By Lauren Gonzalez/for the MISSOULA CURRENT

True confessions: I used to feel super smug about my "choice" to stay-home parent. I don't like to use the term "full-time parent" because we're all full-time parents, no matter where we spend our day. And I say I made the "choice" to stay-home parent because, really, it wasn't a choice at all. When my firstborn arrived, my full-time job allowed no time for maternity leave (at least not paid), and my entire paycheck would have gone toward childcare anyway... so to me, it was a wash.

But I also felt strongly that my kids deserved an at-home parent – someone they knew personally who would "ooh" and "aah" over their every action, and be present every moment of every day. I feared that, if I didn't stay home, I would miss out on big milestones, and on the whole "experience" of being a parent. And I feared that my children would feel neglected somehow, or unloved.

I bought into the fallacy of "all or nothing" parenting. Either I'm "all in" all the time or I'm not in it at all… and I wondered why I felt unfulfilled, frustrated, and resentful. See, here's what my working-mom friends knew that I totally missed: in order to be your Best Parent Self, you have to tend to your personal dreams and goals. You have to stay committed to developing yourself as a whole person. You need to have some semblance of a life out in the "real world," outside of the world you create with and for your children, and working is one way to do that.

A friend of mine tossed me an amazing article earlier this week that highlighted the differences between parenting now and parenting 50 years ago (spoiler alert: our current approach would be deemed "parenting on steroids" in 1970). The gist was this: you (yes, YOU) are a terrific parent, your kids are more resilient and self-entertaining than you'd think (just shove them outside and let them prove it to you), and we all need to let go of the reins a bit (seriously, your crazy is starting to show).

Here is what I love about my generation: we lead engaged lives. We choose our path purposefully, based on the experiences we want to have. Much like those old choose-your-own-adventure books (remember those?), we appreciate a self-directed journey, and want it to lead us toward something fantastic and fulfilling on a personal level. Those of us who chose to have children did so because we wanted the experience of raising kids – not because we "had to," or were "expected to." We did it because we wanted to know what it felt like, who we would become as a result of it, and yes, maybe a little bit because we thought it would be cool to have a tiny twin running around (sadly, neither of my kids look like me - yet another way that they rebel against my authority and challenge my Idealized Perfect Life).

We plan for kids, we prepare for them, then we plan who we will be as parents, and who our kids will be, and what our life will look like. But here's the kicker: once you have kids, your plans go out the window. Cloth diapers, chemical-free sunscreen, organic homemade baby food – these are just a few of the plans I had that fell apart long before kid number two arrived. As my days grew long and became filled with tantrums, tears, and dirty tushies, I envied my mom friends in the workforce, and I pined for the days when throwing the kids outside and locking the door wasn't considered "neglect." It was self-preservation.

Look, parenting is a difficult, high-stakes endeavor. This is a human life we're helping to shape. And with the rising prevalence of social media, it can feel like our kids are just one more criterion by which our worth and abilities are measured. It's an intense rat race, and it's normal to feel this sense of soul-crushing pressure to TRY HARDER, DO MORE, BE HAPPIER, and post every shred of proof to your Facebook page. Just know that there is sweet, sweet freedom in getting off that hamster wheel and forging your own way, and that your performance as a parent is directly proportionate to your development as a human (as clearly evidenced by the increased incidence of my yelling at the kids when I haven't been out, or seen people in days).

Instead of making your kids "the" reason you're alive, make them "a" reason, along with whatever endeavors really light you up and grow your spirit. Maybe it's kicking ass in the office and earning a paycheck that is yours. Maybe it's taking weekly cooking classes that conveniently double as wine “tasting” opportunities. Perhaps you (like me) chose to have children for the experience of it, and that’s terrific. Just understand that fully engaging with them doesn't have to mean you spend every single second gazing into their eyes and lovingly tousling their hair. In fact, these things become damned near impossible when they reach toddlerhood, and quite possibly:

A)  won't sit still

B)  hate PDA

C)  punch, kick, and/or throw everything within arm's reach

Engaging with motherhood means being a whole person.

It's high time we create a plan for that.

How do you pour into yourself? Do you run an at-home business? Spend your seasons canning homemade jams, jellies and pickled goodies? Do you Oula? Please share your comments - I'd love to hear from you!

Lauren Gonzalez is a Missoula mother and parenting lifestyle coach. For honest mom empowerment, sign up for Lauren’s monthly newsletter at and check out her services offering connection and support. You can also follow Lauren on Twitter @TheRealGonzie and find her on Facebook