Covering parenting and child development issues
"When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child." (Sophia Loren)
Last spring, my school district offered a retirement incentive. After much deliberation and with some lingering trepidation, I took advantage of the opportunity, and am now - ahem - "exploring my options." Or, as I tell people regularly, now I just have to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.
There are aspects of this decision that still worry me - all of them in the financial realm - but one option I am completely at ease with is the fact that, after fifteen years, I'm finally a stay-at-home mom. I love being at home when my daughter leaves for school, and there again when she returns. She's absolutely old enough to come home to an empty house, has had practice doing so and has declared on more than one occasion that that option is, indeed, her preference. So, ostensibly, exercising this option is something I am doing more for myself than for her.
The thing is that at fifteen, she's not supposed to be thrilled by this idea, and I respect that. But at fifteen, she also lacks the long view, the one that lets her know how short life really is, and how important it is to take opportunities before they disappear. I'm profoundly aware that I have only four more years to "be there" before she starts college and begins to put into practice all the things we have taught her.
As hard as it was to go back to work after my daughter was born, I don't regret it at all now. For most of her life, my daughter had a working mother role model, and it was valuable for her to see how that whole picture comes together (or doesn't, depending on the day) and to see that a mom can have another identity outside the home. She was proud of the work that I did, and aware of a lot of it because I worked in the district where she attends school and many of the people she now counts among her friends are former students of mine. I wish she hadn't seen how hard it is to juggle things sometimes, but there are life lessons there, too, and I suppose those are necessary in the interest of full disclosure. I think it helped tremendously that I loved the work I did, and was passionate about the people, if not every aspect of the job.
But still, I would have regretted not taking this opportunity. I'm in the enviable position of being able to show my daughter both sides of the mother coin - the challenges that come with working and those that come with staying home. Perhaps I've done it backwards, starting so late in her life, but better backwards than not at all. Besides, I keep hearing my friend and colleague's voice - the one that tells me that her son needed her more in middle school than he ever did in preschool or elementary school.
We've had some growing pains with this new mom-at-home lifestyle, but seem to have hit a good rhythm now. Still, I don't kid myself. She's fifteen, after all, a roller coaster age that promises that I'd better not get too comfortable.
But as I prepare the road that will lead my daughter out of her childhood home and into young adulthood (or live in denial about this reality, depending on the day), I am making my plans around her, a luxury I've never had before, and one that feels wonderful.
I don't know how long it will last, but I know that I'm grateful to have been able to offer my daughter a glimpse into both the working mom and stay-at-home mom worlds, informing in my own unique way a decision she is still years away from making for herself. Whichever decision she makes, the lesson I hope she takes away is that she should do the thing that makes her feel happiest and most fulfilled as not only a mom, but as a person in her own right. And I hope that our experience will allow her to compare the pros and cons of each choice not in an abstract way, but through the lens of our own experience, one that she will adjust and tweak to meet the needs of her own life someday.
Till then, I'll keep working on figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.