Several years ago I was sitting at lunch with a very good friend at a suburban restaurant. I had taken a break from my stay-at-home-mom day to visit her on her turf as she had to break away from her intense, full-time work-from-home job with one of the Big Four. We had worked together in the dot-com era and quickly became friends and confidantes. We also experienced both of our pregnancies around the same time. Our first children were born within six months of each other, and our second (in my case twins) were born within two weeks of each other. We opted for ginger ale over wine together (revealing our second pregnancies to each other the same night as we noticed that we were each ordering ginger ale), shared maternity clothes, and later came to each other’s rescue so that one of us could catch some much-needed shut-eye on the couch while the other folded laundry or monitored a sleeping baby. We spent a few fun summer weekends at their lake house—our first-born even took her first steps there—and attended all of our kids’ respective birthday parties. We were on this journey of motherhood together, for sure.
Back to our lunch. One part of our conversation has remained with me to this day, and is especially relevant now. I was lamenting to her how the total immersion of a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly draining, and how it represents a much-needed mind shift to get away and interact with adults. I envied her ability to walk out the door in the morning (or, in her case, into her home office and close the door), focus on non-kid things, push her brain and skills to the max, and then come home with a fresh perspective for her children. Maybe not exactly refreshed, or resourced, but ready to shut out one part of her life and welcome in another. Just the variety alone must have been enriching, I thought.
She listened patiently and definitely agreed with many points. But then she opened up to share her perspective. The thing she wished for more than anything in the world was to have the ability to experience those precious, once-in-a-lifetime moments with her kids. She couldn’t take them to the pool on a Wednesday, or watch them play tea party, or be present for some of those amazing milestones that appear when you least expect them. So she envied me. While her job was flexible, she wished she had more flexibility, or could work a four-day week. She expressed that she probably wasn’t built to be a stay-at-home-mom, but she also felt that she was missing out.
I was stunned into silence. I felt for her, deeply. Since that day, I have never forgotten what that moment taught me: every mother experiences motherhood differently. There are so many shades of “torn”. Never assume.
Ironically, that same friend was single-handedly instrumental in securing me my first full-time job after my stay-at-home-mom period. I became a consultant for the same Big Four, enjoying a lucrative hourly rate and work-from-home flexibility. On my way to our first meeting at her home office I blasted Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” in the car—and cried. I was so grateful, and terrified, and humbled. Dare I say it, but I felt like I truly had it all.
I have been a working mother ever since, going on two and a half years now. Currently, for the summer, my three kids are being cared for by a wonderful nanny about ten hours a day on weekdays. This morning my daughter and the nanny plotted how they would find some fun recipes for new family dinners, and make grocery lists, and bake. The nanny smiled at me and said “we’ll plan a week’s worth of meals for you!” I intentionally lingered over my backpack, enjoying the extra hugs from my daughter. I thought to myself, well, here you are, mommy. You’re going to work. Your kids are happy, but they miss you. And you miss them. But this is the choice you made—the choice we all have to make, even daddies. No parent is immune. I am lucky to have so many options. Truly grateful.