I was never one of those little girls who just knew I was meant to be a mother. Even after getting married, my husband and I weren't 100 percent sure we wanted children. In fact, before getting pregnant with our first child, I returned to school to earn my master's degree so I could pursue a career I loved in nutrition.
Those plans were put on hold when I found out I was pregnant with our son (now almost 4 years old and he has a 4-month-old baby brother). We both liked the idea of having him at home in our care for at least his first couple of years. Because I was finishing school, I hadn't yet settled into a career and wasn't making enough money to justify the cost of daycare. It also made more sense from a practical standpoint; with me being at home, one of us would always be available for doctor checkups and sick days without having to juggle our schedules. And honestly, I wanted to be home with my babies.
I wanted to be there for each little coo, cuddle, and milestone, and trust me, I realize how lucky I am to be able to do that.
Nine months later, our son was born and just like that I became not only a mom, but a stay-at-home mom. Once the fog of new mommyhood cleared and a lot of my other new mom friends were returning to work, I struggled to come to terms with my new identity. As adults, we are somewhat defined by our careers. One of the first things people ask when they meet is, "What do you do?" and I no longer knew how to answer that question. I felt like saying I was a stay-at-home mom was the equivalent of saying, "I do nothing at all."
Of course, I know this isn't really true. I keep tiny humans alive, I keep the condition of our home livable (most days), I provide healthy meals for our family, and I try to teach my tiny humans how to one day be interesting, respectful bigger humans. But it's taken me a couple of years to recognize the true value of what I do for my family. I now know this was due to my own insecurities surrounding the image I had in my head of a stay-at-home mom — something between Peggy Bundy and the Target-shopping, yoga pant-wearing, Starbucks-drinking cliche that is laughed about so often today.
Because of these insecurities, I continued to take on various part-time jobs so that I still had an answer for the ever-present, "What do you do?" question. I became a freelance writer, took on nutrition clients, and taught fitness classes, among other things. In fact, when I sat down and wrote it all out, there were nine part-time jobs on my list. Nine.
I was never present. My mind was always somewhere else. I knew something had to give.
I realized that I was trying to fill a void that wasn't there. I didn't know who I was if I wasn't contributing financially to our family and had no immediate career goals. The truth is, though, that I was failing at all of it. When I was with my children, I was thinking about the work I needed to do. When I was working, I felt guilty for not giving my full attention to my children. I was never present. My mind was always somewhere else. I knew something had to give.
So, where did that leave me? I decided let go of some of the responsibilities I had piled on so that I could focus on and truly commit to being a mom to my beautiful sons. Why? Because my job is not my identity. My job does not determine my worth. Staying at home with my children is part of who I am, but it is not all that I am.
It took me longer than I'd like to admit to realize that. I'm not saying I have it all figured out, either, because I don't. We all struggle with balancing our many responsibilities and figuring out who we are when we add the role of "mother" to our lives. What has helped me is to remind myself that there was no magic switch that was flipped when I gave birth. I am still the same funny, clumsy, energetic, adventurous woman I was before I had children. But now I can add mother to that list.
I also didn't give up all of my passions. I teach fitness classes one night a week, which guarantees me some adult interaction and a good workout. I have a babysitter come over each week so that I can continue to write. Writing is a powerful, creative outlet for me, and I think it is important for all moms to hold on to some of the hobbies and activities they love.
Lastly, I had to let go of the comparisons to other moms and families. It is easy to think that everyone else has it all figured out when you are peering in from the outside, but none of us have it all together. Forming friendships with other stay-at-home moms, working moms, and even work-from-home moms has shown me that we are all just doing the best we can to navigate these murky waters of motherhood.
I am finally in a place where I feel happy and comfortable with the role I have taken on, but I still have days where I have to work a little harder at it than others. And sometimes I am that cliche mom wandering around Target with an iced coffee and looking at Star Wars toys with my son. And I am okay with that.