On my 7th or 8th birthday, a sweet little girl named Amy giggled with excitement as my mom announced that it was time for the birthday girl to open gifts. Everyone gathered, tired from what seemed like hours of pony rides across my dad’s farm land, but Amy eagerly planted herself at the front of the pack and requested that I open her gift first. What I wouldn’t know until later was that she had already told my mother all about the gift, and my mother’s anxiety was growing by the second. You see, I already had this particular Smurfs purse, which was carefully tucked away in my dresser at home. Although it was my favorite new treasure, my mom was anticipating a less than stellar reaction to receiving a duplicate. This feeling was tempered only by her hope that I would pull through the awkward moment with a gracious response.
Just for fun, let’s turn this into a multiple choice question. How do you think I responded?
a.) I smiled, thanked Amy for such a thoughtful gift and later discussed exchange options with my mom.
b.) I congratulated Amy on her great taste since I had recently picked out the very same purse.
c.) I absently said, “I already have this” and moved on to the next gift unaware that my friend, deflated, had moved to the back of the pack.
This relatively innocuous statement actually has the power to evoke pride, guilt, judgment and even jealousy depending upon who’s in the conversation and their bias about what’s “right” for children, and society. But what’s right for the moms?
Of all discussion topics, working vs. staying home gets the most play among my group of friends. Some of us have full-time jobs and some have forgone a career to raise children. Some need two incomes to get by, while others simply can’t imagine life without a career. Some who stay home have realized that working is actually more expensive than not, given the high cost of childcare. Regardless of the situation and our level of satisfaction with it, we all agree that there is no single “right” answer, as we are all faced with a different set of circumstances that impact our decisions on the issue. However, no matter how satisfied we are with those decisions, we sometimes find ourselves peering over the fence to see if the grass truly is a deeper shade of green.
Even moms who count their blessings about being able to stay home with their children sometimes long for the adult conversations they remember having when they were working. As one friend says, “When you start to discuss your problems with a toddler-sized plush SpongeBob doll, you know you need some time with grown-ups!” I’ve had moms admire my shoes and comment longingly that they could never justify the purchase given the few places they would have to wear something so dressy. Others feel they have no break from their children – as precious as they are – and battle conflicting expectations when their husband arrives home from his own long day at the office. But these may very well be good tradeoffs for the ability to share all of life’s important and teachable moments.
On the flip side, working moms are often overwhelmed with guilt about the time they spend away from their kids. I’ve always been career-minded and relatively confident in my ability to have it all in life. But, even though I often don a super hero cape, I also have some pretty powerful kryptonite. Looking down at those little people in my life makes everything go just a bit hazy.
At work, I find myself drawn to various pictures of my smiling kids. I wonder if they’ve had a healthy lunch, whether they’re watching Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel, if Nolan’s had a good “pee pee in the potty” day, and whether Bailey’s loose tooth is still hanging on by a thread. I feel anxious. I guiltily remind my mother-in-law about the soccer practice that begins before I’m even supposed to clock out for the day. And I miss them.
All that would be fine if the culmination of my day wasn’t hearing Nolan burst into tears and state emphatically that he doesn’t want to leave grandma’s house with me. Bailey sends her own message by ignoring me altogether. In these moments, when I’m kidnapping my own children from their grandparents’ house, I feel unsettled, disconnected, and a little like I’m watching my life go by from behind a pane of glass rather than out living it. I’m jealous…jealous of my friends who don’t HAVE to work and surely aren’t subject to the sadness I feel at this repeat, albeit momentary, rejection. I’m jealous that they get all day to reinforce bonds, while I’m trying to force that into the 60 minutes between dance class and bedtime.
These are the moments when the fantasies of quitting my job and becoming an at-home mom take over. I imagine myself going on all kinds of daily adventures – to the zoo, the park, and museums – while organizing play dates, catching up on scrapbooks, teaching the kids a foreign language, and sewing their winter wardrobe. We won’t go into the holes in my fantasy, but let’s just say the likelihood of me actually doing all these things is iffy at best and I stopped just short of adding to the list “make my own soap.” Hey, it’s my fantasy and I’m sticking to it.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, when I stop to remember that life isn’t all about me (what??), there are some really great benefits to my kids of being a working mom.
