I worked full time until my children were 6 and 18 months old, and choosing to be a stay at home mom was the best decision I ever made. I often wonder and regret why I didn’t do it sooner, but I did it nonetheless. Here’s my story.
I’ll always remember what it felt like the first day I went back to work after spending a glorious three months uninterrupted with my sweet first baby girl, Ruby. As I walked down the long hallway to my classroom, I was greeted with hugs and sympathetic sentiments.
One teacher even said,
“It’s okay to cry. I cried at first too.”
And I thought, yes I probably should cry. But oddly enough, I didn’t feel any tears. I wondered what was wrong with me that I wouldn’t be crying at the mere thought of leaving my sweet, precious, exclusively breastfed little infant in the arms of someone else.
I mean, it was my mom watching her, but still…
So, as I stood there in my classroom, all set up and ready for the students that had been waiting patiently with a substitute during the first three months of school for me to return, and I tried to see if I could cry.
But before I could get at my true feelings, I had to peel back a few layers that were covering them up.
First, I peeled back the excuse that I had to do this because we couldn’t afford to make ends meet any other way, then I scraped away the sentiments that she was in good hands with my mother, and finally I sloughed off the guilty feelings about how bored I sometimes felt being home without any adult interaction, and how hard it actually was to be a mother.
What I found buried underneath was a very fresh wound that was very sensitive to these probing thoughts.
Just poking at that wound brought back a sudden flood of memories. And as I stood there remembering what it felt like to hold her the moment after she was born, the way she was always happiest to lay inbetween us cooing early in the mornings, the sweet smell of breast milk that was always on her skin, the softness of her little fingers as they would grasp at my face, and the way her eyes would widen and how she would reach for me desperately even when she merely glanced at me from across the room…
I suddenly felt like I couldn’t breath and the tears started to flow noiselessly in a stream down my cheek.
I was just about to start heaving and sobbing when I heard the shuffle of footsteps in the hallway. As I looked at the clock, I noticed that I only had a few more minutes to pull things together before I needed to greet my students for the day.
So, I took all of those memories and all of those feelings, and I buried them deep down into the pit of my soul.
Then I packed all of my excuses back on top until the feelings of pain became but a vague memory. And I felt something grow within me that would only grow stronger as time went on. It wasn’t really a feeling of anything, but the absence of feeling. It was a numbness that allowed me to focus on the tasks in front of me while burying an instinct that I just couldn’t let out.
A teacher who saw me crying ran in for a quick hug.
“Don’t worry,” she said expertly. “It will get easier.” And she was right. It did get easier.
With each passing day, I got better at burying my true emotions, and the painful wound of our separation began to heal into a weird disfigured scar. Every time I would hear my sweet precious daughter cry as I slipped out the door to go to work in the morning or back to work after nursing her at lunch, I would pack more excuses like a salve onto my wound.
Everyone that watched her at our home during the rest of the school year would always tell me,
“She always stops crying a few minutes after you’re gone,” as if that was supposed to console me. But it did.
I knew she was in good hands and that she was being loved and cared for. My mom would even bring her into the classroom for me to nurse her during every break that I had and would even hang out for hours in the back of the room playing quietly for the first month that I was back to work. But they weren’t MY hands taking care of her, and that was a fact that gnawed at me constantly.
When the family was done caring for Ruby and she had to be put into daycare, it really was the best possible scenario. A coworker’s mother in law did day care one mile from where I was teaching, and I was able to go and breastfeed her to sleep during my lunch break every single day. But even though Ruby was happy there and well cared for, I felt like I was missing out.
I would try to linger after dropping her off just to be able to spend a little more time with her, but the pressures of work were calling me, and I had to go. She still cried every day as I left, and it never stop hurting to leave her.
At the end of the day, the eight hours we were apart were summarized in a few sentences.
As I got a report of what she ate, whether or not she pooped, and any other milestones she accomplished, my mind was really only half listening because all I really wanted to do was just whisk her away so that I could be with her as much as I could for the remainder of the day. But there were always errands to run, dinner to prepare, and things to do around the house, and it just felt like there was never enough TIME.
