So, I grumbled a little and culled my notes and sat before the small group in the fellowship hall of a local church. Before I began, I said, “One of the hardest parts about becoming a stay-at-home mom, for me, was that people stopped asking me personal questions. Everything was related to my husband or children. I felt lost—like I had disappeared. Motherhood is an important part of my identity, but it’s not all there is, and I feel like it’s so demanding that it will swallow you whole if you let it. So, I want to go around the room. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, I want to know what you did before that. Or what you hope to do later. If you work, I want to know what you do and what that’s like. If you’re hoping for a change, tell me about that. If you are looking to get something specific out of this discussion, I’d love to know that too.”
And this was where I got over myself and realized what an honor it was to be among these women. A handful of them have master’s degrees. Many are military spouses, and a couple are veterans themselves. One is a Presbyterian pastor, but doesn’t know how to translate those skills into another profession, or at least how to represent them so she gets the chance. Several are small business owners. One has multiple doctorates and is a rescue veterinarian but wants to break into teaching at the college level. Several are hoping for a new career when their kids are older, but nervous about the time away. Others are hoping to pick up where they left off, wondering if there will still be room for them. Many spoke of weighing the costs of childcare against potential income, unsure whether it would even make financial sense to work. One spoke of a job she loved that she had left shortly before having her first child. “I want to work. But right now I’m sort of…lost.”
Lost. I bit my lip and nodded. Prior to going into that meeting, I had run into a friend in the hall as I dropped my children off at childcare. “I’m giving a talk on keeping your skills relevant and how to best represent yourself in a resume in this unique season. Me, the unemployed, stay-at-home mom. It’s just a little bit ironic, isn’t it?” My friend smiled sweetly.
I felt like a fraud. I have a consulting business, it’s true. But most jobs aren’t feasible to take on right now. The last one balked at my rate, though by my estimation, it was below industry standard. I did not negotiate, preferring to lose the work I don’t actually need than to rearrange my life to work for less than I’m worth. I’m in an enviable place and I know it: we do not need my income right now to stay comfortable. I recognize the absurd luxury of this fact, because I lived for a long time when this was nowhere near true. Being able to mull over not just what you need to do, but what you’d like to do is a gift, for sure.
I’ve done that, had a little of both. I’ve worked a shorter week than my coworkers, the last year of my employment with a big contractor. I heard complaints about it every day, never mind the fact that I completed the same amount of work in less time than and often worked from home to ensure nothing slipped. I’ve worked consulting jobs that expected round-the-clock availability while my husband traveled relentlessly and I had no formal childcare to speak of. I’ve taken a conference call while locking myself in the laundry room. It wasn’t glamorous. I really don’t believe you can have it all, at least not all at the same time. But I’m not sure that’s even what we’re asking for. I think we just want more options.
So I find myself in this tension. Where does it leave me? I am comforted, and so pleasantly surprised, by the depths of what sisterhood with other women can really mean if we take the time to get to know others and really allow ourselves to be known. I’m also continually challenged to figure out what work is to me—A paycheck? Freedom? Recognition? An outlet?— and what it is not. I wrestle with the dichotomy of accepting the place where I am and being fully present with my children in this fleeting stage, without slipping into complacence. I remind myself there is no shame in also yearning for something those sweet children were never meant to give me.
Today I lived the suburban dream and loved every minute of it: I got to beam while my daughter accepted an award at school, then I took her and her brother to watch the geese and play at a park. We had a picnic on the front lawn and drew with sidewalk chalk before her kindergarten bus came and her brother and I took a jog to the church around the corner for a yoga class. On the walk home I breathed deeply, marveling over the gift of this day. And today, as always, I felt infinitely grateful that I got to be there for my son to lay his head on my shoulder before his nap, even as I wondered whether and when there will be something more.
Soon I will meet with some of those ladies again, and we will work on their resumes. They will tell me their hopes and dreams and experience and skills and we will work together to tell their stories well. And I can't help but wonder, in the back of my mind, whether I'm already in the midst of stumbling onto that something more.