I quit my job. I lasted, what, six weeks? My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. And I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for that.
My first nine years at home were rocky ones. Motherhood did not come as naturally to me as I thought it would when I was pregnant with our first child. I focused entirely on preparing for childbirth, thinking that would be the hard part. But after our son arrived, and I moved from out in the world to inside the walls of our home, I found that mothering was not, in fact, intuitive. I had no idea what to do with a colicky baby whom I could not comfort, stuck inside that house alone with no adult companionship, no escape from the endless feeding, and diapering, and failed attempts at soothing. Nobody to joke around with, to bounce ideas off of, to talk about the makeover I just watched on the Style network while I nursed our baby for the 14th time that day. Just crying and puking and not-sleeping. I was accustomed to success, to laughing with adults, inspiring them to do big things – run marathons, raise thousands of dollars for the Leukemia Society. I was used to getting raises, and pats on the back, and “You rock!” So when our son continued to cry despite all the love and affection and wanting to help him more than anything I have ever wanted did not work, I felt like a failure.
And that was how I began my life as a mother – feeling like a failure. Since this was my new identity – being a stay at home mom – this did not bode well for my self confidence. Every time someone’s eyes would glaze over when they asked what I did, and I said, “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” or when a neighbor said “That’s all you do?” it was just more evidence that my choice to stay home was a poor one, and according to everyone else, what I did was easy, and boring, and not as valuable as actually working, like every other intelligent, interesting, modern woman does.
I tried to put on a brave face, but I was in constant inner turmoil, struggling to reconcile my drive to do more, to be more, to preserve some identity besides “Mom” with my deep desire, and my choice, to stay home with our kids. When our son was three, I launched a soap business, thinking I could bring in some money and stay home. At first it was great – friends and customers and fellow Etsy sellers validated me, the business grew every year, and I felt like I was doing something big and cool and “look what I did!” But ultimately, it consumed me. The success was hollow because, I’m ashamed to admit, I emotionally abandoned my family for work that didn’t pay and for strangers who told me I was awesome.
When I finally realized this, when our family was at a breaking point of too much stress for too little money, I decided last year to close my business and take my first job outside the home in eight years. I got a part time job at a Barnes & Noble within walking distance of our home, and I began bringing home a paycheck. I loved every minute there, partially for the paycheck, but moreso because I was finally able to get out and be me. I could laugh and be irreverent and swear and talk about books and be around 20-somethings, and contemporaries, and elders – all book lovers – and nothing I did, not one thing, reflected on or affected our kids. I didn’t have to worry that if I said “shit” some kid’s mom might not let their kid come over anymore (that never happened – just one of those constant “what-ifs” that plagued me), or that a parent might be horrified by a bawdy joke I made, or that our kids might be ostracized because my spiritual leanings were unconventional.
Working there was a much-needed release after eight years at home. It gave me an outlet for my adult personality, and interacting with my coworkers and with customers also reminded me who I am – an intelligent, interesting, modern woman. Once I felt that again, once I knew that in my heart, I did not need the job anymore.
So when I started working again here in Virginia, with a new shift in a new store, and conflicting work schedules necessitated childcare unexpectedly at 7:00 in the morning, or one of our kids would need to stay home sick, or I had to clock out early in order to rush home to meet the bus, I gladly kissed the job goodbye. We’ve learned how to live skinny after nine years on a single salary, and my tiny paycheck was not worth the stress that my job was causing.
More importantly, after the gift of several months with no job to go to, no business to run, just lazy summer days with our smart, funny kids who tell me, “You’re the best mom ever,” with my husband who makes me feel appreciated for who I am and what I do, I finally realized how awesome they think I am, and I no longer felt like a failure. After years of grappling with the “do I work or do I stay home?” question, I finally know my choice.
We had friends over last weekend, a couple with a 15 month old baby. The wife and I were talking about what we do, and she had taken a year off with her baby and is back at work now. Home life was not for her, but she seemed conflicted about that. When I told her my story – the story I’ve told here, of my own struggle, laughing when I told her it only took me nine years to figure it out – she looked at me and said, “So you’ve found peace, then.”
And I stopped, not having looked at it that way. There was an easing in my heart and in my stomach, and I felt the truth of her statement. “Yes,” I said. “I have found peace.”