In the past three months, I feel like my entire identity has changed. From the way I see myself and my role in my family down to the clothes I wear, everything feels different. After 11 years, I have shed my title of stay-at-home mom and I could not be happier.
Until now, I have seen my role as the glue that holds my family together. The one who brings the forgotten lunch or makes a favorite meal or treat after a hard day. I did all of the errands, bought all of the birthday gifts, cooked, and took care of everyone’s needs. Less Cinderella and more Fairy Godmother. I was happy, my husband and kids were happy, and my house was a peaceful one.
Then things started to change. For starters, my last baby started kindergarten this year. My husband also retired from one exciting career to begin another, while I still hadn’t started my first. I found myself talking more about his career and accomplishments than my own plans, and that started to get old.
Most drastic of all, we were assigned to China for two years for my husband’s new job. Wrapping my head around that reality kept bringing me back to the idea of what I would do in China. I just couldn’t imagine sending my family off each day without anywhere to go, any work friends or stories of my own. I realized I had to get out of my comfort zone and start making some changes.
When I first started playing with the idea, I was sure starting a career would be detrimental to the happiness of my family. I worried about everything from childcare to the logistics of dinner. The thought of parenting after a long day or running around all weekend to fit in shopping and errands seemed like more hassle and upset than they were worth.
I also questioned my ability to start a meaningful career at this point. Comparing my professional accomplishments (or lack thereof) with those of my husband and his peers has given me a bit of an inferiority complex. That and the competitive career culture in DC have often made me wonder how I would ever get on the same playing field as the “real” grown-ups.
While a part of me was excited to try something new, I was also pretty sure I would end up hating it. I am so glad I was so wrong.
Over the summer, I signed up for full-time Mandarin language and State Department certification courses to increase my job opportunities in China. Since September, I have spent my days learning with and getting to know a diverse group of professionals with impressive backgrounds and accomplishments. Realizing that I can hold my own and even rise to the top among these “real” grown-ups has been incredibly validating. It has also been reassuring to know that I can still rock a binder and flash cards and learn something new at this stage in my life.
Another wonderful realization about my new schedule has been how much I like having a daily routine that doesn’t revolve around anyone else’s needs. Instead of feeling guilty for making my career goals a priority, I have felt empowered and more confident than ever. I think I have been craving professional responsibility and achievement more than I knew.
Not only have I enjoyed this transition, I have realized so many of my worries were for naught. My kids don’t mind the before and after care that I was sure would make them hate me. And the dinner logistics and household tasks, the source of most of my anxiety, have worked out better than I could have expected.
In the past few weeks, my husband has cooked dinner (including Shabbat dinner for company) more often than me. He has become more familiar with our kids’ after school friends and routine than me. He RSVP’d to, and bought a birthday gift for, a playmate I haven’t even met. My husband has always been involved, don’t get me wrong, but as a Marine spouse and stay-at-home mom, I took the lead on all things kids and house. After 11 years, I am finally learning what it means to truly share the parenting and household responsibilities.
The only gripe from my kids has been about the lack of weekly homemade challah. Of course they don’t miss the other meals I labored over—taco and pasta nights suit them much better. Overall, I could not be happier with how everyone in my family has adjusted to and so easily accepted the changes I have made.
Today, I had a full day of classes bookmarked by a 40-minute commute. I am exhausted but exhilarated. When I got home, I kissed my three kiddos and listened with a newfound patience to all of the ups and downs of their day. Instead of feeling stressed and worn out, my busy day has made me so happy tonight. Everything has changed, and nothing has changed at all.