I always knew I wanted to be a mom. It was an essential part of my story. In fact, I often feel as though my professional life was on hold while waiting for motherhood. I was that girl who liked to dream about the future, married with three kids and a house in the country (note, currently married with two kids and not living in the country). I never told anyone about it, but I quietly waited for that dream to become a reality.
I never understood it when people told me they didn’t want to have kids, and I never understood women who valued their careers as much as their kids. In the world I was raised it seemed that having kids took over your life, my goal was to allow that to happen. I planned to be with my kids as much as possible, to be home with them, to raise them. I wanted more than anything to be a stay-at-home mom and nothing made me more disappointed than, once I finally was a mom, having to return to work at the end of my first maternity leave. Placing my firstborn in daycare gave me many tiny deaths inside and the only thing that placated me was knowing that I was returning to work pregnant with my second child. I would soon have a chance to be home again. This was all that I thought about and all that I thought I wanted.
By my second maternity leave I was a different person. I kept my eldest in daycare and was happy to send her each day. She was home for only two months over the summer that year, by the end of which she was bored and I was ready for a break. Surprisingly, by the end of this second leave I was also ready to hand my second child over to daycare. There weren’t tears, there was willingness.
I was guilty over it. I didn’t want to admit it but I wanted my kids in daycare and I wanted to work. Deep down I was in need of something all my own, outside of my family. I wanted my own paycheck and to take my mind off the menial tasks I had become so obsessive over during my mat leaves (note, your dog will always shed, you can’t spend all your time following it with a vacuum cleaner). I wanted adult company and realized that I actually liked working and reminding myself that I was good at it.
Around my other mom friends who stayed home I lamented the fact that I actually needed to work, as though if I didn’t need to work things would have been different. I began working from home to allow some flexibility in my life but the kids were still in daycare. They were happy and I was happy. I got to do my work, I got to reconnect with my hobbies, I got to manage my home and I didn’t feel like my family was affected.
My time apart from my kids has allowed me to revisit and refocus my life. It has allowed me to come up with a plan. It has given me value as a person, woman and mom that I wasn’t experiencing before. That is not to say that being a mom full-time is not valuable– I know without doubt it’s value is immeasurable. It is to say that I did not feel valuable at the time and that I have since come to understand the measure of my worth, and it’s in time spent apart from my kids that this came to pass.
My daughter often tells me that she wants to be a mom when she grows up. I tell her she can be anything she chooses, and she always responds by saying that her choice is to be a mom like me. So I think I can’t be screwing up too much, and that it’s not such a bad thing to spend time developing my life outside of mom-hood. And that, if anything, demonstrating that I have interests in my life that don’t involve my kids is also valuable and a lesson worth considering.
This isn’t about being pro-working woman or pro-SAHM, it’s about figuring out what works best for you and doing that. Because I don’t think any family was ever well-served with an unhappy mother at the helm. I made a mistake way back when, in assuming I knew what kind of mom I would be. I cherish the time I spend with my kids, they are truly my heart… but my dirty little secret is that I love time spent apart from them too. I like not giving 100% of me to my kids because who I am has so much more to give. To them, to life, and to myself.
Will I regret not having spent more time at home with my kids? You know, I do have regrets from these years, but the regrets are mostly around wasting too much time wrestling with my guilt. Because really, my kids feel loved. And really, they are.