After a tough and emotional return to work, I decided that a position utilizing my Master’s degree in Language Acquisition at another school would allow me more flexibility and freedom to be a better working mother. In my new job as ESL Instructional Coach the following year, I found that it was definitely a better blend of my two worlds.
But little did I know that even as I was interviewing for this new job, I was pregnant with our second child, and he was about to change everything.
Elliot was born peacefully in front of the fireplace of our little one bedroom condo in December, and after only four weeks of maternity leave (we couldn’t afford to have my pay docked like we had with Ruby), I went back to work. (Did you know that every other industrialized nation except for America mandates full paid maternity leave? Go figure.)
Elliot was quite different from his independent, happy-with-anyone big sister. He was born ten days overdue, but he probably would have preferred to stay in there indefinitely. Even after he had been earthside for over a day, he still didn’t want to open his eyes and preferred instead to bury himself in my bosom and nurse constantly.
If a little bit of me died having to leave Ruby behind, leaving Elliot behind almost destroyed me. He needed me so much and my only consolation was that he slept most of the day and was up with me to nurse constantly throughout the night.
I almost didn’t even want to sleep inbetween feedings because I just wanted to hold on to each moment where the two of us could be snuggled up together soaking in the feel of his skin against mine and feeling his little body rise and fall with each breath.
Just as with Ruby, we had an onslaught of family visitors who moved in with us and helped take care of Elliot during my first six weeks back at work. After that, I only had to put him in day care for three months until the end of the school year. Throughout it all, he was always really close to my work and even though he would never take a bottle, I was able to go to him and nurse him every four hours.
Right up until before he was born, I had assumed that he would be taken care of by the sweet grandmotherly lady who lovingly took care of Ruby. But due to some unforeseen hip problems, she told me that she wouldn’t be able to take care of a new baby after all. That left me scrambling at the last minute to find someone else. I thought I found the perfect place right next to the school with a busy day care mom who had room for both Ruby and Elliot. I was sad to take Ruby out of her current placement, but happy to have both of my kids together.
When I came to nurse Elliot (10 weeks old) on my first break during their first day at this new place, I noticed that Ruby (17 months) was in her high chair eating food. I thought nothing of it until I came back at lunch only to see her nodding off, still in her high chair. When I came back at the end of the day, she was STILL in her high chair.
I was very upset, and the day care mom tried desperately to console me saying that she fell asleep there and had only just woken up. I was just like, “Why didn’t you put her in bed after she fell asleep in the high chair?” but she had no response.
The next day, I knew that I couldn’t take Ruby back there again, so I called Ruby’s sweet grandmotherly caretaker in tears and asked if she could take Ruby for the remainder of the year. She graciously agreed, but reminded me again that she wouldn’t be able to take care of Elliot too. Elliot seemed to do fine with the busy day care mom because he pretty much slept all day, and I had no other options, so that was that.
I’ll always remember the African lullaby songs that I would listen to every morning as I first dropped off Ruby, then Elliot to a parking lot near his drop off home where I would nurse him. When I hear that cd to this day, it still brings tears to my eyes.
I was desperately trying to juggle having a career, being a mom, being a wife, and taking care of myself, but I never had enough to give to everyone and so it felt like I was failing in all areas of my life.
When summer break finally came, I was in total and absolute heaven! I could finally be with my sweet babies all day and all night without any interruptions. We got into a nice little routine, and I really started to feel like not only was I surviving; I was thriving!
Instead of just worrying about our basic needs, I could actually spend time each day thinking of new ways to arrange our little house for the best play and learning opportunities, I had time to cook healthy meals for everyone, I could sleep when the kids slept without worrying about a clock, and most importantly, I could nurse my 6 month old Elliot on demand. He was VERY happy about that!
