When my first daughter was born, I pretty firmly identified as a stay-at-home mom. It was somewhat lucky I could reproduce my way into an occupation, because I was a full-on twenty-two year old mess before that.
For the first two years of my girl’s life I was with her basically day-in and day-out. You know, as SAHMs do. She began part-time daycare when I started a college program and thus began a “best of both sides” split where three days a week I was a “student mom” and the others I was home with my kid.
That separation stage is odd and exhilarating. Your child forms a social circle that not only doesn’t include you but that you lose the power to facilitate. (spoiler alert: turns out this trends continues and amplifies for those school age years). Other people play paramount roles in your child’s day, in their growth and development. At best is a blessed extension of community. At worst it’s a source of guilt and/or undeserved mommy judgement or scorn.
In the past 2-3 years I have transitioned to full-on working mom status. I stepped in slowly, first as a student, then as an intern, then as a part-time employee. When my Little Lou was born I was home with her the first nine months. Then was six months of pieced together extended family care while I attended school and interned, followed by a brief stint as a local YMCA before she was old enough to join her older sister’s childcare. I wrote a lot in this blog about that period and the constant transitions.
The years have passed and my kiddos have grown (newly four and a second grader) and there are numerous things I’ve noticed are different about being on the “working mom” side of things:
There is no time to kill. Time is of the essence–always. The days are not long and/or unspoken for. Bedtime comes seemingly as soon as we’ve all returned home from our respective places, eaten a bite or two, and spaced out on the couch for a show or two. Non-work time is an artful balance of all the must-dos, with the much needed relaxation and rejuvenation and equally important reconnection with children and family. These priorities are all interconnected and feed into each other as often as they conflict. And the weekdays are basically a dead zone for anything remotely productive. We live weekend to weekend and survive in between.
I have barely half a clue what is going on. Some of this is because I have an amazing partner who does more than his fair share of parenting. More and more though, I think that is a requirement for families with working moms or two working parents. Something has to give and the hope is that’s not mom’s sanity or joy. I realized the other day I can’t figure out which milk brand my kids like and which one they begrudgingly drink or dumped into the sink. I don’t spend enough consistent meals with them to have the ebb and flow of that stick out; I am not facilitating the majority of their daily nutrition; I don’t have the space in my head to really focus on the milk situation from one day to the next. And yet, as a SAHM, I would have inevitably known who ate what after I’d shopped at which store.
Fostering other relationships. This is a big ‘duh’ for any working parent. While you cannot tend to your child, you want a loving, supportive, trusting other adult(s) in your place and you want them to have their own special and fulfilling relationship. Of course you want that, even when that might be hard or (yeah I’m saying it) threatening. As Ali grows, she has a social network that now includes her school friends and their parents. One day a week she goes to a friend’s house after school. Another classmates mom takes her there. I could not pick this person out of a crowd and every time my husband mentions her name I need clarification of who he is talking about. It blows my mind to find myself so disconnected (in some ways) to these little beings I see so much and have raised/am raising so heartily. (To be fair, their dad knows all these people much better and interacts with them often. But this is about me)
Expanding social groups. Forgive me if I am mistaking developmental stages with this SAHM-WM transition. Some if it is probably just my girls getting older. Because all four of us now spend a large part of the day in our separate spaces, we have four social environments to participate in. This expands our community, but also our obligations. The birthday parties are endless and as Tony and I settle into work environments we’ve found that social events can soon follow there as well. As it’s currently the Holiday season I have two work Secret Santa exchanges, one preschool adopt-a-family, one school book exchange, one food drive event and countless familial parties, exchanges and obligations. And, to be honest, there might be other things the kids have that I haven’t even realized yet. It can be overwhelming and sometimes exhausting and yet it is vital to nurture each little ecosystem where one of us spends so many hours each week.
Not harder or easier–just different. As much as things are different, I really enjoy the current set-up. I do better when I have a sense of my own identity and some personal space. This apparently is not a possibility (at least for me) if I’m by my kids’ side each day. And while I almost want to let a small sigh of longing escape while I think of that (being with them all day, every day) I know and have lived through the point where that doesn’t make sense anyway. Unless homeschooling is on the table for your family, children go and they go off to school and it is normal and natural (and I would say needed) for that space to develop. It’s also hard and complex and anything but linear. Kind of like life.
So I know that even my SAHM experiences and fantasies had an end date (if not a change date). As a working mom, I get to be relatively in charge of my destiny 7:30am-5:30pm four days a week. Save my employer. Now I definitely need to always rush home and feel perpetually late, perpetually like I am not pulling enough weight, perpetually as if I have one foot in 4-5 worlds and everyone knows dancing is not my thing.
But I get a break from the kids, something that is often not on the table for SAHMs. I get a chance to pursue my dreams and model that for them. I carry a hope that someday they will understand and appreciate this and forgive me for never baking things for school parties, or going overboard with their homework projects, or remembering their dress-up days. It may come earlier for working moms and their kiddos, but it’s that navigation of separation. It’s not good or bad (or it’s both)–it’s just different.
I always felt so bad for working families. When did they ever see their kids? How could they possibly get anything done? Or stop and relax? How could moms stand missing their kids’ life? But I’m on the flip side now and it actually doesn’t feel like that. Sometimes it feels like some of that but there is not quantifiable scale measuring one lifestyle against the other. Each has it’s perks and drawbacks. And both contain caring parents, growing and loving families, daily struggles and stresses, and people just doing their very best. And, honestly, the extra money helps a lot too.