Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

To Stay, or Not to Stay?

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Feb 7, 2013 1:51 PM

"This above all: to thine own self be true." (William Shakespeare)

When my daughter was a baby, I longed to be a stay-at-home mom. I was so captivated by this tiny being that the fact that I had no idea what to do with her or how to entertain her had no bearing whatsoever on my desire to be with her twenty-four hours a day. 

In part, this was a control issue. I was thirty-six years old, I'd been a school counselor for more than a decade and I didn't want someone else raising my child. Fortunately, after an exhaustive search and a last-minute change inspired by my barely nascent mommy instincts, we found a great day care. So, after many tears (mine, not hers), I dropped her off, leaving her in the hands of a woman I barely knew, and drove off to work.

She thrived there. True to the predictions in the baby books, she didn't care when I left. Stranger awareness and separation anxiety had not yet set in, and she was happy to go to the ladies who did such a good job of taking care of her while I went to work and took care of other people's children. (That irony was not lost on me). By the time she was in preschool, she expressed her displeasure quite clearly when I came to pick her up before she was ready to leave. She'd found her niche, and she liked it there. No mommies needed.

By the time she got to elementary school, she was an independent little soul. My part-time job had become full-time, and when she was in first grade and they asked for volunteers to work in the school library, I was broken-hearted that I couldn't be a library mom. A friend who had a daughter the same age as mine teased me, telling me those positions were for the moms who didn't work outside the home. She didn't seem to realize that her argument only intensified my sense of loss. Missing a PTA meeting wasn't a big deal, but missing out on the opportunity to get a glimpse of my daughter's face - to see her friends and her teachers and her surroundings - was a much bigger deal. My daughter, for her part, couldn't have cared less. She was happy at school, and I was an unnecessary accessory.

And I was proud of that. While it certainly hurt my feelings from time to time, I knew that independence and self-confidence were necessary ingredients for healthy development, ingredients my husband and I had stirred into our parenting recipe in generous amounts. The longing to be a library mom had much more to do with being in my child's world than stalking her or thwarting her independence. I didn't want to follow her around and watch her every breath - I just wanted a taste of her world.

When she got to middle school, "her school" was close to "my school" for the first time. Each morning, I dropped her off, and most afternoons, she walked over after school and I drove her home. She was delighted to have left the days of riding a bus behind her, and my students got used to seeing her sitting at my desk, walking through the building and generally making herself at home.

And I got quite used to seeing her every day before and after school. There were glitches - afternoons where she was anxious to leave, but I still had work to do, days with meetings that went on and on, leaving both of us glancing frequently at the clock, times when being the counselor's kid required her to behave in ways that ran counter to being a preteen - but the stolen time for conversation going to and from school more than made up for those times. As it turned out, we both enjoyed it.

And so when the opportunity to retire early arose at the same time that my daughter would begin high school, I immediately saw the brass ring - there, within my grasp. I could be a stay-at-home mom. Can you think of anything a teenager would love more?

Yeah, so could she. In fact, I think she probably could have made a list.

For twenty-seven years, I had loved both my job and my family, but as my daughter grew older, balancing the two had become more challenging. Part of the challenge lay in changing responsibilities at work, part lay in my daughter's burgeoning social schedule and part - I am loath to admit - lay in the fact that I wasn't getting any younger. As I moved from being a 30-something mom to a 40-something mom to a 50-something mom, it became more difficult to really put my priorities in the right order. Work got the best of me - the best hours of the day, and the lion's share of them as well. Increasingly, my family was getting the leftovers.

And so I grabbed the brass ring. The merry-go-round I'm on now leaves me time to write, to volunteer (under the radar) at my daughter's school and to be here when she leaves each morning and when she comes home each afternoon. When she has a bad day, she doesn't have to hope that I'll be alone in my office when she gets to my building, or take a number to talk to me.  

Friends who are parents and/or educators immediately get it - this crazy idea of being stay-at-home mom to a teenager after working outside the home through her infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, elementary and middle school years - and they see what I now see, but could not see when my daughter was small. By being available to her now, I am helping her hone an already-established independence, while shoring up her home base before she takes flight in a few short years, as we've raised her to do. 

Am I suggesting that this is what every parent should do - that those who stay home when their children are small have it all wrong? Of course not. "This above all: to thine own self be true." This choice works for our family, dovetails with where I am as a 50-something mom and where my daughter is in her journey toward independence. I can't be - and shouldn't be - the same kind of stay-at-home mom now as I was during summers when my daughter was a toddler. Living my dream now while stifling her independence is poor parenting, and I have to make sure that being available doesn't morph into being a nuisance.

But being available is nice. And even though my house doesn't look any better and my cooking is no closer to gourmet standards, I feel as though I'm in the right place at the right time much more often, and when I send my baby off to college in a few years, I will know that I've made the most of every year I had with her.

And that was worth waiting for.


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Comments: 3

  • claudzilla5 img 2013-02-19 10:12

    Lisa, thank you for this piece. I have two small children and no choice but to work. I hate not being available for PTA events or being a room mom, and hope that the time will come that I can be more involved, whether that is because things change for me or because their activities offer more flexible opportunities.
    Hearing the positives gained from your daughter being in daycare, and you not being ever-present, have helped to reassure me that the way things are for my kids isn't such a bad thing. I, too, revel in their independence, as well as their ethusiasm at seeing me at the end of a long day.
    Thanks again.

    • Lisa Lawmaster Hess img 2013-02-19 10:34

      Thank you for reading! I remember your struggle so clearly! I credit much of what my daughter learned to some pretty amazing day care teachers (one in particular, whom she ended up having for three years!)and a good day care situation that taught her about sharing, taking her turn and being kind to other children.

      There are lots of ways to be involved for your kids at school, beginning with simply teaching them that school and education matter. Though PTA events are valuable, parent conferences are more important because they give you an opportunity to interact directly with the people your kids spend their days with. Simply listening to your kids' stories about school can give you a window into their day from their perspective, and lets them know that both they and their school life are important to you - and none of those things require you to quit your job!

      Hang in there, keep looking for opportunities and seize the ones you can for now. Thanks for your comment. :-)

      • claudzilla5 img 2013-02-21 12:27

        Thank YOU, Lisa. The best thing is, hearing the kids' stories about their days, the friends they played with (or fought with) and the things they learned or experienced, are all joys to me. What a great job is parenting!

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