Going Back to Work After Staying Home: The Stages of Grief
For me, being a stay at home mom was meant to be temporary.
It was a means to an end. And opportunity that presented itself. Something we knew was right at the time, but probably wouldn’t be right for always.
I’ve loved being home with my boys; getting to see their first steps and hear their first words and not having to fight with my spouse or my boss about staying home when one (or all three) of them came down with the flu. Not a single moment have I regretted it.
Until I had to face the fact that it was over.
Recently, going back to work has become this thing.
This huge, frightening, uncertain thing that has me feeling all of the feelings at exactly the same time.
It’s not the actual going back to work that has me in knots (although, yeah, that’s part of it), it’s the life change I’ve had a hard time adjusting to.
I’ve been mostly at home with my Dudes, during the day for 12 full years (I worked nights at the hospital and shot photos on the weekends). This past fall, after finally standing at the bus stop, tears streaming down my face as all three of my Dudes went off to full day school, I realized that my life was at a turning point.
An uncertain turning point with more questions than answers: Could I justify staying home all day when there was no one other than the dog to keep me company? Wouldn't going back into the workforce be a better choice for me and my family? Wait a minute, I don’t have to listen to Jake and the Neverland Pirates today? And, can I take a nap?!
After a full week spent crying, eating chocolate, and dancing around to Snoop Dogg's greatest hits while I sort-of reorganized the rarely used playroom to the sounds of every single daytime talk show on the planet, I found myself in denial. I could reorganize-cry-stuff-my-face-cry-dance-watch-Maury-tell-someone-they-are-NOT-the-father-and-cry-some-more every day for the rest of the school year, and it is a perfectly useful, and even helpful way to spend a year, right?
To prove it, I filled my schedule with things I'd been waiting “until I have more time” to do. I joined the gym, I cleaned the basement, I reorganized the garage, I painted the bathroom, I thought about painting the basement, I watched the first three seasons of The Walking Dead, I cleaned. My baseboards.
By October, my house was spotless and I was back to being useless. So I volunteered at the school, I joined the PTA, I helped out at football. So many things to do. No time for a job really.
Eventually, the husband started asking questions. Not the probing-forcing kind, the hey-are-you-happy-what's-next kind. Only, I guess I wasn’t happy so his asking just made me angry. Not really at him specifically, but at the whole idea of having to think about what’s next, and having to face the fact that what was before is really over. And there were more answerless questions: Why am I even in this position right now? Why didn't I keep my career? Why did I let my own business get so slow? Why did my kids have to grow up? Why can't I just be a lady of leisure? How many calories is it if I eat these cookies in dough form? Less, right?
I started making deals with myself: if I get a client this month I will take it as a sign. And, if my kid gets sick this month I will take it as a sign. If my husband asks me to run an errand during the day, clearly, it’s a sign.
Everything I could think of basically turned into a sign. A sign that I was meant to stay home because this was where I was still needed. Even if the people who needed me weren't even around to need me anymore. I could make them need me. And the signs would prove it!
I started to feel hope and excitement about this new path my life was beginning to take. I decided to accept that this is where I'm heading and I can either make the most of it or continue to let it get me down.
Only they didn't. And, I spent Christmas through late March being depressed. Crying over the fact that no one needs me anymore. Crying over the fact that no one wanted to hire me. Crying over the fact that I just ate an entire roll of chocolate chip cookies straight out of the fridge and now I might get Salmonella poisoning. And everything else, because that's what you do when you're depressed. I gained 10lbs. I annoyed my husband. My children were worried. It wouldn't stop snowing.
And then, the sun came out. Literally and figuratively.
I got a job interview (for the record, I did NOT get hired for that job), and it invigorated me. I started to feel hope and excitement about this new path my life was beginning to take. I decided to accept that this is where I'm heading and I can either make the most of it or continue to let it get me down.
I am currently living joyfully in the acceptance phase. I know I need to get a job. Maybe even a career. I’m fortunate that I don’t need to work for survival purposes and that my income is where things like college funds and summer vacations come from, so I am taking my time to find a position that is a good fit for my family and for me. I want to keep writing. But, more. I want flexibility and the opportunity to explore my passions. I want to work in an office that is next door to a bakery that specializes in chocolate chip cookies.
And, I’ve come to realize that my Dudes still need me. Probably, in some ways, they always will. But, I need to need them a little bit less. I need to work on being ME just as hard as I worked on being Mommy, so that one day, when they’re not here to keep me busy, I’ll be able to do that for myself.