Having the opportunity to be at home with my children has been a wonderful gift. I spend every waking (and sleeping) hour with them, and I enjoy it. (Yes, really.) But let me be real for a minute: the transition from going to school and working to being a stay-at-home-mom was a mind-numbing one. As much as every new day with a child is a new experience, you also find yourself doing the same menial tasks over and over again. When my partner would come home from work, I begged him to wash my kids' sticky hands for me, because sometimes I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm for wrestling syrup out from between those tiny fingers for the umpteenth time that day. It's not that I didn't want my kids to have clean hands, I was so sick of doing it.
I am someone who likes to feel valued. I like to feel smart. I like to feel accomplished. I like to excel. But suddenly, excelling at my new "job" was something that went unnoticed by everyone. On top of that, my babies' first words were never going to be: "Mother, you're doing an excellent job raising me, and I've noticed how hard you work!" I didn't know it then, but writing saved me as a stay-at-home mom, and having that creative outlet actually changed my life, too.
I felt boring all of a sudden. And I hated feeling that I was a bore.
It's hard to admit that I crave admiration so much. It feels sort of shallow. But it's like I was working harder than I ever had up to that point, but it wasn't challenging on a cerebral level like school was. I didn't get a pat on the head or the reassurance that I was doing it right. I got smiles and coos, which were great, but I was still left feeling unfulfilled.
Sitting around the dinner table with my partner and kids, recounting the details of our days, I suddenly felt like I had nothing to add to the conversation. Somehow "I went to the grocery store, and the baby took two long naps today," just didn't feels as important as "I've got a new coworker." To be honest, I never felt that our society places a whole lot of value on the day-to-day tasks of a mother and housewife. (And though I feel "housewife" is such an awful term, there's really not a better way to describe the tasks I tried to complete every day.) It didn't stop me from talking about my day, but I felt boring all of a sudden. And I hated feeling that I was a bore.
How could I get in the flow with writing or painting or composing when my son didn't really like to nap if he wasn't right next to me or in my lap? How could I focus on anything when he was learning to crawl and climb stairs?
Something was missing. It wasn't just that I wanted to be valued for traditional things, I needed an outlet. I'd always had one before. I went to college to study music because it was the one thing I'd always really excelled at. When that major wasn't a good fit, I switched over to playwriting. I ended up minoring in fine art and theater. I thrived in all things creative. When I graduated from college and got a job, a lot of the creative stuff fell by the wayside. But I was teaching preschool and I loved it. Who cared if my art projects were more about glue and finger paint?
I needed to get back to creativity. But I already felt stretched so thin. I felt intimidated about tackling any demanding projects because I knew I'd be interrupted at a moment's notice. How could I get in the flow with writing or painting or composing when my son didn't really like to nap if he wasn't right next to me or in my lap? How could I focus on anything when he was learning to crawl and climb stairs? I made a million excuses, not that they weren't valid, but I felt like I was losing a grasp on who I was.
That book may never get published, but it's one of the most important things I've ever done.
It was obvious that I needed to find something, and writing was what drew me back into the creative headspace. I had story ideas again. And I started journaling and plotting out novel ideas. I could bring my notebook with me anywhere, and I could jot down ideas as I had them, even if I was chasing a baby away from the dog's water dish. My son got sort of used to my writing. He'd play happily while I furiously scribbled the moment inspiration hit. And the more inspiration I had, the more the ideas just kept on coming. In a few months, I had produced a novel-length manuscript. That book may never get published, but it's one of the most important things I've ever done. Because it represents a lot of effort. It represents me choosing to do something to make myself happy. It taught my son that sometimes mom's busy doing something for herself, and he should amuse himself. Writing fit perfectly into my life as a stay-at-home mom.
Suddenly, at dinner, I had something to talk about other than dirty diapers. My partner is also creative, so he was interested in hearing about my process and about how the story was coming together. There was no pressure for me to produce a bestseller, and I wasn't sure I'd ever take the writing thing seriously (though I do now), but my partner saw that the creative process was worthwhile to me, and so he supported it full-heartedly. It wasn't that he didn't value me before, but I think I valued the work I was doing more. I was finally happy with the possibilities my life at home with kids could hold.
The part about writing that I'm most proud of was that it nurtured that part of me that motherhood didn't.
I started to rebuild my sense of self, which I think is difficult when another person comes along that you love more than anything and that relies on you for everything. I could finally be someone who nurtures her kid and has new ideas. I could wash sticky fingers and write about what being a mother means to me. After that first book I wrote, I wrote another book. And another. And I started writing personal essays (like this one). I started taking it all really seriously.
Even when my articles started appearing, and I started getting feedback from readers I'd never met, even when I signed with a literary agent, even when I had a essays published in a physical book, and a story published in a young adult anthology, even then, the part about writing that I'm most proud of was that it nurtured that part of me that motherhood didn't.
It was a wonderful thing when I finally decided that when people ask me what I do, I could say, "I'm a writer."
Now I feel so much more vital and alive. I feel like my thoughts and my brain are valued. I feel like, possibly, my words will make a difference. It was a wonderful thing when I finally decided that when people ask me what I do, I could say, "I'm a writer." It doesn't matter that none of my novels have graced the shelves at bookstores (yet). This is what I do. This is the craft I am learning.
I still love being home with my kids and love talking about them. But I think if I had tried to fill my world with only my children, a part of me would feel so much less. I struggle with depression and anxiety, and self-esteem is not something that comes easily to me. I could rage and complain about how society doesn't value the role of a stay-at-home parent, but I think the bottom line is that I wasn't doing anything to make myself happy. Raising children is fulfilling. But for me, it wasn't enough. And I needed to make that choice: to pursue something I loved and fit it as best as I could into a chaotic and ever-changing life.