I was the last person who ever thought I would be sitting at home right now instead of front and center in a bustling classroom. I loved teaching. I loved directing musicals and producing large concerts. I loved molding young minds and exposing those young minds to culture. In my third year of teaching, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl -- almost six weeks early. I took an eleven week maternity leave, and she started daycare weighing less than ten pounds. She was a handful from the beginning; a baby who needed a lot of extra attention. My focus was split between work and her. I would often pick her up and bring her back to play practice, directing a show with a baby on my hip. I was at school when she had her first seizure. I was distracted at my job as I frantically called doctors and researchers and labs to try and obtain results. I worried about what was and what may be. She was always sick and juggling the days off between my husband and I was so stressful. I had no more paid time off, and eventually ended up losing money because we were still paying for full time day care.
By the time Little Miss M was turning three and transitioning to a public preschool (only 2.5 hours a day and in a different town from our daycare), I was also nine months pregnant with K-Bear. The Husband and I made a decision that was very difficult at the time. I would stay home and devote myself full time to raising the children and coordinating their medical and therapy needs, as well as all the home care duties. We would lose my paycheck. I would forfeit trips to the hair salon and the pedicures. He agreed to forfeit ordering dinner out. We soon realized we would not be going out much at all. There was no extra money for a babysitter, nor was their energy left to pursue a night out. The daycare bill stopped, but new bills accrued, and the purse strings just got tighter. I'm preaching to the choir, I'm sure.
Here I sit five years and two months since I left my wonderful teaching job; since I walked away from colleagues who were like family members and students who I cared deeply for. Five years and two months ago, we decided I could not do it all. I was stretched too thin, and something had to give.
I had/have friends and family members who told me how easy my days must be -- that I could sit and watch television, that I had no idea what working was anymore, that I didn't really work, that I had it easy. Thank goodness the Husband has been my strongest advocate since day one. Since I'm a full time volunteer board member for a non-profit foundation, I am required to be away at times. Little Miss M's medical care also requires us to be away from home for chunks of time. This has given the Husband the opportunity to step into the role of Stay-at-Home Parent, almost like a substitute teacher. He is more tired by the end of those days than I ever see him after he's worked a full 14-hour day at his office and driven the bumper to bumper commute. He looks at me with admiration and proclaims he's so grateful that I am able to keep my sanity and raise our three girls to be so caring and loving and to keep up with everything around the house. Yes, those exact words -- well, maybe I embellish a bit. My point is, the Husband is truly my partner. I could not stay at home full time if he did not work outside the house full time and if we did not function as partners.
We've often discussed my going back into the work force. It's pretty impossible as far as we can see given Little Miss M's extensive medical needs and trying to keep up with all three kids. We continue to make sacrifices as needed, but never on the amount of love in our house.
Please don't misunderstand. Our days are not full of sunshine and giggles. I am often dragging one half clothed child somewhere and more often then not, I am stepping on some toys. I have worked hard to establish a routine and expectations with the kids. I don't watch soap operas, in fact it's an almost constant barrage of Mickey Mouse these days, as demanded by my youngest. When the two older kids are at school (for 2.5 hours at the same time), I have programmed Baby-Z to sleep, or at least be in her crib. I usually prepare dinner, fold the last load of laundry and then catch up on my writing and my foundation work while watching one of the few DVRd shows I've programmed to tape throughout the week. More days then not there are doctor's appointments, gymnastics practices, therapy appointments, professional phone calls and the like that need to be attended to. There are bills to pay, correspondences to keep up. There are toilets to clean, socks to fold, dinners to prepare and days to plan.
Oh, and because the kids aren't in daycare - I'm their daycare provider as well. We are often gluing, coloring, cutting, puzzling, reading, investigating, playing and singing. There are social interactions to manage and experiences that must be had. Because I'm home full time, there is no flexibility to schedule an appointment without kids or just run to the store. These are carefully executed endeavors that require asking beloved and entrusted friends or family to give up some of their time to sit with the girls or half the girls. There are the errands that must be run with a kid or two strapped in a stroller, trying to sneak in lunch without spending a lot of money and making sure they are being nutritiously fed.
In my honest opinion, out of the house or stay-at-home, there is no harder role. There is no right way. Working parent or stay-at-home parent, I truly believe it is the decision of the family. I've walked both roads. Both roads had rewards and both had hardships. I missed some of Little Miss M's milestones, but I was here for K-Bear's and Baby-Z's. Funny realization, I cannot remember more about the milestones I saw than the ones I shared with my daycare provider.
My days are long, and my tasks are numerous. My decisions effect a lot of people and a lot of people are relying on me. The big difference in my life now versus when I worked outside the home is that I am now paid in just hugs and kisses. In a perfect world, I could do it all. But, the world isn't perfect and we have to make things work the best we can for our situations.
This can be a hot-button topic? Are you a stay-at-home parent or do you work outside the home? Would you share your experiences and thoughts with us in the comments?
Amanda is a stay-at-home mom with a Master's degree. It should be known, the Husband will strongly dislike anyone who says that stay-at-home parents don't work!