I'm a firm believer that my work is part of what makes me such a good parent to my two children. Before kids (and shortly after their births), I used to feel like the only way to be a good parent was by staying home with my children day in and day out. I felt like being a "good mom" meant devoting my life to my kids. And long before I had my first daughter daughter, my mom gave me a book on sex, reminding me to continue to have it, and encouraged me to keep the hobbies I had before kids. She warned that "one day my children would grow up," and if I made them my hobby, I'd be left not just with an empty home, but also with another kind of emptiness. I rolled my eyes when she shared that advice on keeping things for myself. but her advice stayed with me.
I was a stay-at-home mom for about three years before I began working part time. I remember thinking I wouldn't like it, but I soon realized that working actually made me more patient: with my children, my then-husband, and with myself. Going out and working for a few hours gave me a break from the routine of life at home with the kids. I'd gotten so used to my days consisting of making multiple meals and snacks that only ended up on the floor that I'd forgotten what it felt like to do something other than care for my children. Even then, with the few short hours I was working, I realized just how much my job had changed my relationship with my kids, and it was a feeling I really wanted to hold on to.
In between all the stresses of nap times and meal times, we rarely ever had a chance to get out of the house with time to spare for an activity. In fact, most days I barely changed out of my pajamas. I felt like I didn't have room for any kind of joy in my life. Most days I was just barely scraping by. The monotony of being home day in and day out, of changing diaper after diaper, of trying to rock baby after baby to sleep, and somehow clean, fostered such resentment within me. Everyone told me how lucky I was to be able to stay at home, and as a result I beat myself up for hating it. I knew I loved my babies, but I wanted to like spending all of my time with them. And without an outlet, I didn't.
The only thing I seemed to do for myself was take photos of the kids. Sometimes I took photos of other people's children, and then that somehow led to me founding a photography business that gave me a reason to leave my house more often — alone — and it created work for me to do while I was at home with the kids. Going out for one-hour sessions felt like these mini-vacations for me. At first I worried that I liked leaving my children too much, and that perhaps this said something about how I felt deep down about them. But every time I'd go home, I would be so overjoyed to see my babies. I wanted to snuggle with them, hear how they spent their days, hold them close and savor the sweet, baby smell of them. I appreciated them in a whole new way.
When I stayed at home everyday, I really disliked who I was. Every time I passed a reflection of myself in a mirror, I saw someone covered in spit up and leftover formula. I saw a face stained from crying alongside the kids, leftovers from a nap time battle that ended in poorly for all parties. I felt like I'd failed at staying home, which was the one thing that everyone told me I'd like. I didn't know how to reconcile how I felt with how I felt like I was supposed to feel, and that hurt.
But working gave me an outlet. I got to be creative in a whole new way. Working helped me see myself as capable, as someone who could not only be a good mother, but as someone who could also run a business. Loving my work felt so validating. No longer was my creativity just reserved for nap times and meal times and getting my kids to try the vegetables on their plates. My hands were creating magic. With the click of the camera, I'd given someone else a moment to remember. And at the end of the day when I would go home, I was happy to see my kids and my partner, and they were just as floored to see me.
I felt value for myself, and I felt valued in return when I did something that was just for me. I was fulfilled. I understand now that while it was so special to be with the kids everyday when they were younger, doing so didn't leave me feeling sustained as a person with needs and wants of her own. Despite how much my husband had supported me and tried to help me with the load, I still needed (and wanted) more for myself. Working gave me the opportunity to reconnect with those parts of me.
I've been working full-time now for about four years. Because I still work part-time out of my own home, I still get the opportunity to take days off to spend with my kids once they're out of school. Working has helped set natural boundaries in my family. My kids don't expect me to be available to them 24/7, and I don't have the guilt that I should be at their beck and call all day, every day. They love that I work because they get to travel and come to shoots with me. On days I can volunteer to go on a field trip with their class or help out in their classroom, they feel like they've won the lotto. My job has helped us cherish our togetherness more clearly, and we all have a strong respect and appreciation for each other. We understand that our time together is precious, that it should be cherished, and that we should celebrate it.
My work has given me a chance to be the kind of mother I always wanted to be. Being able to leave them makes it so that when we do come back together, we're excited. I think back to that day a long time ago when my mom gave me parenting advice I didn't quite understand at the time — and now I know, without a doubt, that it's the same wisdom I'll pass on to my own kids.