Working versus staying at home. Part time versus full time. Lean in or lean out. It is the age-old debate that never seems to die. The topic is often the center of mom shaming arguments and unwanted opinions peppered with judgment and ridicule.
I understand why. The internal struggle and questioning whether I am making the best decision for both myself and my family races through my mind on sleepless nights. I don’t need the mom shamers; I am my own worst critic. And really, aren’t we all?
As a full-time working mom I felt enormous guilt as I waved goodbye to my son each morning at daycare. He would cry for me, always, and it ripped my heart out. The pride of a decent paycheck at a decent company kept me going each morning. The life-long label of being a hard worker and go-getter felt more important than the disdain that grew each time I walked through the door to mine through hundreds of emails.
Then one day, the paycheck wasn’t enough. My husband and I figured out a way to live without it. I stepped away and felt free.
As a part-time working mom I juggled conference calls and emails while two kids whined for my attention and crammed Cheerios in the keyboard. Folding laundry while trying to edit website content was not exactly what I signed up for. I felt disheveled, rushed and stressed no matter if I was at work or pushing a stroller at the zoo. This was supposed to be the best of both worlds, right?
As a stay-at-home mom I felt the weight of a majority of the household and childcare responsibilities. Although short lived, I wondered if I was giving my sons the perception of a 1950’s marriage where women serve and men work. The feminist in me gave lectures to toddlers on how both genders can do anything and everything! Although they were indifferent to my rants, I needed them to know I am more than just a mom. I adored being with my children, but in the same breath I felt I should be doing something more.
If I were to be truly honest, staying at home is what made me feel the happiest. Despite the twinge of wondering if I was shorting myself, the opportunity to breathe in the moments of my babies being little felt better than the unattainable dream I was chasing. And yet, I still decided to go back to work.
After almost six years on the hamster wheel of being a parent, I have learned we are all just doing our best to survive. The ultimate goal: to raise good kids. Whether our ambitions are headed north toward the big office in the sky or quietly nestled at home playing with tinker toys, it is up to us to decide what feeds our soul and our children.
We do not owe anyone, anything. An explanation is not needed for those who wonder how in the world you could EVER stay at home all day without going insane. Justification is not necessary when a stranger on the Internet asks if you are able to parent in spite of the amount of hours worked in a week. We define our futures. Our ambitions evolve, which is perfectly acceptable – and quite frankly, appropriate.
Maybe it’s not about the career or job we choose to pursue. Perhaps what is most important is being okay with reinventing ourselves from time to time and accepting the path it may take us down. What a powerful lesson to pass on. Yes, we have responsibilities, bills to pay and mouths to feed; but how we define our success, our achievements and our legacy is up to us.
It hit home when my oldest said to me one morning, “Mom, I know you have to work sometimes, but when you are just my mom I love that the most.” That was all it took. From that day on, I stopped worrying if my domestic example was warping their sense of gender roles or the way they would remember their mother. I stopped beating myself up over whether it was more important to stay at home or go to work. My efforts of simply raising good kids were paying off. Or, perhaps more importantly, I needed reassurance that I have worth despite what I choose. My kids haven’t doubted me for a second, so why should I?