Shannon Lell | To Work or Not to Work? That is the BIG Mom Question.
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To Work or Not to Work? That is the BIG Mom Question.

To Work or Not to Work? That is the BIG Mom Question.

I’m a serendipitous SAHM. That’s Stay-At-Home-Mom for those unfamiliar with mommy acronyms. I say serendipitous because although I had desires of staying home with my children, I hadn’t planned on it. My three-year paid subscription to Working Mother Magazine will be running out when my first-born turns three next month. I was a working mother when I bought that subscription but due to some unfortunate and unforseen events at work, I have been a SAHM for a year and a half. After having sashayed in the heels of a full-time, working-mama and schlepped in the imitation UGGs of a full-time SAHM (doing both for the right and wrong reasons) I have had time to contemplate the quality and quantity of grass on both sides of this proverbial fence.

Women have been discussing this issue for decades earning it an ominous-sounding moniker, “The Mommy Wars.” After nearly two decades of debate, I actually thought we had come to a truece, but just open Facebook or Twitter, or any number of popular mom blogs and you will quickly realize that the debate is alive and thriving with plenty of fertilizer to spur healthy growth.

To work, or not to work has always been an emotionally charged subject for Moms. Clearly, there is so much at stake that the choice is fraught with high opinions and deep self-identifications. You could certainly draw parallels between it, and religion and politics. Just like religion and politics, everyone acts like they are tolerant but secretly believes their way is the best way. We all rehearse the talking points, recite the research and remember the anecdotal stories that defend our choices and yet, I know from experience there is not one of us who is not frothing over with doubt like a forgotten pot of macaroni-n-cheese. It’s so hard to have this conversation because no one wants to admit they feed burned mac-n-cheese to their kids five nights a week. Well I do, and they get the leftovers, too.

Truth is, this job, this thing, this privilege and honor of being someone’s Mother, it possesses all the imposing majesty of a full-grown Sequoia in an old growth forest–it’s deep, sacred and far-reaching. Trying to figure out the one right and perfect way of doing it is like trying to untangle the roots and pick the very best one.

Just like the roots of a Sequoia nurture its growth, women are drawn to nurture things. Walk down the aisle of any toy store and you’ll come to the dolly section. There you’ll find everything a real-life mom needs to care for an infant only in miniature, pink, plastic form. The instinct to play “mommy” is part of our double xx chromosome package. We can’t help it, it’s in our DNA. Most of us are drawn to those big, watery eyes and rosebud fists like desert animals to a watering hole.

When this awesome event happens in our lives the responsibility we face is overwhelming, and the love, even more so. We spend nine months giving up your bodies to create this life and when you see that squinty, swollen, turtle face you know that it is but ONE step in a trek toward the moon of how far you’d go. There is nothing, as in NOT. ONE. THING. we would not sacrifice for our baby’s well-being. We want the best life possible for them even at the expense of our own. I believe all mother’s everywhere feel this way. It’s who we have been across space and time because every species (if they are to survive) needs someone to care beyond all reason for its babies. By in large, mothers are that someone.

The role is a sacrificial one and us mothers… we have perfected the art of the sacrifice. Unlike our ancestors and women in Third-World countries, most of us (thankfully) are blessed to live in an environment of safety and conveniences. Our sacrifices are less dramatic than life and death but still important because they involve our single greatest commodity… time.

When you become a mother you learn the true nature of time. You are left breathless by its scarcity and whip-lashed by the ferocity with which it dissipates. Pre-kids, time is infinite, measurable and almost tangible. When you become a mother, it goes all Salvadore-Dali-melty-clock on you. Babies outgrow onesies at surreal rates and still some days feel like they’ll never end. Time becomes a million times more precious and quantifiable and therefore we are constantly making decisions on how to spend it, with whom, and for what reasons. Daily sacrifices are made in the name of quality and quantity. This melting-clock-time is the reason we choose to stay home, or not.

