On a slow night in the labor and delivery department where I worked as a nurse, I asked a veteran nurse how she juggled working with kids over the years.
Between sleep deprivation and constant illnesses running rampant through my house, I had been lamenting about how hard it was to work with young kids at home. “Would I ever feel like I wasn’t pulled in 20 million directions?” I asked her.
I expected her to give me some kind of comforting advice about working getting “easier” as my kids grew. Instead, she told me something that struck me: she had actually become a stay-at-home mom when her children were older, instead of younger. She did it because they needed her more in their tween and early teen years.
In my haze of early motherhood exhaustion, her words wormed their way into my brain, as I recognized she was telling me something incredibly important. A light bulb went on when I realized, Oh yeah, motherhood is about more than the baby and toddler phase!
We put a lot of emphasis on the baby and toddler phases as the pinnacle of our motherhood experience. And as time-consuming and intensive as those early years are, they are not the end-all of motherhood. As I have slowly and painfully crawled out of the baby and toddler years myself, I’m realizing more than ever just how right that nurse was.
My children may be older, but they need me now more than ever.
For so long, I had been focused on making it through the early years of motherhood at home with my kids. I had this vision that my physical presence would never be more necessary than through the ages of 0-5. I thought that if I could just make it through until they were older, things like my work, ambitions, and goals would fall firmly into place, like that last satisfying piece of a puzzle. But I was wrong.
In a lot of ways, work has become even more complicated as my children have gotten older. When my kids were babies and toddlers, they didn’t notice that I was on the computer or checking my email all the time. But older kids? They notice. And I’ve had to limit my work hours significantly and try to establish a routine that doesn’t leave my kids seeing me glued to a screen every waking minute. Somehow, I was more productive when my kids were younger than I am now. And I have to admit, I’m as confused as you are.
Part of the change, I think, is that as the physical demands of motherhood decreased, the emotional demands have increased. While the baby and toddler years were physically draining, I found them slightly easier in the sense that less emotional obligation was required. I like to think my babies loved me as much as I loved them, but let’s be real: I was also their next meal. Did my baby necessarily care if I checked some emails while I fed her? I doubt it, but my 9-year-old definitely notices if I whip out my phone during dinner.
Babies are happy to be held and cared for, but they aren’t silently absorbing life lessons from you every other second. I feel like every moment with my big kids is loaded and will shape the rest of their lives. From what I am teaching them about work and womanhood, to body image and self-confidence, it all feels a lot heavier.
And that emotional workload is exhausting in its own way that is completely different than the worrying I did as a younger mom. Instead of worrying about finding a bottle my baby might actually take (spoiler: none of them), I’m worrying about teaching my daughters about strangers who might try to touch their privates. It’s a whole new and overwhelming world, and I’m just now realizing the grace I’ll need to get through it.
Part of me wants to beat myself up a bit: My kids are older! Shouldn’t I be able to get more stuff done? But I am able to remember that nurse’s words and realize that I’m not a failure — my kids need me in different ways now, and that’s OK.
It’s OK if my role has changed from the person who rocked them to sleep to the person who greets them every day after school. It’s OK if, instead of teaching them how to use a spoon, I am teaching them how to deal with hurt feelings and navigate friendships.
Of course, I am not saying that I couldn’t accomplish these things as a mother who works outside of the home. I am just saying that for me, it has been a helpful to realize that there are seasons to motherhood and our family. We are in a season when it is most helpful for me to be available for our older children.
We make that work for now. There are many other factors, such as finances, and the fact that I have a parenting partner in my husband. But for now, as I make the transition from an at-home mom of littles to an at-home mom of big kids, I am embracing that their needs are changing, too. My children may not need me to help get them dressed in the morning, but I am still needed in ways I’m still discovering.
So, I’ve made the decision that when they need me, I’ll be here. I’ll probably still be the same tired mom I was when they were babies, but I’ll be here. Because after all, some things never change.