Now that I am a stay-at-home mom and I have made some other stay-at-home mom friends, I will often share with them the life that I used to have as a working mom. Although I know they appreciate how lucky they are to be at home with their kids, they are always shocked by my experiences as I tell them about what it was like on the other side. The grass is always greener, they say.
My answer to that: not anymore it’s not.
Where I am standing, the grass is the greenest I’ve ever seen it.
I was jealous of my best friend because when her son was born 3 months after mine, she was already set. She had a low mortgage, her husband was making enough income for both of them, and she had recently come into a nice inheritance. I was about to eke out the last few weeks of my maternity leave and with a mental count down to the day I was to report back to work, I was hardly able to enjoy the months I was given in those first few months of my sons life. I’d have panic attacks just thinking about it.
Prior to getting pregnant, I loved my job. It wasn’t just interesting and exciting all the time, it was a wonderful social network for me. I prided myself in being one of the more popular girls in the building; always making conversation in the elevator and having someone wave me over to sit with them in the cafeteria. Why would I ever want to give up this life? I used talk about how grateful I was to be having such fun everyday and actually getting paid for it! I had originally thought I’d be one of those moms that did it all, and would have no problem seeing my child only on the weekends. Although, I was not prepared for the massive change that would come over me once I met my son, I must have had a good sense because at my office babyshower and goodbye party, I cried like a teenager leaving after an amazing month of summer camp. My co-workers didn’t understand you’re returning to work after maternity leave aren’t you? It’s not like you’ll never see us again. Why are you so upset?
The reason I was upset, I told them, is because I love my job. And the next time you see me, I won’t.
I was right.
When I did go back to work, I stayed for an entire year. Looking back, it was one of the worst years of my life. I’d seen many signs that it was time to quit my day job, from the very beginning. They were all signs that I ignored because we were not able to survive on just my husbands income, so to me the signs did not matter. But I do remember the day that Braden said his first word, “car,” and it broke my heart. He had become a commuter baby, spending close to 3 hours a day in the car as we drove back and forth to work. I didn’t quit my job that day, but I turned to my husband with hot tears in my eyes and pleaded, “please, help me get out of here so I can stay home and raise our son.”
I found comfort in other mothers in my building that also had their children in daycare. The lucky ones somehow got their children into the Company daycare whose wait list was 3 years long. There weren’t many of us, and we didn’t talk about it in the open very often, but when we did, it was in hushed tones as if we were trying to hide the fact that we were moms to the rest of the work force. Women had come so far in history proving ourselves equal to men and disserving to have the same jobs and the same pay as they do. In the work place, it almost felt un-supportive to unmask ourselves as mothers in the presence of true business women who’d worked hard for their careers. We all understood each other in a way that no one else did, and since it didn’t seem appropriate, we didn’t want anyone else to know how much we missed our children. Perhaps we were as weak as others made us feel. Don’t get me wrong, we were not resentful of the successful business women who had children at home with a nanny. We just couldn’t comprehend it. We were grateful to our company for the great medical coverage, the family perks, and some of them were lucky enough to have understanding bosses who would let them leave early on Halloween to take our kids trick or treating (I wasn’t quite so lucky, but I digress). I think we convinced ourselves to stay loyal to this company who had been so loyal to us. But the truth of the matter was that none of us were there because we really wanted to be. Our hearts were at home with our children and we dreamed of the day we could really feel like mothers. We didn’t see any other option – which is sort of crazy if you think about it.
We all know that we live in the land of opportunity, and we’ve all been told that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to – so why on earth did we feel that we didn’t have a choice?
Well, there is the cost of living for one. My husband and I were lucky to have bought our house just before the big real estate boom, but our mortgage was still over $2000/month. We owned our cars, didn’t have a lot of debt, and didn’t do any excessive spending. We cut corners by drinking free coffee at work, and filling up old 8 oz water bottles from the cooler in the office, commuting in one car, and bringing our lunches from home. Even with all of our smart decisions, we were somehow coming out less every month, and slowly watching our savings disappear. We simply were not bringing in enough to cover our overhead. I didn’t get a raise that year, and when I asked my boss why, she balked in my face, “A raise? You must be joking! Why would I give you a raise when you weren’t even here all year? You chose to take a maternity leave. That doesn’t deserve a raise.” At one point, we even went to see a financial advisor to help us look at our figures, and perhaps see something we hadn’t. He was not able to help us. He said that he normally helped couples find a better rate of return on their savings, cut out unnecessary spending like dining out, and helping them to consolidate credit cards. But we had already done all that. We were poor as it was. Losing my income was simply not an option, even in subtracting the cost of daycare. And so, like many other new parents across the country, we believed we didn’t have a choice.
