Before the idea of having children of my own, I remember repeating the very line that so many utter: Remaining home to rear children is the most difficult employment commitment one can choose. While this is true, I guess, there is so much about it that escapes all of the nods I participated in.
To answer the question of what I must do all day; sometimes I don’t know, yet the day ends and somehow my children are sleeping. I suppose that’s the point; our days can be filled with anything, and it is entirely on my shoulders to consider. And, really, when declaring the difficulty of the SHAMing pursuit, it isn’t so much the schedule or the explicit childcare needs, but the complete ambiguity of my existence.
Having two small children in tow throughout every day without a break, regardless of any ailment that might consume me, can be grueling. It can be even more so knowing that my child care duties often continue into the evening despite a very involved, supportive, and helpful husband; but so long has this been my life that my former freedoms no longer whisper their truths. In the beginning the tasks were a sudden torrent of immediacy, but the winds died sooner than I expected, and the isolation and loneliness remained.
As elated to have my son with me, I wasn’t prepared for the lack of human contact and complete blank slate my life became so suddenly. On the one hand I loved my time with Little Man; on the other the vacancy of an outside world carried an oppressive weight, but I was too sleep deprived to consider how to remedy my situation. Fortune smiled on me, and I did not succumb to postpartum mental health issues, but I didn’t quite escape a rut of who I was now that my individual importance diminished caring for an infant.
The intensity of my struggles with the transition is likely due to how very sure of my identity I was prior to Little Man’s appearance. Forced to forego my previous career as I knew it pushed me to reinvent myself when I was so very enamored with who I had been. But, aside from recognizing my shift in identity, I had no notion of what a reinvention should look like. My choices seeming vast, much like each day before me.
But, I managed, and by the time my son was eighteen-months-old with a daughter on the way, I entered an inroad for some notion of my new identity. My toddler almost two-and-a-half years old, I almost don’t recognize the woman returning my gaze in the mirror. She is stronger, more empathic, more content and joyful, and astoundingly more ambitious. So trite that my life isn’t about me anymore. It isn’t solely about my children either, as society assumes to be the case. My vantage point is more panoramic. My thoughts drift to my legacy and the path for the humans I birthed who will inhabit the sands I leave behind. With all of my human service involvement it took having my children to understand both notions of humanity and servitude, and with that understanding I found who I am meant to be, even if my story is only a prologue as I write this.
But, as gratifying as my process feels much of the time, I am unable to shirk awkward conversations among strangers and mixed company. When asked, how do I explain my conventionally unconventional occupation? My halted and insecure acknowledgment of remaining home often met with an immediate and ungraceful termination of conversation.
(“So, you say you do nothing productive with your time?”)
I often feel a compulsion to explain the choice to stay at home or describe the other pieces of my existence: the writing, the volunteering, the consulting. But, it all seems so complicated and unofficial that tending to my children full-time is my default answer.
Like many of the SHAMming mothers I speak with, my most withering challenges aren’t the concrete trials of caring for my children, but rather the all consuming uncertainty of my daily rigmarole. What does it mean to rear a good person, yet tend to my self-preserving needs, all the while in the throws of life interfering?
It is finally an honest answer that I wouldn’t trade any piece of my choice to stay home. I love it. I love the time. I love the experiences. I love who I am because of this choice, even when it isn’t quite so lovely.