Perhaps some of you moms out there have experienced this strange phenomenon. That pull between working and staying home. I’m fully aware that some moms are suited more to the workplace than to the homesphere, and that’s fantastic. We need all the women we can get in the workforce. (As one show I just finished said, paraphrased, “If more women were in government, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many wars.” Interesting thought.) There are, though, some women who thrive by staying home.
I am not a stranger to work. I’ve been working since I was 13, literally months before my job instituted a rule about a minimum age of 16. Oh yes, I squeaked by and got an extra three years experience on everyone else. I worked throughout high school, and after #1 was born, I had two jobs. I’m not a stranger to balancing my time or my energy, and I’m not afraid to work. My passion, however, isn’t in the workforce. I knew my senior year of high school that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. That choice, however, wasn’t presented as an option for me. You see, I was smart.
So? you might ask. I was smart, so those around me had high expectations. I went to a college prep school. I had great grades and got a full ride to college. My “destiny” was to become something great, like a doctor or a professor, something that put all my academic knowledge to good use. Staying at home being a “homemaker” was not in the game plan. After all, it doesn’t take a lot intellectually, right? (Ha…) And so I worked. And went to school. I struggled to reach that “destiny” I had focused on for so long.
There were times I either could not work or the husband agreed to let me stay home, but there was always a cloud of doubt over me. I was physically where I wanted to be, at home with #1, but mentally, I was a mess. All I could think about was that I was failing. I was failing my family by not achieving academically. I was failing my husband by not helping him financially. I was not providing for my family by staying home. I was crippled by doubt and shame and worry while I was at home, hardly able to focus on #1 and his adorable toddler moments.
At other times, I had to work. The husband went through two periods of lay-offs, and I was the only source of income. It made me starkly aware of how little someone without a degree can make. My paltry daycare salary was barely scraping by, and all I could think of was my son. I was slaving away to keep a roof over our heads, and it felt like I was barely treading water. To make it worse, I felt guilty for the job I had. It broke my heart that I was spending all my energy, attention, and love on someone else’s child only to come home and be too exhausted to give even a small amount of the same to my own child. We won’t even mention how my relationship with my husband deteriorated, or the state of our apartment. It was bad.
Granted, I have matured over the past year, year and a half. I am no longer using the computer or the tv as my outlet for depression. I’ve learned, through those hard-won lessons, that often getting things done is the best cure for a blue day. It helps that I have finally achieved a small piece of the academic pie, even if it’s only an Associate’s degree. Our apartment is nearly 2/3 bigger than our previous one, and it stays clean. Our meals are no longer hot dogs, ramen, and Hamburger Helper. I have mastered both the crock pot and the skillet. Laundry is done in a day and put away, always the hardest part. My boys are clean, too, and learning. I feel at home in my skin for the first time in a while.
And yet, that question still rears its ugly head. Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I really doing anything important? Should I be out there rather than in here? The thought of working again makes my chest tighten and tears spring to my eyes, but it remains nonetheless. Especially now, as we struggle through financial woes, I seem plagued by the never-ending debate. Applications have been sent in for part-time work, and I sit anxiously awaiting word of interviews, secretly praying that Gmail eats them. I can’t help wondering if my husband, who has been completely supportive, privately resents my being home. I wonder if he thinks we sit around all day, reading Facebook, watching movies, and painting our nails, while he’s out working. I wonder if he resents our meager budget and its restraints. I wonder and wonder and wonder, and as I wonder, I start to drown.
Right now, I can’t even think straight. All I can think is that, either way, I’m failing someone. I don’t know how to find myself again. I don’t know how to get back to that happy woman, the one who sang silly songs as she made dinner, who found so much joy in teaching letters and writing, who didn’t mind sudden spit up or dryers that wouldn’t dry. I don’t know how to get back to the place I want to be, because I’m not sure it’s where I should be.
So, women of the world, what is your experience? I am prepared to enter the workforce again, but my heart is breaking. How do you find yourself? How do you find balance? How do you choose?
It might be unfair. It might be the wrong choice. Part of me very much doesn’t want to choose. Part of me wants to toss everything to the wind and just be. Just stay home and be. But I’m not sure. I’m just not sure.