Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One Mom's Choice

Lately, as I plan my gloriously empty days as a stay-at-home mom, I wonder why it is that I'm feeling rather...content. I'm not a content person by nature. I have an annoying habit of taking a perfectly wonderful day/experience/occasion and turning it into a nightmare of stress, worry and unhappiness. So here I am, suddenly, doing what I've always wanted but was afraid to do and I'm not looking over my shoulder or around the corner to see if there's something else that I should be doing or wish I could do.

I attribute some of this to something a friend said recently at a lunch of stay-at-home moms. We shared child care stories, all of us having worked at one point during motherhood. My friend mentioned that a very good pediatrician once told her that it would be better if she worked when her child was an infant and then stayed home later in her child's life.

I used to think about this a lot. Obsession would be a good way to describe my interest level in this subject. I worked until my son was 12 years old and my daugher was in about first grade. I did this because I had to. I wanted to live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and I wanted to have children at the same time. So I did what many women my age did - I worked. I should point out, however, that one reason that I continued working is that my career was going fairly well. I was working my way up in a small private corporation doing - surprise! - almost exactly what I earned a college degree to do. Not being a stellar student nor someone who always wanted to be something in particular, it was exciting for me to be earning a good living.

The biggest thing that compelled me to continue working and utilizing child care was the vast improvement in my self-esteem. Unlike some of my honor roll/dean's list/pretty damn smart friends, I had always been average. Finding myself ahead of the pack for the first time in my life was invigorating and reaffirming. It's as if God reached down with his giant hand, patted me on the back and said: "Yes, you're OK."

So as my career rolled on, so did motherhood. The fact that the two competed with each other was no surprise. I was blessed to have a husband who was truly a partner and very supportive of my ambitions. He was willing to feed and change and entertain, all in the name of me putting in late hours to make a good impression.

I should be perfectly honest and say that these days were not without major, big-time stress. I constantly wondered if I was doing the right thing and went overboard to prove to others (perhaps the stay-at-home moms?) that I was by baking treats and chaperoning field trips and hauling pets to school for show and tell. Meanwhile I started early and stayed late at work to show that I was part of the management team.

After a while, I realized that I was trying to impress those that really mattered the least. One day it dawned on me that I cared more about picking up my kids early from child care than staying late to show the boss that I had the right stuff.

I must confess, however, that this realization came after my success had peaked. I had reached career goals that I had set for myself including being named vice president. It's as if I had won the race and I was looking for a new challenge and motherhood was staring me right back in the face.

Despite promising myself that I wouldn't become the personal embodiment of the Peter Principle, I became just that. I began to care less about department meetings and more about parent-teacher conferences. I lost my motivation because I had already proven to myself that I could do it.

It was right around this time we found out that my son had to be phased out of child care. He wasn't bad, he was just getting too old. It forced a decision on my part: Either hire someone to watch the kids after school or cut back on my job. My change in thinking made the decision easy. I cut back to part-time and so began the end of my career.

Even though I convinced my boss how valuable I would be in my new position, it was inevitable that I was becoming obsolete. It was at this time that a good thing happened. I learned to swallow my pride and let others step up to the plate. It was what I feared most and once I conquered this fear, full-time motherhood was just a step away. Of course it took a budget cutback and paycut to force my hand, but it also made it easier to make my excuses and bow out.

So now back to my friend's comment and my current contentment. Many women wrestle with the dilemma of staying home when their children are infants or when they are older. I was lucky and life chose the path that worked best for me. Other women prefer to stay home with their infants and get out of the house when their kids become more independent. Either way, it's a personal choice. Neither way is right or wrong, except for each individual woman. I guess I'm content because my self-esteem is intact, my kids are pretty much OK and I don't have to wonder "What if....?"

Still, I think that today's women have a tough row to hoe. My mother said it best after one of my children was born: "I'm glad that I'm not having children today. You girls have too many choices!" Ironic, isn't it? But oh so true.


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