I cried as my four-month maternity leave drew to a close. I resented the fact that I had to choose between my job and a tiny being who needed me.
By now mama, you have learned that there is no "winning" in motherhood. Mothering has, in a way, turned into a set of false dichotomies and it is not easy. Perhaps the biggest one modern mothers deal with is the feeling of guilt for going back to work or when choosing to stay home with their child full-time.
We are mothering at a time that can feel more competitive and comparative than what our mothers and grandmothers experienced while raising their children. We spend a lot of time online in a world which inundates us with a plethora of voyeurism, advice, opinions, and unfortunately—judgement.
I write this from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom who judges herself and compares herself to all the working moms out there. So I want to say: if you are like me, you are not alone. And if you are out there in the paid workforce, I commend you for having two jobs—because I know the work does not stop when you get home.
The options women now have outside of full-time mothering is an advancement, a privilege, a gift. Yet often too many options makes life harder; especially when the heart is involved.
The best advice I ever heard is that women do not have to do everything at once. It is okay to compartmentalize life a little.
Some mothers are obligated to return to work for financial reasons, but I have found that many mothers feel societal pressure to return to work because that is what everyone else is doing, or lack of peer examples of other full-time moms. Working outside the home may be viewed as the more "modern" or progressive choice for mothers.
Deep down perhaps we all want to be the woman who "has it all" (a myth women are openly debunking.) For those of us mothering full-time, the guilt can come from the feeling that it is backwards to stay home with your children when so many women fought for your right to get out of the house and into the workforce. Couple that with the fact that mothers today have lost the village mothers once had, and full-time motherhood can be intimidating and isolating.
I was fortunate (let's not discount that this is a privilege in many ways) to take time off from a 10-year career to be with my kids but the decision to stay home was not easy.
I cried as my four-month maternity leave drew to a close. I resented the fact that I had to choose between my job and a tiny being who needed me. I had no idea what to expect if I decided to leave the only career-focused life I had known. I always assumed I would work because my mother did, and my peers do.
Two years into this new job, I have a deeper appreciation for full-time caretakers. I always respected the choice, but never knew it closely. For starters, "stay-at-home mom" is a title in need of rebranding. I am rarely home (hello, busy toddler!), and I am working. I am doing work we pay other people to do: childcare, cleaning, cooking, accounting, communications, transportation. And the boss is not big on coffee breaks, let me tell you!
While my appreciation has grown, I do not always feel valued by society. Family and friends are supportive but the general public and media will make comments which presume this is a life of leisure, that my career is being ruined, or my education wasted.
And today, where every moment of life is shared, every success is seen, and every LinkedIn update available—it can make you feel like all other moms are doing something other than full-time motherhood. It can make you feel lost.
If you are lacking a little ambition right now, maybe that is okay.
We do not expect people to have two careers at once, so why do we put pressure on ourselves to do more than take care of our children right now? Ask yourself if the pressure to be working—in a way that earns money—is coming from within or from somewhere outside of you. Figure out what or who is making you feel like being a mom is not enough.
If social media is giving you a false sense of what life should be right now, cut it out. If friends or family are making you feel bad for your choices, try and educate them on how you spend your days or why you made the choice you have.
Seek the company of people who "get" you and have experience—past or present—working the way you do. You will find comfort in commiserating over boring days or unruly kids, and—more importantly—the best parts of the day such as warm hugs and kisses, and new milestones. Find the spaces that allow you to be you without worry or regret.
Remember that life is long but we only get them this close for 18 years before they want their independence. And most importantly, remember that regardless of whether you are full-time mothering or part-time mothering—your child will be just fine and is loved very deeply.