I think this is a very delicate question and the answer is different every single time it's asked. I happen to be a fortunate woman who can work while practicing her vocation. I also happen to be doubly fortunate because I work by choice. But I have always worked. I worked in the summers. I worked right after college. I worked while I was engaged, married, and I work now part-time while raising two kids. I don't know how to not work outside my home.
There was a time in my life when I was a better mommy when I was working. My first son and I are natured so alike temperament wise that we need a break from each other almost every day. We've been like this from the cradle. It is neither good or bad, it just is. He enjoyed school right away and other than some tearful mornings from time to time, adjusted well. I did not. I cried every morning. The guilt weighed on me like an albatross. However, I was trying so hard to establish myself as a professional and I was up against a deadline for certification in my field. I pushed forward and eventually created a routine that worked well and we could all live with.
The second time I became pregnant, I worked up until about 5 weeks before the baby. Then I took a year off, just like I did with my first. Taking a year off with two children is much different. I was climbing the walls by Christmas, but I was also so tired from chasing two, that I was somewhat ambivalent about going back. Then summer came, and the baby was almost no longer a baby. I was ready and excited to return to work.
Now I'm three months into and I have to tell you, I'm ambivalent about it. My first son has turned into an interesting little boy who likes to spend time with me and my baby and I have not yet begun to push each other's buttons in a way that makes long breaks from each other necessary. I truly love what I do. It's my vocation. It's where I belong. But I'm also a mother and it's my vocation, my priority, and my God-given job. Going back to work again has not made me the better mommy that I was the first time. You know when you're a mom of two, you are a different mommy. Your body is different. Your energy level is different. Your time management is different. Things that were once important, aren't as important as they were.
I say all this to say that trying to balance life is not as difficult as I thought, but trying to balance how I feel about it is. We get up, I get everyone ready, I pack lunches, I drop everyone off (no tears from anyone most mornings--not even me), I go to work for a couple of hours, I pick everyone up at 2, we go home and play/nap/watch movies and eat snacks, I attempt to make dinner or plan to go out, we eat, we bathe, we read, we go to bed. It's a juggling game, but it's not rocket science.
Alas, I am no pioneer woman, nor am I a crusader with infinite strength and drive. My health is suffering some from all this busy-ness, my mental clarity is suffering, and I miss my kids. I haven't always missed my kids (holy horrors Batman, a mom who will admit that must be certifiable!). But I miss them now. I enjoy getting away for the morning, or the afternoon, or the evening. I can work and do nothing else, or I can not work and be the grade mom, the park mom, the book club/ night out mom, and the happy healthy wife my husband married. There is unfortunately not much middle ground for me. I'm disappointed, because I would like to say I can be all things to all people.
However, I am much reminded by those who have gone before me and give me sage advice I would do well to heed. This time in my life is a season. It is short and will pass. There will be time to practice my vocation later. There will be time to spend with my children in different ways later. There will be time to spend with my husband in a different way (besides sitting on the couch staring at each other with nary the energy for much beyond a lecherous grin).
So it is time to let go, to say no, and to enjoy my life. I cannot enjoy my family if my health is suffering. I cannot take care of my family if I cannot be present in mind and body. I am more than fortunate that I even have a choice to stay home. My husband and I are on the same page about my choice. He wants my happiness and our family's health preserved. If that means I go in and out of the work force many times over time, he is on board. It took us a while to get there, but we have come to an understanding about it. We have also made the decision that our standard of living will not be affected by whatever income I bring home. This was very important to us both. It doesn't take much to get to a point where two incomes are necessary in this world of uncertain times, so if we don't start there already, in the event of a life event that would make it so, we could make adjustments for me to go to work.
So I suppose it is time I changed my perspective and my feelings about motherhood. I hate those terms--stay at home mom, full-time mom, part-time career. Who has a career that is really part-time? The hours on the books may be part-time, but I think about my patients all the time. And I have yet to meet a mom that wasn't a full-time mom. To think of it any other way is just silly. And what mom stays at home? Aren't we constantly running? To the store, to the dry cleaners, to school, to the doctor, to the drug store, to the post office, this errand for husband, this errand for mother, this errand for self. Honestly.
Perhaps I will re-title myself--when I can find one that works. I'll let you know. Until then, I will continue to try to find that elusive balance of home and world.