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Whether You Work or Stay at Home, Here's the Truth About Being a Mom

Photograph by Twenty20

I celebrated many things upon finishing college, although nothing quite as much as the end of test taking. No more tests, forever, was the best graduation gift ever. Unbeknownst to me at the time, though, was the many tests yet to come, including ovulation-kit tests, pregnancy tests and the daily pop quizzes administered by the humor gods who seem to want to see exactly how many times I can re-load the dishwasher that my husband just loaded incorrectly without acting on the homicidal thoughts festering in my brain.

In August, I found myself staring down the barrel of yet another test. This one was how I'd do with my younger daughter for two weeks when she had no school or camp while my schedule was also totally clear. After working from home full-time for eight years with one or both of my daughters with me at home full- or part-time, it was the last chance I'd have to show myself (and, you know, my daughter) what kind of mom I am.

Spoiler alert: I failed.

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Unless you're living somewhere without access to the internet (in which case, can I come? Pretty please?), no doubt you've seen one of the 1.88 million or so articles/opinion pieces/rants devoted to whether it's better to be a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. I couldn't tell you which is better because I've had it all: a career I wouldn't want to live without and two daughters I live for.

I spent most part of every day feeling less-than for not doing it all better—parenting, working, wife-ing and life-ing. ... I (also) realized that I'm not especially skilled at mom-ing.

Still, to say the past eight years have been trying, taxing, terrible, troublesome, tiresome and tough (with some cuddles, kisses and mommy-and-me classes sprinkled in here and there) would be an understatement. I have it all, except it forever feels as if I do none of it well. If I'm a good mom one day, my work suffers. Then my kids moan and groan when my focus shifts to work. I shop and cook, too, and schedule and plan and carpool and volunteer and generally shuffle where I'm needed.

The grass is often greener for working moms who may feel guilty for sending their kids to daycare, while some stay-at-home moms worry that by not having a 9 to 5 type of career, they're not necessarily modeling productive behavior for their kids. However, my grass is perfectly green. Abundantly green, even. I have no interest in an office job. I wanted my babies with me, not in the care of someone else. But until they were both in school full-time starting this fall, I spent most part of every day feeling less-than for not doing it all better—parenting, working, wife-ing and life-ing.

So when I had two weeks to focus just on my littlest girl before she started kindergarten, to do all those things I'd meant to do while I've had her to myself all this time, I realized that I'm not especially skilled at mom-ing. I'm not big on getting on the floor and playing with her. I'd always say we're going to take a walk or do an arts and crafts project, although those occasions proved to be fewer and farther between. When I had no excuses, I realized it's neither time, baking cookies nor singing and reading that a good mom makes.

As it turns out, no amount of hours in the day, days in the week, proximity or effort profoundly affect how I parent. I am who I am no matter how much or little I have of any of it. Really, who I am as a parent is who I am as a person. Am I a good friend? A solid employee? After I had all the tools in place that I figured I needed to be the kind of mom I assumed I should be, and I still didn't measure up, I realized finally—finally!—that where and when I parent has no bearing on my actual parenting. It's who I am fundamentally that determines if I'm capable of raising my kids happily and healthfully. It's a shame it took me eight years of struggling to realize balance is a mythical creature more rare than a unicorn with a bundle of four-leaf clovers pinned to its rainbow-striped horn.

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On the other hand, it also took those eight years, and one very critical two-week period at the end, for me to fully understand that, like Dorothy, I've had the power all along. Whether it's when I'm with them, in front of my computer or seeing them off on the school bus, calling a cease-fire on my internal battlefield and giving myself some peace allows me to do what I can, when I can. In the end, being me is what has to be best for my kids.

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