I made a huge life decision recently that seemed to leave some of my friends and acquaintances absolutely shocked. I have seen eyes bulge out of heads, jaws drop, and eyebrows furrow (except for those that are heavily botoxed). No, I didn’t run away to the Caribbean – as tempting as this sounds. I simply made the decision to leave my full-time job in order to stay home with my three children.
In my own mind, I didn’t find the decision to be that insane. I have three kids – ages 8, 6 and 3. Like millions of other mamas I thought it was natural for me to want to stay at home with them if I could make it work. I may have made this decision years after most people do, but I still have THREE CHILDREN. Just like many other women who decided at some point that staying home with a newborn was the right decision for them, I had decided I wanted to spend more time with my kids. Ask anyone whose children are grown what they would give to have another chance to spend those days with their young children again and I bet they would all leap at the opportunity.
Now I should say most people, especially my friends, were extremely supportive. But those who were shocked by the decision had some crazy responses. Seemingly well-intentioned folks offered suggestions on what I could do with all my new-found free time. These included things like, “you should become a dog-walker,” or “why don’t you come work for me, I need an assistant.” I was also asked what I was going to do – as though staying at home with three children not old enough to fend for themselves wouldn’t take up the bulk of my time.
Here is where I must insert my own quizzical look. Some of those making these comments had stayed at home with children at some point or still stayed at home, yet were giving me career suggestions. The irony here has not been lost on me.
So why at this point, after some of my kids were actually in school full-time did I decide to make this decision? Well, let’s be honest – there is nothing full-time about school. A full-time job, at the minimum, starts at 8:30 in the morning and ends at 4:30 or 5:00, which does not include the time spent commuting. All working parents are acutely aware of the fact that school hours only encompass a fraction of this time. Factor in the summers, snow days, sick days and the monthly breaks and you begin to realize there is actually a lot of time “full-time” students are at home. As the parent with the less demanding job between my husband and I, I was stuck trying to determine care for the kids on all these days while still juggling a full-time workload.
This past summer I was truly blessed to find an amazing nanny to care for my kids. She was fun, meticulous and hardworking. She organized my pantry without prompting and drank wine with me the day my daughter broke her foot and had to be rushed to urgent care. Yet, for me, what I remember about that summer and felt deep down in my heart, were the many days she got to make memories with my kids while I was busy working. For example, there was a gorgeous day where she took my son strawberry picking. I had been racking my brain to try and squeeze in some alone time with him that just wasn’t happening. Now here I was, sitting inside my sterile office on a gorgeous summer day, looking at a picture of him having the time of his life. While I couldn’t have been happier for him, the tears started to fall as I stared at this picture of him smiling ear-to-ear.
I couldn’t help but feel sad that these were the type of wonderful activities my kids would be enjoying all summer long – but with someone else. They were swimming, strawberry picking, making tie-dye t-shirts, having water balloon fights – none of which I was there to see, or experience. Yes, I was missing the arguments and complaints about being bored, but I was also missing those sticky popsicle hands, days of running barefoot, and the joy that summer just seems to encapsulate for young children.
On top of the missed days, lets add in the fact that I, like many working parents, had the type of job where I was expected to answer emails and cell phone calls regardless of the time of day or risk losing out on the business. When you are in this type of position, your job continues well past that 5:00 stop time and manages to trickle into weekends and vacations even though you may be physically present with your family.
For me, when one of those stressful calls or emails came in after hours it was almost impossible to turn off the anxiety. I would inevitably snap at one of my children and become visibly stressed. There has been many a vacation where I spend time trying to deal with emergency work issues by hosting conference calls in a quiet room inside, while the kids frolicked on the beach making memories. I felt like most of the time even when I was at home it was hard to be really present for my children – and I am certain that is something they felt as well.
Not only did I not feel “present” but since I wasn’t physically there most of the time, I was having massive difficulties getting anything done for my family that needed done. Who has time for laundry when you are working 40 plus hours each week. I am convinced my kids didn’t know matching socks were thing. Groceries were not always easy to come by in our house, because if I forgot to do a pick-up, then I had to use precious weekend time at the store or drag all three kids there after work.
Speaking of weekends, once you are done running errands, straightening up the house, and attending sporting activities, there is little to no time left for family activities or quality time. This is the stuff all working moms struggle with each day, some better than others, with me falling into the “others” category.
All of this aside, it was during one of my more recent trips where the thought of leaving my job to stay home started to become more serious. I got a phone call from my husband just before I was about to give a presentation to a room of over 100 attendees. He had called to tell me that one of my children threw-up something alarming in the toilet. It was fluorescent green and could have only been the product of an exorcism. My husband was convinced he had to rush said child to the ER. Once I was face-timed in and actually got a look at what was happening, my mama intuition kicked in and I laughed, realizing the exorcism puke was just a lot of aloe vera gel in the toilet – an elaborate attempt to get out of school. Phew, I thought at first, no need for the ER – but quickly I realized this was just as alarming, in a different way. Why was my child so terrified of going to school? At that moment my kid needed nothing more than to speak with me about something, and yet I was 200 miles away, devoting all of my energy to a room full of strangers, many of whom would not even mutter a small thank me for my efforts when it was over.
Long story short, the school situation that led to the exorcism puke has long been resolved; however, something changed for me that day. It was not the first time I wanted to be at home when I wasn’t, and it wouldn’t be the last. Yet after that when I tried to rationalize why I was at work, I could not come up with much other than the paycheck. I wasn’t enjoying my job, I didn’t feel satisfied, and I certainly didn’t think I was making a difference.
At one point in my career I really enjoyed my job, as many parents do. That was enough to keep me there (well that, and the paycheck). But then the industry I worked in changed, things became a lot more stressful, and the job became more time-consuming (while the paycheck stayed relatively the same). My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. When my husband and I sat down and looked at our budget realizing we could afford for me to stay at home, I began to say to say to myself – what is really keeping me at this job, and away from my kids? After a few months of wrestling with this question, my decision was made.
So back to the seemingly well-intentioned people suggesting I start walking dogs (with my three year-old in tow, I presume). I am leaving my job to spend time with my kids. To be present. To be able to get them off the bus, pick them up when they are sick, and read my toddler books. To be the parent that takes them places in the summer instead of just scrolling through pictures from the nanny. To be the parent who makes their face light up when I walk into the classroom as a volunteer. To be the parent that actually sees what they do all day, instead of reading about eight hours of their time logged by a daycare teacher from an app on my phone.
I am not saying this is the right choice for everyone, or even most people. Like I said, when I found my job rewarding, I could justify being there. When my husband wasn’t making enough money and we needed my paycheck, I could justify myself being there. Now neither of those factors exist, and I cannot justify myself being there. I get that most working moms need to or want to continue working and with things like great daycares, nannies, work-from-home flexibility, grocery pickup, cleaning ladies, etc. it is doable and often done better than many moms who are at home all day. There are so many moms out there killing it both professionally and at home. I, however, was not one of them.
Here is the thing - just as the decision for a mom to work is absolutely normal and respectable, so is the decision not to. Working, not working, working part-time, eating bon bons and watching Netflix all afternoon – all of these decisions are acceptable as long as it makes sense for that particular mom and her family. So let’s try to understand that, and respect that, and never ever ask any fellow mom (whether she stays at home or not), “what she will do with all that time.”
Please continue to follow my parenting journey at www.thatmomwhoworks.com