As I type these words, Ellie is asleep in the cradle of my arms. I can look down and marvel at the perfect shape of her mouth, the silly little faces she makes as she dreams, her darkening eye-lashes. When she wakes up, I’ll be here to talk to her in the slightly high-pitched voice she loves, entertain her with funny faces, and make sure she does some tummy time. She changes every day…focusing more intently on the mobile moving above her, grasping a rattle for seconds longer than the day before, cooing a note higher or lower. And I’m overjoyed that I get to be here for each of these amazing moments.
Why then, do I feel such an incredible need to prove my worth? To make a list of all the tasks I accomplish in a day? To justify to friends and family that my new career as a Stay-at-Home-Mom is of value?
I never planned to be a SAHM. Like most of my college-educated friends, I wanted success and recognition in the professional world, and while I didn’t expect my chosen career path as a sadly underpaid journalist to provide financial glory, I liked the sense of belonging the job provided. Later, when I moved to Memphis to be with Charlie and left my reporting job, I remember the intense panic I felt during the few months I didn’t have employment or a plan. The idea of depending on a man financially was repulsive and unacceptable…even though I loved and planned to marry him. I entered graduate school in education for several reasons, but there were occasional thoughts of principalship, curriculum specialist, etc. Again, so many feelings of self-worth were tied to my professional identity.
Now, I’m finding a new kind of fulfillment. For instance, every time she finishes a bottle and drifts peacefully to sleep, I feel like a champion! I was a successful reporter. And for the past four years, I was a successful teacher. But now that I want to be successful mother, why is that somehow less important?
Of course, I know that many women are successful mothers while still working. Many must work in order for their families to survive, and I am in AWE of the impressive juggling act they perform on a daily basis. One friend, in particular, beautifully parents two babies still in diapers, works, exercises, attends Bible studies and church events, and manages to find time to help me adjust to my one baby. (Eh…showoff! I’m not sure I’d handle half of her responsibilities with nearly as much grace. I know how fortunate I am to be able to stay home without making any significant sacrifices in our daily lives, and I am beyond grateful. I just wish I could find a way to feel less guilty.
I’ve had friends who work regard me with jealousy and resentment, and I almost feel that I’m not allowed to have bad days or complaints anymore. It’s as though, since I’m home, my life should always be easy.
Certainly, there are advantages. The hours are flexible, and the boss (me!) frequently grants deadline extensions and coffee breaks. But in some ways, motherhood is the most challenging role I’ve yet encountered. The days and nights require an entirely new pacing…an entirely new measure of “accomplishment” and “success.”
I feel badly for friends who want to stay home and cannot, but certainly, that cannot be a reason for me to change my plans.
Feminists, please forgive me, but I find myself somewhat envious of the 1950s housewife who was praised solely for caring for her children, husband, and household. Should women be able to climb the career ladder? Of course! But does society respect the woman who trades a paycheck for poopie diapers? Doesn’t seem so. I’m tired of the snide comments about living the “life of leisure” and such.
Will there be days that I pretty much sit on my butt and watch too much television? Most assuredly. But more than anything, I’m just choosing to redefine life as a thing separate from and not always dependent on work…and basically, just do more living. As I find a rhythm, and Ellie’s needs follow a more concrete schedule, I’m excited about what this new life will allow. Writing. Community Service. Study. Visiting Friends. Family Time. Loving on Ellie.
And can anyone really put a value on a day of loving Ellie? I think not.