When my daughter was just 6 weeks old, I went back to work full-time. I was torn, as I left my tiny infant at a daycare for nine hours a day. I daydreamed about staying at home with her full-time. I daydreamed about hours spent in leisure, gazing at my baby. As a few years passed, I fantasized about evenings where I had time to cook a meal, instead of grabbing a cheeseburger at a drive through for my toddler.
And then when she was 4 years old, I was able to stay at home with her full-time. My daydreams had come true. I was ready for mornings not spent commuting on a busy freeway with a sleepy kid in the backseat begging to go back home. I was ready for afternoons spent at the park, and enough time to play games on a weekday morning.
In some ways my life became immeasurably easier. But in other ways, I discovered I really had no idea what the life of a stay-at-home mom consisted of, nor the contradictions I would face.
I assumed that once I was a stay-at-home mom, I would become a laid back, relaxed lady of leisure, but I was so wrong. The truth is that the work of childcare, All. Day. Long, can be staggering.
When I was working full-time I was guilty of thinking (although I hope I was smart enough that I never said it), that stay-at-home moms didn't work nearly as hard as I did. I now see that both sets of mothers, those who work outside of the home and those who stay at home with their children, work equally hard. But their work is different.
I didn't realize how much I would miss lunch breaks, wearing non-yoga-pants outfits every morning, or socializing with coworkers. I didn't realize that there would be no chilling on the couch and watching marathons of my favorite Netflix show. There would be snack requests, doll tea parties, and spilled milk all over the living room rug.
When I worked full-time, I put my kiddo to bed and gave myself permission to lay on the couch and watch TV despite whatever messes or laundry had stacked up. After all, I'd worked a 9-hour day and I felt I deserved it. But when I became a stay-at-home mom, I felt that suddenly I didn't have the same "excuse", and often found myself doing laundry and cleaning long after my daughter had gone to bed.
While we're talking about work, there are a lot of stay-at-home-moms who are also work-from-home moms in some measure. It seems these days that most of my mom friends—myself included—have a "side hustle" (whether it's freelance writing, an Etsy shop, or a consulting business).
And while we have the luxury of not being "full-time" working moms, the time crunch of meeting deadlines while doing laundry, of being part of conference calls while balancing computers on our laps and playing catch with our kids, all while we're in between school carpools, diaper changes, and playdates—feels a bit like walking a tightrope.
There's also the contradiction of fantasizing almost every hour of the day about getting away from your precious children, and yet once you occasionally accomplish this fete, you find that you miss them terribly.
When I worked full-time, I was constantly wondering what my daughter was doing during the day—if she was feeling well, what she was eating for lunch, and if she was getting enough hugs during the day. When I was able to stay at home with her full-time, that separation anxiety eased immeasurably. But suddenly, I found that being together constantly produced a new need: the need to go to Target all by myself, with a diet coke in hand, and the freedom to wander the aisles aimlessly without saying things like "don't break that."
But even then, after about 30 minutes, I once again began to wonder what she was doing. I worried that she missed me. And I missed her.
Somehow, I thought life as a stay-at-home mother would be a bit of a holiday. But I soon found that my idea of a "holiday" morphed tremendously. Every day was not a holiday, it was a combination of wonderful moments reading books together and receiving hugs, while also picking dried boogers off the wall and examining a mysterious food-based stain on the sofa.
I discovered that my idea of a holiday turned into 30 minutes at night where I'd take a bath while drinking a beer and checking social media on my phone. My idea of a holiday became resting in the shade of the yard, watching my daughter run through a sprinkler and being grateful that she was distracted from my presence for the moment instead of demanding that I "do that voice, the scary one" a la Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.
As contradictory as this life can be, I don't ever regret my decision to stay-at-home with my daughter, just as my friends who work full-time outside of the home don't regret theirs.
And no matter what side of the fence we stand on—no matter if you stay at home or go to work every day—we've all bonded over hiding in a hallway, trying desperately to eat a bag of M&M;'s as quietly and quickly as possible before a tiny voice yells, "I SMELL CHOCOLATE!"
You see—the set of rules and pressures for stay-at-home mothers and working mothers might be slightly different, but at the end of the day we're all committed 100% to our children and we're all striving to create the best lives possible for them.