First, and I cannot stress this enough, I loved having a career and I cannot wait to jump back into one when E is school-aged. I didn’t go out of my way to educate myself just so I could hang-up my license as soon as I became a “Mrs.” Before I met my future husband, I had my own apartment, bills, and other monthly obligations that I paid for. I did not come from a wealthy family, and absolutely nothing was handed to me. So it came as a shock when one day I, at long last, confronted myself with what I intended to do roughly seven months pregnant.
I had put off the thought for as long as I could: go back to work and leave E to full-time daycare, or stay at home and raise her myself. A lot of women, and I would say some men too, would love to stay at home and raise their children full-time. Unlike some parents, I actually had the luxury to choose. And it is a luxury. To get by in this country, to be considered middle-class, both parents must earn. That is the truth. Maternity care in America is non-existent. I had to cash in all my sick days, and the vacation days I never used, in order to get three months of paid time off. I raised hell about that. Pregnancy is neither a sickness, nor a disease, nor a vacation. Without that cache of time I had the foresight to squirrel away (and no serious illnesses to keep me out of office) I would have had ZERO time off between birth and E’s care. When I questioned my HR office about what I would have done had I not had those earned vacation days, I was told, unsympathetically I might add, I could request early vacation leave, essentially borrowing what I had not earned and would have to payback. This method creates a paid, time-off debt that would take months to payoff, and that’s assuming nothing untoward crops up post-pregnancy that would require a person to request more “borrowed” time-off. The maternity care policies of America are abysmal. We let the employers dictate the terms because its in our capitalistic nature to do so instead of occasionally dipping into the humanistic pool, as though being financially considerate of new parents could possibly destroy our principal, for-profit system. Yeah…right.
So what would I do? Go back to work after my paid three months were up? Put E into full-time daycare, essentially to be raised and to bond with strangers? Or stay at home, losing credibility as a “current” professional in my field for every year I wasn’t working? Compromise between the two? Raise E for the first two or three years and then go back to work? Hoping I can get back in; applying to jobs that are a step or two down from my previous position?
At first I thought, yes, I will raise E for a few years and then jump back into it. And it was hard, man. So. Freakin’. Hard. The needs of a newborn vacillated between nothing, as she slept so much, to full on screaming for hours on end. Being a new mom was demanding if for no other reasons than 1) Babies do not come with manuals, I don’t give a damn how many baby books there are. There is no “one size fits all” baby. 2) Having a vagina in no way guarantees I know what to do either. I would go so far as to say most babies are guesswork / trial and error.
We get passed the worst of the freaky newborn months and head into the more predictable baby months, and I start to get bored. I wasn’t prepared for that, but I don’t know why I was surprised either. I went from an intellectually, stimulating environment – to goo goo, gaga. Raising a child is still demanding, but it’s manageable, like any job or career. Clearly, if offered the choice between raising children professionally, like a nanny, or being a counselor at a university as I had been, I would choose being a counselor. Parenting, as a day-to-day job, is not 100% fulfilling, like no job is 100% fulfilling – the point is – choosing the job that’s right for you means knowing that when you are engaging in the less than fulfilling parts, those parts are still part of the overall career that makes you more satisfied than not. I know there are going to be people out there that will intentionally misunderstand what I’m saying because he or she is hung up on their own bullshit, and that’s fine because I’m not looking for their approval or condemnation. Some people need more than what’s inside the home and I’m one of them, and I don’t apologize for it. I love being E’s mom, but I wouldn’t choose motherhood just for the sake of it either. I wouldn’t have kids just to have kids, and if you think such women don’t exist, you’d be wrong. I’ve met them and they will tell you that before having children, they didn’t have an identity. Damn, that makes me sad. I definitely have an identity, and being a mom is a relatively new fraction of it, a percentage of my overall being.
I remember in college, and as early as high school, teenage girls and young women going on and on about wanting children. They couldn’t wait, etc. And I remember thinking, ‘If that’s true then your future partner doesn’t matter. You could go out and get knocked up right now.’ I never saw having a baby as “having a baby.” I’ve always viewed the prospect of pregnancy as “having a person,” and I believe if more young women did that, they wouldn’t be so keen on having children. At the age of 30, having met and married my ideal partner, was when I was willing to consider bringing a child into the world. Until then, I wasn’t terribly convinced that I wanted any. Having a uterus does not obligate me to use it #TheHandmaidsTale.
In truth, I think, women are more sold on the idea of a wedding than a marriage. Women are more sold on the idea of having babies than raising a person, which in actuality, is what propagating the species is all about.
The pay off in raising my kid directly is that I see the best of myself in her. She questions me when she doesn’t understand a decision. She likes to do as much for herself as she is able; E takes pride in her independence. E is loud when she feels she’s been wronged. I kinda of think of her as a Louise Belcher (Bob’s Burgers) in training. I love these qualities in E and reminds me that the odds of her picking up these crucial qualities, qualities that I take pride in for myself as well as my kid, would have lowered considerably had I been taking her to daycare everyday. It’s not that E would never have learned them, but it would have taken longer and perhaps not learned with the same caliber. Whereas the negatives she’s picked up from me, like social anxiety, can be easily remedied by occasionally taking her to daycare now that she’s old enough to develop social bonds. E makes friends more easily now and demonstrates less stress around new people because of daycare. Her sociability will improve even more when she begins preschool in August.
I struggled so much in the first three years. There were days I resented being at home, feeling trapped with nothing to engage me at an adult level. But then, I decided it wasn’t having a kid that was causing the resentment, nor was it my decision to be a full-time parent – the resentment was a “me” problem. I am a smart person, and just because I was no longer being paid to be one didn’t mean I had to suspend my intellectual abilities all-together. I rediscovered writing. And how. One day, I looked back at my old college writing notes and rediscovered my old “ideas for a book”. With E going to daycare twice a week, I managed to write a book in eight months.
To my delight, I will be pursuing writing full-time when E begins preschool. As I had addressed in a previous blog, I had struggled with the idea of what to study in college and eventually chose psychology. Being a full-time parent allowed me the space to explore writing as I never could while knee-deep in my counseling career, and just didn’t have the time to while in college. I’m so grateful for that. If I had made any other choice, I wouldn’t have known so much reward: raising my kid directly was one, taking up writing was another.
PS – You will note the absence of the term “stay-at-home-mom.” It’s insulting as it is dismissive. “Full-time parent” has the weight and respect the job deserves, minus the assumed sex to boot.