I have spent the better part of the last two days in my new classroom, taking down old decor from the former teacher and slowly making it MY room. We as a staff will have an official “work week” for school prep in two weeks but since I have to do an entire room overhaul, I have been going up on my own to get stuff done.
While chatting with my sister yesterday she said something that stayed with me— You sound really happy. And truthfully, I did and I was. This is not to say that I have been profoundly unhappy until now, I have much to be happy about. But I didn’t realize how much of myself I had lost in the last five years. As a stay-at-home-mom, society seems to tell us that we shouldn’t complain about our lot. I felt this and took it quite seriously since the choice to stay home with my boys was primarily my own. There were some financial discussions, but ultimately, if I had told my husband I wanted to go back to work after my maternity leave, he would have supported that too.
Let me be clear, I am so incredibly thankful that I was able to stay home with my children. There were days that seemed to never end but, all-in-all, I would not trade the time with my boys for the world! But, staying home with your kids is all-consuming and, at times, isolating. Add the military life in the mix and that isolation hits tenfold. I would never say I was just a SAHM because that minimizes that role far too much. However, I will say that it became my only identity; at least it felt that way sometimes.
So when my sister and I talked yesterday, what she heard through the phone was that part of my life that has been buried for so long. I now have something in my life that distinguishes me as someone other than mom, mommy, momma, etc. I didn’t realize how much I had missed having something that is my own until I began prepping for this school year. And missing that does not mean I am “sick of my kids” or that I regret my choice to stay home with them. I was actually at a point of burn out at my last job before I had my first son. I honestly think this time with them was my reset. I am more mentally ready to start work than I can ever remember feeling before. Of course, there are the typical expected “new job jitters” but I know this next phase is happening at exactly the right time and I cannot wait!
When I first became pregnant, I was advised by many to avoid “mommy” groups, chat rooms, etc. I was told about how toxic they could be and how judgmental other moms could be to each other. I am sure, if you are a mom or you are pregnant, you have heard similar advice. As a first time mommy-to-be, I was grateful for the warning, but it was also a bit deflating—if I cannot turn to mom groups for advice and support, where could I turn? I was the first of my friends to have a baby so I did not have a circle of influence that I could relate to and with.
So I tried the chat rooms and a few local groups, mainly, at the time, for breast feeding support (that is another story for another time). Despite being in a room of women, I felt incredibly alone and isolated. I felt judged for the littlest things and some bigger things, none of which were really anyone else’s business. But when you are a new mom, the feelings of isolation and aloneness are real on their own, so to feel ostracized among other moms is one of the hardest and lowest feelings to endure. When we learned that we would be moving to a new duty station, I felt defeated. I was already struggling so much to feel a sense of belonging at home where I had my family, how was I going to survive when I had no one?
It is an interesting feeling, as an adult, to have to relearn how to make friends, but it is something military wives have to do frequently. I had to decide to go against my introverted nature and “put myself out there.” I remember posting on a spouse page on Facebook, admitting that I felt like I was seven again, but asking how I could go about making some friends here. I got a few responses encouraging me to connect with my “Family Readiness Group” (FRG), but my husband’s command doesn’t have one. Then one woman enthusiastically encouraged me to check out a group called MOPS, informing me the first meeting was in just two weeks. Great!
Then I looked into it… MOPS stands for Mother of Preschoolers. A mommy group? Oh no! I was told to stay away from these and my limited experience had affirmed those warnings. But, I needed to at least get out of my house. I did not go to the first meeting because we were still settling into our house, but I made it to the second one, with my 5 month old in tow. I was assigned to a table and the women seemed friendly enough. I cannot remember who the speaker was that day or what was discussed. But I will never forget the defining moment of that meeting for me—my son was hungry and needed to be fed. I had to take out a bottle and mix in *gasp* formula. “Here it comes,” I thought, “the judgmental looks, the know-it-all comments about how bad formula is for my son even though they don’t know the feeding struggles my son and I had dealt with.”
I took out the bottle with pre-measured water and, while holding my son, attempted to carefully add in the formula, all the while bracing myself for the backlash. Instead, I had one woman offer to hold my son while I mixed the bottle and another offer to mix the bottle while I held him. That was it, there were no comments about the contents of the bottle or my “choice” to bottle feed my son. Instead there were women who genuinely wanted to help. It may seem so small, but to a new mom who had already endured a lot of shaming, it was huge. I continued going to the meetings and, fast forward four years, I am still going and I am now in my second year on the leadership team. I meet some great women each year. Not all of them turn into amazing friendships, but they are what I need at that time.
This a photo of my table this year and, while it may not look like much, it represents a lot—it is conversation, connection, understanding, a safe place to be me unapologetically. While I have continued to go to MOPS and have some incredible friendships that have come from the group past and present, my California tribe is now comprised of women from a few different circles. Going to that first meeting opened a lot of other doors. That was how we found our church and through that I joined some small groups. I now have an amazing tribe of women surrounding me, a group that I am absolutely dreading having to say “good-bye” to in just a few months.
It is so important, especially as stay-at-home-moms, to find our circle. It may look different for you than it did for me, but you need to just put yourself out there and find what fits. I had to deal with some really sour grapes before I found what worked for me, but once I found it, motherhood seemed less daunting; I now had a sense of family while I was so far away from my own, and I had an incredible support system. Yours is out there too, you just have to go and look for it!