What is the toughest, loneliest job in the world? Some might guess working at the Antarctic weather station, but NO! In fact it is being a stay at home Mom. For me it is, at least. There are no lunches out, no meaningful, productive conversation with colleagues, no accolades for pairing that blouse with those kick-ass jeans. Just your kids and their demands. Oh and your house if you feel the need to pick up every once in a while. For 20 months now, I have been feeling resentful about being at home, even though many parents would love the opportunity to at least make the choice. So it high time for a recommitment.
Recommitting sort of implies that I was not committed before now. Don't get me wrong, I changed the diapers, did the laundry, made countless meals, helped with homework...the list goes on and on. But I wasn't fully devoted to it. Because while my outside actions appeared as though I was holding it all together, on the inside I was desperate for something else.
Since my youngest son was born, I always thought I would go back to work even though I never really threw myself into my original career in nonprofit advocacy. Sure, I was good at it and worked with some great people doing admirable things, but it never clicked for me. I didn't love it and knew that I didn't want to sacrifice time with my children to keep doing it. I wasn't sure if I would go back part-time of full-time but I was counting on a job. I was looking for an external source to validate me. To give me the reassurance that I could be a good employee or at least an income source so that my family could enjoy special outings like going to the movies or eating out more frequently.
I also had a hard time finding the strength inside myself to commit to a frugal lifestyle that stay at home parenting often requires. I've never been particularly fashionable or interested in the latest tech trends, but I did like to spend money "going out". Out to dinner, out of town, off on an adventure somewhere. But that changed after I became a Mom and especially after we had two children and our income was drastically reduced.
So I turned to the internet for inspiration. Certainly there were other mothers out there like me who felt the same way I did and I did find some honest words that made sense and practical applications of austerity that helped me tighten our purse strings, but not in the same source. Many of the "thrifty" women I follow online, for coupons or cheap meal ideas, find their personal strength in God. I have never been particularly religious, and while I respect those who are, the messages that "God will provide" or "This is the work God intended for you to do" fall on deaf ears. It is simply not a motivating factor for me.
But you know what is motivating? My kids. My children reap the benefit of me being here with them every day. My older son is smart, observant, and kind. My baby is happy, silly, and secure. Would their personalities be like that had they been cared for by someone else? Your guess is as good as mine. But I will have taught them the things I think will make them successful in life.
I read an article on Slate.com recently called "The Day Care Dilemma" that attempts to review the scientific literature about outcomes for children in child care and those at home, most often with their mothers. In general, children in high quality daycare have slightly better cogitative and language skills but later in life they are reported by their teachers to have more behavioral problems. Now if I wanted to be all sanctimonious, I would point to this a justification for why it is important to be home with my kids. But the real point the article made that resonated the most with me was this:
"When moms said it was better for mothers to stay home with their kids, and these mothers did stay home with their kids, their children fared very well. When moms felt that it is OK to work and put kids in child care, and these moms did work and put their kids in child care, their kids did great too"'
So I guess the bottom line is to be committed to whatever choice you make. Sure you'll have doubts from time to time. I might wake up tomorrow morning and have my toddler grunt and whine at me for something I couldn't even begin to guess at and think "Man, I need to pay someone else to do this for me!!!" But I would be missing out on something I always wanted. Something tough and lonely: stay-at-home-motherhood, but also something nuanced and fleeting: my kids' childhood. I'm all in.