Okay moms, back to school season has arrived, so I thought I’d tell you a little story that may help you find balance in your life if you’re struggling to find it.
I’ve had experience in being both a working mom and a stay at home mom and I can honestly say that either choice/necessity has its challenges. The biggest challenge for me was my total lack of balance in both cases.
As a working mom, I felt a lot of guilt leaving my very young children every day. Daycare was not my favorite option, so after a while and some asking around, I hired a mother’s helper who saved my mommy life for a period of a year. I am grateful for this young lady to this day. She came to my house every morning and took over while I finished dressing and getting ready for work. She made sure that the kids were fed, changed, read to, entertained and happy when I came home. My kids loved her. I loved her. She was young and energetic and they needed that with two working parents.
At the time, I had a bit of a demanding job working for a non-profit school for pregnant teens. We had three sites, which means I had to travel for work at times. Not only was the job demanding but it was stressful…very stressful, crazy boss stressful. I was in a struggle to navigate through the trials of my work life and the demands of my home life. The only solace that I had was that my mother’s helper was taking great care of my two youngest children, while my oldest was in a good school. There was something to be grateful for, until she announced to me one day that her gap year from high school was over and she wanted to join the military. I almost begged her to reconsider, okay I did. In retrospect that was selfish thinking on my part but in all honesty after her, I’ve never met anyone else who I felt as comfortable with taking care of my kids.
After Camille left, I tried preschool for my two younger ones, which didn’t work out well for the baby, who by now was a toddler. He kept getting ear infections. When the doctor told us that he would need tubes put into his ears if they kept getting infected, I decided to quit my job. From where I stood, there weren't enough paychecks in the world to justify putting my baby through that discomfort. I understand that not everyone would have been able to make that decision and I respect the moms who have to do what they have to do, the decision is not always that cut and dry. At the time I was married and we worked through the sacrifice, sort of.
My favorite memory from that time in our lives was the day after I quite my stressful job and sat on the floor with my two toddlers watching Sesame Street. The phone rang and it was my boss (crazy lady) asking me if I could come back in to work from time to time to help out. I gladly told her no and hung up the phone. I felt so much freedom in that moment. I felt like I had control over my life again.
But did I?
What I didn’t realize with having hired help at home was that I was missing more than I wanted to at such early stages of my kid’s lives. I was glad to be back home and having one on one time with my kids…most days. Of course, the challenge I faced after that novelty wore off, was feeling invisible in the house all day with the kids and not having enough grown up time for myself. I realize now that I didn’t know how to strike a balance between the two worlds that I lived in while my children were young. I was either all in and working all day, sometimes extra hours trying to breathe huge gusts of independent air before going home, or I was closed in my house most days on a rigid routine attempting to make my kid’s worlds feel completely protected and safe. In short, I extreme mom’d.
I thought that in either situation I had so much to prove to everyone around me. Growing up, the notion of an at home mother was very different than it is today. Anything modeled on television was between June Cleaver and Mrs. Brady, and she had Alice. (Some of you will have to google those two references.) Neither woman represented me at all.
My mother stayed at home on off when we were children but I never asked her what she did while I was in school all day. That question would probably not have gone over well anyway. It always ends up sounding like: So what do you do all day while the rest of the world is working hard at keeping the earth rotating on its axis? It’s one of those implied questions that can sound insulting to any busy mom.
At this point, I didn’t have a good support group for what I needed to know about staying at home with my kids in this season of my life and I needed to strike a balance in my life badly.
This leads me to the discovery of learning how to be still when necessary and my second favorite memory as a young mom.
It was when my youngest son was finally ready for preschool. This particular child was a DOOZY!!! He ran instead of walked, shouted instead of talked and knew his way through a temper tantrum like a pro. I was tired all the time with him, even when he was just waking up in the morning. But on this glorious day…the sun had a special shine and the birds seemed to achieve a rare harmonious pitch. I could have sworn I saw rainbows without rain. Even though I was a bit nervous that he was leaving the safety of home that day, I felt good about the preschool that he was attending and they came with the gift of all gifts…THEY HAD A VAN THAT PICKED HIM UP IN THE MORNINGS!!!
Que the theme to the sound of music complete with birds flying above and me spinning on the top of a mountain…
After kissing my rambunctious toddler bye-bye and standing on the curb watching him being fastened into his car seat with other oblivious toddlers who had no idea that their mothers where probably at home in a semi-conscious state of glee, I stood there listening to the soothing sound of his driver’s southern voice. He was in good hands. I then wiped a tear or two from my eyes and went into the house to begin my full day of being a productive mom. (Notice I didn’t say a productive person? I never thought of myself outside of my roles at home then. Take note.)
I had plans and they were big ones. I was going to start cleaning at the very top of the house and finish in the kitchen as any good mother should. I was about to delve into my extreme mode on a whole new level. No yoga pants and ponytail for me thank you. You can keep the Starbucks and Target lines for this mom. I was going for the gold in housekeeping Olympics and you couldn’t stop me!
I went back upstairs to my bedroom and made the maddening mistake of turning on the television out of curiosity. Toddler shows at this hour were all that I was accustomed to. What grownups talked about in the morning was a mystery to me at this point.
We had just moved into our home and our cable service was new, which of course came with a free preview of HBO. I stood there for a moment looking at Tom Hanks. I like Tom Hanks. I’d never seen Castaway but I had heard it was a good movie. Before long, I was stretched out across the bed glued to this movie feeling like quite a castaway myself at home alone for the first time in years. I kept checking for guilt but it seemed to have taken the day off.
After the movie, I fixed myself lunch. It was intermission and I was hungry. The previews said that The Legend of Bagger Vance was next. I like Will Smith and I had never seen this movie… Okay, I may have folded clothes through this one but I realized what I needed more than anything was a day of nothingness, or close to it, to recalibrate my mind. It was wonderful and I was relaxed and excited to hear how my kid’s school days went when they came home. And while I cannot claim that I had achieved this level of relaxation all the time (a neat freak has to do what a neat freak has to do) I can say that I learned the art of mommy naps, reading and quiet time that carries over until today…even as the kids are all grow up and I am no longer answering to just the title of mom. As wonderful as that title is (and it is my favorite) through the years of learning how to take time out for myself, I have discovered my many interests and titles that go along with me just being me.
I had to learn to balance work with play and that I could have both in my life in order to be at peace. This however, is a lifelong lesson for all of us in all seasons.
Balance is the key…