Disclaimer: I am fully aware the choice to work or not is an incredible gift my family has. I do not discredit that nor take it lightly. I have great pride in being both a SAHM & Working mom. I respect all mothering choices and can assure you of my respect for whatever balance you’ve found for your life and family. The following post is my personal experience only and should not address in any way an opinion on anyone else’s parenting choices. Instead I hope you see this is about me finding myself and what balance works for MY life & family. Enjoy- XO
Today: “I feel like I’m being… suffocated,” I lay down in the couch and burry my face in the pillow, surprisingly finding more air to breathe in the tiny space that should’ve trapped me… because I was alone. For a moment I was without anyone needing my attention to a nap or a snack or a change, and I was desperate for a moment again…
In March, I took a step I never planned and never could’ve ever seen myself plummeting in to. I went to work. I just wanted to help dig us out of some accumulated debt and bring my husband some ease, at first.
I was still nursing Adi then, so the plan was to work in the evening when she wouldn’t need as much to eat and could take just one pumped bottle and I could feed her as soon as I get home. The plan seemed simple enough. Seth would come home from his office at the church in the evening a few days a week, and I would head to the restaurant to Host for a few hours, right before the girls would go to bed. I would still spend all day with them. It would give Seth a chance to step up and really solidify his bond with them on his own. No harm done.
I remember going in for the interview thinking it all felt very strange to me, like I was coming out of some sort of bomb shelter I’d been living in and seeing the world had all moved ahead 10 years without me…”What are your skills?” “What’s your availability?” “I see you haven’t worked in a few years..?” “You didn’t finish college?” Questions that rattled me and made me feel inferior and somehow irresponsible. Why hadn’t I said that I was an author and mother of two children and wife and youth leader and… whatever else I could’ve said to try to encapsulate “what I had to offer”? Why hadn’t I gone in knowing I had managed a doctor office on my own, and run a hotel desk, and been a nanny of 4 children, and now a mother (which we all know is the most daunting of any job to take on, really) and felt confident? Because I didn’t know at all what I could offer…
Anyway, I was easily given the job regardless of my doubts. My first day, Seth came home a little earlier than the agreed upon time to wish me luck. I felt foreign in my own skin and my polyester work pants. Something felt “off”. Everything I had spent over 2 years obsessing over: being an expert on all things breastfeeding, mastering nap schedules, deciding which child rearing camp I should take on the tactics of… seemed irrelevant. There was a shift that day, a small crack in the ground I had steadily made a foundation of my family on, staringback at me. I ignored it. I found myself excitedly getting in my car and turned on a playlist I had made just for the 20 minute drive alone. I got to do my hair, and wear makeup, and clean clothes, and jewelry, that no one would spit up on or try to mess with. There was a thrill to the freedom going to a job provided me, and I thirsted for it ever since.
Soon I became a waitress, better pay and hours. I started closing the restaurant regularly and making friends. I felt “at home”.
On Friday’s, I would sing karaoke and the bar would applaud me. Filling my egotistical soul that constantly needed stroking. On night’s I would close I liked the control my job of checking others work provided me. It fed my need to be recognized, and I paraded it proudly. Though nothing I did was wrong, when everything in your life becomes about yourself… it will all be wrong.
But at home, my girls grew anxious at my constant leaving. My husband and I passed like ships in the night as he would wake early to leave, return home just for me to leave, and I would slip into bed after him in the wee hours the next day. Adi weaned herself from nursing quickly. The girls went to bed most easily for Seth. He knew their schedules. My house was either neglected from me being exhausted or wiped cleaned by my equally tired husband. My daughters grew to annoy me in my state of sleeplessness. I would be frustrated at their lack of obedience to me… though why should they listen when they never knew when I would come and go?
So why did I keep working? What drove me most were two things I am so ashamed to admit: money and freedom.
No one pays you to clean up messes at home, but work does. No one pays me to be kind to my children, but work pays me to be kind to people. There’s never time to talk about my problems at home to my toddlers, but there’s other adults at work that listen. There’s no “me” time at home, but there is to and from work… work was easily replacing and consuming my life. And my whole world was suffering. The more I blossomed at my job, the more steadily my home life crept toward a downward spiral.
