Wednesday, September 5, 2007

September beginnings and endings

I've always loved September for its new beginnings. The brand new notebooks, the uncracked spine of an unread textbook, the freshly sharpened pencils. The over-achiever in me loved the opportunity to start new courses, all those shiny As just waiting to be collected. Even after I had left school, I still looked forward to the end of summer for the new projects at work, the renewed sense of purpose as you head into the end of the year.

This will be my first September where I won't be at school or work in as many years as I can remember, but that doesn't mean that this September won't be a time of new beginnings for me. This September I officially become a Stay At Home Mother.

This last year I have stay-at-home-mothered, but if you asked me to identify myself, I would not have said I was a Stay At Home Mother. I had a career with all its attendant responsibilities and stresses. I was a Career Woman who happened to be on maternity leave. This was the particular lens that I viewed myself, and my time at home, through. This is why, despite the chorus running through my head that this is the right decision - this is what is best for Peanut - I'm so lucky - won't this be fun? I have a certain degree of trepidation and internal conflict about my changing role.

I've always been fairly ambitious. Throughout university my original intention was to attend law school. Due to several financial factors by the time of my graduation from university, this plan just wasn't feasible (massive student loans, de-regulating of law school fees, fiance starting his own company). I gave up the dream and joined the workforce. But not going to law school? Damn it, that wasn't going to stop me from having a career. I wasn't going to linger as a receptionist/assistant/etc for the rest of my life. I was going to destroy the glass ceiling, or at least do a tapdance on it. (Oh, the hubris. It's ok, go on and laugh.)

I ended up on a career path that I was good at, even if I wasn't always in love with the work, settling on jobs in finance and accounting. Eventually I started taking courses towards the ubiquitous accounting designation/MBA. Although my heart wasn't always in it and the jobs often required me to compromise values or parts of myself that were important to me, I convinced myself that this was the path I had chosen, this was what I happened to be good at. Surely, I couldn't abandon where I was now, after spending several years working my way up the corporate ladder?

When we had the Peanut, there was initially no discussion about me going back to work. It was just assumed that I would return to my job, continue my coursework, get the appropriate designations, continue working my way up in the company. But over time Mr Babbler and I started talking - talking about the possibility of me staying home, giving her at least another year of one-on-one parenting that we think she needs and deserves. With her early start in life, it would be better to give her that bit of extra time. We started talking about the realities of fitting daycare and a child's schedule into crammed workdays with unstable work hours. How fair would this be to her, to impose a twelve-hour day on her? How could I continue to be a good mother, a good wife, a good employee with the type of schedule we were looking at? Eventually we looked at the numbers, made some adjustments, and decided that yes, financially we could afford for me to stay home.

During all these discussions though, there was that ambitious, glass-ceiling shattering part of my conscious piping up:

Stay At Home Mother - you've been reduced to an acronym.
You know the looks you'll get when people ask you what you do for a living.
Can you live with that?
Can you live with people assuming you're less intelligent because you're the one not working?
By being reduced to merely the wife-of-Mr Babbler?
As having your success defined by his success?
What will you do when it comes time to re-enter the job market?
Will you be content to go back to your old career, even thought you weren't in love with it?
What happens when you are that woman, the woman who "just doesn't understand" anymore, because she's been away for so long with her kid(s)?
Will you be content with the limitations on your career as a result of stepping away for so long?

Oh, and what will you do all day? Won't you get bored out of your mind? Can you really do this?

Those were, and are, the questions that run through my head. I know, logically, that the questions and feelings with regards to being a SAHM are a result of the unfair expectation by society, of society's increasing reduction in the worth of parenting. Much has been said and written on the topic, and I don't think I need to dive into that particular mud puddle at this moment. I know, logically, that it does matter even a little bit what others think of me, that if this is what is best for the Peanut and my family, then to hell with the rest of them. But that little internal voice? It whispers in my ear.

