The Long Journey Home
Once upon a time, I thought I had it all. I had a child, a career, the world at my feet. Or, so I thought.
With the birth of my second son, my whole world changed. I moved into a new home, got a new car, made new friends. The biggest change, though, was internal. Suddenly, my head started listening to my heart a little more. My career and moving up in the corporate world suddenly became something I HAD to do, because I needed to pay the bills. Suddenly, I wanted what other people had. I wanted to stay home with my kids and take care of my family.
Wait a minute, who was this straight from 1950 woman taking over my brain? Was it post-partum insanity or had someone mysteriously slipped me some sort of anti-feminist drug? I was raised to believe that I was EQUAL to every man, in fact, maybe even a little better. I believed that I should not take care of a man, in fact; maybe he should be taking care of me. How dare anyone ask me to put my career on hold to raise children? I believed that my career should be paramount in my life, that I could and should HAVE IT ALL. I was certain that I could have my cake and eat it with a golden fork. And for six years, I thought I did.
I gave birth to my first son at the ripe old age of 22. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever had the privilege to lay my eyes on, but the actual birth experience was the most horrific thing I'd ever experienced. After 23 hours of induced labor, this boy came screaming into the world via a Cesarean section WITHOUT anesthesia. That's right, surgery without anesthesia. Somehow the anesthesiologist had messed up, and the epidural had been pulled out of my back sometime before surgery. Talk about pain. Oh, and let me tell you, when they say you forget that pain, they LIE! I still remember every excruciating moment, almost 8 years later.
This traumatic experience produced the first genuine love in my life, my lovely Cameron. He has been a true joy and a real challenge since the day he was born. I often tell people about the first night he was home. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he had a pretty severe case of colic. I thought something was seriously wrong, because all he'd done since birth was scream, nurse, and sleep in 20 minute increments. I hadn't slept for literally a week. While my husband snored peacefully in the next room, I held this beautiful, screaming thing in front of me, staring at his pinched face, watching as his little legs kicked at the air. I cried with him, I screamed with him, and God help me, I knew at that moment why parents shook their babies. Thank the same God for all of those commercials about shaken baby syndrome, because in that moment of insanity, I believe it's the only thing that saved my son. I truly believed at that moment that if I just shook him a little, it might quiet the inconsolable screams.
Instead, I put my son down in his bassinet and walked out onto our balcony, taking deep breaths and trying to convince myself that I deserved a child, that I was not the worst mother in the world, that God did not make a mistake giving me this gift.
Cameron and I made it through that first night. Later that year, we made it through the separation and divorce from his father. Then we made it through several years of single motherhood with no child support and no daddy visiting. It was a difficult and painful time, but it gave me the kind of strength that nothing else could. Being a stay at home mom was clearly never an option at that time, since I was the sole support for our little family of two.
When my ex-husband dropped out of Cameron's life before he was 2, I just stopped talking about him for a long time. Then, one day, my baby looked into my face and asked me where his daddy was. He said that everyone at his pre-school had daddies, and he wanted to know why he didn't. I hoped this moment would never come. I didn't really know what to say to a three year old to explain why he didn't have a daddy, so I just explained that there were different kinds of families. Some, I told him, might have just a mommy, but others might have just a daddy or some grandparents. He somewhat accepted this idea, so I spoke to his pre-school to make sure that they were discussing these different types of families.
Later, Cameron and I went to counseling as the questions continued and my answers just didn't satisfy him any more. This was when things became especially difficult, because the counselor told me that I needed to tell Cameron "THE TRUTH" of what had happened, or at least as much as the then 4 year old child could understand. I should tell him that his father and I were once very much in love and married, and that we had Cameron out of that love. I was to then say that his father had some personal problems and needed to be away from the family and that even though he had every right to come and visit his son, he CHOSE not to do that.
This, of course, was completely different from everything I had ever said about his father. I never said anything negative or even remotely identifying about his father. So, for awhile, I resisted telling him "THE TRUTH". I thought that it would hurt him more than help.
Finally, Cameron began making up stories about his "dad", saying he'd go visit on the weekends or that he might go stay there for the summer. The pre-school, knowing our situation, brought this to my attention. I figured it was normal for kids in our situation to do this, but I knew it was time to tell him what really happened. Our counselor encouraged me, saying that telling him would help him to understand that he and I were not at fault and that I would always be there for him.
So, one night, as we lay nose to nose in my bed, I told Cameron about his father, just as the counselor had instructed me. He asked why his dad didn't want to see him and I had to tell him that I didn't know, but that he was missing out on the best kid in the world. He asked if it was his fault and I told him that of course it was not, that his dad had problems and didn't know what a wonderful boy he was missing.
Then we cried together. I held my baby and wiped away his tears as he wept for the father he couldn't even remember.
And, we made it through that night, stronger than ever.
A few months later, I met Bill, who would later become my husband. He and Cameron took to each other immediately, and one day, Cameron asked Bill to be his Dad. Bill happily accepted, and they've been father and son ever since.