When the girls weren’t with Seth while I worked, they were with one of their grandparents while Seth and I handled youth activities for his job, or being babysat while I worked events for my mothers business… and when they were with me I was too tired by my entire life to be my playful self with them. Everything they knew about who I was to them was fading. My temper grew like wildfire and my fuse was short.
The week before I quit I remember taking Isla and Adi with me on a day trip with my siblings and parents to Pittsburg. We planned to got to the Zoo for sisters birthday and then to IKEA to pick up new lighting for my dining room. Isla had been taking my constant working especially hard. She would get angry at me all of the time for even putting her in the car, afraid I’d be dropping her off somewhere. She refused to listen to me and was becoming incredibly aggressive with me… punishing me for leaving her. It was her only way to communicate her emotions with me… and I wasn’t listening. Right before we got in my parents van for the drive I asked her to put her toys away. She didn’t listen and I picked her up. “WHAP!” Her fist met my nose with surprising force. Who was I to tell her what to do when I was never even around?
3 more times that day similar events happened. Until finally my own father had to give her a talking to because my face had had just about enough beatings for one day to rationally handle her outbursts. I was so embarrassed. My dad had to help me handle my toddler hitting me? My children pulled away when I held them? They didn’t listen… they didn’t know me. I had been absent.
Where was their mother that nursed them? Coslept with them? Wore them all day around the house? Played peek-a-boo? Read to them? rocked them to sleep and tucked them in with too many kisses to count?
She had been replaced with an irritable, sleep-deprived, selfish monster. I was unrecognizable.
The next week I gave my two week notice.
I was genuinely sad to leave my job. I’d made friends. I’d gotten to have alone time. I made good money. I’d gotten some debt paid off. I was good at my job. I felt rewarded and recognized and important. And in realizing what it was that made me sad about leaving, I realized I HAD to leave. What had happened to my priorities? Where was my family-my husband and daughters- on the list of things that mattered? Why did my self worth need to be stamped in what money I could bring in? Why wasn’t it measured by my children feeling safe and sure in what their life and routine was? Why wasn’t it measured by how I related to them? How they missed me? I was the one missing out… and everyone was suffering.
So I went home.
That’s where everything is supposed to mend itself, right? We should just be in rewind mode for a moment and then my life should fall into place again. Right? But it didn’t, of course.
Isla still is figuring out that I’m not leaving the house when I put her down for a nap or bed… which means the 20 minutes of coaxing her screams are blood on my hands because of me. When Adi needs held 99.98% of the time because she doesn’t trust me when I walk out of the room… it reminds me that I wasn’t there.
When Isla gets violent because she’s not used to me reprimanding her… it’s on me.
I carry guilt many days because I choose myself over everything else… though I know my girls are fine and it’s a phase and it will pass… I can’t help but consider that the phase would’ve never began were it not for me.
But worst of all, I find myself occasionally angry. Angry that I left to do my own thing, but angrier because I miss it. Angry because my daughter fights me, but angrier because I don’t know how to communicate and I feel like I missed some major moments in her development where I would’ve picked up on how to handle it. Angry because my youngest weaned herself from nursing, and angrier that I didn’t grieve it ending but celebrated my extra freedom in her doing it so I could work more… Angry because I didn’t know who I was without my job or with it. Angry because I miss having me time and money that I could decide what to do with. Angry because it feels wrong to be angry.
Everything has become about nap schedules, and snack time, and sorting the playroom, and folding onsies, and wiping noses & butts again… and I’m supposed to love it. I’m supposed to rejoice in what luck I have to even be a stay at home mom. I’m supposed to be thankful and excited about the role I get to play, and though I have many moments of peace and gratefulness I also feel emptiness.
Though I often thought it was about my job or lack thereof, the truth is I feel suffocated not by staying home or working, but because I don’t always know my identity well enough to be at peace in whatever role I play.
We’re still figuring out how this whole thing works again… my house is cleaner, my kids are happier, I spend time with my husband, and I am searching myself out again… I hope to unearth someone I could like. And in the settling dust of life slowing down, I think the best thing I can give my family now is myself.