If I quit my job to stay home with my daughter, maybe I’ll turn into a plastic Stepford Wife, making Pinterest-perfect cupcakes and always making sure my nails are done up in fire-engine red. I’ll wear high-heels in the kitchen and rush to put lipstick on before my husband gets home.
But if I stay working full time, I worry that the acorn of guilt that has started sprouting in the pit of my stomach will grow into a full-fledged oak of anger and sadness at all the moments I will miss as my daughter grows up.
So goes my mental back-and-forth as I try to decide whether I should work full time or stay home with my daughter.
Back to my fantasy stay-at-home mom life. What if I became my daughter’s taxi driver, shuttling her all over town to make sure she reaches her “full potential,” all the while losing my sense of self more and more each day? Complete with mom jeans and a permanent messy bun, held together with a scrunchy …ew.
Working full time, maybe I’ll turn into this intense power-player, always networking and trying to claw my way up the latter, hammer in hand to break that glass ceiling. Sure, I’ll be making six figures, but my heart will be elsewhere all the time, and I’ll never feel totally at peace.
More than likely, both ends of these extremes won’t happen. These pictures are only limited stereotypes. Probably what will happen will be much more nuanced. Distinguishing what's right or wrong for me is really tricky – the lines are blurred, and there are so many variables.
Being at home with my kid each day will give me so much more time to bond with her. We’ll have this amazing connection and I probably won’t regret deciding to stay home down the line. What’s financial success compared to getting to live all the ups and downs of raising my child every moment of every day?
Though, working full time will give me a much-needed respite from parenting demands. I’ll be more balanced emotionally, which will help me be a better mom when I’m home in the evenings and weekends. Plus I’ll be a stronger role model – an in-charge woman for my daughter to see and live up to someday. So I should just shut up, pull up those bootstraps and get to work!
But every Sunday evening would be melancholy. And every Monday morning would begin with tears – hers and my own. Is it really right to live like this? Isn’t there a better way?
For me, eventually, the choice became clear one day as I drove home from work. There was a bit more traffic than usual, and tears started streaming down my face as soon as I hit the brakes. I wanted to pick up my daughter from daycare right that minute – I couldn't wait any longer! I realized that I was living this constant cycle of sadness (drop-off) and joy (pick-up), and I needed to get off the hamster wheel to allow more joy into my day-to-day life.
After working full-time for 5 months after my daughter was born, I finally gave my notice. The day I powered down my work laptop for the last time, relief washed over me. Finally, I’d get to be with my baby all the time! It felt like Christmas morning.
But then right behind the relief was anxiety. Was I making the right decision? Did I just throw my career away? Was I absolutely out of my mind?
I’ve only been at home full time for 3 months now, so I don't have much perspective on my decision to leave the workplace just yet. I'm still working part time from my couch, which sits right next to my daughter's toy stash. I can tell you that just like anything else, there have been ups and downs. But I can tell you that joy now fills the lion's share of each day.
I’ve become much more in tune with my daughter as we’ve settled into our home-centered routine. Witnessing her explore the world, seeing every little step of progress each day, is totally awesome. I love being with her, though some days I miss grabbing a solo morning coffee or meeting up with coworkers for a lunch that does not include sippy cups or bibs.
Talking with other moms of my parents’ generation and my own, I’ve noticed that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model.
Very few moms I’ve talked with stayed home full time from the day their babies were born, and no one I asked kept their same pre-baby work schedule once they became moms.
Some decreased their hours, others worked from home part-time, and some left their jobs completely after testing the waters as a working mom. Each family is unique, and no decision about work/life balance is permanent – different seasons call for different arrangements.
I'm not sure what's next for my family, in 5 or 10 years. I can see myself having another child (or two) and keeping my focus completely centered on home life. But going back to work full-time once my kids reach school age sounds very exciting.
I've only been a mom for a year, but one thing I have learned is that I can't forecast how my life will look in a few months, much less years. The needs of my family are always changing, as is the economy, and especially the publishing industry, which is my career field outside of motherhood.
Life is unpredictable, but that’s what makes it interesting.
Like the old saying goes, "it's the journey, not the destination" – so I'm focusing on living up this motherhood journey each moment. And with that, I’m off to change a diaper.