Forgive me for posting anonymously, but in order to be really honest here I also need to protect the privacy of my family.
To tell this story I have to go back a bit.
I grew up with a mom who stayed home full time, proudly touting Dr. Laura’s slogan, “I am my kid’s Mom,” to anyone who would listen, never hiding her belief that staying home with her kids was clearly the only option worth considering. Compensating for her own childhood, where her mother was, as she told it, largely absent due to long work hours as a nurse, she swore not only that she would be a stay at home mom, but that it was the only way to really be a mom. She preached this on her soapbox in such a way as I grew up thinking that it was inconceivable that I would ever do anything else. I truly grew up believing that any woman, given the choice, would choose to be home with her children full time.
From the outside, our family looked like the perfect little suburban family. My dad worked at his corporate job, while my mom stayed home. We lived in an adorable cookie cutter neighborhood, full of kids our age. We never needed anything that we didn’t have. Mom never missed a school performance, volunteered in our classrooms, and was home every afternoon to help with homework. She was funny and charismatic on the surface, and always made sure our house was the one everyone wanted to come to after school.
Unfortunately, there was another side that nobody but us ever saw. She hid it well when others were around, but when it was just us, everything was different. Screaming, slamming doors, and a need for control, all hiding behind a perfect exterior, a charming sense of humor, and a whole lot of alcohol.
Though I know without a doubt that my mom loved me the best way she could, we were never really ever able to develop much of a relationship. At best, things were complicated. At worst, emotionally abusive. My memory of my childhood includes a random sprinkling of happy moments, scattered amongst lots of fighting, anger, and sadness. In the middle of it, I didn’t really know anything was abnormal, but looking back I can see things so much more clearly. Though she was never diagnosed, as far as I can tell my mom was profoundly depressed, and her sadness leaked out into every area of our lives. Though she never intended to, hurt people do hurt other people. Mom was clearly hurting, and as a result so were we.
Since leaving home, our relationship continued to be a struggle. Just like every relationship, we had our ups and downs. Sometimes it seemed like things might get better. Other times it was clear to everyone that she needed help, though she didn’t see it that way.
Two days after Thanksgiving last year, I got a phone call from my dad. My mom had passed away, very unexpectedly, at the age of 54, due to alcohol poisoning and other complications from a lifetime of alcohol abuse. Despite all of our attempts to help, she lost her battle, and we lost her. I always imagined that over time our relationship would get better. She was an amazing grandma, and was so excited to watch her grandson grow up and to meet her granddaughter.
I am not sure there are many tragedies that can shake a person quite as deeply as this one. Losing my mom just 2 months before my own daughter was born was such a shock that I basically just shut down any feelings about the subject for months. Life must go on, and it did. But eventually, feelings always come back up, and eventually I allowed myself to take a good look at the way things had been, and the way my current situation was starting to mirror the past in some ways.
See, being a stay at home mom has always been my plan too. I began my career knowing that when I had children, I would leave my job to be with them full time. When I first began dating my husband, it was one of the first things we talked about. We worked extra jobs before we had children so that we could pay off my student loans and establish our finances to make my staying home possible. I had been a teacher and a nanny my entire adult life, and the thought of not being home with my own kids after spending my years with everyone else’s just seemed so absurd to me. Looking back now, I know that a big part of the reason I felt that way was due to my mom’s thoughts on the matter, but still I dreamed of the days that I would spend doing art projects and laughing and playing in the backyard.
But of course, the reality of being at home full time with little people does not at all match the vision and dream that I had of what my life would be like. I have been a stay at home mom for almost 3 years, and I have struggled for a million different reasons. I have missed my life outside of my home, and the longing to be somewhere else while my beautiful children are right in front of me has produced a guilt that I didn’t know was possible. Over the last few years I have battled my own bouts of extreme loneliness and sadness. Yet, despite all of this, a nagging voice in my head told me that since this was what I had always wanted, I needed to stick it out. The fear of what people would think of me if I gave up my “dream” and went back to working haunted me. Every time I considered making a change, I would quickly shut it down, fully believing that, given enough time, things would be easier. But they aren’t getting easier, and the daily struggle to not pass down my own tendencies toward frustration and screaming is exhausting. It is starting to become clear that something needs to change.
It has been a year since my mom died, and through that time I have finally started to realize that I actually do have a choice in how I live my life. I am letting go of some of the ideas I have always had about the way my life would be, and though it is terrifying, it is exciting too. I see the way my working mom friends love and enjoy their children with the time they have, and I am starting to see possibilities that I never considered. I will never know whether things would have been different if my mom had tackled her own demons, but I am determined to banish my own. And if going back to work helps me do that, it is well worth the sacrifice.
So instead of hanging onto what I always dreamed my life would be like, I am stepping out and considering the possibilities. I have a job interview this week, and if I am offered and accept the job, it will most likely mean sending my babies to full time daycare. Looking at that possibility after all this time is scary, but the more I think about it the more excited I become. I am starting to learn that this decision isn’t permanent. If I do go back to work and hate it, I am extremely lucky to have the option that I don’t have to stay. If this doesn’t work out, I can find something that does.
I am letting go of the guilt of not being the mom that I thought I would be, and am embracing the mom that I am instead. I don’t have to have all the answers, but I do have to be courageous enough to change course when things aren’t working. I can’t change the past, and I don’t regret my decision to be home as long as I have, but I hope that in watching me, my children will understand that it is okay for dreams to change, and that it is okay to pursue their own happiness, even if that means doing things that are scary.