Being a work-at-home mom is an ongoing exercise in uncertainty, but can we learn from the constant vulnerability that self-employment and raising kids presents?
In this issue of Working Mom 3.0, writer Stephanie Taylor Christensen explores why a lack of security is one of life's great gifts.
My son recently started preschool, and the morning of his first day as a "student" was a dream. Unlike many of the children who were clearly anxious with their new environment, my son dove right into this new world called preschool. I'll admit, my pride soared. Unlike the parents stuck coaxing their shy kids into the unfamiliar, my son's confidence was my own private confirmation that I've done my job equipping my child to face the world.
My arrogance instantly dissipated, however, with the announcement of "circle time." To paint a picture of the experience of "settling" my child in for quiet circle time, I imagine I'd have a similar, if not easier time convincing a chimpanzee to sit his bum on a yellow triangle. As predicted, my smugness at his seamless transition into the classroom quickly shifted to self-loathing. The scene went something like this: He refused (loudly). He fled the circle scene, and I failed at persuading him to return. I tried the "ignore it" tactic. He ignored the circle. The battle continued until his temper finally exploded at the news that it was time to end the school day. Helpless and vulnerable, I was left trying to squash a full-blown tantrum, in front of a room of his peers, parents and the preschool teachers.
Logically, I knew every person in that room had been in my shoes. Emotionally, it was humiliating. Not because my son displayed the skills that he lacks, but because he "outed" my weaknesses. I've conquered marathons, faced the fear of leaving full-time employment and reinvented my career and found a work-life balance on my own terms. Given all the unknowns I've faced, why does a meltdown moment at preschool wipe out all the accomplishments we should be proud of as work-at-home moms? Is there any value to be had in these moments of unabashed vulnerability?
According to playwright and Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler, such times of uncertainty present prime opportunities to evolve. In her 2005 TED talk, Ensler points out that when we focus on the very illusive idea of security, we limit our own potential: "You can't venture too far outside a certain circle. You can't allow too many conflicting ideas into your mind at one time as they might confuse, or challenge, you. You can't open yourself to new experiences, new people or new ways of doing things; they might take you off course. You can't not know who you are, so you cling to hard matter identity," says Ensler. As a result, we hyperfocus on protecting a false sense of security, to leave worlds of possibility, untouched.
Being a work-at-home mom is a constant exercise in learning to thrive in the unknown. Without an employer's pay stub, official job title and office to report to, security as we know it is no longer present. When our children publicly misbehave or endure a fall we should have been able to prevent had we done something differently, we're reduced to nothing more than a reminder of the very vulnerable nature of life: Nothing is certain. Try as we might to be work-at-home mom superheroes, we're not unlike my son and his toddler classmates on their very first day at preschool. Instead of striving for perfection, comparing your skills, income, children or accomplishments to those of others, invite the opportunity to be vulnerable. Being a work-at-home mom is a risky, frightening and exhausting endeavor, but it offers a new life path that you'd never otherwise find — if you learn to enjoy the ride.
The modern woman is redefining what it means to have a successful career. Rather than feeling torn between climbing the corporate ladder and having a happy family life, many women are choosing to merge the two and transition careers from a traditional role to a more flexible one. Working Mom 3.0 is reinventing the definition of "working mom," as office hours are held at home and revolve around nap times.
This column begins by chronicling the experiences of Stephanie Taylor Christensen, a former marketing professional turned self-employed stay-at-home mom, writer and yoga instructor, as she strives to redefine "having it all" on her own time and terms.
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