We had spent over a year researching daycares in the area, and had made a decision to chose one closer to work than to home since we had such a long commute, it made sense to keep the baby close. When I say research, I don’t mean look at all the features each one has to offer and make a decision based on one that suits ours and our baby’s needs. What I mean is, get on every possible wait list and hope that someone somewhere will have an opening in a place that we could afford and would be willing to work with our schedule. My boss was very strict with me that I was not to leave a minute before 6:30pm- which posed a problem because most daycares closed at 5pm. We’d found one that was willing to stay open until 6, but would charge us $5 for every minute we were late. Finally we settled on a home daycare that neither my husband nor I was crazy about, but we had spent a year looking, and we were grateful to have the spot. I spent the rest of my maternity leave hoping my boss would find an ounce of understanding in her heart and allow me to adjust my schedule by a half hour so I could choose a better place for my son. She never did, and she acted as if I was really treading on thin ice for even having the nerve to ask. Human resources was no help in this area, either.
I had dropped Braden off at the home daycare a day before I went back to work for a trial run, just to ease myself into the idea. I’d worked on weaning him from breast milk to be ready for that day since my office didn’t provide a lactation room, or even a refrigerator to keep pumped milk. Formula just seemed easier at that point. Over time, I began to trust his daycare provider even if I didn’t connect with her as a person. I knew he was safe, well fed, and taken care of. An infant doesn’t need much more than that, so I didn’t immediately have big concerns for the fact that the kids were confined to one small room for 8 hours with very few toys and a TV that was always on. I knew that I had to pick my battles with this woman, and since she was spending more time with my son than I was, I didn’t want to run the risk of alienating her.
Everything in our lives seemed thin. I worked harder than I ever had before, making the most out of every minute I was away from my son as some mad attempt to justify the fact that I was working. I also couldn’t stand a moment of down time at work as it seemed like wasted time that I could have been home with my child. Even though I was a slave to a time clock, I couldn’t give myself the opportunity to think about my baby boy, or I might start crying and never stop. My husband and I had done the math, again and again, and then I’d even do it again at my desk- and there was just no way we were able to make it work on one income. Daycare and formula was depleting us so we’d already made adjustments like making the commute together in one car to save on gas and bringing our lunches. Since I was dropped off, I wasn’t able to run personal errands on my lunch break, and since our commute was over an hour to land us at home by 7:30pm, we barely had time to feed the baby and get him into bed, let alone have dinner ourselves. Weekends were chaotic pandemonium as we rushed to fit in the household chores, laundry and grocery shopping. Since we could not afford family time together, we learned to look forward to our daily commutes together. But we missed our son, who was mostly asleep in the infant carrier in the back seat. Those were the only naps I knew he was taking during the day.
I grew to resent the entire department, and especially my boss, who didn’t seem to care that I had become a new parent, and made it clear that if she knew about it, I wasn’t doing my job or giving the same energy to it as someone who did not have a child at home. It seemed that every year she’d pick a new person to agitate, and although I’d slid under the radar every other year, it was clear that I was the lucky one this time. I lost track of the amount of times I’d sob in the car ride home to my husband about how I was giving more of myself to this ungrateful boss, a woman I’d grown to hate, than I was to my own family.
