From the time my daughter Savannah was born, many decisions had to be made that would often leave me questioning if I had done the right thing. Whether it was a major decision -- like whether to breast- or bottlefeed -- or one as simple as the time limit I should allow Savannah to keep her comfort object (her beloved "pacey"), my mothering skills were under constant scrutiny.
However, one of my decisions -- becoming a stay-at-home mother -- was never questioned. Since the beginning of our marriage, my husband Terry and I agreed that if we were ever blessed with children, I would leave my elementary school teaching position for the career of being a "homebound" mom, especially during those early years. Recently, another decision would leave me feeling much like Benedict Arnold. After 18 months of declaring and praising my happiness as a stay-home mom, I rejoined the work force. Never mind that the job was only part-time (eleven Sunday afternoons for three hours), my decision to accept a position at a local community college caused not only a controversy among various friends but also within myself.
After discussing my decision with friends who are also stay-at-home mothers, they began to question me: "We thought you were happy being a stay-at-home mom?" While friends that worked outside the home gave me their support with smug smiles as if to say, "We knew you would not stay content at home." My once well-thought-out decision that I felt would allow me to enjoy the best of both worlds now made me feel guilty and confused. As I drove to my teaching assignment for the first time, I was still re-evaluating my choice (although I was enjoying a chance to listen to the radio instead of Savannah's nursery-rhyme tape). Trying to convince myself that my main motive was to add to our family income, I realized I also had other more selfish reasons: Like many stay-home moms, I had missed conversation with adults.
Still, lately when I had the opportunity to talk with an adult, I either found my refrain to be, "That's okay, sweetie", or struggling for a topic of conversation (besides Savannah). Although I was still an avid reader, I just didn't think my latest reading choices (The Three Pigs or Goodnight Moon) would be on anyone's book club list. Slowly but surely, I was breaking a vow I made to myself, my husband, and my child: Savannah was becoming my life. (In defense of stay-home mothering, I will not place blame for my loss of other interests on anyone else but me).
Is the grass really greener?
Driving home after an enjoyable class, I re-evaluated my statement to appease each set of friends -- stay-at-home mothers and those working outside the home. Then, I began to feel that this silly battle of mothers could be summarized by the old statement, "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." While a stay-at-home mother craves adult conversation, a working mother misses the babbling of her baby. As a stay-at-home mother feeds strained peas to an uncooperative infant, thoughts of a nice luncheon with other adults cross her mind. And as a working mother picks at her plate, she worries that her finicky eater is not eating for the new caregiver.
Most mothers have probably struggled with "the grass is greener?" So instead of choosing sides, I thought that as members of the motherhood club -- we should unite against a more important battle: the guilt that comes with being a mother. Friends often warned that my life would never be the same once Savannah was born. I will agree that motherhood does change your life. Life often becomes a struggle of your own personal needs against what is best for your child. More often than not, mother's personal needs and desires must be unselfishly placed at a distant second to those of her children. But mothers, we should encourage each other to overcome the guilt of occasionally meeting some of our own personal needs!
After returning home from my class, I joined Savannah and my husband out in the yard. As Savannah clapped her hands and squealed in delight as we blew on another dandelion, I was thankful for this moment together. Seconds later, as she tried to eat the seeds, I felt that this was a terrible idea. Whether it's blowing dandelions or deciding to stay home or work outside the home, motherhood is full of decisions. As I often pray that I will choose what's right for Savannah, I also include a small prayer one to help ease my guilt as a mother for indulging myself sometimes, too. (Or maybe that's a bit too selfish?)