*Originally published in May, 2013 on the blog Write as Rain (writeasrainblog.com).
I recently updated my current job title on my Facebook page to “Mom/Project Manager at Home.” While this might sound like an overly official title for what most call stay-at-home-mom, I like it. Why should what I’m doing now be made to sound any less official, important, validated or uppercase than when I was a Sales Manager at our family business, Writer/Producer at KOMO, or Maître d’ at Ray’s? Quite the contrary I say – this new life-long gig is already the most important work I’ve ever done.
As Anderson rounds the corner toward the three-month mark, a lot of people have been asking me when I’m “going back to work.” They don’t mean to assume, it’s just what they’re used to in an urban, progressive, feminist-leaning place like Seattle. A city with a high cost of living and typically two-income households, nonetheless. After all, this is the time when many women’s maternity leave ends, and for most that means back to work either full- or part-time, and new care arrangements for baby.
Some women go back to work because they want to. It is an important part of their identity, precious time spent with humans who measure their age in years instead of days or weeks, a time to invest in the world around them and do something that makes them feel good and accomplished, an example of work ethic and importance placed on career that they want their children to witness and aspire to. I get that.
Some women go back to work because they have to. They may be the so-called “breadwinners” of the family, or their income is simply necessary to the family’s finances. There are medical benefits provided through their work that they can’t be without. They are working toward retirement or other benefits they don’t want to lose. I get that.
Some women don’t go back to work at all and instead make the home their full-time workplace. In many parts of the world this option is incredibly common; in Seattle, not so much. I get that, too. I don’t think any particular one of these options is the best or only way to do things and I respect women who choose any of these situations that happen to be best for their children and family.
Personally, I feel fortunate, and so thankful, to have the opportunity to spend my days at home with my son. I know a lot of women long to stay home and simply can’t. It is not something that I take for granted. For pretty much the entirety of our four-year marriage, Aaron and I have been planning for and working toward this season of our life. I always knew that I deeply desired to at least have the option of staying home full-time once we started our family. So for the last four years I worked alongside Aaron, traveling the country for work, putting in your typical 40+ hour weeks at the office, hiring staff, growing our business and saving for our future. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything, or start our family any sooner than we did. For us the timing was just right, and those first few years of childless marriage were important in laying our foundation as husband and wife, and future Mom and Dad.
Now my days are filled with a very different kind of work. Instead of business cards, I collect animal flash cards. Instead of being the first person someone sees when they enter our booth at a trade show in San Francisco, I’m the first person my son sees when he wakes up from his nap down the hall. Instead of reading work emails, reports and contracts, I read illustrated board books and baby blogs. Instead of commuting by car to the office, we commute by stroller to the park. I may sleep until 9, but I was often up feeding at 5. I do more laundry in a week than I used to do in a month, and try my best to have dinner cooking when Aaron gets home. He supports me and truly loves having me home in this role, and that means the world to me. It’s all a new normal. It’s my new life. It may not be for everyone, and it’s not a life everyone wants. But I am thankful for it.
My mom recently told me she was surprised by my choice to stay home – that it’s not a lifestyle she would have pictured me choosing. I can understand that coming from my mother. After all I have always been her “on the go” girl, never in the same place for too long, always looking for the next club to join, trip to plan, job to land. She likes to tell people that my first word was “go” and I haven’t stopped since. How could I possibly be content with a job that leaves me in my pajamas and my car in the driveway sometimes for days at a time? Where’s the busy-ness, where’s the adrenaline rush?
I don’t know how else to explain this other than, I guess I’ve grown up. I’ll be 30 this summer and I’m not the same person I was at 20 or 25. Different things are important to me. I’ve done the college thing. I’ve done the high-pressure career that made me stressed out, sleep-deprived and unhappy but sounded really cool when making small talk with strangers. I’ve waited tables and made twice as much money as I made at the high-profile “career.” I’ve traveled to 25 states, most of them alongside my husband, as I’ve had the pleasure of building up the company he started that I am so, so proud to support him in.
Though I’m only 30, I feel like I’ve had my fill of all those things for now, and I recognize that they’ve each helped shape who I am today. But I don’t need any of them to define me. I really believe that when I look back at the end of my life, “wife,” and “mother” will be the titles that mattered by far the most to me. I want who I am in my home, in my family’s life, to be my legacy.
I will do things outside of the four walls of my house, rest assured. I look forward to volunteering in my community. I’m not sure what all this will look like, but I want to give back to others because I feel I have been given so much. Maybe I will go back to work, or start a new career path someday. And if our company needs me, I will be there, even though I know Aaron would rather have me home with our kids. We will always do what we have to do to give them the safe, secure, loving home they deserve. Right now, for me, I am doing that by spending my days here, though I know there are millions of incredible mothers whose days look nothing like mine. What do they say? It takes a village. And it takes all kinds. There is no one right way to mother. I’m simply grateful for the opportunity to mother in the way that feels right to me.
UPDATE, December 2014 — I wrote the above essay when my son was about three months old. He is now rounding the corner toward two years (in March). I am still basically “home full-time” (though I/we do get out more these days…), and I still don’t miss conventional “working” outside of the home. I still love being home, getting to spend all day with my son, and am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so at this stage in his young life. And I still maintain the belief that just because this works for me that doesn’t mean it’s practical, or even preferred for the next parent, or the next… I respect any choices parents make to structure their work/home/life in a way that works for their unique family. So, that is what hasn’t changed. What HAS changed is I have personally branched out more beyond 24/7 domesticity, especially in this second year of parenting, finding ways to spend my time and talents, plugging into community outside of my house. Much of this has been through PEPS, writing for this blog and leading two Newborn Evening Groups in 2014. I also started a book club and have found the time to read about four times as many books as I did in the first year of my son’s life (little victories…). Overall my days are a mix of spending time with Anderson, running our home, getting out of the house for activities like music class or the zoo, and carving out a little babysitter time for my own errands, interests and volunteer commitments. The sense of “balancing it all” will always ebb and flow, for all of us, and some days/weeks/months certainly feel more “balanced” than others, but I’m finding a peace in figuring it out and finetuning it one day at a time.