PLEASANTON, CALIF. — It never crossed my mind to leave my dream career for full-time mothering after our son was born.
Like many girls raised in the '60s and '70s, I was taught that a challenging career was the primary path to self-fulfillment. Along with the morning cereal and milk, I imbibed my mother's warning: "Don't do what my generation did. Don't sacrifice reaching your potential [translation: financial independence] for any man or child. You're smarter than that."
In the first deviation from the blueprint for my success, I married in my early 20s. I justified this because my husband and I agreed to put our careers first, and not have children - ever.
Therefore, the decision to welcome a baby into our eight-year marriage came surprisingly easily, given our earlier opposition to the idea.
As I recall, while eating dinner, we said almost simultaneously, "You'll never guess what I've been thinking."
Ten months later, our son, Joey, was born.
Being inexperienced parents, Frank and I expected life to go on as before. And, in many respects, it did. I returned to a 60-mile commute that tacked on two additional hours to my 10-hour workday, which, in Silicon Valley, is as normal as casual Fridays. To accommodate day-care hours, I left home before Frank and Joey awoke. Knowing no other way, our son fit into this schedule without a fuss.
When questions about the rhythm of our lives began surfacing after five years, I didn't know what to make of them. Who would I be without the ready identification badge of my executive position in a high-profile field? Wouldn't I be throwing away 14 years' investment in a career that brought me satisfaction and our family financial security? Were we ready for me to stay home?
Work provided companionship, and I'd never had time to cultivate friends outside of work. Was I even capable of making friends with other full-time mothers? I'd spent one awkward evening with a group of stay-at-home moms and felt I didn't quite belong. Some of them seemed to think a gathering of moms was the ideal setting for a gripe session about husbands who worked too much.
Most importantly, would my husband love me less if I put aside my ambition? Early in our courtship, he had told me how attractive this was to him. He might not understand my newfound nesting instinct.
Gradually superseding these fears was the conviction that I'd regret not taking time to support Joey during his entry into kindergarten.
A co-worker who has two tots under 3 asked incredulously, "But isn't it supposed to get easier to leave them as they get older? Are you telling me it's gotten harder for you? I don't understand."
I didn't fully understand, either; I just seemed to go round and round with questions, until Joey helped make sense of it. One evening as I made my usual phone calls and checked e-mail, he said, "Mommy, everyone else gets you but me."
It's been two months since I left my full-time position. Our family hasn't had a single regret. It was Joey who showed me the rewards of leaving. Cuddling one weekday morning, he looked at me and said sincerely, "You're my 'favorest' Mommy." When I asked why, he shrugged as if the reason was obvious. "Because you're pretty even in your pajamas."
Could I ever have thought there was a better alternative to staying home?
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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society