My first baby was born at 41 weeks. He apparently had no desire to leave such warm, cozy accommodations—with 24-hour room service, no less! And while I couldn’t really blame him, it seemed an eviction notice was in order.
So early one spring morning, we picked up the bag that had been sitting by the door for weeks, and left for the hospital. I would be induced and, if all went as planned, we would be new parents by the end of the day. My mother and aunt had come to stay with us, and later told me that as they watched me lumber to the car with my husband Chris’ support, they looked at each other and said, “Their lives will never be the same again…”
Everyone knows that having children changes your life forever. Priorities are reevaluated, careers are modified to decrease office hours or just put on hold entirely, and vacations become more complicated than enjoyable…. In general, every decision is made with your child’s best interests in mind. It’s no longer all about you. But I have of yet to meet anyone who would want their old life back.
And, of course, there are the fantasies that we all try to sell ourselves and each other like, “It will be easier once they don’t need constant supervision,” “I can go back to work when they’re all in school,” or my personal favorite, “We can start traveling again when they’re older.”
Now that my “babies” are becoming kids, I have a slightly more realistic view….
Yes, it is a whole new world of closing the bathroom door when I take a shower. And personal space and time for myself are actually making their way back into the daily rotation, but decreasing the once constant supervision of my children has its price: I’m also losing that tight control on their immediate safety.
Once they started walking down stairs unassisted, it became possible—and even expected—that they may fall now and again. I never knew how bad that fall might be, and their independence grows by the minute.
By allowing them to cross our neighborhood streets without holding my hand, I’ve taken yet another step toward something that could never in a million years be considered easy. Nonstop supervision of babies and toddlers may be exhausting, but watching them grow up and make their own decisions—both good and bad—is terrifying. The loss of control is anything but “easy.” I can’t even think about what this will be like when they’re teenagers…
Luckily, the teen years are still a way off, but school days are already in full swing. Next year, my twins will start kindergarten and finally, all three of my children will be in school full-time, five days a week. This would seem like the obvious time to return to a “paying” job, right? I always thought so, but it’s not nearly as simple in action than in theory. Oliver’s first year in elementary school provided a first-hand reminder of the fact that school hours and vacation days do not exactly match up with those offered to full time office employees.
Most people leave work at 5:00 p.m., but Oliver’s school bus drops him off a couple of hours before the typical work day comes to a close. Some parents I know are able to work flex hours, but commute distance and overtime hours may also play a role. And I could go on about sick days, federal holidays and summer vacation….
But the point is that “going back to work” will never be the same as when you left; even if you were a working parent for a while. I was, but back then, I could drop my children at daycare as early as 7:00 a.m. and pick them up at 6:00 p.m. And it was year-round. School starts sometime after 8:00 a.m. and ends around 3:00 p.m. And there are over ten weeks of the year that school is closed for vacation. There is no getting around the need for additional childcare. And it comes as no surprise that so many primary caregivers find part-time jobs or work that they can do from home.
I could never consider every angle of the kids in school/working parents/required childcare love triangle in a paragraph or two. Each family figures out what works best for them and there are unlimited factors. For my own family, commute, daycare expenses, special needs therapies, schedule availability, and work travel all play a role in why I’m currently a stay-at-home mom. And figuring out how to segue back into the workforce in the next couple of years will be challenging.
One of the things I miss most about my career before kids is the travel. I was a conference planner and had the opportunity to visit beach resorts, historic cities and even international destinations. I loved it.
But once I brought that first baby home, the fun travel sounded more like torture. How does one separate from the love of their life for several days, let alone a week? I quickly found a job that didn’t involve any nights away from home.
Personal travel was still an option, and as long as I had my baby with me, I didn’t mind leaving home. But as that little baby grew older, became mobile, and needed his own seat on an airplane, everything changed.
At one time, my carry-on bag held books, magazines, and possibly a little pillow for napping. But now I pack snacks and coloring books. Mini-DVD players can be a lifesaver, but they tend to take up 80 percent of your purse space. Napping on flights has become a thing of the past (unless you are my husband). Instead, I spend hours searching for Thomas Trains under seats and escorting small people to the bathroom. And once we arrive at our destination, the real fun begins.
Remember relaxing vacations spent reading by the pool, dining at romantic restaurants, and sleeping in? Yeah, me too. But just barely.
Those memories are slowly fading into legend. Needless to say, it’s rare that I even open a book on our family vacations. Restaurants must be “kid friendly,” and there is no snooze button on the three living alarm clocks that wake me up early no matter where we are.
Any kind of travel requires months of planning, mental preparation, and saved pennies (FIVE seats on a flight!). It’s not that our vacations aren’t fun, but we put more thought into the enjoyment of our children than our own.
But like every other parent I’ve ever met, I don’t regret any of it.
I’ll happily go on economical family road trips and catch the sunrise instead of sleeping in. And I’m confident that I’ll eventually find a great career that I would never have discovered without the schedule limitations that my children have created.
For the loss of every previous luxury, I’ve gained invaluable family time…memories…learning experiences.
I’ll admit that I don’t love the worry that goes hand in hand with each day’s incremental loosening of apron strings. But again, there is a trade off. Watching people you created grow up and find their own way is an incredible gift.
I have my share of anxiety about the unknown future, but I also have plenty of hope. And I try to focus on that.
We waited until our early thirties to start a family, and I’m glad that we had that time before. But as much as I enjoyed my life before becoming a mother, I honestly feel like I’m living the one I was meant to have now.
Originally posted on Health News HERE.