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I'm Not Meant to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

When I began thinking about having children, I imagined cuddles and after-school snacks. I dreamed of muggy days spent building sandcastles with toddlers, or whiling away rainy afternoons with a stack of brightly hued books and a preschooler nestled in my lap. I could wear jeans and sweaters, instead of zipping into the skirts or slacks I wore for my job at a nonprofit.

My own mom had been home for most of my childhood, and while I enjoyed my job, I couldn't imagine doing it forever. Being a stay-at-home seemed like the natural choice. Instead of the 9-to-5 world of meetings and emails, I'd have a peaceful, purposeful life spent nourishing my children.

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But the children I imagined were nothing like the children I have—they are much more nuanced, loving, challenging and hilarious than the ones I dreamed of. And I am not the mother I imagined myself being; I am less patient and more restless.

Something else unexpected happened, too. After my daughter, my second child, was born, I started writing. I'd been writing on and off since childhood, but I always struggled with consistency and follow-through. Suddenly, in the trenches of parenthood, with less time than I'd ever had before, the words I'd been waiting for flowed and flowed. I pecked away on my laptop during naps and after nursing my daughter to sleep. I snuck off to coffee shops on weekends and tapped notes into my phone on the way to the beach with my kids.

I've been feeling my way through this for over six years—six years of experiencing what being home with young children is really like: amazing, difficult, boring, sweet, breathtaking, frustrating, precious, isolating.

Within a few years, my writing became a fruitful part-time career. This fall, as my son enters first grade, my daughter will be going to daycare four days a week. I am tipping the scales further away from the full-time parenthood I daydreamed of.

With this shift comes both thrill, guilt and even grief. I'm not the stay-at-home mom I thought I'd be. I don't love spending every moment with my kids. Stay-at-home parenthood is not what I thought it'd be—and I'm not who I thought I'd be.

I've read the report that stated kids with working mothers are no worse off than kids whose moms stay home. I believe that each family should do what works best for them whether working or staying home. So why do I still feel guilty?

Because letting go of the mythical ideal of motherhood hurts. I think of all the women who've told me, "You're so lucky to be able to be home with them." And I have been lucky. But I've been feeling my way through this for over six years of nursing and cradling, play dates and diapering, watching each milestone unfold like tiny miracles. Six years of experiencing what being home with young children is really like: amazing, difficult, boring, sweet, breathtaking, frustrating, precious, isolating.

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With all this letting go, all this shedding of the mom I thought I'd be, I'm making room for something else: the mom I actually am. The mom who loves words and is teaching her kids—by example—to chase their dreams. The mom who is still there every morning, in the afternoon when the bus gets home, on weekends and snow days. The mom who needs regular breaks from her kids, the mom who inhales books like air.

The mom who believes that maybe, just maybe—she can have it all.

Image via Twenty20/cav137

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