I love my boys. And I love my job.
And I hate the tension between them.
While my commute being only a walk downstairs can seem enviable, working from home brings its own struggles. Boundaries are blurred. Child care or housework can encroach on my work time if I’m not careful. Or work can seep into every hour of the day and corner of the house if I don’t make myself fully present to my children when work is done.
Yes, working from home means I’m closer to my kids when they need me. Yes, working part-time means I’m able to be with them for much of the day-to-day of their early years. But it also means that when they are wailing upstairs, I can’t run to them – there is work to be done. Likewise, when they burst out in peals of laughter with the babysitter, I miss out on their joy. And that kills me, too.
Both sounds – the cries and the delights – tear at me when I can’t be right there. The flip side of being only a door away is that I am only a door away. And no white noise or background music can mask a mother’s most immediate and instinctive desire to run to her child.
There are other frustrations, of course. Trying to explain to a toddler why he can’t barge in on his mama whenever he wants a read or a cuddle. Pumping milk for a baby in the room right above my head. Navigating the tricky balance between letting a responsible sitter take charge of their care and feeling tempted to micro-manage since I’m within earshot.
And I’ve learned that living in-between worlds – that of the working mother and the stay-at-home mother – means I’m not good at doing either 100%.
Not being a full-time stay-at-home mom means that on the days when I’m with both boys from dawn till dusk with no break for my work, we are all on each other’s nerves by bedtime. I struggle when I’m home with them full-time.
Not being a full-time working mother means that on the days when I have to leave all day (or week) for meetings or conferences, the whole household is turned upside down to prepare for my extended absence. I struggle to get everything organized – for me and for them – to be gone full-time. To say nothing of hating how it feels to slip out of the house before they wake and return late after they’re back in bed.
So my work and my mothering are decidedly a muddle in the middle. Both/and; neither/nor.
And yet somehow I make it work and find the back-and-forth to be life-giving, if exhausting. I make it work because I love my kids and I love my job. I love using my skills and my gifts and my education to help make a small difference in my corner of the world. I feel called to this work and want to give myself to it.
But even knowing that I am blessed to have choices, and choices between good things, I still feel deeply torn on some days. The tensions I feel between my work and my family will never be fully resolved. I simply have to learn to live as best I can within them and rejoice in the fullness of my life writ large, pulled back from the daily effort required to keep juggling all these balls in the air.
One truth I did not know when I started on this mothering journey was how deeply compromised I would sometimes feel about the choices I would make. How much I would envy moms on one side of the fence or the other. But it turns out that parenting is a much more complicated picture than the pretty pastels I painted it to be in my youth.
Motherhood is also about compromise. And ambivalence. And guilt. And fear that if you choose poorly, you may somehow fail the most precious people in your life.
And when we don’t talk about the shadow side of mothering – when we insist upon the illusions of loving-every-second and complete-and-utter bliss – we sell ourselves short. All of us.
Including the God who mothers. The God who works. And the God who calls all of us to become the people we were created to be: people who give ourselves to work and relationships and service and others.
So I share my struggles here, in this space, with you, because I think it is only in the honest claiming and sharing of our stories that we create a community where diverse decisions and situations can be understood. I stake none of my choices as normative: this is simply the path I carved for myself. But showing the truth of it – the good and the bad – and inviting you to share your own story in turn reveals the many ways in which we are called and create our life out of our many calls.
One wish I have is for better language to share our stories. No “stay-at-home mom” lounges in the comfort of her couch all day, and all moms are “working mothers.” Women are called and gifted to serve the world in a myriad of vocations and professions. And it is the goodness of the work we are each called to do that makes our sacrifices “worth it” in the broadest sense.
So how could we more truthfully and creatively share the stories of the work we do as parents: inside and outside the home, paid and unpaid, for our children and for others? And how might this help us to tell God’s story better, too?
Where do you live in this tension?
How is your parenting shaped by compromise or conflict?
How do you embrace the choices you’ve made?