When life finally presented me with the opportunity to be a mom, I was 35 and had spent ten years successfully climbing the corporate ladder and another five years teaching at one of the top universities in the state. I was confident and successful. In the land of fertility, I was practically running out of time, but in the midst of my PhD dissertation, my husband and I decided to give it a shot.
I got pregnant instantly and started planning motherhood. I read parenting books like a scholar and plotted out how I would feed, sleep train and raise my baby. I had no doubt that I could teach, finish my dissertation and raise my son with good organization and planning. It all seemed so manageable when my baby was contained in my belly. Despite my detailed birth plan, I gave birth via c-section thirty-eight weeks later. The universe gave me this perfect little boy. Motherhood was pure bliss.
Two weeks after I brought my son home, my life changed dramatically. What we thought was a minor heart murmur in our son, turned out to be a significant congenital heart defect that would lead us down a challenging path as first-time parents. All of my well thought out plans became silly as we focused on keeping our son alive. At three months of age my son had successful open heart surgery. He healed like a champ and despite some minor challenges, he was thriving and back on track by the time he hit one.
When you are in crisis mode you don’t really stop to ask questions about your role in society or think about questions like identity. You just survive. At the time I just did what I do, I dove in and put everything else on hold. Without thinking about it, I put me on hold. That is what all moms do to varying degrees. When the dust settled and I was faced with the questions of what to do next, I was head-to-head with a tough predicament. A year out of the program and teaching made transition tough. I missed teaching but also felt like the universe was telling me to spend time with my son. If I look back now, I know there was fear too. Fear of getting back on the bike, fear of losing time with my son and general fear of being caught in in-between spaces.
This is the story of my life.
Life landed us in a new town and so I did the most logical thing, I decided to just commit to the stay-at-home-mom gig. I convinced myself that I was just about to try to get pregnant again and so it would be best to just wait. Fertility issues and the hustle-and-bustle of life took over. One year became two and before I knew it, I was looking at eight years.
I’ve always sort of had one foot out of the stay-at-home-world. I still cringe at the title. It is so “not me” or so I told myself. I’m not sure why I have struggled so much with the role. During my eight year sentence I have worked freelance gigs, opened etsy shops, taught art classes, started a company and volunteered for everything under the sun just so that I could say I “did” something and “was” something.
People stopped asking me questions long ago. It was the weirdest thing about becoming a stay-at-home-mom. I stopped being interesting to other people. It sounds trivial, but it was really tough for me. I found myself trying to slip in stories about my life “before” but I felt like a fraud. I also felt my brain shrinking – literally shrinking. I never had social anxiety until years into my in-home mom position and then I found myself constantly second guessing my talents, intelligence and accomplishments.
I’m sure you are asking why I bothered to stay at home if I hated it so much. The truth is I love it. I mean it is imperfect and hard but I am so grateful for all of this time I have spent with my children. I started off thinking I was doing it for the benefit of my kids, but the truth is, it has been a life altering experience for me. I have learned so many valuable lessons about life and about myself. Even though my life these past eight years has been chaotic and out of my control, it has been like a deep meditation. Kids live so fully in the moment. As their captain, I have been forced to think about the now and just believe that the future will be there for a deeper me.
I was also lucky because when I was most desperate and lonely, I decided to join a local MOMS Club against my better judgement. Despite all my own stereotypes against stay-at-home-moms, I met the most interesting and diverse group of ladies – all with their own challenging motherhood stories.
None of us stay-at-home. We are always out there in the world doing important things with the future of this world. Some of us do paid work in various forms but all us work hard. Together we have laughed and cried at our failures and successes. We all have pieces of our selves on hold but we find joy in our lives and fractured selves.
Maybe it is because I’m entering the sweet spot and I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it is because I see my kids are growing up so fast, but all of a sudden I realize how important all of my work has been for me, my kids and the world. I may not be interesting to people at parties. I may not have a fancy title or a big paycheck but my feminist self has finally come to value my life choice.
The third world feminists have it right, if we all as a society learn to value childcare – the monetary and social worth tied to the work of raising and caring for children – then we will finally value women and the choices they can – and sometimes can’t – make about their role as mother. Or better yet, maybe we can start to unbind the expectations of childrearing placed predominately on women and mothers. We can look at it as a global community responsibility. Then perhaps we can stop these mommy wars and wars within ourselves. Maybe then we can all value the roles we play within society and stop calling each other full and part time moms and working and not working women. We are all full time moms who work our asses off and the world is better because we are a mosaic of women working together in diverse ways to raise the future.