Wanted: Motivated couple (or individual) to commit their entire lives to one job that is extremely demanding, intermittently rewarding, draining of all money/energy and provides little to no breaks. Salary: $000,000 per year. Interested? Call 1-800-Parenthood.
As a parent of a 16- and 18-year-old, I can tell you for certain that parenting is the most wondrous, chaotic, fulfilling, emotional, exhausting and humorous thing you can do with your life. With this beautiful responsibility comes sacrifices, such as putting a budding career on hold or postponing that European vacation. Often, one parent accepts the shift in their life’s course and decides to be the “stay-at-home,” or CEO of Child and Household Affairs. This position is a true blessing, but at times can feel like a curse.
I was the willing recipient of our family’s CEO position and can recall the very moment when baby fog cleared and a heaviness set in. I had just put our 3-year-old down for a nap after I finished nursing the sleeping 6-month-old in my arms. I took a cursory glance in the bathroom while passing and stopped abruptly. Slowly, I moved toward the mirror ’til I was within an inch. The face looking back was not MY face. I scrutinized the dark circles under the eyes, the spit-up stained, tattered shirt I was wearing, and the 2 inches of root growth below my blonde streaks. What is happening to me? My hair was ratty, I ate Cheetos for breakfast and hadn’t read a book in months. Before parenthood, I was a Drama and English teacher with grand ambitions of mastering the acoustic guitar and traveling the world. Although I willingly accepted the stay-at-home CEO position, how would I ever go back to who I once was? Was this my life now?
One day, I just awoke and thought, I am ready to reenter the work world. Heck, I’d sacrificed four years of my career by then. I tuned up my resume, busted out the teaching clothes and secured an interview for a high school English teacher. Although my professional clothes were a little snug, I sucked in my wobbly belly, zipped up and made it out of the house by the hair of my chinny chin chin (also a growing issue). I have a vivid memory of discretely scraping crusted baby cereal off my pants while attempting to convince an interview panel that I was still a competent teacher who was up to date on the latest technology. I suppressed the woman who was knee-deep in diapers, colicky babies and Tumble Tots and I landed the job. Careful what you wish for….
The year of teaching ninth and tenth grade honors English was a blur. From 6 am daycare drop-offs to late-night grading, I was torn between two worlds. I didn’t love teaching as much due to the amount of time the profession demanded. After a day of teaching, I had nothing left to give my family. Every evening felt like I had just run a marathon through mud with ankle weights. The full-time teaching experiment ended in June; it wasn’t worth it for me or the family. Daycare cost as much as I was earning, practically. Plus, I already had a very important full-time job titled MOM.
Looking at my parenting “career” through this new lens, I found a sense of pride I didn’t have while in the thick of it all. I began working part-time jobs that revolved around my kids’ schedules; positions that were flexible and provided some form of purpose outside the home. This was a critical step for me—the simple process of showering, putting on a coordinated outfit and leaving the home was invigorating. It sounds so everyday, but is essential to a positive self-image, especially when you’re figuring out life again.
I stepped out of my comfort zone and created a network of friends who were in the same boat as I was. Not the whiny, complaining kind of moms—rather, the strong, empowering, take-care-of-yourself kind. Luckily, I have a super supportive husband, so I felt the positive energy and support coming from both in and outside of my home.
As the years of parenthood rolled forth, who I was pre-parenting came into focus. We began to travel as a family. I taught part-time. I read short stories instead of novels. I scheduled more time for myself and started to recognize the true value in what I was doing as a parent. All of my goals and dreams were not lost, just reconfigured in certain ways.
So much changes in the wake of parenting. No matter how you shake a stick at it, when a child is brought into this world, they are the sun and parents are merely planets. The search for balance between self-care and selflessness is unending. And it is often said that parenting is the most thankless job in the world, but I wouldn’t have chosen a different path if I could. If you, reader, are the CEO of your household, I commend your efforts and celebrate your sacrifices! It takes a mighty human to hold onto who they were before children and recognize that who they once were evolves, too. I never did learn the guitar like I wanted to. It actually adorns my office wall as a piece of me I may or may not choose to revisit. And I am okay with that.
Happy Mother’s Day to every mom out there who is tackling or has tackled the job of CEO of Child and Household Affairs. You are the MVP of the family and deserve time to catch a breath and tend to yourself. Remember, “Life doesn’t come with a manual; it comes with a mother.”