To the woman who suggested I consider a career change:
You saw me curled up in front of an open refrigerator, dreading the daily decision of what my children will reject for dinner. I was bemoaning my lot as a mother of small children who are forever acting their ages.
I was gently banging my head asking, “Why? Why? Why?”
Why is there always so much noise?
Why is there always so much mess?
Why is there always so much complaining?
Why am I never enough?
You saw a mom having a rough day. A mom who has lots of rough days. A mom who often wonders whether it’s the days that are rough, or that she’s just too weak.
You also saw an opportunity. An opportunity to offer advice, a way out. You thought that maybe, in my small, frazzled space, I had forgotten there was another option.
Your implication was clear: this alternate reality would offer me space and distance and perspective. As someone with a real career, I could escape this myopic, monotonous existence. I could be more than just an unglorified chauffeur, custodian, and waitress. I could accomplish something. And then I could come home and face all of this mishugas in stride. My children would be a reward at the end of my day instead of ever-present burdens. My home would be my refuge instead of my prison. My domestic responsibilities would be relief from the pressure at work.
And then there would be the money… With an additional income, I could delegate some of my responsibilities to capable, efficient, and objective outsiders. Maybe I could even pamper myself.
Really, it would make me a better mom all around. I’d be more patient, more confident, more fulfilled…if only I could grab that golden opportunity dangling right in front of me, but somehow just out of sight.
But I wasn’t asking for advice. Believe it or not, I haven’t completely lost touch with reality. No one is forcing me to do this job, and I’m not under the deluded impression that I’m a superstar mom and housekeeper. I know I could get a job. I could join the work force and all at once gain respect as a functional adult, a contributing member of society (and household finances), a person with achievement and drive.
When I asked the universe why being a mom is so hard, I wasn’t expecting an answer.
I was just looking for validation.
Because it IS hard.
It’s hard to be constantly responsible for completely irrational, parasitic (albeit adorable) small human beings with all of your worst traits.
It’s hard to always be putting out fires, even if all you’re doing is trying to find someone else to put them out for you.
It’s hard to try so darn hard every single day and (almost) never receive an iota of gratitude in return.
It’s hard to love someone so much you could burst, but be so tired that all you want to do is lock yourself in a hermetically sealed room so you can just take a nap.
It’s hard in all those ways and more, regardless of whether you work full-time, part-time, no-time, per-diem, on-call, from-home, long-distance or any combination thereof.
Getting a job won’t relieve me of the responsibilities and stressors of being a mom. It won’t make my kids any less needy than they are. It will just mean that someone else will have to provide for those needs. Someone who is not me. Who is not their mom. Someone, or likely several people, who I will have to find and compensate. A whole team of people that I have to manage, and who will inevitably do the job imperfectly.
So you know what? I’ve done the math. You may not have much confidence in the calculations of an intellectually under-stimulated, over-tired, semi-insane janitor with the vocabulary of a first grader. And generally, I would agree with you. But I’m pretty sure I’ve got this one down…
I’m blessed to have this job. I may not be the most accomplished balabuste, mechaneches, or eishes chayil, but I try hard every day.
I’m grateful that I’m able to drop everything (or nothing) and pick up my sick kid from school. I’m relieved that I don’t have to explain and negotiate holidays, doctor’s appointments, and family illnesses with an HR person, my boss, and my team. I’m proud that my kids take it for granted that they are my primary responsibility and occupation. I even take an odd solace in the fact that if someone is going to mess up my kids, it’s going to be me.
I love that I get to watch my kids’ skills unfold. I’m lucky that I overhear all their hilarious and insightful conversations (with each other and themselves).
I’m honored that I am compelled to experience their range of emotions over the course of an entire day. I relish all their smiles, giggles, and quotable-quotes. There is no number of pictures that can replace the reality of having every memory, regardless of how faint, be fully saturated with togetherness. Almost every memory, good, bad, or neutral, has me in the frame or just outside it. Because I was there, and we had the experience together.
You have a career, a sense of accomplishment, and independence. You have a space where you are just you.
But you still have “those days”. The days when you question your choices. When you wonder how you’re going to take the next step. There are days when, as opposed to finding your self-identity is blurred, it seems like you have two separate identities. You wonder whether they can continue to coexist—or question whether they ever really did. There are those days when you sit under a scalding shower and ask the universe why life has to be so darn hard.
And on those days, I hope that someone tells you that you’re powerful. That you’re a fighter. I hope someone reminds you that no one is perfect and that everyone is struggling. I hope someone takes your hand and tells you that you’re not alone and that you’re not crazy. I pray someone tells you that “this too shall pass” and that you will be stronger the next time around. I hope you scream, and ugly-cry, and then take a mental health day. I pray that you will look at your tear-and-mascara-stained face in the mirror and remind yourself that this is the path you are continuing to choose because you know it’s right—even when it’s dark, crooked, and thorny.
On those days, it is not a career change that you will need. What you will need is a friend.