A Letter To My Former Self-Righteous Self: Why I Put My One Year Old In Preschool
Skye is 20 months old. She started preschool last week. Here's what my former self would have to say about that: "Whoa, seriously? She's one! What in the world does she need to go to school for? You just want to escape your children. You can't handle being a mom to your kids? Mothers should stay home, be there for their kids, and not send them off to be someone else's problem. No one can teach them like their mother can. No one will love them like you. They NEED you. This is a selfish choice and a needless expense to your family! Do your job!"
Harsh, yeah? I'm not proud of it, but I used to think that way. And even sadder, I used to talk to myself that way. Well, not out loud, that would be weird... but in my head I did. So what's changed? Well, a whole lot has changed. But the most profound change that has happened to me over the past year is finding myself. Call it a spiritual awakening, or a feminist awakening, or an early mid-life crisis, but the point is, I finally know who I am. And I'm discovering that it takes more than motherhood to make a person whole. Well, for me at least. So here's what I want to say to my old self, the one crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes and judging herself.
I love being a mother, just as my husband loves being a father. But why should my love for my children mean I must give up every other dream for it? Why should my aspirations and care for my children be mutually exclusive? Why is Brad encouraged to pursue his dreams, do what he loves, carry the entire burden of supporting his family, while I am told to stay home, give up any hope of a career or other passions, be a housewife and nothing more? Yes, yes, motherhood is wonderful, and rewarding, and soul-shaping. But it is also grueling, monotonous, painful and exhausting.
Elisse, let's be brutally honest with ourselves. The day in, day out pressures and demands of motherhood give me anxiety and depression. After a few days of having three children at home with me, I can be seen sobbing as I wash dishes, or screaming "JUST GIVE ME A MINUTE!" at nervous children, or slamming the silverware drawer so hard that it breaks. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Your nerves were shot with just one child at home, and then with two. You were so hard on yourself, you begged God to change you into someone else, someone better. You cried yourself to sleep. You needed a break. You needed to give yourself a break.
Motherhood is beautiful, too, don't get me wrong. I love going into my baby's room when she wakes up, picking her up and cuddling her, brushing back her messy hair, seeing her big blue eyes, reading a book to her in the rocking chair. I love dancing with my children in the family room, laughing at the funny things they say, listening to them play, reading to them, singing to them. If I could do these things all day without having to cook, clean, wash, wipe, feed, police, then this would be a very different blog post. But life happens, and raising kids is really, really hard. And I need a break.
For me, having three children stretches me beyond my max. I'm an introvert. I want to be alone most of the time, and having their demands and questions in my ears all day very quickly physically drains me. I love them. That doesn't mean I love having children climbing on me all day. It doesn't mean I don't need alone time, space to think, and a life of my own. Time to be a woman, to be Elisse, to be a photographer, to be a friend.
Maybe I'm a terrible mother. Maybe this blog post is showing you just how selfish I am, or that I was never meant to have three children. But I don't think so. I think I'm a really good mother who loves my children very much. I think I'm a loving, exhausted mother who needs a break.
So I will put my baby in preschool. I will drop her off three days a week for a few hours, and I will do whatever I want. I'll probably mostly work on my photography, I'll go on an occasional lunch date with friends, I'll read a book in peace. I will pick her and her brother up in the early afternoon and have the rest of the day with them, as a happier mother. As for Skye, she'll get a break from being at home with me. She'll get some social time, some instruction, access to different toys and playtime outside. She'll come home to a happy mother who's excited to see her. She will learn that it's okay to leave mom for a bit, and that the world will not stop without me.
And you know what? If she went to school every day, it would be okay. If I worked full time, and I spent evenings with my kids, cuddling and playing and reading and dancing and feeding and washing and being mom, it would be okay. If that made me a whole and happy person, it would be okay. They would know I Iove them. They would thrive. And we would all be okay. Kids need real, unconditional love from mentally stable parents, and that's about all that matters.
So, Elisse, please be kind to yourself. Take a break. Take some time to yourself. Follow your dreams, be a photographer, let them go to school, and then hug them tight when you pick them up. When it all gets to be too much and you scream at your kids, apologize and then remember that this is a really hard job. Show them that we all mess up sometimes. Show them that self-care is important. Show them that you love yourself and you love them and we'll all be okay. Stop judging yourself and stop judging others. We're all doing the best we can.
And to my readers, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this complicated issue. Comment below or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).