Big, wonderful news: we’ve decided I’m not going back to work at the end of this maternity leave. I’ve informed my employer and my parents, so it’s totally official.
I am thrilled, and excited, and terrified, and feeling kind of guilty… all at the same time.
It’s a change I’ve wanted to make since Alex was born and I had to go back to work after only six weeks, which really just plain sucked—this time, even if I went back, I had tacked on six weeks of unpaid family leave to the end of my six weeks of disability coverage so that I could be home for almost 3 full months. Leaving Alex when he was so, so tiny was the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do. Don’t even get me started on being stuck in traffic on my commute home after being away from my tiny baby for 9 hours…
So I’d been dreaming about staying home. All the enriching activities we could do! How my house would be clean for once, even without the imminent threat of guests arriving! I would have time to exercise, to read, to sleep (perchance to dream)! The boys would have a more secure attachment, wouldn’t be so clingy when I WAS home, and maybe Alex would start speeding up his speech development?? All my problems could be solved and my whole life would be perfect!
Yeah. Well. Not so much. (Duh, Jessica.)
It turns out that caring for two tiny humans is actually a lot of work in itself. It’s hard. The rest of my personal goals and to-do lists have to take a backseat. And as obvious as that is, it’s also kind of a blow. If I can’t get those things done, is it really worth me being home? Am I being lazy? Am I just plain bad at this “full-time mom” thing? Am I mooching off my husband, who now has to provide 100% of our household income?
Society inundates us with conflicting messages about stay-at-home moms. Essential to healthy kids, or lazy slackers? Must everything be Pinterest-worthy, or is that putting undue pressure on other moms who can’t keep up? Is it normal to be frazzled, with dirty hair and stained yoga pants, or does that mean you’re a total disaster who deserves mockery and derision?
And the truth is, a lot of the questions come down to a fundamental problem of perspective, which is measuring a mom’s value through a lens of productivity. Capitalist, individualist societies like ours put a lot of emphasis on measurable improvement, visible production, and immediately tangible results. So the question gets put to mothers: what are you doing today? What have you made, or fixed, or earned? Nothing, really? Then you’ve wasted your time. You probably weren’t even trying.
It is REALLY HARD to get that perspective out of my head. Some part of me knows and truly believes that the important things in this life can’t be measured in those terms—that we are here to love, to learn to be virtuous, and to be sanctified through sacrifice—which are all things that stay-at-home moms are GREAT at—but I have to keep reminding myself of those things over and over, which tells me that the deepest part of my heart is still falling for the lies of the world.
Somewhere deep down, I keep falling for the idea that my worth lies in my ability to produce, not my capacity to love. That my value is determined by my visible output, not my innate dignity as a daughter of a divine King. That caring for my children could be done just as well or better by the nice ladies at the daycare, even though my boys clearly delight in my presence even as they are deliberately breaking the rules.
So I’m trying to remember that those messages ARE lies. That I know better.
And yet, it feels like I’m giving up and lowering my standards if I take some of the pressure off to have the perfect house, perfect body, perfect outfits, and perfect children that the world expects. Can it truly be allowed to just… let go of those things? Shouldn’t I try? Shouldn’t I drive myself and my kids crazy, trying? After all, I’m home now. I have more time available, so I must have something to show for it. (There’s the lie again—that every effort must have immediate, visible results to be worthwhile.)
Maybe the answer is that yes, I SHOULD try to work towards the good, valuable goals of a clean house, healthy body, and fulfilling hobbies around the more important but less measurable work of raising healthy, faithful, virtuous kids. But I should NOT drive myself crazy. Those other goals aren’t worth sacrificing my sanity or even my stress level. They’re good things, if they are approached in the right way–in voluntary service to self and others, not as necessary sacrifices to an idol of productivity. They aren’t essential, the way love is essential.
I’ll keep trying to internalize that.
I think I’ve made good progress by writing this blog post and letting a sink full of dirty dishes wait. High five to me.