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My Journey to Fulfillment as a Mother

I was a stay at home mom for 10 years by choice but I wouldn’t go back to it now.

“I don’t need an education, I am going to be a stay-at-home mom, unlike you!” The snarky teenage me yelled at my mom.  I didn’t understand how wrong I was until almost 13 years later.

I have loved taking care of children since the time I was a child. I wanted seven wonderful children that would sweetly sit by my feet and listen to me read and sing songs to them. I would be the perfect mom and would have the perfect kids because I would be home to nurture them. I often resented my mother as a child. She had actively chosen to work outside the home even though my father made a good income. I am the second oldest of five children and as such I felt I had to pick up the slack because my mom was at work.

I was often the child who got stuck babysitting because my younger brothers wouldn’t listen to any one else. I felt like I had to clean more than my neighborhood friends and I could never go play and have fun like the other kids. While my parents were at work we could not leave the house.  We could not have friends in the house and our homework better have been done by the time our parents got home. I would often see mothers and their daughters walking down the street talking and enjoying time together. I resented that I did not have a better relationship with my mother due to her working outside the home.

When I was in junior high school, my mother changed. My grandmother had put so much pressure on my mom to be home for the kids that my mom quit her dream job and went to work in the school cafeteria so she could be home with my younger siblings once they were out of school. I am not sure what the conversation my grandmother had with my mother consisted of, but I remember my dad telling my mom that she was right. I remember the look on my mom’s face; the mental debate going on in her head and her torn soul over family and work. That night my youngest brother had an ear ache. He was in pain and wanted someone to help. I remember my mother crying because she walked into the room when my brother called for me and I was already getting a heating pad and some juice for him.

I can only imagine the thoughts that went racing through her head. Did she feel guilty that her daughter had to forgo her childhood to raise her brother? Did she feel sad that her son did not call for her? Did she feel as if she made the right choice to work while her kids were young? Was she grateful that she finally was there for her kids?  All I knew is that I felt guilty for making my mother cry, but at the same time I felt it was karma’s way of showing my mom she should have been at home.

For the next five years I subconsciously set out to help karma get its revenge. I was the ultimate rebellious teenager. I came home late to prove to my parents I could. I talked on the phone all day and boys were my passion. My parents were experiencing teenage drama at its best. One particular night, after I had been home past curfew yet again, my father lectured and yelled at me about what I was putting them through when I came home late. He told me that the path I was heading down would lead to sadness and I would have a hard time achieving greatness if I continued doing what I was doing. He spoke to me about responsibility and the importance of getting a college education. The pain in me lashed out at my mother whom I blamed everything on because society told me that good kids were raised by stay at home moms. I told (okay screamed at) my parents that my greatness would be through my children because I was going to be a stay at home mom.

When I was 19 I got my chance to prove to my parents that I was better than they were. I got married and soon after became pregnant with my first child. I promptly quit my job and started preparing for motherhood.

I love motherhood. My kids are my world and I love watching them discover and grow.  It is rewarding to see them playing and joking together. I enjoy teasing them and teaching them. Every night when I look upon their soft faces as they sleep it melts my heart. I wouldn’t trade motherhood for anything in the world.

While I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, I felt that there was something missing in my life. I often thought it was because I didn’t serve people enough or because I wasn’t always being the best mom I could be.  I was constantly comparing myself to the moms in my church and in my neighborhood. I read book after book on child rearing and being an active parent. I even brought my kids home for a year and homeschooled them. All of these things I believed would bring more fulfillment in my life and I would be happy.

Then my world shattered. After 10 years of marriage I was thrust into single mom-hood. I had no skills and no education. I panicked about what I should do to support my beautiful family. I made the agonizing decision to go back to school and get an education; it broke my heart to make this decision because I could no longer be the stay-at-home mom. At first, it was hard to leave my kids. My youngest child was only 3 years old. Luckily, for the first few years of school I had enough funding that I didn’t have to work more than 20 hours a week and could do school from my computer at home. I still felt guilty that I was not there 24/7 for my kids and worried constantly that I would lose the bond that I had worked so hard to create.

A few years into my degree I was dating a wonderful man who helped tremendously with my children and helped carry the load between school and work. I had reached the point in my education that I had to attend classes. I also had an internship and I worked as a substitute teacher. Some days I was gone from my children for over 12 hours. The strange thing is I knew that they would be okay because of this great man. He picked up the slack that I could not do. At first, being a supermom, I fought this change and felt guilty that I was not there for them. Then things started to change. I grew passionate about the things I was learning in school. Throughout my internship I was able to meet some amazing women and work with true mentors who had been single moms themselves for years. These things began to fill the gap that I had been missing since I became a mom 15 years ago.

Staying at home and working are both good options for motherhood.  But for CWG’s Stephanie Bagnell, finding total fulfillment came from working motherhood.

Staying at home and working are both good options for motherhood. 
But for CWG’s Stephanie Bagnell, finding total fulfillment came from
working motherhood.

A year ago I graduated with my bachelors degree and was thrust into the workforce. I also lost the man who helped me transition between full-time mom to full-time employee. I didn’t have the choice my mom had because I had to support my family, but now I understand her need to be outside the home. She didn’t love us any less. She didn’t want to be out of the home because we overwhelmed her. She needed to be outside the home to fill a need that was right for her.

Now it has been her turn to prove something. All of my mother’s children are good kids. None of us served jail time. Some of us have college degrees or are working on them. We are a closely-knit family who love and serve each other. My mother was fulfilled in her life, which made her a great mom.

This blog has been about my transition, but as a disclaimer I must mention that I revere women who feel fulfilled as a stay at home mom. I believe that for some women it is their calling in life and they are fulfilled in every way through this. I just know that I am a better mother when I am happy. I am fulfilled when I am doing the things that I am passionate about. My two passions in life are my children and my work.

We all have to make tough choices in life. Sometimes these choices are made on their own and some of our choices are brought forth due to unavoidable circumstances. I am glad that I was thrust into my choice. A wise woman once told me, “Life is an adventure, sometimes it’s a great adventure and sometimes its not.”

Finding my passion and living my dream is an adventure that I am grateful for every day. My children are a part of this great adventure, but I don’t need to be a stay-at-home mom to experience it. Being passionate and well-rounded help make me a better mother. I hope my kids can see that one day too.

Stephanie Bagnell is a mother of two of the most beautiful boys alive, and loves her job as mother. When she’s not home, she’s designing, organizing and planning as the Coordinator for the Center for Women and Gender.