Some moms HAVE to work because they need to support their families. Some moms WANT to work because they need to support their families and have a fulfilling career for themselves. I was somewhere in between.
When our family was first faced with the idea that I had to go to work to support our family, I kicked and screamed and argued plenty about how that wasn’t my destiny. It wasn’t what I was meant to do!!! I was supposed to be Betty Crocker and Donna Reed and Mrs. Cleaver ALL IN ONE! I was all about the dresses and pearls and having a whole chicken and a freshly baked Bundt cake ready at all times! Didn’t everyone know that if I worked, my kids wouldn’t know me OR love me?
But alas, we were basically making minimum wage at the time and there would be no perpetual chicken OR Bundt cake if we couldn’t get the bills paid. So off to work I went…still kicking and screaming and missing my babies every day.
I was 22 with a one-year-old and an infant, no college degree and very few skills other than pure ambition to work hard and work well on 3 hours of sleep while pumping every 45 minutes. Put THAT on your LinkedIn profile.
I started off as a temp, doing light paperwork and reception for a branch office of a national nonprofit. One thing led to another and they hired me as their full time Administrative Assistant. A couple of years later I became a Fundraising Coordinator and before I knew it I was the Executive Director of the local chapter. The achiever in me was thrilled, satisfied and loving every minute.
Then came the scheduling conflicts, the meetings, the “balancing act” of trying to do it all…and I was missing my kids all the time. My husband and I would sit down to do the family calendar and I would start to cry and say things like, “Why does it have to be this hard? I’m missing out! The kids are going to miss me! I HATE WORKING!”
The real truth was, I loved working. I loved what I did, but I constantly fought that battle of feeling like I needed to be with my family when I was at work and pulling out the laptop when I was with my family.
My husband always gently reminded me that just because I wasn’t the one taking the kids to story time at the library or to the splash park every Tuesday afternoon, they still knew who their mom was, and I needed to focus on spending the best kind of quality time with them, which taught me….
Lesson 1: Quality Time Over Quantity Time
I had a hard time with not being able to spend every waking moment with my kids, or every minute between 3:00 and 5:00 when they were in school. But I made sure the hours we DID spend together, counted. We would build a living room fort and watch a movie at home, have a dance party in the kitchen, or lip sync with hairbrushes in the bathroom. Those are the moments my kids remember.
When my husband got a promotion at his job, we moved to Colorado from Texas and I had the choice to stay at home and I LOVED. IT. OMG, I organized closets, read books while the kids were at school, and made a different Pinterest recipe, 4 nights a week (and gained about 20 pounds).
…buuuut when we decided we wanted to buy a house in oh-so-expensive Colorado, we knew it would take an extra salary. So, after a lot of discussion, advice seeking and thought, we decided to ask the kids what they thought about the idea of me going back to work full time. Their response is something I’ll never forget:
“What do you mean? You’ve been going to work every day, haven’t you?”
…Well, no I’ve been here to pick you up from school and bake cookies and stuff.
“Oh! We don’t care about that! We thought you’d been working the whole time!”
Quality time always trumps quantity.
Lesson 2: I’m Teaching My Kids the Value of Hard Work and Vision
My kids didn’t just see that I was gone for 8 hours a day: They saw the passion I put into my work. I am confident that my kids live with a strong, hard working mom who believes in everything she does. As a result, they have specific goals they’ve set for their lives and they pursue them with a passion. Including Abby and Josh in my vision and goals helped them develop their own vision and goals. Sometimes they would get to hang out in my office for a little while and hear me talk to coworkers and sponsors about the mission of the nonprofit I was working for. That got them interested and we would talk about it, causing two of my passions (my kids and my work) to collide, which basically made me pee my pants with delight.
Lesson 3: Let Go of Perfection
David Allen said, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”
There was a time when I was going to be a Room Mom, a singer/songwriter, a professional baker, and a blogger, all while being a rock star wife, a home owner, raising two elementary school-aged kids, and working 50 hours per week. I don’t know about you, but those are the makings of a nervous breakdown faster than you can say Xanax.
We just can’t do it all. People would ask me, ‘How do you manage?’ and I would tell them, “My house is always dirty.” It was the truth! I had to let go of perfection because every area of my life would have suffered if my expectations were at the level of those pesky bathroom cleaner commercials. I’m sorry, but those commercials are so unrealistic!! No mother should EVER have a bathroom that’s all white: White tiles, white towels, white claw foot tub! There’s just too much poop and dirt in a mother’s life to have a white bathroom. Come on.
I now help my husband run our family business, and I have the best of both worlds. I get to work toward something and occasionally have cookies ready at the end of the day (who cares if they’re from an Oreos bag?!) I have savored every moment that I’ve been able to spend with my kids, but I will always go back to these lessons I’ve learned along the way.
We all have areas where we struggle as moms and no amount of staying at home or having a career is going to change that. It’s our attitude toward our weaknesses and imperfections that make or break us and shape the way our kids view and interact with us.
My working full time was a culture that my kids were raised in. They were used to it. I understand this kind of decision is different for every family and each child is going to respond differently to any kind of lifestyle. But don’t tie yourself up in what society tells you or how your neighbor’s doing life, or whatever image you’ve built up in your head about the “right” way to do things, or even that pesky lady in the bathroom cleaner commercial (WHO’S ALSO WEARING ALL WHITE?!)
Don’t consider yourself as being better or worse off because you chose a certain path. There isn’t just one “right” way to raise kids. Don’t think for a minute that you can’t be exactly the kind of mom or give your kids the kind of life they need because you’re working or not working. Your kids were given to YOU because they needed YOU. No matter what, they love you. And hey, I’m living proof that you can have your Bundt cake and eat it too!