I’m a serendipitous SAHM. That’s Stay-At-Home-Mom for those unfamiliar with mommy acronyms. I say serendipitous because although I had desires of staying home with my children, I hadn’t planned on it. My three-year paid subscription to Working Mother Magazine will be running out when my first-born turns three next month. I was a working mother when I bought that subscription but due to some unfortunate and unforseen events at work, I have been a SAHM for a year and a half. After having sashayed in the heels of a full-time, working-mama and schlepped in the imitation UGGs of a full-time SAHM (doing both for the right and wrong reasons) I have had time to contemplate the quality and quantity of grass on both sides of this proverbial fence.
Women have been discussing this issue for decades earning it an ominous-sounding moniker, “The Mommy Wars.” After nearly two decades of debate, I actually thought we had come to a truece, but just open Facebook or Twitter, or any number of popular mom blogs and you will quickly realize that the debate is alive and thriving with plenty of fertilizer to spur healthy growth.
To work, or not to work has always been an emotionally charged subject for Moms. Clearly, there is so much at stake that the choice is fraught with high opinions and deep self-identifications. You could certainly draw parallels between it, and religion and politics. Just like religion and politics, everyone acts like they are tolerant but secretly believes their way is the best way. We all rehearse the talking points, recite the research and remember the anecdotal stories that defend our choices and yet, I know from experience there is not one of us who is not frothing over with doubt like a forgotten pot of macaroni-n-cheese. It’s so hard to have this conversation because no one wants to admit they feed burned mac-n-cheese to their kids five nights a week. Well I do, and they get the leftovers, too.
Truth is, this job, this thing, this privilege and honor of being someone’s Mother, it possesses all the imposing majesty of a full-grown Sequoia in an old growth forest–it’s deep, sacred and far-reaching. Trying to figure out the one right and perfect way of doing it is like trying to untangle the roots and pick the very best one.
Just like the roots of a Sequoia nurture its growth, women are drawn to nurture things. Walk down the aisle of any toy store and you’ll come to the dolly section. There you’ll find everything a real-life mom needs to care for an infant only in miniature, pink, plastic form. The instinct to play “mommy” is part of our double xx chromosome package. We can’t help it, it’s in our DNA. Most of us are drawn to those big, watery eyes and rosebud fists like desert animals to a watering hole.
When this awesome event happens in our lives the responsibility we face is overwhelming, and the love, even more so. We spend nine months giving up your bodies to create this life and when you see that squinty, swollen, turtle face you know that it is but ONE step in a trek toward the moon of how far you’d go. There is nothing, as in NOT. ONE. THING. we would not sacrifice for our baby’s well-being. We want the best life possible for them even at the expense of our own. I believe all mother’s everywhere feel this way. It’s who we have been across space and time because every species (if they are to survive) needs someone to care beyond all reason for its babies. By in large, mothers are that someone.
The role is a sacrificial one and us mothers… we have perfected the art of the sacrifice. Unlike our ancestors and women in Third-World countries, most of us (thankfully) are blessed to live in an environment of safety and conveniences. Our sacrifices are less dramatic than life and death but still important because they involve our single greatest commodity… time.
When you become a mother you learn the true nature of time. You are left breathless by its scarcity and whip-lashed by the ferocity with which it dissipates. Pre-kids, time is infinite, measurable and almost tangible. When you become a mother, it goes all Salvadore-Dali-melty-clock on you. Babies outgrow onesies at surreal rates and still some days feel like they’ll never end. Time becomes a million times more precious and quantifiable and therefore we are constantly making decisions on how to spend it, with whom, and for what reasons. Daily sacrifices are made in the name of quality and quantity. This melting-clock-time is the reason we choose to stay home, or not.
A mantra is something to help you focus when you’ve lost your reason for doing something important. When I was a working mother my mantras were, “I’m a better mommy because I have time to myself,” and, “the time I have with them will be more special because I’ll really be present,” and lastly, “I need time to interact with adults and use my brain.” In my opinion, the latter is the worst reason. I know all these rationalizations because I ingrained them into my psyche everyday while slipping into my patent leather pumps. I worked because our family relied on my paycheck. I now believe this is the best reason to be a working Mom and if economics is your reason for working, then stop reading because you are doing the right thing. But if you find yourself having to make choices or feeling bad about your circumstances, this might help you to feel better about which shade of green your grass could be.
Deep down I always wanted to be a SAHM. I am drawn, sometimes without reason, to this lifestyle. This is the best reason to be a SAHM. I also thought my children would have a better childhood, one that I felt I didn’t have with a working mother. In my opinion, this was the worst reason to be a SAHM. None-the-less, this job requires a mantra of its own which is, “They are only young once and I don’t want to miss this time in their lives. I have a lifetime to work.”
Everyone wants quality time with their kids. Quality time is the best time. Quality time is what your visions of parenthood consisted of before you became a parent. It’s delighting in belly laughs and watching their faces light up as they process the world. It’s feeling your heart swell as they take their first wobbly steps and then want only Mommy to hold them when they fall down. Those are the special moments; the time well spent and worth spending. The problem is, those moments happen at random and not always between the hours of 6pm-8pm or on weekends. In fact, those late evening hours are usually the least quality time spent with kids.
But if you’re a SAHM, there is no question you are there for those moments. That awesome quality time is in abundance… the quantity is quite overwhelming in fact. I am currently so full on time that I’m bloated. Time weighs quite a bit as it turns out. I am so overloaded with quality time with my kids, that I have to sacrifice the quantity and quality of my own time. I can no longer go where I want, take a break when I please, or pee in privacy. Sometimes I get frustrated to tears when I don’t have time to write, workout, or just sit down and stare off into space. My kids often suffer the brunt of these frustrations by way of my sudden outbursts of anger and hearing my favorite word over and over, “stopthatrightnow!”
No matter which option you choose, it’s always about sacrificing time and convincing yourself that you’re doing the right thing with yours for the wellbeing of your children. The ultimate question becomes, do you want to be there for every single quality moment with your kids while dealing with the weight of ALL of it AND sacrificing of your own time? Or would you rather sacrifice maximum quality time, for a little more quality time of your own and NOT have to burst into tears the FOURTH time you take your toddler to the potty at Target?
It’s a difficult and personal decision, but the answer for me was simple. My infant son wiggles his whole body when he sees me. It doesn’t matter if I’m gone for 2 minutes or 2 hours, he still wiggles and smiles with his whole head in my general direction. No client, no matter how much they liked me ever did that.
So I choose to sacrifice whatever I need to for maximum wiggles. Might I also scar them for life with my sudden and seemly inexplicable outbursts of rage? Nah. Nor do I believe that if I choose to work again they will have less security and happiness in their childhoods. The reason I believe this is because all mommies everywhere love their babies beyond reason and that is reason enough.
I know this is true because motherhood is like a Sequoia with melty clocks on its branches. There is not one route or root that is more important to the WHOLE tree than all of them. Every root and route is an equal expression of nurturing and love…
…and grass doesn’t grow under them anyway.
Update: Look what I got in the mail the day after I posted this? Serendipitous? I’m starting to believe that all there is, is serendipity.