Let me say from the start that I'm not throwing stones at other's choices. I've been a player in the unavoidable mommy wars for long enough to know that every choice has benefits and drawbacks. It's hard to be a stay-at-home mom. It's hard to be a working mom. It's double the trouble, none of the fun to be a work-from-home mom. This is not a "grass is always greener" post. This is also not a post about regret. I don't regret the time that I spent staying home. Those were some of the greatest days of my life. But I also have enough distance from those days to see some of the mistakes that seemed to be built into my stay-at-home life.
My kids became lazy and overly dependent.
I heard it said once that a mother is the sun around which her children revolve like planets. While that's an idyllic word picture, the sun never gets to take a day off without major planetary consequences. One day without the sun would result in people freezing to death followed by cataclysmic destruction as celestial bodies without gravity crash into one another. That scene is precisely what was happening at my house anytime I dared to be anything but fully present. In my stay-at-home role, I allowed myself to become too valuable and far too central to the success of the home and my children.
While every mother wants to be needed, you can quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. I reached that point somewhere between realizing that my children had never cleaned a bathroom and realizing that they couldn't match their own socks. I had been doing those things for them—usually with the purist intentions of love and sacrifice—because I had plenty of time to devote to such things. In return, they had been living a life of luxury and were drastically missing age-appropriate skills.
Here's the rub: I really thought I was teaching my kids to be independent. They had plenty of chores and were expected to complete them, but because I was cleaning up behind them all day, I didn't realize how much I did for them and how much I let slide in the process. My constant presence robbed them of the feeling that they were a needed and valuable part of the family team. Going back to work forced them to take ownership of managing their own mess, and forced me to demand more participation from my kids. I only wish I had realized how lazy I had let them become before it all came crashing down during that first week of work.
I believed that quantity time was quality time
The sheer volume of time spent in proximity to my children lulled me into a false sense of complacency about how I was spending that time. After spending pretty much every waking minute together, I felt like I could mentally check the "spent time with my children" box and pat myself on the back for a job well done. The problem was that I was spending most of that time just managing their needs—not making meaningful connections.
When my time with my kids was limited by the constraints of work, I found myself being much more intentional with how I spent it. The time we spent together had much more substance, a concept I wish I had employed when my time each day was limitless.
I became one-dimensional and resentful.
There was a time when mothering filled me up completely. There was also a time that I outgrew that need to be all-consumed by my children. I reached a point where I realized could parent well and still have enough left over to do something else. Foolishly ignoring the very valid need to have an identity beyond my kids began to rub a raw spot of resentment.
The resentment grew to a point where I was silently seething more often than not. It goes without saying that a seething, resentful mother is not ideal for children. Going back to work created a buffer for me internally that stopped the constant chafing of my role as a parent. I only wish I had realized how much I needed that buffer sooner, as I could have easily filled in many ways other than work.
If I had it to do all over again, would I choose to be a full-time stay-home mom? Without hesitation or pause, my answer would be yes. But, hindsight being 20/20, I would have been more cautious to avoid these pitfalls. Simply, I could have done better within the constraints of my choices. I was so certain that stay-at-home mothering was the best choice that I was blinded to the ways that even the best can backfire. If I had known then what I know now, I would have had a better chance of giving my kids my best. And that's all we really want as parents, no matter what kind of work choice we make.
Jessica is a former teacher, a current behavior therapist, and a future crazy cat lady, but instead of collecting cats, she’ll collect passport stamps. Until then, she is the mom of four boys who range in age from teens to tots, a homeschooler, and a believer in traveling often and eating really good chocolate. Follow her adventures at Suitcases and Sippy Cups.