As a mother, I’ve always hoped that one day when my kids were grown and gone, I’d look back at my life and time spent with them and have no regrets.
I didn’t want to be the person who wistfully remembered doing the dishes instead of cuddling with them. I didn’t want to lament time spent stressed and exhausted, instead of planning fun adventures with them. I didn’t want to be the person who wished she would have enjoyed her kids more when she had the chance.
So what I am about to say is very difficult for me: I regret working so much when my children were little.
At 3, 5, 7, and 9, my children are still “little,” but in a way, I feel like the most intense phase of motherhood is over for me. That constantly-pregnant/nursing/dealing with diapers/tantruming toddlers/feeling-like-my-brain-was-about-to-explode phase of parenting very young children has passed. I feel like I’m waking up in a way from that intense baby and toddler stage and taking a look around, wondering what the heck just happened. I can see clearly now that I was operating purely on survival mode during those years. And while I was living through them, I honestly had no idea how truly challenging that time was.
Those early years of motherhood were marked by a frantic fervor for me. Despite having four kids in six years, I was determined to make enough money to stay home with them. So I worked on an at-home business to make it happen. In the middle of breastfeeding, stomach bugs, potty training, and trying to keep a clean house, I worked. And worked. And worked some more. I was constantly rushing and stressing, trying to fit in 10 million things as I sprinted from one kid to the next — all while checking email, attempting to work “real quick,” and crying to my husband about how stressed I was.
I did all the things that work-at-home moms are “supposed” to do. I got up early to squeeze in work … but a baby would wake up. I tried to stay up late to squeeze in work … but a kid would refuse bedtime. I’d arrange for a babysitter for a few hours … and a kid would get sick. It was a relentless march of exhaustion, but I was determined to make it work. And during my frantic rush to succeed as both a stay-at-home mom and working mom at the same time, I worked myself into the ground.
Eventually, the manic pace caught up to me. My hair started to literally fall out of my head. I developed a permanent eye twitch. I couldn’t go more than two seconds without my fingers twitching for my phone. I didn’t greet my husband when he walked in the door, preferring instead to hand him a child (or two) to deal with. I am ashamed to admit that sometimes, I didn’t even tear my eyes away from the computer screen when my children would come talk to me.
Somewhere along the line, I’d let my burning desire to make enough money to stay home with my kids overshadow the enjoyment of staying home with them.
Part of me realizes that I did the best I could back then. Working so much and so intensely was part of my coping mechanism for dealing with the stress of being at home alone with so many little kids. Working was a respite from the relentless monotony of early motherhood and I needed that outlet to survive.
But another part of me knows that while I may have gotten away with a lot back then, it’s time to change my ways. My babies may not have noticed that I was glued to my computer 24/7, but my 9-year-old sure as heck will. And to be clear, it wasn’t my working that was the problem, it was my intention behind my work and how I carried it out that I can now see was the problem. I let my work become my focus, instead of the other way around.
I regret that I worked so much of their childhood away, but I know it serves no purpose to beat myself up about it now. Instead, I can move into what I am thinking of as “Phase II” of my mothering career, one that involves parenting past the littles, with a lot more purpose and intention.
I am no longer the severely sleep-deprived, frantic, always-stressed mother I was in the past. That mother did the best she could, I know that. And although I feel kind of bad for her, I don’t want to be her anymore. I want to build off the momentum she started. But I also want to break up with her and her bad habits ever so gently. The poor thing had no idea what she was doing. And that baby whose eyebrows she once had to scrub poop out of while sobbing and wondering if the stomach bug would never end? Well, that baby is 9 now. She’s on the cusp of leaving childhood behind forever and that’s a hard truth to face.
It’s time to stop working so much to escape motherhood and actually face it head-on. Here we are, all of us older and a little wiser. Despite the imperfect path we’ve traveled so far, I’m looking forward to a wonderful future that I have to believe can still be filled with more intentional memories.