The Budgeting of Motherhood

Photo Courtesy of MBShaw Photography, 2012
I had a glass of chardonnay and she had some fancy fruit juice concoction and the room buzzed and hummed with the small talk of entrepreneurs and those who fund their dreams. I had on my bargain black ankle pants from Kohl’s that I bought to have something cocktail party worthy, and she wore a slick business suit with simple jewelry and plenty of poise. But we sat and whispered together, not about the finances of small business but the budgeting of motherhood.

I felt like that scene out of Lisa Jo’s book where she mentions being in the room with all the high-powered three-piece suits but all the other woman wants to talk about is how she handles the most important gig of all and still gets her paying job done.

This woman who is light years ahead of me on the American dream career path told me about her boys and getting dinner on the table and we commiserated over homework while my husband–who holds the same title she does for another company–networked and business carded and advised. She told me how he’d helped answer her questions the other day, and when he was finished talking, she figured she’d just learned enough to make the event worthwhile. It made me proud to hear that. Then just as we wound up the party, she asked him for one more piece of advice about some report they’re required to run.

He told her how he gets started on that as soon as budget is finished in December. That he sets staggered deadlines, so by the time January blows in, they’re already plugging away at the first third of the process and the rest is a downhill slide into March. (Mostly my words, not his. He used actual trade lingo and acronyms.) But she looked at him, eyes wide with disbelief and said, “But how do you do that with Christmas?”

He didn’t have an answer. But I did. I leaned over and reminded her, “He has me. And I stay home.”

Her question came from her mother’s heart, not her financial officer’s brain. A mother knows December entails teacher gifts and chorus concerts and family portraits and extra mail. She knows it’s already list after list of goodies and gifts and glory, so why would she add something else to a plate that’s already heaped high enough?

It’s not that my husband doesn’t help make the holidays happen, He does and he’s amazing. But his mind isn’t forefront with the worries that we haven’t chosen an advent tradition or ordered Christmas cards or made the sugar cookie dough well enough in advance. He’s never worried about all the little details because he’s never had to. Even when I taught, this was my department. Maybe that’s because of who I am or maybe it’s more generic than that. Maybe it’s because of who we all were created to be.

Mothers tend to be in the weeds–to borrow a term from my husband. We wade on in and get stuck in the rushes because we know all the little intricacies that we want to do or need to do or expect to be able to do. We do this regardless of our job status, our marital status, and our previous status.

But we’re terrible at budgeting ourselves, at realizing that we all have a capacity and yours shouldn’t have to look like mine.

When I chose to stay home, I increased my budget for motherhood. But it took me a long time to realize that where I spend that budget isn’t the same as someone else.

I spend a lot of time letting my kids drag inside toys outside so they can pretend to be the orphans from The Boxcar Children. I don’t spend a lot of time actually playing this game with them myself.

I spend a lot of time inventing new ways to hide kale and turnips in their food. But I don’t spend a lot of time making that food look cute.

I spend a lot of time typing away at my own dreams. I don’t, however, spend a lot of time actually listening to theirs. (And I should.)

My motherhood looks different than yours, and different than this woman with whom I sat with and had uninterrupted grown-up conversation. But I learned from her.

It is nothing short of luxury for him and me that I stay home.  That I am able to support my husband with home-cooked meals and leftover lunches. That I don’t have to rearrange the schedules of others to accommodate my sick kids. That I don’t have to experience the Sunday evening rush that bleeds into Monday morning mania.

I know lots of women love their outside the home jobs. I just wasn’t one of them. I wanted to be, but my capacity for motherhood didn’t include the job I had and hear me loud and clear–that is okay. And it is okay for you to not be me.

It took me a long time to get here. To see what I do at home as being as valuable as what I once did in my classroom.

I’ve realized the budgeting of motherhood is about more than how I spend my time or where I spend my days. It is about my honest response in pursuit of being the mother I’ve been called to be.

Which may not be the same type mom as you. Want to tell me about that in the comments? Have you figured out your capacity? How do you budget motherhood with career and marriage?

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