Best-selling Christian author Jen Hatmaker probably meant well when she said, “You will never have this day with your children again, tomorrow they’ll be a little older than they were today. This day is a gift, breathe and notice, smell and touch them; study their faces and little feet and pay attention. Relish the charms of the present. Enjoy today, mama. It will be over before you know it.”
And, boy, do we as mothers want to relish every single moment. We don’t just want to smell our babies, we want to inhale them. We squeeze each child tight and hold on as if we just might be able to keep them in this day just a few seconds longer.
We know this day is a gift. We know motherhood is a gift. And we want to enjoy today so very much. But being a parent is really, really hard, and it is impossible to love motherhood all the time.
We feel the guilt lurking between the lines of the good intentions. And quotes like, “you will never have this day with your children again” haunt us.
This week, a mom I mentor asked me if she was wasting things by wanting to work while her children are so young. This is a great question that many of us are far too scared to ask out loud.
Statistically, the trend is mothers are staying home with their children. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the share of mothers who do not work outside the home rose to 29 percent in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23 percent in 1999.
And, unsurprisingly, last year the United States Department of Labor reported mothers with younger children are less likely to be in the workforce than mothers with older children.
I’d say it’s much more likely this upward trend is due to a shift in economics, not increased mom guilt. But the guilt gets us thinking and we all ask ourselves the same question at some point: Am I wasting my experience by working (or wanting to work) while my kids are young?
Maybe. I don’t know. My kids are still in grade school.
What I do know holds true for me and so many of the moms I work with: I would not make it until my kids are older if I didn’t do something outside of ‘just motherhood’ now. Some moms can focus only on motherhood. Maybe you are one of them. Maybe motherhood is all you ever dreamed about doing, and quite frankly, you are rocking it (and we want you to keep rocking it).
But for the rest of us, we need a little more in addition to our role as mother. And I know this because a few years ago I spiraled and figured out this personal truth the hard way.
I love and cherish my children beyond belief. I want to be the first one to cuddle them when they wake up and greet them when they get home from school. I never want to miss a soccer game. I want to be my best self for them.
But the truth is, when I only pour myself into my children, I run out of gas. The tank is dry. And once it’s empty, it’s really hard to fill it up without creating incredible amounts of orneriness and disruption along the way.
So to answer this sweet mama’s question, I have four suggestions and four more questions that might lead you in the right direction.
Keep your tank full, especially if it means taking time away from your children to refuel. Your positive self-care is critical to your long-term success as a mother. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Are you a better person if you are a working mom?
Do what is best for your family. You and only you know the true scope of the needs of your family. It is quite possible the money you could bring in, either on the side or full-time, could improve the quality of your life. Do you need the money?
Set goals and achieve them. Studies show that just working toward a goal is as important to your happiness as actually achieving the goal. So even if the goals you set don’t belong in a board room, set goals and work to achieve them. Would this experience help you achieve your goals?
Remember motherhood can not be summed up in a quote. It can’t be in an online article for that matter. Ignore the masses and do what is best for you. Nevermind what images look like on Pinterest or what your sister thinks you should do. What do you want your parenting experience to look like?
(Nicole Carpenter is the CEO of MOMentity.com and creator of Define Your Time eCourse. She is a speaker and mentor for mompreneuers. Nicole and her husband are raising four children, 9 years and younger, including twin toddlers. Twitter: @momentity)