As for the career, as hard as it is to step away from a path that I've already chosen (this also explains why I continue to diligently finish books that I don't enjoy) I think it's time to make a big change. I have to quell the voices whispering in my ear - the ones that tell me that there is good money in the job I'm at, why do I want to start over, that perhaps I might not be as successful at something else - but it will be worth it, oh will it be worth it.

In his book Stumbling On Happiness, Daniel Gilbert states that we mis-imagine the happiness of our futures because we imagine our future as a present with slight changes. My future is now a blank canvas, my happiness mine to discover in unexpected places. My days, now filled with endless games of peekaboo, chase the baby and trips to the park, swimming lessons, baby-and-me playgroups and (hopefully, finally) playdates with other moms, stay-at-home and otherwise, take on new meaning. All of this with no fixed end-date and the future wide open. Embracing the opportunity to see my little girl grow, take her first steps, say her first words. And perhaps, maybe, the chance to start over in something I love. Perusing the graduate offerings at the local universities, deciding on something that fulfills me as a person.

My steps may be more tentative as I wander off onto this new, unknown path, but I'm sure with time I'll be pounding the pavement of stay-at-home-motherhood, wearing my new title proudly, and looking forward to the next steps in whatever career I choose.

All for her...

C'mon mom. I'll show you where the true happiness lies.

* * *

Thanks BubandPie! Your post on obligations gave me the push I needed to finish
this post. This post, while long and rambling, is an obligation only to myself to work out my thoughts on this rather big change, and not to any one who might stumble by and find some incoherent ramblings in the place of a well-written, succinct post.


metro mama said...

I have so much to say about this post (I have a lot in common with you I think).

We must book that playdate this month.

cinnamon gurl said...

I found that motherhood made me want more for both myself and my child. I used to be an automaton, working and watching tv, but since becoming a mother, I've rediscovered my passion for photography and writing (through blogging).

You go girl. I'm sure there are lots of ways you can build on the skills you developed in your career and make a new start when the time comes.

Beck said...

Good post.
When I first was staying home with my first child, I was very defensive about being a STAY AT HOME MOM, thinking that it had more diginity than calling myself a homemaker.
Now I just go with homemaker. I am making a HOME. It's very evocative.
Thanks for visiting me!

nomotherearth said...

Wow, how brave! I have been seriously considering the same step this time around. The prospect of going back to school sounds much more enchanting than returning to the workforce.

I'll be off for (at least) a year come November, if you're looking for a playdate. I'll be pounding the pavement myself.

bubandpie said...

Even though this is my back-to-work week (with all the September associations the week after Labour Day carries) I relate to this post SO MUCH. I know exactly what you're talking about, that decision to care less about status and more about other things - it guides your decisions, it makes you a better person, but it doesn't make it easy to see that evidence of how you've sunk in other people's eyes.

For me, the decision was to continue teaching part-time while hubby went to law school instead of seeking the tenure-track position that everybody in the department expected me to go after. That it's the right decision for my family does not always make me immune to the knowledge that other people (in academia) see me as a failure, a cautionary tale.

And now that hubby is actually practising law, there are other adjustments to be made - because suddenly my income (in a year or so, when his salary increases) is going to become expendable, no longer what's keeping the family afloat. It's a bit frightening to become financially dependent on someone else, even someone I love and trust wholly. And it changes my self-perception too.

But life is long. As you said, we don't know how our story ends - this is just one chapter.

Great post.

DaniGirl said...

I love reading how people come to make the really big decisions in life, and this was a great post. Even though I don't think I ever really had the choice to be a full-time stay at home mom, many of the decisions we've made are simlar... great post!

Aliki2006 said...

Wonderful post. Motherhood has brought out my creativity and passion as well--I think the more challenges I've faced, the more I've discovered my inner resources, and my ability to call on strengths and talents I didn't know I had.

Jennifer said...

My mother kept a diary in an appointment calendar of my first year of life. This is my most prized possession. Every time I get to the passage where she decides to stay home to raise her family I start to choke up. This post will forever be Peanut's equivalent. Enjoy this new beginning to the fullest!


BLITHELY BABBLING © 2008. Chaotic Soul :: Converted by Randomness