A mantra is something to help you focus when you’ve lost your reason for doing something important. When I was a working mother my mantras were, “I’m a better mommy because I have time to myself,” and, “the time I have with them will be more special because I’ll really be present,” and lastly, “I need time to interact with adults and use my brain.” In my opinion, the latter is the worst reason. I know all these rationalizations because I ingrained them into my psyche everyday while slipping into my patent leather pumps. I worked because our family relied on my paycheck. I now believe this is the best reason to be a working Mom and if economics is your reason for working, then stop reading because you are doing the right thing. But if you find yourself having to make choices or feeling bad about your circumstances, this might help you to feel better about which shade of green your grass could be.

Deep down I always wanted to be a SAHM. I am drawn, sometimes without reason, to this lifestyle. This is the best reason to be a SAHM. I also thought my children would have a better childhood, one that I felt I didn’t have with a working mother. In my opinion, this was the worst reason to be a SAHM. None-the-less, this job requires a mantra of its own which is, “They are only young once and I don’t want to miss this time in their lives. I have a lifetime to work.”

Everyone wants quality time with their kids. Quality time is the best time. Quality time is what your visions of parenthood consisted of before you became a parent. It’s delighting in belly laughs and watching their faces light up as they process the world. It’s feeling your heart swell as they take their first wobbly steps and then want only Mommy to hold them when they fall down. Those are the special moments; the time well spent and worth spending. The problem is, those moments happen at random and not always between the hours of 6pm-8pm or on weekends. In fact, those late evening hours are usually the least quality time spent with kids.

But if you’re a SAHM, there is no question you are there for those moments. That awesome quality time is in abundance… the quantity is quite overwhelming in fact. I am currently so full on time that I’m bloated. Time weighs quite a bit as it turns out. I am so overloaded with quality time with my kids, that I have to sacrifice the quantity and quality of my own time. I can no longer go where I want, take a break when I please, or pee in privacy. Sometimes I get frustrated to tears when I don’t have time to write, workout, or just sit down and stare off into space. My kids often suffer the brunt of these frustrations by way of my sudden outbursts of anger and hearing my favorite word over and over, “stopthatrightnow!”

No matter which option you choose, it’s always about sacrificing time and convincing yourself that you’re doing the right thing with yours for the wellbeing of your children. The ultimate question becomes, do you want to be there for every single quality moment with your kids while dealing with the weight of ALL of it AND sacrificing of your own time? Or would you rather sacrifice maximum quality time, for a little more quality time of your own and NOT have to burst into tears the FOURTH time you take your toddler to the potty at Target?

It’s a difficult and personal decision, but the answer for me was simple. My infant son wiggles his whole body when he sees me. It doesn’t matter if I’m gone for 2 minutes or 2 hours, he still wiggles and smiles with his whole head in my general direction. No client, no matter how much they liked me ever did that.

So I choose to sacrifice whatever I need to for maximum wiggles. Might I also scar them for life with my sudden and seemly inexplicable outbursts of rage? Nah. Nor do I believe that if I choose to work again they will have less security and happiness in their childhoods. The reason I believe this is because all mommies everywhere love their babies beyond reason and that is reason enough.

I know this is true because motherhood is like a Sequoia with melty clocks on its branches. There is not one route or root that is more important to the WHOLE tree than all of them. Every root and route is an equal expression of nurturing and love…

…and grass doesn’t grow under them anyway.

Update: Look what I got in the mail the day after I posted this? Serendipitous? I’m starting to believe that all there is, is serendipity.


  • Karen P.
    Posted at 19:36h, 12 April Reply

    I went back to work for 3 months after my son was born and just couldn’t take it. I love being a SAHM and now I’m trying to be a WAHM (work-at-home-mom). A girl’s gotta earn a living! I’m finding that working, whether at home or outside the home, is hugely challenging.

    • Shannon Lell
      Posted at 20:40h, 12 April Reply

      I’m in the same boat Karen. My original post included the fact that now I have aspirations of having the most complicated acronym of all, Part-Time-Work-From-Home-Mom, PTWFHM? I feel like I do that now with writing, only I don’t get paid. All in good time, right?

