I was a senior in high school, I decided to finally give myself a break and take the blow-off classes – you know, the ones handing out the easy A’s like candy. I made this decision for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that one week in, I was already failing my Trig and Calculus class.
I remember sitting in one such class – Life Management, I think it was – listening to the teacher go on and on about how working mothers were doing a disservice to their children, sending them off to be raised by strangers with questionable values.
This struck a chord with me, and not just because I enjoyed being contrary as a teenager. It also rubbed me the wrong way because my mom was a working mother — a very successful one at that. She worked her way up the ranks to be the first female superintendent of schools in a very conservative, traditional county.
No small feat.
I remember thinking, Who the hell does this woman think she is? and, Just because she married herself a sugar daddy (as evidenced by the trillion pound rock on her left ring finger) doesn’t mean every woman is so lucky or even wants to, for that matter.
I went off to college with the knowledge that I could be anything – a doctor, lawyer, banker. What I chose was to be a teacher. A molder of minds. A shaper of dreams.
And an earner of meager wages.
My husband also chose the same path, and that meant I would work. Forever. Even after we had kids. Especially after we had kids. Because you see, if there is one thing my husband and I are both determined to provide our kids, it’s the gift of a higher education. Our parents both gave us this gift, and all they expected of us in return was that we pay it forward.
And pay it forward we will.
But in order to do that, we both must work outside the home.
Being a working mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Staying home with children is hard, too, and believe me, I’m not sure I’m cut out for the job. My experiences staying home with them on summer vacations and maternity leaves suggest the life of a stay-at-home mom is taxing, to be sure. For me, it is taxing in an I-need-adult-interaction-STAT-or-I-can’t-promise-I-won’t-start-dressing-the-dogs-in-tutus-and-bathrobes kind of way.
But being a working mother is doubly taxing for me, taxing in an I-have-two-jobs-instead-of-just-one kind of way, taxing in a no-matter-what-I-do-I-just-can’t-shake-the-feeling-of-being-a-failure kind of way, taxing in a burst-into-tears-at-night-from-stress-and-emotional-and-physical-exhaustion kind of way.
The worst kinds of ways I’ve yet to experience.
It doesn’t help that we live in a world made for stay-at-home moms, either. I don’t say that to elicit sympathy for my plight or to get a debate going about who has it harder. I say that because in my family’s experience, the children of working parents lose out unfairly.
Take my son’s pre-school graduation, for example. It was, naturally, during the day when I had to work, and as a result, I couldn’t go. Thankfully, my mother went in my place, but that didn’t make the sting of not being there hurt any less – for him or for me.
And how about all those field trips his classmates went on this year, pictures of which were compiled into a nice little collage for students to see on graduation day, a nice little collage my son stared at in puzzlement, a nice little collage that carried no memories or emotional value for him because he wasn’t anywhere in it, wasn’t allowed to go on the field trips because his mother couldn’t accompany him, wasn’t permitted to enjoy those experiences?
What’s fair about that?
It’s missed opportunities like this that, in combination with those physically and emotionally exhausting days; those moments when no matter how hard I try, I can’t get it right; those cry-myself-to-sleep nights, make me wonder if Mrs. Trophy-Wife from Life Management wasn’t right after all.
But then morning comes. I awake rested, those tears having dried up, and new opportunities present themselves.
I realize every family is different, every couple’s values and circumstances unique, every child incredibly adaptable and resilient.
I realize that the decision to work is the right one for us, that my sons are not lacking for love or good example, and that our choices will benefit them more – are already benefitting them greatly – than if I chose to stay home.
And so I turn that early morning alarm off, kiss my kids goodbye, and head off to my second job, knowing full well my first one will be happily waiting for me when I return.
About Laura: Laura is a wife; mother to two young boys, one of whom is a pediatric stroke survivor; high school English teacher; and domestic disaster. When she’s not neglecting the laundry, letting her children watch too much TV, and pretending to be a writer, she takes Masters classes, maintains her blog, Catharsis, and is a featured parenting and education contributor for Yahoo! and Examiner.