I promised myself that when I finally left the workplace to come back home I’d write myself a letter to remember why it was a good thing. It’s so tempting to get back into the noise and mess and wonder why I left the quiet pleasantness and good friends for this chaos.
It’s a sad reality, but I am much better at writing marketing plans than I am mothering and taking care of a house. (This is why I admire you so much, Carrie.) I’m not a natural mother–I love my children fiercely, but I don’t “get” children in that way some nurturing types do. Maybe it was my upbringing as an only child and mostly single mother that made me think child rearing would be a lot quieter, and, well, a lot less childish. It’s no secret that being home is much harder work physically, emotionally and spiritually than being at the office.
It sounds like I’m writing the reasons to not stay at home, but I think it’s just the opposite.
There is no wisdom in thinking the path of least resistance is the easiest path, but there is much evidence to the contrary. There’s a great saying used a lot in my Weight Watchers meeting: “Choose your hard.” Being fat is hard, dieting is hard. Choose the hard you’d rather do.
As hard as it is to be with the kids, being away from the kids is hard. For me, it was impossible to work without shutting off some of the little maternal instinct I have. I wasn’t parenting the way I had always meant to parent (I know, who does?)
Part of it is probably just my personal psyche–I have a hard time multitasking and shifting gears. When I’m working my brain stays at work and I have a hard time fully focusing on my home and family. After being home for a vacation or a long weekend, the reverse is true. And maybe some moms can shift gears faster and better.
But for me, I felt unable to prevent compromise on what I wanted my children to be doing and the habits I wanted them to be taught. And, despite so much argument to the contrary, my children were clearly worse off without even my lame guidance–not just because they pined for me, but because they were left with less guidance and teaching than they needed. I can see that there was some independence gained, but overall, it wasn’t an ideal situation for them.
Just one day home makes it clear how many teaching opportunities come up in a single day–from the gospel to occupational tasks to civics and government back to more gospel principles. And the complexity and intensity of the forces facing our children as they come of age is mind-boggling—every lesson they can get will be sorely needed.
Yet another set of lessons lost are the ones they teach me–how to master myself, how to control my words, how to not be a huge hypocrite, how to run a household–how to pray into my life the charity I need to accomplish what I came here to earth to do in the first place.
And not just self-discipline, but the accidental lessons learned while watching and listening to my children. Their little spirits just amaze me–and there’s no saying that just because I got here 30 years earlier I am so much wiser. (Yet, even with this knowledge, I’m perfectly willing to practice the grown-up double standard far too often.)
Also, in the past week at home, even though I’ve been working more than I ever did at the office, I’ve been able to hear so many great conversations that have helped my love for my children grow in a way that makes it easier to be a parent. It’s difficult when we only see each other tired and cranky at the end of the day to build what has so quickly begun to regenerate after only two weeks.
I’ve learned that when Noah refers to any extreme of distance he will use the word “tippy”—as in, “the very tippy bottom,” the “tippy back of the shelf.” Ben and Sophie both need hugs and physical attention every day, several times a day, to help him feel grounded and safe, and I hadn’t noticed that. Lucy has a rare but hysterical giggle.
Yesterday in the car, Sophie, Noah and Lucy were planning how they were going to play in the backyard playhouse when they got home–who wanted to be the mom, the baby, and the mayor, and that the mayor had dibs on the stroller this time. Obviously all of these roles are critical when playing house. It made me laugh–and sadly, I don’t often laugh with my kids.
Working for those two years was not a mistake–I was led to that decision and led to that fantastic job and we were able to quickly solve some difficult problems, but the moment it was time to come home, I felt it.
When your time is spent primarily on any one thing, things that interfere with that primary focus are distractions, a nuisance, and a frustration. When your life is work, other personal projects (a blog!) or even an obsession with a personal problem, the children become the bother. I wrote a whole essay about this some time ago, but how can I can be expected to actually remember past life lessons more than five minutes?
At the same time, I have a very hard time just sitting down and staring at my children or doing kid things. I didn’t do a lot of being a kid as a kid, so it feels very forced. However, even with my motherhood-impaired temperament, what I learned when we first moved to our little “farm” is that the slower, “old-fashioned” life can be lived alongside children rather than in spite of them, that I can enjoy what I’m doing and my children at the same time while teaching them important things.
I’m anxious to return to—and re-learn—that life, and spend less time actively teaching myself the latest marketing strategies and more time passively letting life (the Lord) teach me. Everything is so full of lessons.
So, future self, when you want to run to the quiet safety of an office, run to the garden, kids in tow, and let the chaos escape into the open air.