Recently, I was on vacation and got to catch up with an old friend. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, and over the weekend it became clear that though we have kids about the same age, our parenting experiences have been pretty different. One example? Unlike my return to work seven weeks after the birth of my first child, she has been home with her kids for the past nine years.
That is soon to change: Her youngest is about to start kindergarten and she is going to begin a full-time office job.
“I’m really anxious about it,” she told me as we took a walk in the woods with our collective brood. “My family life is just so full right now and I don’t know how I will fit everything in when I‘m working.”
She wasn’t kidding about how full things are. Carefully planned chore wheels, hours doing art projects, nature walks, bread made from scratch, music classes, volunteering, and reading marathons at the local library are all part of her daily routine. But even though her five-year-old’s weekly chores included cleaning their bathroom (whereas my six-year-old still has to be reminded to do things like flush and wash hands), imagining myself in her place didn’t make me think I’d be a better parent if I stayed home.
In fact, after our conversation, I had a feeling that being with my kids full-time would mean I’d be a worse parent. That’s because while my friend thrives in the domestic realm, working gives me the balance and perspective that I need to be a more solid mom when I am at home. Here are five ways this plays out for me.
1. I’m more appreciative of the time I spend with my kids.
While lots of moms love being at home with kids, there are plenty of moms — and I am one of them — who not only need to work outside the home, but also want to.
I’m not going to pretend that as a result of working, I cherish every moment I have with my kids. But I do know that if I were home with them every day, I’d be more inclined to wish I were elsewhere more of the time. As things are now, I don’t feel like my kids (or the simple realities of parenting) are preventing me from having the life I want. So I get more enjoyment out of the time I do spend with them.