At the end of the year, around the time my boss denied me the raise I knew I deserved, I marched right into Human Resources and demanded that they find me a position in another department that would be more understanding of my needs as a new mother. To this day, I don’t know if they knowingly put me in a place that would lead to my dream to stay home with my son, or if it was simply a miraculous coincidence by the powers that be, hearing my daily prayers and cries for help. Human Resources found me a job working for a man who, ironically was fired just 2 weeks after I transferred. Since the department hardly knew me and had no attachment to me as the newest employee, they didn’t have any problems letting me go a few days after that. At first, I was appalled and disgusted that I could be so expendable to this company that I’d given 5 good years of my life to. Or that this break-up of sorts could happen so promptly and void of sentiments from the ones who were letting me go. These people didn’t know me as my last department had, and so it was easy for them to be emotionless when informing me of this change in events. Although I hadn’t seen it coming, I had been spending a ridiculous amount of time researching on the internet jobs that I could do from home, or reading articles about stay-at-home moms who’d found a way to earn an income. So I should have been more prepared, but it only made me more frightened. I certainly wasn’t prepared to work for myself. I’d never done it before, and I didn’t think that I would be the sort of person who would be able to take responsibility if I didn’t have a boss holding me accountable. I’d grown used to the stable bi-weekly paycheck, and even though it was minute, I had comfort in the fact that the amount would always be the same, whether I worked extra hard that week or not. Besides having my heart broken by the company I’d once had a love affair with since I was obviously in denial about the fact that our relationship hadn’t been healthy for awhile now, I took exception to the fact that I was thrust into a situation I wasn’t ready for. I was hysterical and panicked that I’d failed my child and my husband.
It wasn’t until he following day that I ran our numbers again and was in awe by my unexpected discovery. As it turns out, I was given some severance, made eligible for unemployment, and with the exclusion of daycare, I saw the red finally disappear from the page. That is when I realized my company had done me a favor by letting me go. It did still love me- enough to release me!
I recall a conversation I had with my closest girlfriend who had a bit of envy that I’d had a job to go to every day. No matter how I painted it, she saw that my life was as fun as it was before I had my son. She missed her work, and felt lonely sometimes as a mom. She saw me as having all the same friends, and daycare provider doing all the dirty work for me- changing diapers and cleaning up vomit. She was convinced that I would miss all that when I came home. She called me about a week after I had left my job, and I had been raving about my new life. “are you OVER it yet?” Of course not. I was in heaven. She’s continued to call me just about every week since then, and 8 months later, I am still happier than I’ve ever been. Maybe it was because I had been on the other side.
Did I miss my friends at work? Sure, I did. But the truth was I began to miss them once I had returned to work from maternity leave. When I became a mom, I became a different person. In the past, I’d been the same as them, filled with a different sort of energy, living for happy hour, Hollywood gossip and the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It wasn’t anyone’s fault I’d changed. To them, I probably wasn’t as much fun as I used to be. To me, they had become more materialistic and dramatic about things that didn’t seem worth it to me anymore. Did I miss adult interaction? At first, yes. But over time I began to make friends in my new stay-at-home world, and as a result, I can honestly say I’ve never had better relationships.
Being at home was so much more relaxed and slower paced. I am not saying that it was always easy, or that I am so lucky that I never have to chase my son around the house to put a diaper on before he pees on something. Sure, it gets hectic and we often have to miss play dates or mommy and me classes because I can’t get Braden to put his shoes on, or I’ll go all day without taking a bathroom break because there just isn’t a stopping point to the madness in our schedule, or lack there of in some cases. And yes, I’ll vent about it with my girlfriends like it’s the worst thing in the world, but I know it’s not. I don’t have any true deadlines to meet, or a boss that expects me to make her more of a priority than my own family, and if some cheerios fall on the ground from the highchair, I have time to bend down and pick them up rather than letting them sit there all week because I couldn’t waste another minute or I’d be late to work.
We were able to make this work because of the severance and unemployment benefits, neither of which we would have been able to live without, and I wouldn’t have been eligible for if I had just quit. But in the grand scheme of things, it still would not have mattered. I needed to be home with my son, and I needed to trust that somehow we’d figure it out. I am just grateful I was forced to come home or I might still be struggling in an unhappy life void of quality family time. That is just no way to live.
A few months ago, I told my husband that I had changed my mind, and I would NEVER go back to work. I had tasted this life, and would rather live in a cardboard box and eat dirt than to have to go back to a day job. Never in my life was I able to call the shots and give my priorities the attention they deserved until I became a stay-at-home. For as long as I could remember, I had been sucking up to superiors who demanded my loyalty, but would never have the decency to offer an ounce of it in return. I’d held others higher than myself, and was almost convinced that my needs weren’t as crucial as theirs. Things are different now. If my son is sick, by God I am going to stay in with him all day and nurse him back to health. I don’t have to worry that someone in the business world is going to find fault in that, or with the flick of a wrist decide to replace me with someone who doesn’t have a family or an outside obligation that threatens to get in the way of work. This life is an absolute no brainer, and I, like so many others didn’t have any idea that it was even possible. I almost didn’t choose it, can you imagine?