Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
How to Toast a Frozen Waffle

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Dear Marjo,

I’ve been home with my kids since they were babies. I've absolutely loved being a stay-at-home mom, but now that my youngest "baby" is in middle school, it feels like it's time to go back to work. But I feel conflicted about it. We don't need the money, so there’s no real reason for me to go back. Also, my family is used to having my support at home, and I'm worried about the impact it would have on them. Plus, I like being home. I can do what I want, when I want, and still give my family what they need.

On the other hand, my family needs less from me than they used to, and even take me for granted some times. The days of supervising playdates and tying shoes are long gone. Now it's more about driving the carpool and monitoring homework. And I do miss working – I had friends, and a cafeteria, and an office with a door, and an actual wardrobe.

One last thing. Even though I like being home, I feel incredibly isolated. When the kids were much younger, I spent a lot of time talking to other moms on the playground and at school functions. But that's changed, and now I feel like I'm alone all the time, whether it's at home or in my car.

I have never waffled so much in my life. Home or work? I just can't decide. What should I do?

Signed,

Frozen Waffle

Dear Frozen,

Despite your clever signature, I know this is a real problem. It sucks to be in a deep freeze when warm, happy chaos surrounds you. Everyone else seems to know where their heart lies, when you don’t at all.

It’s easy to see why you feel stuck between a do and a don't. After all, your reasons are pretty evenly balanced. You don’t need the money, but you miss your old job. You enjoy supporting your family, but they need less from you and even take you for granted. And you like being home, but you feel isolated. No wonder you’re paralyzed with indecision.

But here’s what it sounds like to me: You feel invisible, lonely, and you miss working. And you also feel comfortable at home and with your finances. I might be wrong, but Door Number One sounds a lot weightier to me than Door Number Two. And if that’s true, then the real question isn’t “What should I do?” It’s “What are you so afraid of?” That’s an incredibly hard question to answer. Because once you know what you’re afraid of, it’s on you to face it.

Everyone’s fears are different, so I can only tell you what mine were. Actually, are. No, were. (Okay, I’m waffling myself, but not as much as when I found myself in your position.) Mostly, I was afraid of rejection and failure.

Waking up from the famous ten-year nap, I found myself ten years older, twenty pounds heavier, and in desperate need of a haircut. Also? My wardrobe consisted of one bra and two pairs of jeans, with way too many stained t-shirts. Still, I dragged my feet. I genuinely enjoy cooking, and my anxious family benefits from a serene and tidy house. And anyway, who would walk the dog?

Here’s what pushed me over the edge: Realizing that my teenage son was taking notes. In fact, he had been taking notes for years. I was raising a son who assumed that moms stayed home and cooked, that they sacrificed their own needs for their family’s, and that ponytails are awesome. At the same time, he didn’t know how to do his own laundry or cook a hot dog or do his homework without me staring at him. I was not raising my son to be the man I wanted him to be. Also, my future tattooed, pixie cut, extremely employed daughter-in-law would hate me.

So I’m on the on-ramp toward a fast and scary highway, and I’ve given myself six months to merge into traffic. I cannot lose the ten years, but I’m working on the twenty pounds. I’ve bought more jeans and bras and ditched the stained shirts. And I’m teaching my son to cook.

Everyone’s journey is different, so you may decide yourself that working at home is the right thing for you. But if you’re like me and decide to go back to work, don’t even think about resumes and interviews. Just take one small step forward and explore your options. Have coffee with other moms who can give you the real scoop on what it’s like to work part-time or full-time and be a mom at the same time. And think about volunteering, even if it’s just a little bit. It can be a gentle way to get used to working with the time commitment that feels right to you. (And – bonus! – it makes the world a better place.)

While you’re thinking and imagining and practicing, take care of your physical self, too. Get a haircut. Instant awesome! Throw out the ten-year-old lipstick (yes, I really had some) and replace it with glorious gloss. And start investing in your wardrobe. Toss and replace everything that’s ripped or stained, buy jeans that fit and flatter, and then add pieces over time.

This will take time and it might be harder than it sounds. Facing your fears always is. But take heart, dear Frozen. Take a single step – baby steps count! – and then another, and then another. Eventually you will find yourself where you want to be.

XO,

Marjo

Do you have a question about the joys, complexities, or challenges of being a mother? Email askmarjo AT gmail.com and I’ll do my best to answer it. Please do not bend, fold, mutilate, or otherwise contort this column into anything it's not meant to be: friendly advice from one mom to another. My opinions and thoughts, no matter how heartfelt, are not a substitute for professional counseling or medical care.



Marjorie Osterhout is a writer, editor, and storyteller. Her essays and articles have appeared in anthologies like It’s A Boy (Seal Press) and magazines including Parents, Parenting, and ePregnancy. She also spent a whirlwind three years travel writing for Disney. She is a former managing editor, columns editor, and columnist (“Dear Marjo”) for Literary Mama.


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The isolation is so hard, isn't it? Great advice, Marjo.
I stayed home for 6 years with my first child then stumbled into a part time job(we didn't need the $) that turned out to be soooo wonderful and nourishing to me. When my hubby became very ill a few years later and we lost his income I was so glad to have some current work experience. I now own and run my own business (part time) so I have extra income, a place to channel my energy and feel like I'm making the world a better place. Ultimately I think my kids (ages 11 and 3) benefit from my work -- I'm a happier mama! Best of luck FW -- you are in a great position to try something and see how it goes without too much risk.
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