30, you lie awake until midnight thinking about things like taking bread of out the freezer for tomorrow, whether your toddler’s room is warm enough, if your husband’s alarm clock is set properly, how your ill friend is feeling, what errands you need to run tomorrow, the new parenting theory you are planning to try.

Once you’re up for the day, the cooking and cleaning begins.  These are physical tasks in their nature, but please add to that effort a 20 pound toddler on your hip or in a carrier.
There is walking the dog and/or running errands.  Which sounds easy, but actually requires pushing a stroller/cart (maybe a double or triple) with somewhere between 20 and 80 pounds of child in it, and holding back an overly-enthusiastic pooch who wants to follow every pedestrian home.

The bending.  The stooping.  The heavy lifting and repetative motions and chasing and hoisting and bending into cribs.
The Legos.
Then the wrestling of a kicking screaming toddler to a timeout, or a bathroom, or an unwanted nap.  The holding and pacing and singing with the ever-growing baby, which may take up to an hour before he falls asleep.
You are a human jungle gym.  A toddler falling down will use a tiny portion of your arm or leg skin as a handle.  A baby wanting a kiss will slam his forehead into your teeth.  Someone learning about body parts will jam a jagged fingernail into your eye, nose, ear, or belly button.

All of that physical exertion and damage is separate from nursing a baby for weeks, months, or years.  If you choose to do that, you are quite literally sitting without moving for up to an hour at a time, 8 or more times a day.
You can bet your child will only sleep held in that position, some days, or will only nurse in certain ways that leave you with neck cricks and sleeping legs.  There might also be pumping, which is just as (if not more) uncomfortable, but without the perk of baby snuggles.  And if your baby happens to sleep extra long, you don’t!  You set yourself an alarm and get up to pump.  Or risk mastitis.  Y’know.

(This in no way is meant to discount the role of fathering.  Here is my sweet husband, falling-down exhausted with each of our infants.  Incidentally, two of my favorite photos of all time.)

I hope the cute factor of the photos to accompany this post help drive home my true objective:

Mothering will wreck you.  Hopefully, this is temporary.  (I haven’t yet come out the other side, so I can’t promise anything!) Your metabolism, hormones, physical appearance, eye bags, sleep, joints… these may never be the same.

But honestly, what better to give yourself for?  What more awesome task can there be, than to relinquish selfishness of your physical body in order to serve your family?  At the end of the day, you may be completely depleted, but all of that energy and effort went into your kids.  You’ve poured from what the Lord has given you into others.

Tiny, snuggly, adorable others.

It’s worth it.

Loneliness

Professional motherhood is great in a lot of ways.  But goodness, it’s lonely.

It seems nearly impossible to find anyone that is actually in my same season of life.
I meet lots of wonderful middle aged folks.
Lots of wonderful peers who don’t have children.
Lots of mothers with small children who work outside the home.

And maybe this is low self-esteem talking, but none of these people can possibly really want me in their life.
With me comes two messy, loud, funny little boys.
A definite schedule of being in my home during nap time, every day.
The truth that I will fall asleep on the couch by 9 pm (if you’re lucky.)
A 30-year-old who wants to be treated as an equal adult, not like your psuedo-children that you are “helping get a start in life.”
A mom who wants to talk about anything other than her job of raising children, but can’t for the life of her stop talking about them.

People can’t possibly fit all of that into their hearts, can they?

And I’ve met lovely people recently.  People who are very kind and friendly and welcoming (we moved six months ago) and even say things like, “We should get together for coffee/dinner/board games some time!”

I have never actually gotten together with any of these people.
They never actually went the next step of making plans.
Which means the suggestion was just a nicety.

Surely, out here in the wide world of the internet, there are other mothers who feel lonely.  And that is why I’m writing and recording.

Let me assure you, there are more of us!
This is the beauty of the internet.  Though it has its share of mom-shaming and political saturation and “perfect” life comparisons that leave you feeling irritated and down on yourself, it also has community – if you can find it.

Leave a comment.
Watch a video.
Visit the Facebook page and post.
This is your official invitation to join me for coffee!  Right now, today.  You will get a response.   I can relate – so can lots of others.

Let’s stop being lonely.

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.

Bringing Vacation Home

Is there such a thing as an adult who does not enjoy vacation?
I went on a little New Years’ getaway with my husband and our best friends, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes vacation so wonderful, and how to incorporate some of that into my daily life.  I’ve come upon a few different concepts.

From our recent vacation – relaxing in the middle of nowhere.

Relaxing, minimalist environment
Think about what made the vacation so relaxing.  Was it that your space was clean?  That you were living with just a suitcase of possessions and no clutter?  Odds are good you were even living in a significantly smaller space than usual, possibly even with extra people, yet the hotel room/cabin/condo was relaxing.
This is great to replicate at home!  Living with fewer possessions naturally helps your space stay cleaner.  I will forever be indebted to the Kon Mari method of decluttering for making my home more peaceful and easier to keep picked up.  Consider a capsule wardrobe to replicate the limited options of a suitcase (and the ease of dressing that comes with it!)

Fresh linens
That may seem super small, but really.  When’s the last time you changed your sheets and washed your throw blankets and bleached your towels? (I keep white towels for this reason.)  Try it, and really pay attention to the sensation of sinking into fresh linens – savor it!  (By extension, all your nicely folded laundry in your suitcase?  Ey?) If you find this as valuable as I do, plan it into your housekeeping!

Pre-planned activities
Now, this is probably personal preference,  but I usually  have some pre-planned activities on vacation.  On this recent vacation, we brought along decks of cards to play our favorite game, one board game the husbands specifically like, and books and facemasks for the wives.  Nothing fancy, nothing that involved leaving the couch.  The aspect of this that makes the day so enjoyable is that there was no sitting around saying, “What should we do?  I dunno.  What do you want to do?  I dunno.”
Consider planning your leisure once you’re back home – would you like to read a book in the evenings? Journal in the mornings?  Have a family movie night?  I have actually taken to pre-planning my leisure activities for my miracle mornings and for my evenings after the kids go to bed, and it’s great.

Personal growth time
Like I said, this recent vacation included intentional book-reading.  For me, leisure reading is a part of self care and personal growth, because I truly love reading (like in the depths of my soul, love, reading.  #nerd)
Odds are good that during a vacation, you take more time for these kinds of activities.  Perhaps hiking is your personal growth.  Maybe meditating.  Some people probably experience personal growth by touring important landmarks or museums.  Whatever it is that feeds your spirit, you’ve probably made up your mind and planned to do it during your official vacation.
You should really do that kind of stuff during your regular days.  Seriously.

Moments of complete stillness
There are moments in vacation where absolutely nothing is going on.  Nothing is calling your attention.  Nothing needs to be cleaned or cooked or put away.  Those moments may be in an art gallery, in your hotel room in the wee hours, sitting on a beach kid-free, or doing a face mask on a couch while your husbands play a board game.
See if you can recreate those moments in your daily home life.  For me, those moments exist at 6:00 am (after my husband has left for work, my kids are still soundly asleep, and I’m alone in my office with a cup of coffee) but you can jam them anywhere.  On a commute using public transport, on a walk, etc.

Pick one thing to try – make your daily life more like a vacation.  Maybe commit to it for 2 weeks.  Write it down.  Plan it out. 
Share what you’re going to try or what you already do!

P.S. – we used Air BnB to book our vacation, and it worked like a charm!  I even got email copies of text messages sent by our host.  Recommend!
(Not sponsered.  I wish!)