First and foremost, they have an amazing relationship with their grandparents that they likely wouldn’t have if I stayed home. Having more than just mom and dad to teach, reinforce, and love is an incredible blessing. In rational moments, I’m glad to endure some hard mommy moments in exchange for the wealth of experiences and memories made with their grandparents.
As much as I enjoy the work I do, my kids are really proud of me, too. When we’re having our “what happened today” conversations, I get to tell Bailey about all the babies and children who have the benefit of two loving parents in their lives because of the work my company does. The pride she feels and the fact that I’m modeling for her what I preach – that she can do anything and be anything – is enough to give guilt a high-heeled kick in the pants!
So, do these benefits outweigh the disadvantages? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, nor would my answer be the same tomorrow as it is today. What I DO know is that I have two great kids who will never want for love, guidance, or the discipline and boundaries they need to grow into the kind of adults I want them to become. And that makes my heart happier than any amount of time with them could.
But, just in case I happen to win the lottery one day, I bookmarked some You Tube videos on making soap at home. I’m just sayin’….
Thank you for all the positive feedback on my first post. Here we go again, folks!
“ME DO IT MYSELF, MOMMA!”
I hear this statement from my 2 year old multiple times every day. Whatever the activity – wrestling with his shoes as we’re hurrying out the door, opening a carton of applesauce at dinner, or brushing his pearly whites before bed – it’s the same old song and dance.When I’m in a hurry and desperately trying to meet whatever deadline is looming, I am frustrated by the seemingly silly process of letting him attempt a task that I know good and well will end in tears of frustration. Why doesn’t he just let me help?
Even though this independence comes with the toddler territory, I’m just as guilty of possessing the “Me do it myself!” mentality. I don’t need anyone’s help because I can handle it. In fact, I will reject every offer of help – politely, of course – even if I truly desire the support. An example:
Some really thoughtful person says, “I’ll watch the kids if you guys wanna go to a movie sometime.”
I think, Awesome, we sooooo need it! When are you free? There’s a movie I’ve been dying to see that’s playing this weekend. Oh, and maybe we could even grab a bite to eat beforehand!
But I actually say, “Oh, that’s so sweet. We’re usually so busy during the week that we just like to do stuff around the house on weekends. Plus, ya know, we have Netflix. Soooo, how’s that project you’ve been working on?”
In contrast to my own actions, I know quite a bit about the importance of establishing a personal community to support someone during both good and bad times. Further, we’ve all heard that African proverb about how it takes a village to raise a child.
To my knowledge, there’s no proverb that warns against accepting an outstretched hand or advises braving the journey alone at all costs. If assistance from others is a necessary piece of life’s puzzle, why is it so difficult to accept goodwill? This is an especially intriguing question when compared to how easily most of us reach out to others when we know THEY need something we can easily provide. So, why the paradox?
Maybe receiving assistance is perceived as weakness. Perhaps we worry that the offer is not genuine and acceptance will be met with awkwardness or hardship. Or maybe we are simply unsure how to adequately show our appreciation, so avoidance seems far easier. I don’t know about you, but I claim all of the above.
I recently heard someone equate acts of service to gifts received at a birthday party. A gift is a gift, regardless of its form. And, it is almost always given with love and careful thought behind it.
When the package is opened, the only acceptable response is “thank you.” The recipient wouldn’t return the present with an eloquent speech about not needing the item for this reason or that, so how is it any better to decline the gift of support when it is offered with the very same sentiment? This way of viewing the issue makes me feel badly about all those times I’ve said no to others. In reality, I deprived them of an important opportunity to share something meaningful with me. In fact, they probably thought the very same thing I do when my son displays his stubbornness…..why won’t she just let me help, for goodness sake?
So, I know what I have to do. I have to start saying YES.
Need help with the kids? YES! Can I carry that box for you? Sure!
Will you join me? Just Say Yes. Actually, it feels kind of good.
Mrs. Reagan, I do believe there’s a new motto in town.
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