My six year old was asked recently what she wanted to be when she grew up. After thinking for a moment, she gave a deep, agonizing sigh and cautiously answered, “Well…I want to be an astronaut. But, I keep wondering…what will my kids do when I’m in space? So, I don’t really know how to answer your question.”
I tried to comfort daughter as she wrestled with the dilemma of whether or not to pursue a career outside the home and thought about how I had answered that same question when I was her age. Inspired by Angelina the Ballerina, I know I wanted to be a dancer, eventually changed my career aspirations to marine biologist, then at age twelve finally settled on photo-journalist for National Geographic.
Now that I come to think of it, I don’t think stay-at-home MOM was on the list of viable career options that I had been presented.
No wonder I felt so de-valued and disillusioned when, at a young age, I quit my ESL job at an elementary school to stay at home with my new baby…I had been told my whole life that MOTHERHOOD WASN’T REALLY A JOB. It was the weirdest feeling on earth to wake up in the morning and not go to school (I had done that every year of my life since 1985).
I felt like I had retired.
At age twenty-four.
I flailed and I flailed hard. Why hadn’t anyone warned me about this? I wanted to get a part-time job as a waitress, not necessarily because we needed more income, but because I wanted to have somewhere to go during the day besides the grocery store and someone to talk to besides a non-responsive infant. What was this new life I had found myself suddenly in? Could I really be content at home, when every day felt like Groundhog’s Day?
Of course, my job as a stay-at-home mom has evolved since only having one baby and eventually I found a MOMS club (Thank you, LORD, for providing Mommy friends!), but different shades of discontentment with my current “career” has been something I’ve struggled with at almost every turn.
Recently a close friend had another baby and she is now staying home with her two small children. We talked on the phone the other day and I thought her statement in response to “So…how’s it goin?…” was very insightful:
“I guess I just really miss putting on lipstick and high heels in the morning and accomplishing something.”
Not that I ever wore stilettos to my past job, but I could still relate to her angst over wanting to feel that I had accomplished more than just FEEDING myself and my family that day. Being a stay-at-home-mom is not for the accomplishment addict. THAT I have learned.
We kept talking and reminding each other…that this was just a SEASON of life and that someday it would end and we would miss it.
…That what we do every day is important even though it feels as worn as the dirty socks we’re constantly finding stuffed under our stained couches.
…That, although it FEELS like we’re in a hamster wheel, circling the same circle every day, we’re actually in a SLINKY, winding up and around (although rather dizzying and disorienting), riding this cycle of change.
…That we need to re-define productivity…or rather…just begin to believe that reading books and taking our kids to the playground and feeding them and loving them and taking them on slow (and I mean REALLY slow) walks and investing in their lives… is the definition of genuine productivity.
I’m not sure if my daughter will ever sail with the stars or if NASA will even receive any government funding by then. I do know that if she decides to hang up her astronaut suit for a few years….or a few decades….while she rocks my grandchildren and teaches them about their Creator….she will never, and I do mean never, regret it.
Seven years later, as I learn to do this job that I never was trained in all my years of education to do, I still wrestle with cultural expectations, job satisfaction, and a sense of significance. I can blame my past and blame my culture, but ultimately I’m trying to go forward with what I’ve got. Recently I saw a quote on a blog that has stuck with me in a surprisingly powerful way.
I can choose to be dissatisfied with my current job and let my grass turn crusty brown or EMBRACE the fact that I stay at home and nurture the ones I love most.
I haven’t always made the right choice, but it’s never too late to start.