There was this picture that showed up on my Facebook timeline a few days ago that nearly knocked the breath out of me. It was eight years old and it was of a chubby cheeked 7 month old boy complete with arm rolls, wet lips and a gummy smile.
Eight years ago.
Everyone always says, “It goes by so fast!” But honestly, that wasn’t exactly what got to me. It was looking at that picture and remembering what that season had brought in anxieties and worries and new stresses and more complications, and how, the most shocking thing of all, I was still dealing with the same stuff, only eight years older.
I think I thought the stuff that made new parenting so hard would eventually go away. And I would come out on the other side wiser and more mature and a kind of sage from the experience. But it’s a humbling thing to see a picture nearly a decade old and think to yourself, “That stuff I had going on inside of me then? Still figuring it out now. Not much has changed.”
No, there are no longer midnight feedings and rear facing car seats and nap schedules and teething rings. But there’s still me, trying to figure out who I am and how I fit and who I want to be and who I am actually becoming. It was exhausting then and remains exhausting now.
I was not one of those little girls who dreamt of being a mother. I suppose I envisioned kids being a part of my future, but my future did not hinge on them. When I finally came to the stage of life where kids were no longer theoretical but an actual reality, though there are people who decided the instant they saw their newborn’s face they never wanted to work another day of their lives because they wanted to be home, that was not me.
Right away I knew I wanted to keep working. But I also didn’t want my professional life to keep being what it had been. I started working part time, spending a couple of days a week at home, grateful for the milestones I could witness on those lazy mornings with old sitcoms on the TV behind me, the gurgling and cooing of an infant the soundtrack to my days. But every Monday and Wednesday, I was grateful for the chance to go into an office. To put on clean clothes that stayed clean for an entire eight hours! To not look at the clock and worry if the baby was napping or fussing or eating all of his peas. I loved not talking about sleep schedules. I loved not swapping mothering woes. Because I was more than a mother. I was still who I had always been up until then—a writer, an editor. Except that wasn’t entirely true either. What I soon discovered was that yes, while I was those things still, I couldn’t shrug off what I was now to my boys.
It was impossible to separate my two lives.
And I have spent the past eight years still juggling what that looks like. I thought I was getting the best of both worlds keeping one foot in the working world and one at home. But more often than not, the past eight years have found me questioning my commitment and loyalty to both.
At work I wonder if I am missing too many school parties, too many chapels, too many normal and non-descript days that will make up most of my boys’ childhood. At home I wonder if my choices to not be in the office all the time are costing me influence, opportunities and growth, the chance to further what is a stretch to call a “career”.
At home I fear my boys will think work consumes me.
At work I fear I will never be taken more seriously because I’m “just a mom who works part time.”
To be fair, neither my boys nor the staff I work with has ever said anything of the sort to me. Not even close. But that’s the record that plays in my head on repeat, as I go back and forth from the two worlds I love, the two worlds I need, the two worlds I would go crazy without, but constantly fear are both getting the short end of the stick.
I thought by choosing to both work and be home, I would keep myself from getting my identity too wrapped up in what I did at work, and the role I had at home. I thought I was safe because I couldn’t become one of those people who sacrifices their family on the altar of professional achievement. And I was safe from becoming a mom who lost herself in her kids and their lives who doesn’t quite know who she is when they fly the coop.
I thought I had safeguards in place.
But the safeguards were for how these two polarities might play out externally. They weren’t for my head or for my heart.
For eight years I’ve been living convinced I have been failing because I couldn’t give all of myself to either role. When what I really needed was to learn that success in either role wouldn’t give me what I thought it would.
No commitment to home or work was going to validate me.
No commitment to our jobs or to our families validates any of us. As long as we are tying our value and view of ourselves to the work we do—whether that work is staying home with the kids or going into the office—the more certain we are to waste valuable years missing the point.
What role we choose for ourselves says little about who we are when no one is watching, about our character, about how we live out those roles day to day. Our roles are just the stage where who we really are and what we’re really becoming, plays out. Our roles don’t sanctify us, save us, or define us. Not the real us anyway. And any time we fall into the trap of believing they do, the more conflicted and miserable we’ll be in the roles we choose for ourselves.
It’s been eight and a half years since I became a mom. And I still am not sure how I feel about the title. I still feel like I don’t wear it well, am still learning the ropes, am still figuring out how it interacts with the parts of me that have been around much longer, but now need some rearranging to make room for this part.
I am not sure the figuring out stage ever goes away. But at least now I have an idea of what I ought to be aiming for. Love, service, commitment, integrity, quality, wherever I am, whoever I am. Not a perfect performance in a perfect role, but a sense of value and worth as I am, no matter what role that day, that hour, that second, finds me in.
Because at the end of the day, who I really am, as a whole, is not encapsulated by the role of worker or as mother. I am more than either one. And more than both put together. We all are. The secret is learning to live like we believe it.