A few days ago I was going through some files, and I came across a folder that held precious documents from a season of a certain person’s life. There were encouraging cards and thank you notes, team building activities and personality tests. There were publications this person had written and helped design; there were references to promotional videos this person had scripted. One page listed this person’s strengths, written by her fellow staff members. “Brave!” “Confident!” “Leader of women!” “Great speaker!” This gal was clearly operating in the zone. Even though her job was nowhere near easy, it allowed her to use many of her strengths. She produced things—good things. She helped and influenced people. She got up each day, showered, actually blow-dried her hair, put on stylish pants suits and makeup, and drove to an office with her name on the door, because for some crazy reason she had been entrusted with the leadership of an entire non-profit organization at the tender age of 24.
I read through these archives—these treasures of a young, energetic working woman, and I was almost confused to see my name on the folder. Surely this wasn’t me. I didn’t even recognize the identity this folder held, this professional influencer her coworkers described.
I may or may not have closed the folder and sobbed.
Who was that person? Where did she go? Who am I now?
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 13 years now. For me, it wasn’t even a decision. Of course I was going to stay home with the kids—that had always been the plan, and really, in my heart of hearts, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Thankfully, we could live on my husband’s salary, so from the beginning I considered staying home a privilege—a situation that I know many working women who perhaps don’t have a choice financially would love to be in.
But can I tell you something? I miss it. I miss that life I had all those years ago. I miss the person I was back then. I miss energetic Jennifer whose brain was constantly stimulated and who got to interact with all different kinds of people and who—let’s be honest—ate out for lunch. I miss the shared camaraderie of dreaming big every single day with women I respect and love so much, who made me a better person just by being around them.I miss strategy sessions about things other than the ultimate dilemma of ham sandwiches versus grilled cheese. I miss seeing obvious progress happen right before my eyes; I miss the satisfaction of starting and completing a project without someone coming behind me and undoing it. And can we be gut-level honest? I miss the praise. Ain’t nobody around here writing me thank-you notes for a job well done. (See my Mother’s Day post for proof.)
I miss how strong I felt, even when the job was hard.
Is it just me, or is one of the hardest things about motherhood the fact that you are constantly living out of weakness—weakness that’s unforgivingly, constantly exposed by miniature humans who don’t have the social graces yet to downplay mistakes or flatter you? These same people aren’t afraid to stir up conflict at the drop of the hat, despite your very best efforts to create a peaceful day. Mom wins are often overlooked; mom failures are magnified. Such a juxtaposition of realities: Working Jennifer could knock it out of the park; stay-at-home-mom Jennifer falls flat on her make-up free face. All the time.
I tried to explain my tears to my husband.
“But I don’t want you to look back on these years with regret,” he said.
As best as I could, I attempted to clarify: It doesn’t have to be either/or. As in, either you love motherhood and count it a privilege, or you wish you could work, or perhaps you just long for your old, pre-child self. No, it’s a both/and. I love the fact that I have been the one to raise the kids. That I have witnessed every single milestone and played countless hours of Play-Do and sung them to sleep in the afternoons and have shared in their delight at the simplest things in life, like crackling leaves or raindrops dripping from the front porch or ants leading a procession up the lamp post or the 5, 647th digger we pass on the highway. Please hear me: I would not have had it any other way. But that doesn’t mean I can’t grieve the parts of me I lost when that first little person entered my world. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom for missing the days when I was just me.
13 years down the track, I’m holding a folder, literally staring at remnants of a past life and saying, “I know I’m supposed to know you, but can you introduce yourself to me again? What do you love? What are you good at? Are you still in there somewhere?” I’m 12-year-old Grace VanderWaal, singing, “I don’t know my name…”
I know the truth. I know the grass is not greener on any side, and I know that even though there are parts of me I’ve lost, or maybe just misplaced for a while, there are also huge parts of me that motherhood has helped me find. I’m more patient than that 24-year-old firecracker. Motherhood has humbled me and made me kinder, gentler, more empathetic, and slower to pull the trigger on judgments of others. I sit in people’s pain a whole lot longer than I did back then. I hope I’m a lot less self-righteous—especially when it comes to others’ parenting, and my own. I know that A + B does not always = C, and I’m more okay with that.
No, I’m thankful for who I am now, and I don’t necessarily want the road I didn’t travel, but I think it’s okay to grieve it just the same.
I also think it’s healthy to be reminded that my identity is not just as someone’s mom, but that I’ve been uniquely designed with gifts and abilities to bless those around me. It’s good to know that I don’t have to squash those down just because I have kids. Because truthfully? I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of actively (because of my own expectations of motherhood and my perceived expectations of the culture around me) and passively (due to personal neglect), squashing those gifts, especially in the early years of babies.
I wish I could tell 24-year-old Jennifer, “Keep being you. Don’t lose you in the process of caring for someone else. Don’t lose you in the diapers and tantrums, carpools and playdates; in the melee of Disney Junior and search parties for blankies that always manage to hide at that crucial nap time hour. You might have to get creative, but keep doing you.”
So, love those babies. Love them something fierce. And remember that one of the best things you can do for them is to let them see you living out your passions in the particular way in which you were designed. This does not necessarily mean a paid job with pants suits. There are lots of ways to develop your gifting inside and outside of the workplace. Regardless of what it looks like, you doing you will give them courage to keep doing them.
What are you passionate about? What makes you feel alive? How long has it been since you’ve asked yourself those questions? Ask them now. Don’t lose you, mama. You’re too valuable to be lost.