The Working Mom's Jungle Gym

I had planned to write about being a working mom back in February when I was rounding the corner of being at my current job for 1 year. Ironically so, that was the time I decided to take a step back from blogging because - you’ll never believe it - work! And family and community engagement and church commitment and health and everything else there is. So without further ado, here’s the how and why I work. It’s been an integral part of my life as a mom in very positive ways, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to work AND be home full time.

My working situation really is one of privilege - I chose to find work when I did, and I had the flexibility to only look into fields that interested me. So many amazing women I’m surrounded by every day are working from a place of necessity, working long hours doing things they don’t necessarily love, in order to provide for their families. And they are often doing this alone. I applaud and salute these women so much and stand in awe of their resilience and strong work ethic every day.

It's also worth mentioning that I made the choice to start working again shortly after Phineas was born and we had 2 kids under two. Slightly insane timing, but also very necessary timing. Being employed has been one of the best things for me over the past year (and a half now), and I think it comes down to a few reasons primarily.

It has connected me with a world outside of my home.
I do work from home, but I just remember the first few days of logging into my email, and feeling like I was stepping into a virtual office of other people who were all working well together and accomplishing a lot for the department. I was able to tap into that, and contribute to that!, just minutes after changing poopy diapers and putting the boys down for their nap. I am so grateful to still be home with the kids during all of their waking hours, but especially when I first started this job, those waking hours with the boys were so intense. Like, extremely intense. So much so that simply napping while they napped was not enough to recoup my functionality. I needed something else to put myself into. As I write that, it still doesn’t totally make sense, even to me, but it’s been true.

It has connected me to a long term purpose.
Before I go on, let me just say that raising children is definitely a long term purpose. Michael and I work hard every day to help form the lives of these two little humans who will go into the world, hopefully doing good and affecting change for much longer than we will. But I sensed that the home-making, baby-tending stage could easily occupy every part of my being and leave me confused about my life when they start school, and then eventually move out! When I first took this job I really saw it as a stepping stone to eventually going back to school for a graduate degree and going back to work full time. I don’t currently see that as part of my future (at least in my current field), but when my motherhood tasks were the same thing over and over again, just to know it would be needed again the next day, it helped my mental balance to also be applying myself to something that I knew could be a steady climb to other things over the years. Again, mothering is a steady, long term climb as well, but it is really hard to feel that when you’re buried under so many diapers!

It has connected me to my children.
How I found myself in such an ideal employment situation still blows my mind. I can’t chalk it up to anything more than a grace of God. But working this job has connected me more to my children in a few ways. Firstly, I don’t have to commute to and from work and daycare. I don’t even have to spend time getting ready to look presentable for work! This factor has a huge impact on our life as a family, as I really don’t have to take any time away from the kids to work. I get my 3-4 hours a day in early in the morning and during their nap time. I also took this job with the same employer I worked for before having Atticus, so I didn’t have to spend hardly any energy becoming acquainted with the workplace culture, expectations, even the email and info storage systems. But I would also say that this job has connected me to my kids more in that I tend to do a better job applying myself to my time with them when my time away from them is being directed to work. Sure, some days I’m exhausted and tune out more than I would like. But when I started working I sensed this shift from me always being in an “I’m so tired” survival mode of just kind of floating through the day, to a “yes I’m tired, BUT” mode of accepting that this is an exhausting stage of life but there’s stuff that needs to get done! And stuff that I want to get done. Including work. Including taking the kids to the park or museum. Including reading with them, asking them questions about their experiences, and watching good movies together.

It has connected me to myself.
I have felt such a healthy level of self-awareness and self improvement since I started working. It’s kept my writing and communication skills sharper, especially when most of my work interactions are happening via written word. I’m also recognizing my strengths and weaknesses as part of a team. I value developing my skills and interests in a way that I didn’t before.

I don’t know that me working will always be what’s best for me and our family. But I do think that some (and probably always multiple) variation(s) of work will always be part of my life. God gave me this job when I really needed it, for my personal mental balance, but also in a time that Michael was transitioning jobs.

I still often think back to one of my favorite quotes by Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In when she says,

“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder… ladders are limiting - people can move up or down, on or off. Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There’s only one way to get to the top of the ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The jungle gym model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or reentering the work force after taking time off. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment. Plus, a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top. On a ladder, most climbers are stuck staring at the butt of the person above.”

As far as my career goes, I can’t even point to what I would identify as the top of the jungle gym, but I truly am enjoying the view from my place on the jungle gym right now.


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