Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Almost A Year

It’s been almost a year since I quit my part-time job at the library to be at home with the family more.  Here are a few things I’ve learned during this eye opening time.

I’m always a full-time mom

At this point in my parenting career I have been all of the following at one time or another: full-time work-outside-of-the-home mom, part-time work-outside-of-the-home mom, and stay-at-home mom.  For some moms, this is a huge point of debate.  What’s the right way to do it? I tend to think that answer is the same as most answers about parenting:  the way that works for you and your family.  I didn’t enjoy working full-time outside of the home and felt uncomfortable with it even though I loved my job.  Part-time was okay.  Being a stay-at home mom works for me, but within this structure I try to carve out writing time, my side career with no pay that is none the less mine and of value to me. 

Here’s the thing though:  I’ve never felt like I was more or less of a mom depending on my job status.  Being a full-time mom is a calling, a life time endeavor, not a definition based on hours worked inside or outside of the home.  Working outside of the home doesn’t make you a part-time parent.  No one looks at my husband and says, “Oh, you work outside the home, so you’re not a real dad.”  It doesn’t work that way.  I’m always a full-time mom with on call night shift hours.  At least my boobs aren’t on call anymore. 

Being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t make me just a mom

I’ve read a lot about new moms feeling they’ve lost their identities or part of themselves after having kids.  It’s not hard to imagine this happening, a mid-life identity crisis where it’s hard to balance desires with obligations, even if they are obligations you enjoy like caring for a child.  I was lucky to not experience this because just as I started having children I started finding my identity in Christ even more, learning who I was to Him.  That was crucial for me as I spent years watching things I used to attach my identity to-being thin, climbing the ladder professionally, advancing my education constantly-disappear. 

In making the transition to stay-at-home mom, my identity in Christ kept me from feeling that now I was “just a mom”, a person of little value outside my own home.  Instead I recognized the importance of being an example for my kids.  I also realized my life will be full of getting involved in issues I care about if I follow through on that desire, and that the small things in life like kindness on a daily basis are just as important as job titles and pay raises.

I also came to understand that I have eternal value outside of my role as a parent, value that isn’t connected to employment.  I’m a saint, one who sins, but a saint none the less.  God said so, not me.  It’s still a weird concept for me.

That’s not to say I don’t understand the need to carve out personal space outside the mom role.  I write.  It’s not important, but it’s mine.  Everyone has their thing.  I’m just better now at not attaching my worth to what I do and instead view it in terms of whose I am. 

It’s okay to talk about life, whatever that entails

When I didn’t have kids I didn’t understand how people could talk about their kids all the time.  When I first had my own kids, I didn’t understand how people could talk about anything else.  I think now I’m in a bit more balanced place.  Lacking a job outside the home, I can still talk about other things I’m interested in which is nice to know because when I was thinking about quitting I feared I might start only communicating using grunting noises or by telling fart jokes, all which relate to my children and would be their fault.  Sure, sometimes I’m around other moms and we discuss kid-related topics the whole time because that’s what we want to do.  But many times there are the “how is everybody” questions and then we talk about Jesus, writing, books, armpit paste (totally happened today), the whole thing.  My brain still functions outside of just kid talk.  I still like fart jokes, though.

Relationships and writing don’t happen just because there is more time

Intentional effort is hard.  I hoped and maybe assumed it would be easier to cultivate deeper relationships outside the home once I wasn’t working.  I thought it would be easier to write consistently if I was home at night. 

Turns out showing up really isn’t that big of a triumph.  I’m here every day, but nothing happens that I don’t make time for and put effort into.  I write every day now because it’s a habit, it’s what I do.  I still suck in the relationship department.  Somehow I am trapped in the land of talking to interesting people while also feeding a child, soothing a child or checking to see if someone has pooped.  I’m working on it.  I’ve made time to have coffee with girlfriends maybe 3 times in the last almost year.  (Good grief, that looks horrid now that I am actually typing it!)  D and I have accomplished zero date nights that involve us actually leaving our children at home and going somewhere without them in over a year.  We do a lot of on-the-couch-eating-pizza-discussing-everything dates, though.  We're used to that, especially when the kids are young.  Still, I need to have a better plan for these things since it’s obvious after a year they aren’t going to just magically happen on their own.  Having more time doesn’t mean you always end up using it for what you planned.

I need much more and much less me time than I thought I would

Part of what I thought I needed when I worked part-time was the opportunity to get out of the house.  I am not good at taking time away from my family.  I always associated it with a ton of guilt, therefore I squandered any time away due to lack of focus and feeling like I needed to rush back.  Work solved that because I was being paid to be there and owed it to other people to show up.  I anticipated major issues when I quit because I feared I’d never have time to myself because I wouldn’t allow myself to take it. 

What I found was weird and surprising.  Number one, I need some level of time to myself daily.  I know, that’s probably not a surprise to the average person, but when breastfeeding my children I could go weeks with almost zero time without someone attached to my body, including nights.  It was my norm and I embraced it to the point that I thought that would be my forever existence.  Understand when I say embraced I also mean pissed and moaned about it on occasion, especially when sleep deprived or suffering from mastitis.  Now I know that I want and embrace personal space and quiet every 24 hours.  However, I don’t need it in the ways I expected.  As opposed to long hours away, I just need to make some tea at night and read a book, do something creative without interruption.  They are small things that make a huge difference.

It was the right choice

Four kids, lots of fun and also difficult, nothing ever really complete.  That’s a pretty accurate description of life at our place.  Between family time and taking the kids out for individual time, cooking, cleaning (sometimes), educating, I’m not sure how we were functioning before I quit.  Sure, if I needed to work again I would and it would work just like it did before.  But I’m grateful right now for the opportunity to have more open hours, even if they are full of crazy.  Crazy is part of my new job description, and I’m getting better at it every day.

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