When we traveled back to our Michigan stomping ground that summer, we fell in love with being a family and being surrounded by family. When we came back to our Colorado home and our third floor condo with no air conditioning in 100° F weather, it just didn’t feel right. It felt empty and lonely, and I just couldn’t imagine what it would be like trying to get through another year while working. When we looked at our finances and saw that with two kids in daycare, it was hardly worth it for my husband to work, we made a big decision to have him be a stay at home dad and take care of the kids while I continued to work.
After those wheels were set in motion, and with the start date of my next school year quickly approaching, I just woke up one day and knew I couldn’t go back. Elliot was just getting used to me being around all the time, and I couldn’t bear to be apart from him again.
It felt like my heart would most certainly break into a thousand pieces if I couldn’t continue breastfeeding him on demand.
And then there was my sweet little Ruby who was already growing up so fast! At 18 months, she knew all of her letters and numbers and she was already starting to read. I wanted to be with her during every milestone, every cuddle, every naptime, and every tear. I wanted to be there for both of them, and I wanted to ENJOY my time with them, not just get through it.
After I made the phone call resigning from my position, I felt giddy with excitement! I was so happy to have finally made the decision to be with my little ones and set up a new life as a stay at home mom, but this in itself is another journey with its own story. 🙂
While we waited on the short sale of our condo, we packed up all of our things, said goodbye to the beautiful state of Colorado, our family there, our friends, and what had been our home for the last 6 years and moved into my parent’s house in Michigan.
After a few months, Scott got a job as a computer tech in a little rural town we had never heard of. He commuted over an hour every day until we finally accepted that even though it was a little farther from family than we would have liked, it was still a heck of a lot closer than Colorado, and it was really a great job in a nice location. So, we moved there. Now, we own an amazing house on a nice piece of land that’s much much cheaper than our condo in Colorado, and with two more kids, we couldn’t be happier!
I’ll always be a little bit sad about the times that I lost with Ruby and Elliot, but it was all a part of my journey and a part of our story, and I am so proud of how far we have come and what we have become.
At first, we tried to make our kids fit into our lives, just like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. But now that we have centered every aspect of our lives around our children and me being a stay at home mom, I couldn’t imagine a simpler, happier, or more fulfilling way to spend these years.
Our babies are only babies for a short little while. Why is there so much pressure and such a hurried rush for women to “get back to work”?
Now, I totally understand that the life of a stay at home mom isn’t for everyone, and I am completely and totally fine sharing the same arena with mothers who choose to work or have no choice but to work, but
I feel like the voices that are out there cheering on the working mothers are MUCH LOUDER than the voices cheering on the stay at home mothers.
When I was struggling as a working mom, I got A LOT of encouragement from co-workers, family, friends, strangers, and the internet that what I was doing was ok, that it was hard but it would get easier, that my kids would be fine, and that I would be fine.
Only one brave soul, one of those grandmothers who become a mother again due to unfortunate circumstances, told me the truth.
“You never get those years back,”
she said to me one day. I felt offended and angry that she would suggest something that I felt at the time was impossible, but her words haunted me and were possibly the catalyst for me leaving my job to begin this wonderful career as a stay at home mom.
Comments like, “I could never do what you do.” or “Don’t you feel like you’re wasting your Master’s level education?” are sentiments that my husband and I have heard on more than one occasion. But worse than the negative comments are the absence of comments.
At times, my voice is soft, too soft perhaps, because I don’t want to offend anybody. We live in an age where everyone is fighting for women to have equal rights and equal pay, but who is fighting for the moms who want to stay home and raise their families?
We are looked at as ancient relics from our grandmother’s era, something that our progressive society has tried to do away with.
But I don’t want to be silent anymore. I want to shout from the top of a mountain (or at least blog through the channels of the Internet) that it’s okay to be a stay at home mom.
I’m not saying it’s better than being a working mom or that all moms should be stay at home moms, I’m just saying that being a stay at home mom isn’t a step down, or something we all do because we couldn’t do anything else. I see it as a privilege, an honor, and the best career move I could have ever made, and something I will never ever ever regret.