Torn: Stay at Home Mom, Working Mom, and Everything In-Between
Tuesday has become one of my favorite days of the week. We get up, I pack lunches for not one but two little girls, then I drop them both off at their respective schools and return to a quiet house where I have six blissful hours with just me and my computer.
This past year, one of my goals was to grow Au Coeur Design into a real, legitimate business. When we decided to move to Fort Collins last winter and Chris traded more than $20,000 a year in income for more time at home with our family (which is priceless), we knew that it would once again be a necessity for me to bring in extra income.
In 2013, I had built a grand total of three websites. For the first time in our lives, we lived in a place that was startlingly inexpensive and we had a primary income that could actually cover all of our needs and a few wants too; for the first time, I could be a true “stay-at-home mom” who did not have to bring in extra money to pay for the groceries. In the early days it felt luxurious. It turned out, though, that the “luxury” of me not working was not really a luxury at all: with Chris working 6-7 day weeks, 14-18 hour days and with no childcare options we liked, every single thing about running our home and caring for our daughters fell on my shoulders. Despite how I might have felt during busy Nantucket summers, I never truly knew what it felt like to be a restaurant widow until the 11 months we lived in Gillette. Me not working was not a luxury, it was a necessity.
I have always known I wanted to have children. I also knew long before I was married that I wanted to stay-at-home with my kids; I never wanted them to spend their days in daycare far from the loving arms of their family. And so, initially, being an exclusively stay-at-home mom felt like a dream come true. As I unpacked and settled us in our new town, all the while navigating the experience of being a mama to not one, but two little people, I thought that I had finally found the life I wanted, even if not in the location I had envisioned. But it didn’t take long for the shininess of our new situation to begin to dull. As Chris worked ever longer hours, and I had literal 24/7 responsibility for two tiny humans for months on end without a break – no daycare, no babysitter, no preschool, and no partner at home in the evenings – I’ll admit that stay-at-home mom life lost a lot of its magic.
Towards the end of our time in Gillette, just as the first early snowflakes were beginning to fall on still green leaves, I did break down and hire a sitter to come to the house a few mornings each week so I could clean, go to an occasional meeting, and maybe even do a bit of work. I cannot express how guilty I felt about this. I felt like a bourgeois housewife – Betty Draper at her finest – spending her husband’s money on hired help to do her job for her. I was embarrassed but I was also exhausted, and I finally gave into the fact that I couldn’t do it all: parenting a preschooler and nursling, homeschooling, cleaning, cooking, La Leche League and charter school group running, plus still trying to be a wife in the odd hours it was possible — it was too much.
One of the first things we did after moving to Fort Collins was find a preschool for Nora two days per week. This fall, we decided to pay extra so she could go to full day kindergarten and, after much back and forth, we decided to sign Zara up for a two morning per week toddler program. Two weeks ago, we made another decision to extend Zara’s school days from 8:45-12:30 to 8:45-3. All of these things we chose to do so that I would have more dedicated daytime working hours. Of course, both girls are in wonderful Montessori programs where they are able to learn and grow at their own pace while interacting with their peers and other adults. They are in situations that they love and that are beneficial to them; we wouldn’t have them go if we did not think it was good for them, but the real, honest reason why they are in these schooling situations is so I can work.
I love my daughters like crazy. I love watching them experience the world and I enjoy being the one to guide them through their days. I love spending my days with them, but over the last nine months I have realized that I also really like working. I like learning and developing new skills. I like being able to think creatively and turn a design into reality. I like spending time talking to adults about non-family things. I like being able to sit down and focus on a project for an hour or more at a time. I like working because it gives me a whole different world to exist in and I like that it feels like a break.
In the four and a half years since I started this blog, I have gone full circle. I started out a full-time working out-of-the-house mom who desperately wanted to be at home with her daughter. I became a stay-at-home mom who supplemented her family’s income with a hodge-podge of activities: babysitting, lactation consultations, and website work. I shifted into full-time stay-at-home mom mode and then went back to being a work-at-home mom who is on her way to creating a full-time business. When we moved to Fort Collins I wasn’t thrilled to be starting over yet again, but I’ll admit I have never been more relieved to be given a reason to redefine my role in our family. “Having” to work gave me permission to make time for things that are interesting to me and me alone. These days, I find myself at times thinking that I might really enjoy it if I could work every day instead of just two days per week. Dare I admit that at moments, I might even fantasize about being able to work more.
Lately, I have felt torn about how much I love this. When Nora was almost two, I’ll think, she was never away from me and I loved it. I never felt like I needed a break. Now Zara is at that age and I leave her two days per week without looking back. What kind of mother does that make me? Am I giving equally to my children?
I’m not sure if its because I now have two children demanding attention instead of one, if it is a result of that long parenting year in Gillette or if it is just that our desires and interests naturally ebb and flow, but whatever the reason I really like my current working mama situation. There is a nagging little voice in the back of my head – mama-guilt, something we all suffer from (apparently for the rest of our lives if you believe things written on the internet), but I’m doing my best to ignore it. Zara is doing beyond fine at school; she asks to go every day of the week and is the happiest little person at pick up. I do believe that happy moms make happy parents of happy kids, so I do my best to tell myself that this situation is good for her, it is good for me, and it is good for our whole family…even if I am still a little torn about the whole thing.
You summed up your post with “our desires and interests naturally ebb and flow.” You are helping your family by working, you are happy, Chris is happy, and your children are happy at school. However, where does that nagging little “guilt” come from? Society, raised beliefs? Where is it written down, “I have to be with my children at all times?” It’s time to move on, and accept your choice because you and your family are thriving.
That’s a good question, Donna. Why do I feel some guilt? I grew up with two (actually four) full-time working parents and I wouldn’t say I had the best childhood. I think a big part of it is that I’m afraid of recreating my negative experiences for my children. But I do think a large part of why I feel bad is because I want to be fair to the girls and I feel guilty about wanting to work when Zara is young when I didn’t feel this way when Nora was the same age. It sounds silly…so many other things are different in our lives so of course this might be different too, but it still bugs me a bit.