Next autumn, all three of my babies will be in school—all day, every day. Mindless people ask, “What will you do with all of your time?” I could say laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, going for a run, yoga, walking the dog, checking emails, making phone calls, paying bills, meeting friends for coffee, writing, breathing, peeing, pooping, sitting, standing—and all without being interrupted.
I could say just that. And I may even do just that.
But right now, I’m thinking that might not be enough.
There’s a part of me—the part that existed before I bore three humans from my womb—that wants to work outside the home. I want to contribute to society beyond rearing decent humans. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a stay-at-home parent. I’ve done it for eight years. I get you!)
In my past life (my life before motherhood), I was a social worker. I provided health care, housing, and resources to chronically ill, homeless people deserving of basic human rights and so much more.
I may have left social work, but social injustices never left the world we live in. Underneath my fulfilled mother-heart, there’s a yearning. As my children spend more time with teachers at school than at home with me, my hunger to work grows. I want to help repair a world that each day seems more and more irreparable.
Altruism aside, I’m also thinking about my 50-year-old self. When my kids don their caps and gowns and empty nest sets in, I’m not sure I’ll even remember who I was before my kids swooped in and redefined my identity.
If I don’t start reclaiming myself soon, I think I may be lost forever.
Three of my dearest friends never stopped working when they entered motherhood, and I’ve started casually interviewing them. I ask them what it’s like to be a mom and work outside the home. I admire their convictions about being working moms. They seem to know what they want. They seem to know what they need.
All of them went back to work after maternity leave. They stayed in touch with their pre-parental selves. I didn’t. I dove off the working world plank and landed face first in a sea of motherhood.
When I observe my working mom friends they appear to flaunt their mom/professional identity with precision and confidence. But when I look in the mirror, I see a disheveled and exhausted mom. Her dull eyes stare back at me.
Where is her fire? Where is her spark?
It’s hiding underneath fear.
It’s taboo to admit regret. But I regret not staying partially in the working world. If I had, I don’t think I’d be so terrified to re-immerse myself into that world.
Author Jack Canfield says, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” I believe him. I know because before becoming a mother, I was scared. I felt unsure and nervous about starting a new identity as a mother. And yet, I did it. I’m doing it. I mother three people every day.
Facing my fears lead me to motherhood, and facing my fears today will lead me to work outside the home. But that doesn’t mean I stop being a mom. I will navigate this new challenge like all past challenges—with messy and emotional determination—and an immense amount of love for my family and myself.
Previously published on Babble