A couple of years ago, I learned that Cameron would soon have a new baby brother. Since we only had a two bedroom home at the time, we bought a new, bigger home to accommodate our new, bigger family. Our new neighborhood welcomed us with open arms. There were plenty of kids to play with and plenty of parents for Bill and me to socialize with.
I met my friend Lori a couple of months before our baby was born. Lori was a stay at home mom who lived across the street. We became fast friends, and when I went on maternity leave about three weeks before the baby was born, she was over almost daily. It was like we'd known each other forever.
Even though I liked Lori right off the bat, as I listened to her talk about being a stay at home mom, I thought her viewpoint was a little off. I even felt a little sorry for her, having such "outdated" ideas and all. Still, I believe that it's important to respect other peoples' opinions and choices, so I tried to understand.
Since my mom was raised during women's lib, I was taught that women worked, just like men. Men and women were not to be put in "stereotypical" roles. Therefore, whenever I felt that someone was trying to put me in such a role, I would be offended.
When our second son, the beautiful Noah, was born, everything changed. Noah was different than his brother. First, he had trouble learning to nurse. Cameron had latched on immediately. Noah took almost a week to get it. It felt like months, and I spent several hours crying on the phone with La Leche League counselors. When he finally got it, though, he became quite dedicated to it. Noah's little personality was quite the opposite of Cameron's too. He was very laid back and only complained if he was wet, hungry, or tired. Now, this may sound normal to most people, but after having Cameron, the baby who could rarely be comforted, being able to "fix" the crying by changing, feeding, or rocking him to sleep was quite a luxury.
During my maternity leave, I found a website, flylady.net, which, along with my friend Lori, changed my perception of being a stay at home mom. Then, I read "Woman Power" by Dr. Laura Schlesinger. This book, although it has a misleading title, discusses the true power of women in families and relationships. It discusses the traditional roles of husbands and wives and why they might not be so bad. This was quite an eye-opener for me, and I highly recommend it to anyone in a relationship.
Suddenly, I realized that "staying home" with your kids and taking care of your family and home was NOT "not working". It was "working at home". Working for your family. What a light bulb moment! Taking care of one's home was, in fact, blessing one's family. It was a special and wonderful thing I could do for them. So, as soon as I was physically able, I started taking care of my home and family the way I thought they deserved. The change in attitudes was almost immediate. For the rest of my maternity leave, dinner was on the table each night at 6, the house was in order, and the laundry was done. The kids and my husband received loving care and attention daily. It was wonderful.
I dreaded returning to work, but I didn't have a choice at that time. Bill had a decent job, but we couldn't afford to live on just his salary. The first couple of weeks I was back, I tried to keep up the house and put dinner in the crock pot almost every night so that we could still eat at a decent hour. I was up late into each night cleaning and preparing for the next day, not to mention that my darling baby son wasn't quite sleeping through the night yet.
Eventually, my habits slipped back into my usual work mode-eating out several nights a week, cleaning only on weekends, rushing around trying to "have it all", the usual. Bill and I discussed my becoming a stay at home mom, and agreed that although we both wanted it, we couldn't afford it yet.
A few months later, Bill got a new job making literally twice as much as he'd made before. What a blessing! Life got a little easier as our financial state was much more comfortable. Still, I did not feel that I could quit my job. I felt tied to it and feared what could happen if I took the chance and left.
I worked 40 hours a week in the office, and many nights and weekends I brought work home with me. I felt like my work was taking over my life, and as any working mother knows, sometimes it feels like you almost have to do twice as much work as other people to prove that you are worth keeping around. I got a promotion and was promised more if I could keep up. I missed my kids, but having a strong work ethic, I kept up as well as I could. Every day, I secretly prayed that we would find a way to bring me home. Bill and I kept trying to figure out a way and kept finding reasons that I needed to keep working.
One day, I was called into the office and fired. I still don't know exactly why, but I know this much: EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON! I believe that God knew that I would never take that leap of faith and leave my job, unless I was forced to do so.
Since I was fired, Bill and I decided that it was time for me to try staying home. So, I'm home. And, may I say, LOVING IT!! Once again, my family has a comfortable home, clean laundry, good home-cooked meals every night, and my children are being raised by none other than their very own mother!
Sure, finances are a little tighter than they were, but considering that we are no longer paying for daycare or after school care, gas and lunches and work clothes for me, it's not quite as tight as you might think. We are doing just fine. I only wish that I'd had the courage to take the chance earlier.
It is amazing how one's experiences can change her very core beliefs and values. My personal experiences changed me from a driven, career minded, woman who tried to have it all, to a driven, stay at home mom and writer who has all she wants or needs. I have my loving, well taken care of family and home, time to write, and great friends. What more could a woman ask for?
Angela McWilliams lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has two beautiful sons. She has been writing for 25 years and recently became a stay at home mom, which allows her full time access to both of her passions, her family and her writing. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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