Work: Breaking Generational and Societal Norms
Let me start at the beginning. It’d been 2.5 years of infertility. Stress, disappointment, sadness, and grief. Trying to conceive our long-awaited, first-born child. Society said that was the next logical step. High school. College. Job. Kids. Stay home with kids. Then back to work. Right?
I graduated high school in 1995 and went to Ohio State to pursue a graphic design degree. I graduated college in 1999 and began my full-time work as a graphic designer for a few agencies for 7 years. In 2006 we finally became pregnant and I had that long-awaited beautiful baby girl in November. Society said I should stay home with my child. Be there. Support them from home. And I totally wanted to. My husband had a good job, we could survive on one income. Babies aren’t THAT expensive. We were going to give it a go. I was going to try that SAHM thing. My mom did it, my mother-in-law did it. It was my turn.
This was uncharted territory. Oh the wee baby times, clothes and cute things, the snuggles. Oh what fun! I enjoyed those times, just me and her. Figuring out how to spend our days, what we were going to eat, and what cute outfits we were going to wear. I was playing “mommy”. It was wonderful. For a while. And then time started to drag. Every day started to feel like the last. Having a winter baby made me yearn for spring, to get out of the house and do something new. See her experience grass for the first time. Pop her first bubble. It was magical, for a while. But there was a point where things became mundane. The joy was starting to slip. Life was starting to feel like groundhogs day (the movie), wash, rinse, repeat. Moms have to get VERY creative. So you think, well society says we should have two babies. Since the oven was preheated, number two was easy to conceive. No time to rethink. He was coming in 9 months. Get ready mama! Life with two was certainly different than one. It was a crazy 2-year-old toddler running around shrieking while trying to feed the baby. Time sped up a bit. But that mommy creativity became stretched. Thinner and thinner. How many playdates in a week is socially acceptable? Can we go to the library every day? The walls were closing in. So was the budget. Spending all this time doing things to entertain us became expensive. I started to feel like we were broke. Budgeting wasn’t really something that we did. We had debt of course. I was beginning to feel like maybe just to ease the pain, I’d start looking into a side hustle. Just to supplement. Pay for the diapers. Pay for the lunches out with friends. Fun money. I tried the MLM biz, which I very quickly discovered was not for me. My former career was looming in the background. Whispering, when are you coming back? You know it will be difficult to get back into the field if you’re gone too long. The heavens sent me a call from a former co-worker looking for freelance design backup help. It was one job, just simple work, but they needed the help. I said SURE! That could be that fun money I was looking for.
I spent some time discussing the logistics with my husband. I might need a babysitter one day a week. This was well before the days of the ease of digital work from home. Everything was starting to align. My daughter was 2.5 and my son was about 6 months. I would go into the office to get the work, get the low down, and then the work could be completed at home. I was secretly excited to have something grown up to do. Something for me. As my last few years have been all about the kids. Let’s just say that I really loved being “back in the office”. It was refreshing not changing a diaper. Not doing a puzzle the umpteenth time. Adult conversations. It was refreshing. It was lovely. I finished work on that project, received my pay, and was pleasantly surprised at how much more relaxed I felt not stressing over groceries and coupons and sales. That work would continue for the next 14 years. I had realized, that maybe I wasn’t completely cut out for stay-at-home momming. At least full-time.
I really loved the ability to work, to help my family out. To ease the budget. Because let’s be real. Kids are stinking expensive. And as they get older, it gets worse. I loved having me time. I loved getting out of the house. I loved doing what I went to school to do.
In that 14 years, I had a second son in 2016. As I knew in my heart that I wanted one more baby. I was 40. This would for sure be my last. There was a 7-year gap between my second and third kids. I really cherished this time of “lasts”. Last baby. Last newborn smells. Last first roll over. I did my best to soak up this time. But there was also this itch inside that really wanted to get back to work. We had travel soccer and hockey to pay for. And school fees were coming up. I was fortunate enough to have my in-laws nearby to help me rear this last child. Tuesdays and Thursdays were grandma days. They’d play and bond. Life was good. I was a rock star part-time mom.
But there was one feeling that kept creeping in. Or maybe it was a blatant mention from grandmas. This is your last. You should enjoy this time. You should take some time off work to really soak in these lasts. Couldn’t I do both? Couldn’t I soak up those baby snuggles AND work? Other moms did it. Other moms worked full-time. I still had the luxury of working part-time. (Which is perfect by the way.) Time to get kids on busses, off busses, get laundry done, exercise, but also crank through the work, all before they came home and you started evening mom duties. It gave me that extra income. It gave me that thing for ME. It gave me a sense of satisfaction. But it also allowed me to still be around for my kids. But there was always mom guilt. I felt terrible that I wanted that third baby, yet I also wanted to work. Which meant time away from that baby. Guilt that I would miss something. But you know what wouldn’t have happened if I stayed with him 24/7? Time with grandma. Time to bond with other women in my life. That special time that she will cherish forever.
I was listening to a podcast this morning and the host was mentioning how she had visited Ethiopia and talked with and helped women who were trying to work and earn money to support their families. The host was discussing the American “mom guilt.” She said the women could not wrap their minds around moms feeling guilty about working. Working was a privilege that not all women get. Earning money is a privilege. I had that privilege. I had the privilege of earning money to help my family pay for all of the things. So I didn’t have to save up to buy school clothes. So I didn’t have to tell my kids no, they can only do one activity. I don’t know how some families do it, because life has gotten to be very expensive. As a mom of boys, no one tells you when they’re 14 they grow like weeds and you have to buy men’s sized shoes every two months. “Mom! I need new shoes!” What? Again? For those who could pull it off one income, that is a true blessing. Many cannot.
I’ve come to the realization that there is not a one size fits all option. For life, for work, for parenting. Despite the mom guilt, I have learned that kids will thrive in any environment. Including one with a stay-at-home mom, or a working mom. But moms need to thrive too. You cannot sacrifice yourself for the sake of others. You have to do what works for you and your family. And if that means working a little bit and staying home a little bit, do it! Even if grandma thinks you’re doing it wrong. Have the courage to follow your mom heart and do what makes sense for you. Break the generational nuances that perpetuate through families for no other reason other than tradition. They’re not in it 24/7. You are! I have evolved into this lovely version of morning mom, lunches, buses and getting off to school, exercise time, followed by meetings and work, perhaps throwing in a valentines party, and ending with riding bikes, puzzles, and bedtime. Some days are crazier than others, but this wonderful balance has worked for us. My husband and I often mention that we don’t know how full-time working parents do it. Props to them. Props to all parents! This shit is hard.