When I became an older mom with the birth of my third daughter at age 43, my life had changed dramatically. I was in a new marriage, parenting two teenagers and working mom as a full time teacher. I could not financially leave my job and I didn’t want to. As I reflect back now over more than two decades of parenting, I understand why I was a better mom the third time around. Yes, part of it could be chalked up to experience, but continuing to work made a bigger contribution to my mothering ability and satisfaction. Here are a few reasons I believe this was the case:
Blast from the past
One of the most vivid memories from my years at home with my two older girls, now ages 22 and 20, happened on a trip to Costco. Desperate for distractions, I took the girls to a store almost every day. I never combined trips, but went as soon as we were remotely low on toilet paper or toothpaste. In the checkout line, I heard an older couple talking about how cute my girls were. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop there. The man said, “Would you go back to those years when our kids were small?” The woman answered, “Not in a million years.” I wanted to turn around and say, “I can hear you.” But instead, I fought back sobs because I wanted to have a break down right then and there.
I wanted to cry to someone who would understand my emotional turmoil at being a SAHM who desperately wished she weren’t. But that would make me a bad mom, right? I mean, who in their right mind doesn’t want to be home with their cute babies? I was afraid to say these things out loud because as a young mom, I was not comfortable enough in myself or my mothering abilities to speak up.
Working Helped Me Maintain a Sense of Identity
Who are we when we become moms? Some of us step naturally into this role and it fulfills everything we had expected and hoped for. But what about those of us who don’t find being a mom the be-all and end-all of our existence? (Insert requisite, “Of course, I love my kids” here. We always have to add that when talking about motherhood struggles).
I love teaching job. Contributing to the lives of my students is part of my calling in life. Yes, raising my strong girls is part of my purpose, but I need that completion of myself in more than just that arena of life.It took me years to come to terms with this about my motherhood experience. I now understanding myself and my identity separate from being a mom and don’t harbor unnecessary guilt for continuing to work.
Young Children Are Not My Favorite Age to Parent
You ever notice how elementary school and high school teachers would never trade places? As a teacher, let me tell you I’ve never met a kindergarten teacher who wanted to teach seniors. We use different skill sets with these age groups. Being good with one doesn’t mean you are good with the other.
The same is true for parenting, although we don’t readily admit that. My best friend loved taking care of her children as babies and I didn’t think I’d survive parenting until my older girls were around ages four and six. We moms have different Motherhood Zones of Genius. For most SAHMs, it’s the early years when we focus on being home with our children. And for some of us, those years are the least enjoyable of all. And if you fall into that category, the days can be long. You feel alone and fear confessing your struggles.
I Enjoy Time With My Family More When There’s Less of It
That sounds awful, right? It might, but I’ll own that sentiment. I know advocates of staying at home with our children tell us that the whole “quality” versus “quantity” time is a false equivalence. But if we’re anxious, overwhelmed and stressed when we’re with our kids all day, is that helpful for anyone?
This sentiment hit home for me when my oldest daughter went to kindergarten. I cried when I took her for her first day, just like all the other moms. But I was crying out of guilt that I hadn’t enjoyed her younger years at more. Guilt that I was so happy she was going to school. Instead of dreading being home with my kids like I did when I was with them all the time, I look forward to vacations and extended time together now.
I Have Less Resentment
When I was a SAHM, I was furious with my husband once when he went to lunch at Taco Bell during his work day. There was no reason he shouldn’t have gone out for fast food. But I reeled with frustration at being tied down with two kids at moments like this.
It wasn’t my kids I was resentful toward. It was myself. It was my internalized anger that I had given up on me. I had sold myself short on the things I wanted to do with my life. By continuing to work after my third child, I escaped the resentment trap. And if you’ve ever been caught in that snare, you know it’s a tough one to get out of.
Whether you choose to stay at home or continue your career, make your decision the best one for you. Step outside yourself. Consider the all factors in your decision and determine your needs as well as those of your children. Make your choices based on you as a person, not just a mom. Choose what makes you the best mom and the best you.
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