This morning my daughter and I were snuggling in her bed, talking about whatever it is that three year olds talk about at 6:30 in the morning, when she piped up with the words that broke my working mom heart: “Mama, I don’t want to go to school. I just want to be home with you.”
Oh, baby girl. On a still semi-dark Monday morning, there is nothing I want more than to just be home with you. I told her that I will miss her while we are apart, and that I will look forward all day to seeing her smiling face when I pick her up.
And I reminisced. Last week, weather forced the road that goes to her daycare to close, and we had a very last minute Tuesday at home together. She wasn’t sick, it wasn’t a holiday, it was just…. a Tuesday. I found a story time at the library and a drop-in music class for us to go at the play gym. We watched the news and did some yoga together. She got to play with the Play-Doh set that there just never seems to be enough time for on the jam packed weekends or the rushed weekday evenings. I got some laundry done at noon instead of at 10:30 at night when I’m half asleep but out of clean underwear. We weren’t rushed. There were no deadlines breathing down my neck and no stressful preschool rules breathing down hers. I wore leggings all day long and running shoes and my hair was wild and curly and no Spanx were in sight. It was everything I daydream staying at home would be when I’m crushed with demanding bosses and cranky co-workers and terrible drivers on my daily commute.
I’ve worked through my fair share of feelings of guilt about being a full-time, outside the house working mom. It’s hard to say goodbye to your tiny baby or sweet toddler or hilarious preschooler every day; to entrust their care to a virtual stranger. But there is another working mom feeling I try not to focus on as much – jealousy. I know that for me and for our family, working full time is the right choice. I also know that the grass always seems greener on the other side.
Despite my sometimes very loud whining, I do like working. I like my job and the things my salary affords me. I like having a place to go every day and a routine. Even with almost three years of full-time working and parenting under my belt though, the envy still sneaks up. It’s true that I know jealousy isn’t worth the energy, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t rear it’s ugly head once in awhile. When my daughter has a nasty cold, but isn’t really “sick enough” to justify a sick day at home with such little sick time available; when it would be so nice to get the weekly groceries on a Tuesday morning instead of having to find a way to squeeze it into the weekend; when I have too much house to clean, pick up or organize and not enough time or energy after a day that starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends by 11 p.m. if I’m lucky. On those days, yeah, I’m jealous. I’m jealous as hell.
And after the bad day ends, I try to remind myself that out there a stay-at-home parent is wishing for a job, a routine and a commute. They are seeing green from the “always greener” other side. Working outside the home gives me adults to talk to, a 30-minute commute each way, alone, a way to go to the doctor or dentist or haircut during the day without having to find childcare. So while I still grimace when the library publishes its activity and story time schedules, and I’m scouring it for an event or two that isn’t during the day, during the week with little or no luck, I try not to let the disappointment get the best of me.
Jealousy is a tough feeling because we don’t really want to feel that way. Jealousy is also a really complicated emotion. It evokes feelings of shame, too — shame that I can’t accept and enjoy what I have. I give myself that grace I need on those really hard days when it feels like no matter how much I throw at my job or my child or my marriage or my home it’s never enough. I will never not feel like I’m constantly being pulled in a million different directions by a million different forces every day.
Finding the balance and dealing with conflicting emotions about parenthood and just adulthood in general will always involve emotions that are tricky. And just like I’m teaching my daughter to understand and process her emotions in a productive way, aka it’s not OK to kick your teacher because you’re feeling mad that you got a timeout. I’m still teaching myself that same basic principle.
Will I always feel some jealousy toward that stay at home parent daydream that I occasionally get to live out? Probably. I think so many of us feel that way regardless of if we work outside of the home or not. The important thing I’ve learned over the years though is to not let those feelings take charge. It’s not always easy to do, but it’s worth it to keep the ugly green monster that is jealousy at bay.