I'm A Working Mom: What You Need To Know About Grad School With Kids
On a trip to Costco recently, my toddler whined over something he wanted but couldn't have. He started to cry. I looked at him and softly said, "Honey, crying about it isn't going to change a thing, so let's choose to be happy instead." Then I stopped and stared at him as I had an epiphany. Right there between the multivitamins and very literal Costco sized jars of anti-aging cream, I thought to myself, wouldn't it of been nice if I had taken that advice over the last two years?
Here's the thing, for some odd reason, my husband and I decided that it would be a great idea to have a baby between completing our undergraduate degrees and applying to graduate school. I mean, really, how much could a baby change everything, right?
We left our home in Washington (again) so the hubby could pursue more education, but when we left this time, it included a 4 month old baby and lots of challenges. Our new adventure, as I called it, transplanted us 600 and 1,000 miles from our immediate families (meaning doting Grandmas, warm meals, potential uninterrupted naps and free babysitters). With baby in tow we settled in good ole Idaho.
My husband, Travis, started his first semester of Grad school shortly after we arrived. We rented a cute townhouse after being left homeless when our other arrangements fell through. I worked hard turning our house into a home, taking care of our baby and making sure dinner was on the table every night when Travis returned home from school and work. My days were mostly baby, dishes, baby, laundry, baby, make the bed, baby, brush my teeth for the first time in 3 days, etc.
As the semester ensued, I eventually had less to do, as we were mostly settled with little money to do any more than what we had already done. Then silence became my enemy. I struggled deeply with quiet loneliness. My heart ached as I watched the clock, waiting for the day to be done, waiting for Travis to come home. Travis worked long hours between going to school full time and holding down a part time job. By the time he would make it home in the evenings, I was desperate for attention. It's interesting to me, as I look back, how the human soul craves affection; and how it can nearly destroy a person who does not have it. With every tick of the clock, my anguish deepened and I started to feel depressed on a very real level. I tried to keep in close contact with family, but it just wasn't the same. I felt like I was the only one who had ever felt that lonely. I love people and making friends. I love being surrounded by my loved ones. But suddenly I was alone. This was totally new for me. I had never been a Mother. For the first 4 months of my son's life, I had family that were always mere minutes away, and now that had all changed.
Being a new mom in a new place made it almost impossible to make new friends. I started going to the local library to take advantage of story time. On nicer days, baby Beckham and I would go for walks around our neighborhood. With every person I spoke to I wanted to shout "Hey! Be my friend!" But in an attempt to not seem totally insane, I usually kept my mouth shut and prayed a natural friendship would ensue. Everyday I forced myself to focus on simple, joyful things--the sunshine and the way it felt on my face, Beckham's new, wonderful feats, the joy of going out for ice cream after dinner. Little things like that brought me back to life.
Over the course of the first year of Graduate school, I was forced to take a good, hard look at the foundation of our marriage. I had to do some soul searching. I could've easily said, "This is too hard. I miss my family. I can't be a good Mom while I'm here alone. I'm leaving." And in some ways, it would've been easier to just check out. I know I could've gone back home to Washington and had a nice, rent free place to live. I would've had free babysitting and could've easily gotten a job with people I know; I would've been comfortable. After 5 years of marriage I've learned that marriage is not comfortable. It's the farthest thing from it. When I married Travis at the ripe old age of 19, I didn't say, "Yes I will marry you, but only if you make me happy for every second of every day for the rest of forever." I laugh when I write this because my happiness is so great now, that I could shout from all the rooftops across Idaho, but that happiness came from months and years of being uncomfortable in the pursuit of joy. It came from sacrifice, hard work and genuine dedication to each other and to our family. The great thing is, we've only been married for 5 years! We've learned how to love each other in our dark moments. We've learned how the other needs to be loved. We've learned how to separate the love we have for our son from the love that we have for each other. It has been a huge task, as marriage typically is, but it is more than worth it. I feel confident that if we've learned this much in 5 years, we can continue to grow and, hopefully, strengthen each other as we do so.
Eventually, we figured out how to thrive in our "new adventure" as a family and also separately with our own individual pursuits. I chose to start working part-time shortly after Beckham turned one, while Travis held down his part-time job and continued on with school. It has been all about balance. Both Travis and I have had to sacrifice in order to make that work. The most crucial part of being a working Mother with a Husband in Graduate school is communication. None of this would've worked out for us without the simple, yet oddly excruciating task, of communication. Every single day is planned. With every new work schedule that comes out, Travis and I sit down and look over it together. We plan our days around our son. Well, let's be real, we plan everything around him. That's just how it goes as a parent. I also have this wonderful little writing job with The Baby Cubby. Deadlines need to be met, topics and products need to be researched, but I write from home. That still requires planning on my part. Luckily for me, Beckham takes long afternoon naps, which is my designated writing time. I stay busy, but I also stay thankful. I know I have it easy compared to other Working Moms.
It's been nearly two years since we've set sail on our Idaho adventure. Travis is nearly finished with his Graduate work. Beckham is growing and learning every day. I would personally appreciate it if Idaho State University would send me an official diploma for "Master's in Keeping Her Crap Together." Every working Mother deserves one of those.
To you Mothers out there who may be struggling with loneliness, I urge you to have a heart-to-heart with your partner. Together you can overcome it. Find joy in simple things. Make small changes within your life so you feel mentally, physically and spiritually balanced. The last two years have taught me that the only thing I'm in control of is my attitude. I've also learned that my sweet Beckham was unaware of all the struggles we've gone through. Everything has been perfect in his 2 year old world. He had no idea that Mommy has cried out of loneliness or that Daddy has worked 12 hour days to make sure we had a bright future. All he knew is that he was safe and loved. And I pray to God that he could see how much his Mom and Dad loved each other. I hope that gave him a sense of security to know that his parents worked hard at love and family unity and togetherness. So, Mommas, remember: you're doing ok. Even when you feel like you aren't, you are. Just take it day by day. Put one foot in front of the other and remember to always keep your heart open. Not only will it benefit you, but your partner and your children need that open, tender space to live a life full of love. You Mothers are the glue that holds your families together. Take care of yourselves. Love yourselves. You are the greatest gift your family could ever have. God is truly the potter, molding us and guiding us through this joyful, maddening thing we call life.
PC: Brooke Richardson Photography
Written by Lindsay Helm