Work, Family and the Pursuit of Happiness

Ashlie and the boys, 1st day of daycareMy husband looked so concerned when he told me he thought I wasn’t happy.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that no one is.  I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but I hear a lot of mama voices.  I work in an elementary school, and elementary schools are secretly little more than throbbing pinpoints of working mom stress- packed lunches, missing mittens, people who care a ton about kids, work that bleeds into home, home that bleeds into work.  Everyone is stressed, everyone is overwhelmed, and everyone wishes they had more to give.

My problem is that I’m fairly convinced that happiness is right around the corner, crouching just out of sight.  My life has been a roller coaster over the past two years, with constant pregnancies and work leaves and our family swelling and growing.  Each change was a moment of brilliant happiness, but then life would become monotonous again, and the dirt and chaos would roar in my ears, and I’d start looking to the next change as the solution.  It never sticks.  After being home with my boys for most of the 2012-2013 school year, I was rabid to get back to work, and after being in the classroom for the longest continuous stretch in awhile, I found myself daydreaming about what it would be like to be home again.   Not only was I counting on “the next change” to get me through, but I was frustrated and impatient, waiting for it to get here.  Typical.

Because I was home for eight months after my second son was born, I feel like I’ve gotten an insider’s glimpse at life on both sides of the fence.  Stay-at-home mom life can be overwhelming, demanding, isolating, consuming.  I often felt frumpy and forgot how to use my big girl voice.  Working mom life can be overwhelming, demanding, stretch you too thin.  I often feel like I’m not giving 100% anywhere.  There are really great things about both choices, and when I list them all out I can see that my children are able to thrive either way, but no matter which way I’m leaning at the time, neither side is free of frustration and disadvantage.  Sorry, there is no single answer.

For me, this is a slow realization.  While I work through all these thoughts and let go of my comfortable chorus (Life is too hard, ____________ life would be easier, how could I make that work for me?  What would I be doing right now if I was at home/working/independently wealthy/a stay-at-home writer/in the circus?) I’ve been trying to remind myself that my “happiness,” is a term that I don’t have to have perfectly defined right now, but it is something that I have to stop waiting around for.  Life doesn’t need to be settled before I paint my nails or drive to New York to visit a friend or take the leap and start the family interview series that I’ve been mentally drafting for at least a year.

It’s hard and sometimes annoying to plug these things into my busy schedule, but it’s worth it.  It’s money in the happiness bank, value added to the dreary day-to-day.  Each step I take to honor the person I am beyond my majorly defining roles of teacher and mother is a step closer to that elusive Happiness concept, or at least a step further away from being obsessed with finding it.

Ashlie Kauffman Swicker bio picAshlie is a first grade teacher by day, overwhelmed family lady by night, and weekend, and summer, too. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband Ben and her two toddlers, Milo and Elliott.  You can find more about Ashlie and her family on her blog, Simple Mama in Massachusetts, see lots of posts about books and family adventures on Instagram and and hear her less appropriate side on Twitter.

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6 Comments

  1. Oh my word, It’s like you took some words right from my heart and spit them out here. What an amazing post. I feel the same way often. Thank you!
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  2. mandy says:

    I love this! This is me. I worked fulltime and then when my 2nd was born I switched to 3 days a week, thinking that was the answer finding balance and happiness. As you say, there are pros and cons to both working and staying home and it was a slow realization for me that no one has the “perfect” setup. Some days are fabulous and some are really hard and EVERYONE with small kids feels like that. Thanks so much for posting this!

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  3. Monica says:

    I absolutely love this post, I struggle all the time with wondering what will really make me happy and it seems the “other” option is always what will do the trick. I have daydreams about staying at home and how much easier things with be but then I have a moment in my career where I feel awesome about what I am doing and I think I’d hate staying at home all day… its nice to know I am not alone, this was refreshing!
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  4. Ashlie says:

    I know, the OTHER is so tempting in pretty much every aspect of life. And my mind changes about which other would be best constantly. It’s so nice to see I’m in good company!
    Ashlie recently posted..ordinary, as alwaysMy Profile

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