  • Cindy La Ferle
    Posted at 13:41h, 14 April Reply

    Lovely post — well-written and true. I walked in your shoes several years ago when the magazine I was editing folded suddenly. I opted to stay home with my son, then a preschooler … and wow. I learned the real meaning of hard work and motherhood. I began freelancing from home, which wasn’t as easy as it sounded, either, but it was a gift to be home to watch my son grow and get to know his friends. My son is now 26, engaged to be married. I’ve published my work in dozens of pubs and won awards, but my greatest honor has always been motherhood, the chance to witness a boy growing into an outstanding young man. Thanks for the reminder. P.S. I posted on this topic on my own blog yesterday, following the Rosen remark …

    • Shannon Lell
      Posted at 19:12h, 14 April Reply

      Cindy, thank you for your comment. To have someone with your career, talent and experience say that something I wrote was “well-written” has humbled and honored me and made my freakin’ day! Thank you, sincerely from the deepest part of my heart, thank you. At this point in my life, just starting out with young ones and with words, I can only daydream about someone paying me for it. Everytime I come across someone like yourself, with a career and inspiring words (such as those on your blog), I feel a little more sure of myself. Thank you for that, too.

  • Cindy La Ferle
    Posted at 13:42h, 14 April Reply

    Wonderful post. Just left a longer comment … not sure if it came through…

  • The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women « Shannon Lell
    Posted at 16:16h, 03 May Reply

    […] to rethink my choice to be a SAHM. Maybe this is due to my recent post on the subject of I being a SAHM vs. Working Mother? I don’t know, perhaps a little. But I think it has more to do with the fact that today my […]

  • elizabeth williams
    Posted at 12:41h, 07 May Reply

    Shannon, i really connect with what you write!! i have decided to start my own buisiness from home so that i can stay home with lily and make a living. we plan on having a second baby so going back to work now seems silly…im hoping that i can invest enough time into my work while im here at home,we will see how this venture turns out, so far so good. will i have any time to work when baby 2 comes…i feel frusteration because we have no family close and i trust only them to watch my girl. so needless to say i havent a baby free day yet 🙂 i still love it more than being positive and optimistic about my abilities 🙂 thx and take care

    • Shannon Lell
      Posted at 04:33h, 08 May Reply

      I should probably not reply to this today. It has been one of those days that took lots of deep breathes to get through. Two is hard. I’m not sure I’m doing it right either. Like you, I do prefer being home with my kids but I also need an outlet. That, or better coping skills.

      • Neetu
        Posted at 04:58h, 01 November Reply

        Yup, that one I can relate to:) anger and rage, they seem to erupt out of nowhere. That nowhere really is a deep well of where you soak in all the frustration and exhaustion and worry and insanity and love and maddening sounds of a scream or a tantrum or sleepless gazes.. I have had my share of the rages and have turned from pillar to post, so to speak, to find the “middle”. I am closer to the middle more days than not, at least in terms of the rage.. But there’s so much more to work on, this motherhood thing is a bitch! Sucks you dry and leaves you madly in love..

        Ok-I was typing a long comment to you and it disappeared ! Darn!

        • Shannon Lell
          Posted at 05:19h, 01 November Reply

          I got it! Funny you mention this, I am working on a post about anger and rage right now. I still haven’t thought my way through it entirely, but it’s there, waiting for me to finish. I like your honesty, Neetu. Thank you for commenting.

    Posted at 21:38h, 19 October Reply

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    • Shannon Lell
      Posted at 22:57h, 19 October Reply

      Thank you, that is a wonderful compliment and I am humbled.

  • TonyaRHR
    Posted at 19:47h, 21 March Reply

    Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. And, for what it’s worth, the serendipity continues…I stumbled upon this post at the most perfect time. I am–or shall I say, was–at a crossroads between continuing on the path of a SAHM or venturing back out into the work force. This blog post, in the most delicate, sensible way, reminds me that my journey along this path is not yet over. “They are only young once and I don’t want to miss this time in their lives. I have a lifetime to work.” Indeed.

  • Right Here in the Crook of My Right Arm | Shannon Lell
    Posted at 20:36h, 17 June Reply

    […] my all and that will be good enough, and at this stage, work can’t scare me anymore anyway. Not after what I’ve been through. I’ve got a firm grasp on what’s important every night in the crook of my right […]

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