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Everything I Know About Work and Family I Learned From My Stay-at-Home Mom

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She’s got degrees in psychology and speech pathology and attended one of the best universities in the state. She’s book smart and people smart and is an incredible listener. My mom would have made a really great therapist, or school counselor.

Instead, she graduated college, found a job in a windowless office working for the local Employment Security Commission. She spent her early twenties helping other people find jobs, all the while wondering about where hers was taking her.

This was back in the early 1980s, where people could still smoke in their cubicles. She sweetly put up a “No Smoking” sign on hers and ran a little fan on her desk to circulate the air. It was a thankless position but she made some really good friends there that she still gets together with now for dinner.

She could have been just about anything, but in 1987 she decided to become a mom. In early April, she gave birth to a bald little girl who had her eyes and her husband’s chin. I was a tiny little thing and cried nonstop. She left her job and decided to stay home for the time being. Then, my sister and brother came along and before she knew it, 15 years had come and gone and she was still cooking dinner, packing lunchboxes, and cleaning up Hot Wheels from the kitchen floor so guests wouldn’t trip over them.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t consider flying the nest and working outside the home. Throughout the years, she considered many part-time positions. I watched as she dabbled in Mary Kay, hosted copious Pampered Chef parties, and even considered a career transition into real estate.

Ultimately though, she found more than a few reasons to stick it out where she’d been planted. She took on volunteer positions at church and the community pool. She poured herself into PTA boards and participated in every bake sale our school held. When my youngest sibling started school, she began to consider more seriously getting back into full-time work outside the home. I helped her polish her resume and she applied at our local high school. She got a job working in the in-school suspension room. She’d give all the bad kids candy and read to them from the Bible and everyone started getting in trouble on purpose just to see her, bless her heart.

It took a little while for our family to transition to this new normal. We were used to seeing her immediately after school so it was kind of a shock when she didn’t get home until nearly five. There were cousins and aunts and uncles all around, so we were more than taken care of, but the familiar sight of her stirring over the oven as soon as we got off the school bus was now just a sweet memory.

As I grew up, so did her career. She took on more positions at the school and eventually worked her way into the library, where she still serves. I’m as proud of my mom as anyone can be of anybody. She taught me that our dreams change with the season and what we wanted when we graduated with a degree might not be what we want when we’re 28 and birthing babies. Or, it might be, and that’s perfectly OK too.

More than anything, she taught me to prioritize. Her favorite saying is “Work will always be there.” As I continue in my career, I’ve found that to be so true. We can push our bodies and our minds to their limits and drive ourselves batty trying to finish all of our tasks by closing time. But guess what? There will inevitably be a pile of to-dos sitting on our desk the next morning.

She taught me there’s a time when work takes a backseat, and family is first. Then, there’s a time when that transitions just a little and you learn how to drive everything forward at the same time. Watching her balance keeping a home with holding down a full-time job was nothing short of spectacular.

I’m forever grateful that she chose to stay home for a decade and a half and raise our family. However, I would have loved her just as much if she would have gone into work at 8:00 a.m. every morning, and we would have come home to a babysitter. Looking back on it, I would have known she loved us regardless.

She didn’t have to walk us up our long driveway each morning to catch the bus. She didn’t have to pack love notes in our lunchboxes and bring our dioramas to school when we forgot them. She didn’t have to have vegetable soup simmering on cold fall days when we got home. She didn’t have to surprise us in the cafeteria for parent lunch days or come to every single one of my cheerleading games after school. She could have been behind a desk that whole time, or out meeting new clients. She could have been landing big gigs and closing bigger deals. I would have known she loved me anyway, because the time she did choose to spend with us, was incredibly intentional.

She wasn’t behind her phone, or staring at a television. She wasn’t scrolling social media or texting my dad. She was looking us square in the eye, down on the cold floor playing hide and seek. She was pulling out the old tablecloth and letting us go crazy with finger paint. She was taking us on picnics and making grilled bologna sandwiches and breathing us in deeply.

Getting that in small doses would have been enough. I was just incredibly lucky to get it in huge, all-consuming waves. We all mother differently, and I hate to say I’m not nearly as present with my kids as she was with us. I have distractions, and messages, and emails. I have instant access to entertainment and sometimes I just want to lock myself in the bathroom and catch up on Facebook while they play in the bedroom.

But I’m learning, and I’m discovering that every time I put down my device and really focus on my babies, I’m becoming more and more like her. I may go back to work soon, or maybe not. I might ramp up my writing career and take on some bigger projects. Or, I might just freelance in the evenings and fill my days with the children’s museum and preschool pickup. Only time will tell, but one thing’s for sure. Some pretty fabulous roadwork has already been laid for me to follow. I just need to hop on board and learn how to steer myself onward.

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