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

 

 

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.