Can I tell you a secret? Can I be 100% honest with you? I sometimes struggle with envy, with “the grass is greener” syndrome. I often have to fight off and pray away the envy I feel for stay-at-home-moms and moms who aren’t the primary breadwinner (whose income is just supplemental to pay for “extras” like vacations and cute clothes). Sometimes, after I pull a 12 hour day and I walk into a messy house, I go into my boys’ bedroom and get into each of their beds to snuggle their not-so-little anymore sleeping bodies, drinking in their scent (the exact same as the day they were born) and tears start silently streaming down my cheeks. I love them so much it hurts. The love wells up in my heart and feels like a punch in the gut that has knocked the wind out of me sometimes. I cry happy tears because I love them. I also cry because I’m not able to be the mother to them that I envisioned because I have to work so much. I do my best to cherish the time I am home with them and try to reframe my thinking into “quality time versus quantity time,” and yet sometimes I just can’t rationalize away how I really feel. I don’t want to be a working mom. I want to be home with my kids reading books, cooking yummy food every night, doing chores throughout the day rather than at midnight, putting my boys to bed every night rather than working until 9pm two nights per week. I thought I would be working less by now and not more, but the needs of our family and our situation necessitate me picking up extra hours. Special needs can get expensive.
I often notice people say things like, “well, if you just cut a few corners and make a few sacrifices like I did you can stay home too” or “well you can just sell this product on the side in your spare time (lol I don’t have “spare” time often and I’m too tired to do sales in what little I do have) and then you won’t have to work.” I think to myself, “ok, let’s look at our budget…hmm…ok so the bills I currently pay include the mortgage, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, phone, etc. (which still come out cheaper than renting), I already buy all of our clothes at thrift shops, buy whatever food is on manager’s special, grow food in our garden, get eggs from our chickens, and cut my own hair, how can I just cut those corners and sacrifice us into homelessness and nakedness?” I can’t. “What about your husband?” you might be thinking. Well, he is a good man who quit college when I had our oldest son so that I could keep going to school and not lose my full scholarship. He started working full-time and gave up on finishing school. He went back to school when one of his jobs closed down and laid everyone off. I’m proud of him for earning a technical certification in a challenging field. He works hard everyday. Nonetheless, my Master’s degree affords me more opportunities. So, I work to makes ends meet
Ok, here’s where God’s plan and His grace comes in. I don’t know if you believe in God or a higher power or what, but I do. I believe that the experiences we need to have come our way in this life to help us grow and ultimately are for our own edification and good. Even the tough stuff. Even the stuff that I shake my head and say “God, are you sure you know what you are doing? What the what?” I just imagine a supernatural chuckle and God being all SMH, “yes honey, I sure do know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing this whole helping people grow through trials by fire for a looong time now.” So, I was driving in my car last week feeling all miffed and frustrated and I asked God, “Why does so and so get to stay home and have this beautiful family with healthy kids and a balanced life where her man takes care of the breadwinning by himself and I don’t?” I felt a gentle sensation in my heart and that still small voice inside reminded me, “That’s my plan for her, I have a different plan, a good plan for you. I know what you need and you need to be where I have planted you.” I pulled over and cried. I know that this is true. I know that God has a plan for me and is working all things for good. I know that my kids really are fine and thriving even. They have so many people in their lives who love them and help them grow from my Mom who they stay with after school 3 days per week to the wonderful teachers they have at public school and the ladies who love on them at church. I know that with their particular special needs, that socialization with as many different types of people as possible is a huge need and probably wouldn’t be met as well if I were a SAHM. I was forced to put them in preschool/daycare and now public school, where they learn social skills and had to adapt to expectations other than my own for 6 hours per day. I love the bond my Mom has with my boys. She is like a second mama to them and it has actually healed our once contentious relationship by being forced to talk often and work together to meet their needs. I have learned how strong I am by having no other choice but to dry my tears over my sons’ special needs, put on my make-up and go into work acting like a functional human being (fake it til you make it really does work I’ve learned).
God knows I have a high need for mental stimulation and boy has he met that need with my jobs. I get bored easily and I like a lot of change and challenge. Working at a crisis center/shelter certainly meets my need for change and challenge. I never get bored there. I also needed to learn how to do a better job of gentle discipline and enjoying play with my own boys, so where did I get planted right after grad school? Where I still am, working as a Children’s Program Coordinator (after saying in grad school that I wanted to work only with adults and teenagers, God laughs once again). I wound up working in a situation where I had to learn how to handle challenging behaviors and wasn’t allowed to yell. This helped me practice gentle discipline techniques that I now use on my own boys that have also improved my sanity and saved my voice. I work with victims of domestic violence and every day am reminded to be thankful for my situation, where I can live with my children in safety and stability. Often, I am reminded that being a counselor is my calling and something I simply must do for others and for my own growth. I teach online and tutor students which meets my need for academic/mental stimulation.
Even my sons’ special needs have been a blessing in disguise (although very challenging and draining as well) because they have taught me unconditional love, patience, and connected me with a community of amazing kids and parents I never would have known otherwise. I remind myself, “Jen, God has perfectly met your needs, you know yourself and you know that while you would enjoy not having to get dressed up for work and having a lot more time on your hands to do the chores each day, that staying home might bore you to tears or might become depressed or you might end up feeling guilty and depressed for using the time you should have been doing chores to read and exercise instead.”
So, if you have ever envied me thinking I’m some big shot “career woman” because of my titles as Adjunct Professor, Children’s Program Coordinator, and Psychology Tutor, just know that I am only a mama, doing these jobs 1) to pay the bills and 2) because God planted me there through a series of fortunate events and callings according to some kind of plan that is a lot bigger than my myopic vision of what life should be like.
I still struggle with juggling everything and often feel like I’m doing “B” level work and certainly not “A+” at both work and home. But, as my grad school professor pointed out, “Bs get degrees.” I continue to pray opportunities that afford more balance and time with my family come my husband’s way and my own, but until then I will do my best when I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, and stretched too thin to remember that still small voice reminding me that THIS life I’m living is God’s perfect plan for me right here, right now and me winging it is good enough for Him so I need to let it be good enough for me and focus on how blessed I am rather than how I don’t measure up.