marriage, Motherhood, Women

Not just a mom

I was over all the things when I finally made the decision to stay home. I was over myself losing my patience, again. Over feeling like I couldn’t give enough to anyone: my kids, my clients, my husband. Over always feeling overwhelmed and behind. Over the phone calls and emails with more bad news, losses, heartbreak, and the seemingly never-ending grief of the realities of Caleb’s diagnosis. Over feeling ineffective and hopeless. I wanted to be able to focus more on Caleb and not feel pulled in so many different directions. I wanted to soak up the last of my days with Mason before he started school full-time.

I knew going into this year of not working that I would lose myself, because I knew how much of my self-worth I ascribed from it. I like working. I love helping people who actually want my help. I worked really hard to get to where I was in my career. It took about 8 years to build my private practice to where it was. I was finally making decent money, and it felt good. It was a huge risk to walk away and lose my referral sources, even temporarily. It will take several months to rebuild to where I’m making a profit again. It was a sacrifice, one I was lucky to have had the opportunity to make.

When I told people of my decision to close my practice, I was surprised by the amount of people who had strong opinions about it. Most of them didn’t have details about why I was doing it, except that it was for my family. They all said I was doing the right thing. You’ll never regret making your family a priority, they said. It goes by so fast, they said. Moms should be home with their kids, they said (that one stung). I wish my mom would have stayed home with me, one said (also, ouch). When plans were made for my return to work, one person said, “You are mom. You can’t go back to work. Your kids should be your priority”. And then, when I explained that working was good for my mental health, I was told, “You can’t be sick. You’re a mom.” (no words for the fury and pain this caused me).

I’m not implying that all of what people said was untrue or mean-spirited (certainly some though). Yes, I’m a mom. Yes, I want to make my family a priority. Yes, I want to enjoy this time. I love my kids with everything I have, and I’m willing to sacrifice for them. I’m willing to put things on hold, to delay gratification. I’m willing to lose sleep. I’m willing to do anything for them. However, being willing doesn’t mean I should. Sacrificing myself doesn’t actually help my kids or my family. That’s the rub.

Zero percent of men have to deal with this. Men are not condemned for working. Men are not expected to sacrifice their health for their children.  Dads are not faced with the need to explain their desire (or need) to work. Did you know that about 70% of U.S. moms work outside the home? That doesn’t feel true here in the south (and maybe it’s not), but my point is that we have got to talk about this more. Much ink has been spilled for stay-at-home moms (and with good reason, it’s hard as hell and often very lonely), but it seems that little has for working moms (also hard as hell, for different reasons).

Here’s what happened during my year as a full-time stay-at-home mom:

We’ll start with the not so pretty parts:

  • I tried, and failed, to sell essential oils (still use and love them).
  • I completely lost my mind.
  • My heart was broken.
  • I watched too much Netflix. Like, way too much. (I’m pleased to share that after putting my own self on probation, I am in recovery from this affliction).
  • I began to enjoy my days with Mason less (boy needed friends besides Mommy).
  • Helping with homework is a special kind of torture.
  • I hate cleaning the house everyday only to have it ruined the minute everyone returns.
  • Laundry still sucks.
  • I felt unappreciated and dirty (this could be due to a general drop in showering and personal hygiene).
  • I lost many brain cells due to general lack of use. Netflix probably aided this.
  • I was often bored and discontent.

The good news: I will fail and grow and learn and figure it out.

Despite how difficult it was, I am so unbelievably glad I did this because:

I reconnected with my kids. At the time I stopped working both Caleb and Mason preferred Josh because he was with them more than I was. I worked past their bedtimes 2 days a week. Plus, he’s more fun anyway. I knew I wanted to have a greater influence on them. Our relationships have strengthened considerably, now that I am able to have one on one time with both boys. They ask for me (they are still very close with Josh and ask for him, too). We talk. We snuggle more. I’m seeing the fruits of my labor of responding and not just reacting to the chaos more. (I highly recommend “No Drama Discipline”). We made memories, visited family, went to the aquarium, pool, beach, and parks. We scheduled play dates and invited friends over more. When I go back to work, I will be home for them after school and will no longer work past their bedtimes.

The passion in my marriage is nurtured and thriving. In a long term relationship, it is normal for passion to wax and wane. What makes a relationship passionate for the long haul is discovering how to reignite your intimacy after a lull due to life, kids, sickness, crazy deadlines, etc. Lulls are normal, just don’t let them become permanent. What are your emotional and physical turn ons? What can you do to change habits and build new traditions that make space for the things that get you going? It takes maintenance and intentional effort to have a passionate marriage.  I know everybody says this, but schedule a regular date night (Regular being the key word here. Like, at least twice a month). Find a way to make it affordable, or schedule a date in the house. Or on the deck. Or by a firepit. Doesn’t matter where. The most important part is that you have uninterrupted time to just focus on each other. And have more sex. Everything you do for each other all day is foreplay.

