The stay-at-home mom is an enigmatic creature. Often spotted wearing her workout clothes with dried sweat providing the perfect accent to her already un-coiffed locks, she runs, walks, rolls from drop-off to yoga to field trip to lunchroom duty to the park to nap time-to snack-time to pick-up to swim lesson to home to bed and then starts it all of again. The stay-at-home mom’s (“SAHM”) car is a command center of sorts, equipped with baby wipes, snacks, books, blankets, strollers, and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. She is a Jane of all trades – hairdresser, short-order cook, amateur seamstress, tutor, nurse, and more. But why does the SAHM do what she does?
In my years since graduation, I have worked full-time with no children, and I have worked part-time with children. For the past year, I have taken a step back and been a SAHM. Even when I worked part-time, I was a SAHM from the world’s perspective as I was a sneaky, secret lawyer, who worked almost exclusively from home. I was more likely to run into my law school classmates at the park or grocery store than at a courthouse or conference room. I have experienced different iterations of work-home balance, and the juxtaposition has been interesting.
So why have I chosen the life I lead? For me, constantly straddling the line between career and family was exhausting. Granted, the exhaustion was at least partially caused by my approach. I tried to squeeze a part-time job into a full-time mom schedule. The most childcare I ever had was six hours/week, but I typically worked twenty to thirty hours. Ill-advised. I frequently felt pulled and peevish, constantly calculating how many hours I could bill in the p.m. if my children went to bed promptly at 7:30 and feeling flustered anytime an activity exceeded its time slot or a nap was unexpectedly cut short. It was not a winning formula. I was never entirely focused on either my work or my children.
By comparison, for the past year, I have felt relatively relaxed. I have been able to be a more purposeful parent – planning out activities and meals and goals. I have come from a place of yes with my kids – yes I’m available to volunteer more frequently at school, yes I’m available to linger at the park a little longer, yes I’m available to read that book. For me, it has been a slow and refreshing exhale.
So I think the answer to my own question is that I choose this life because it is my choice. Each of us has to live the life most-suited to our unique circumstances. Right now, my children have a lot of needs. We have moved on from the days of learning to eat and sleep and walk and talk.
But each of my children is at a pivotal time in her life. My three-year-old is currently experiencing her first year of part-time preschool and is learning how to interact with others, follow school rules, and respect teachers. She is also at an age with a long list of things she’s learning – numbers, letters, phonics, writing, bike-riding – the list is staggering. My six-year-old is facing an entirely different set of challenges this year as she navigates kindergarten. It is amazing the social challenges she is already encountering – peer pressure, name calling, gossip. It boggles the mind how early these tiny girls are called upon to stand up for themselves and their beliefs.
At this exact time in their lives, I feel extremely lucky to be able to be available to them. It is a luxury to be both the first one to talk to them after school and the last voice they hear beforehand. When I was working part-time as a lawyer, my mentor, who had recently made partner, retired from law firm life, at least temporarily. When she called to tell me the news, she explained that she wanted to be around enough to have a chance to influence her kids while they were still young enough to be influenced. At the time, having no school-aged kids, I’m not sure I got it. But now I do.
My decision has included sacrifices. I do not think any mother, or at least most mothers, is totally satisfied with the balance in her life. I truly believe there is no perfect formula of how to balance your own life with those of your children. In my case, I do recognize that I am shutting off a side of myself. As a lawyer, I felt intellectually challenged most days and felt a healthy fear attributable to constantly being pushed out of my comfort zone. On a more basic level, I talked to adults everyday about adult topics whilst wearing adult clothing. As a mother, I also feel intellectually challenged but more in a “how can I avoid screwing up my kids” way. But in contrast to my lawyer days, I feel very much in my comfort zone. Admittedly, I do feel pangs of insecurity related to losing the feeling respect that came with having a defined profession. Reciting “I stay at home with my kids” does not always garner instant respect. I have seen former law school classmates address all professional conversation to my husband, and I have endured comments from friends about how they could never be “fulfilled” by only being a mom.
But, ultimately, I am the one who must be comfortable with my decision. I do ask myself occasionally if I am fulfilled, and I find I am not sure what that word means. Does it mean satisfied? Happy? Challenged? Because I can say that I feel all of those things everyday. I don’t feel them every minute of each day, and some days, those feelings are more fleeting than others (stomach bug and temper tantrum days, I’m looking at you). In moments of reflection, I mostly feel grateful to have the opportunity to choose. In a life where I may not always be afforded this time with and influence over my kids, I try to measure my happiness in seconds as I watch them quickly slip away.