In the span of less than a year I became a parent, left my job, and moved from a big city to a small town of about 3,500. I traded in my life of happy hours, high-end restaurants and theater performances for diapers, baby food, and story time at the library. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything, but from my new vantage point I can see with clarity all the things I took for granted in my “old life.”
I now work from home part-time, and most people think they’d do the same in a heartbeat if they had the chance. But working from home has made me acutely aware of all the things that are awesome about working in an office—the morning chats with coworkers, the potlucks and holiday parties, the lunchtime gossip sessions. Having coworkers that you actually see and interact with socially is such a basic fact of office life that it’s virtually impossible to appreciate until it’s gone. It fades into the background and out of notice. The annoying things about our jobs, meanwhile, always seem to take center stage: that project your boss just assigned you, the arbitrary new process for filing TPS reports, the jerk who didn’t clean up after himself when his soup exploded all over the office microwave…
I would never be so foolish as to complain about working from home. My daily commute is from my bedroom to the office down the hall, and I participate in conference calls without having to change out of my PJ’s. But when I see people complaining about their jobs on Facebook, I just want to scream through the computer, “Enjoy it while you can!!!” I realize that venting is way healthier than punching the photocopier, but what a shame to completely overlook all the fun parts of work life because you’re perpetually focused on the annoyance du jour.
As mindful as I try to be about the “grass is always greener” trap, I find myself falling into it ALL.THE.TIME. My kidless Facebook friends seem to bounce from awesome event to awesome event without a care in the world – scenic hikes, impromptu beach weekends, winery tours, street festivals. Us old married couples with kids watch their fun, spontaneous lifestyles with envy, our schedules now fixed firmly around nap schedules and bedtime routines.
Meanwhile, these friends probably have no idea how awesome their lives appear to us. Being able to just do the things they want without too much thought (and without having to find a babysitter) is such a basic part of their existence that they don’t really think about it. They may well be looking at the Facebook feeds of the Married with Children crowd, feeling frustrated that they too can’t seem to find “the one.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting more out of life—to find a romantic partner or a better job. But we could easily spend our single life focused on wanting to be married, our married life focused on wanting to have a baby, our family life wishing we could be carefree again, and old age missing the time when we were young and healthy. Life is just too short to waste our time and mental energy focused on some idyllic imagined future.
For new parents it’s especially hard to keep this in perspective. Older parents constantly admonish us to treasure every moment and not blink lest we miss it. But it’s hard to take this advice to heart when you can’t remember the last time you showered, your sleep never lasts more than three consecutive hours, and life feels like a never ending cycle of feedings, changing poopy diapers, and cleaning up spit-up.
It’s an uphill battle, but I’m going to keep trying to be present and embrace my current stage of life. Toddlerhood means tantrums and endless battles of will, but also unprecedented levels of cuteness (there is literally nothing more adorable than my 18-month-old rocking out to Bon Jovi). When kids hit school age, it brings book reports, school projects, and a new role for us as chauffeurs to endless sporting events and practices. But it also means greater independence and fewer limitations on the things you can do as a family (like eating out without constant fear of an imminent meltdown). And when they become teenagers? They might not talk to you, but hey, at least you’ll probably get more sleep. Every phase of childhood comes with its own joys and frustrations. It’s up to us which we choose to focus on.
So for those of you without kids, have an extra drink for me the next time you’re at happy hour. I’ll be snuggling with my hubby, contentedly watching Modern Family reruns in my sweats.
*This piece was originally published at amoderatemama.com