I discovered my Enneagram type. This has led to tremendous personal growth and understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. It’s so different than any other personality typing system. It offers us a road map to self-knowledge, which is the only way to transformation and growth. The enneagram offers a path to discover who you were before the world told you who you were supposed to be. It is also really helpful to learn this with your spouse. Really understanding both your types only helps in loving each other better. It aids in understanding, grace and forgiveness. Don’t be intimidated by the amount of work involved in this, it’s a journey and you can integrate it into your life easily with books and by listening to podcasts while you’re driving.

“There is no sin so great as ignorance. Remember this.” – Kipling

Here’s the truth: I think most of us have good intentions. The issue lies with our lack of self-awareness of the way we unknowingly push away the love we seek. Listen, I have had a lot of counseling and considered myself to be very self-aware. However, there are parts of me I realized I was unaware of. The Enneagram lends itself to DEPTH. What our number looks like when we’re healthy, average, or unhealthy. When I’m listening to others with my type, or reading about it, I forget to breathe. It’s both profoundly disconcerting and strangly comforting to know there are other people much like me on such a deep level.

Understanding my personality type has brought new wisdom to my tendency to hold on too tightly to some relationships, putting their needs above my own. I’m a 2, our greatest fear is being unloved and we attempt to love others as a way to deserve love. Our motto can often be, “I’m ok if you’re ok with me.” New light has been shed on the despair I feel when others are angry with me or relationships end. It also brings new understanding to the hopelessness of feeling like I don’t know how to meet my kid’s needs.  Facing the realities of my need to help others (to gain love and appreciation) has led me to more anonymous giving and other practices to challenge the unhealthy tendencies of my type. My new tattoo, “be still” is a reminder not to jump in impulsively and try to meet the needs of others (with the exception of my kids and clients, people don’t want this usually). It’s a reminder to be still and wait. A reminder that just because I intuitively know things, it takes time to discern when, and if, I should dispense that knowledge/help. If you’re interested in the Enneagram, you have to study it and keep learning. A great book to get started with is, “The Road Back to You.” The podcast I listen to is called, “Typology” by the same author, Ian Morgan Cron.

I simplified our home. I made a long list of all the areas of the house I wanted purge and organize. Over the year, I checked off every single closet, drawer, and cabinet on my list. I donated about 4 minivans full of stuff, sold, or threw away every last baby item or thing we don’t ever use. Honestly, I could probably go over all of them again, but it’s become a habit that I’ll continue even when I’m working. It feels so good. Highly recommend, “A Simplifed Life,” by Emily Ley if you need motivation.

I was a more engaged friend and family member.We traveled to visit the family that usually comes to us in Georgia, and I made a conscious effort to be more present for the out of town family too. Calling and texting more often. I became a more engaged small group leader, as well.

I worked out more. I’m a little stronger.

I cooked more and tried new things.

I read more books.

I learned how to edit and alter my website by myself.

I figured out my business bank account.

I completed the educational requirements to be a supervisor.

I took complete ownership of my business (Josh helped me a lot in the past).

I got 2 new tattoos.

And last, but not least, we added a new furry member to our family, our first dog!

A few final thoughts…

Hey, working moms? You are amazing! You are doing the best you can for your family. Carry on, warrior. You are kicking ass!

Hey, stay-at-home moms? You are amazing! You are doing the best you can for your family. Carry on, warrior. You are kicking ass!

Your path is your path, and you are the only one who has the right to decide what’s best for your family. What someone else finds best for their family? Not necessarily what’s best for yours. Don’t forget that.

Some more encouragement:

Jen Hatmaker’s interview with Jessica Turner was so timely and wonderful. In it, Jessica says work-life balance shouldn’t be our goal, but rather, work-life satisfaction should be.  There will be seasons where life scales are heavier and seasons where the work scales are heavier. The issue arises when we feel the scales are too heavy on one side or the other and we’re miserable. She talks about practical ways to find satisfaction in all our areas: family, work, health, social, and self-care. You have to listen to this!

Today at church, Andy, as per usual,  preached directly to these things I’ve been pondering. He says we must keep in mind the destination we’re aiming for in the decisions we make today. Seems obvious, but we don’t do it. Our intentions are meaningless if we are driving the the opposite direction of where we are trying to end up. It’s impossible to reach our desired destination when we’re going the wrong way. So what do we want? Kids that want to come home to visit after they leave? To be in love with our spouse? To enjoy our work? To find financial freedom? To be healthy enough to enjoy our grandchildren one day? Are we currently on the path that will lead to those things? If not, we might need to turn around and get on a different one.

Bottom line, for me, I think I’m a better everything (mom, wife, friend) when I’m working. But not last year. Last year, I needed a U-turn. I’m think I’m headed in the right direction now.

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