What do you for work? That is a question I have had varying responses to over the past four years. Even though I have worked at the same organization for almost 4 years, my work schedule and location have fluctuated between home and office and between 10-30 hours. I have been an exclusive stay-at-home-mom, part-time work-at-home-mom, and everything in-between. Some days it is the best of both worlds, some days it is the worst of both worlds. How do you ever strike that perfect work/parent balance?
When I was pregnant with my now four-year-old daughter, I knew that I would not be happy continuing to work the demanding 50-60-hour weekly schedule once I had a newborn. My employer at the time did not have a part-time option, so it had to be all or nothing. We were fortunate enough that my husband had a great job at the time, but we weren’t sure what we could afford to do. We did a trial run during my pregnancy, living off of his income and saving all of my income, to see how long we could afford maternity leave. We decided that, with significant spending changes and a giant leap of faith, I would stay home with the new baby for six months and then find a part-time position elsewhere. So, for the first time since I was 13 years old, I no longer had a paid position and became a full-time stay-at-home-mom.
Staying home was the best decision I have ever made. I had a very difficult baby that loved to scream and hated to sleep. I don’t even know how long (months? years?) I spent, sleeping on a (very uncomfortable) couch in her nursery, or in the glider chair with her nursing or asleep on my chest. No advice, book, or sleep consultant helped. Maybe because I fell asleep reading the books and was too tired to remember all of the advice I had received, but regardless it was pure hell.
My mornings were completely unpredictable. Baby was either up for the day at 6 a.m. or was up at 5 a.m. and then asleep until 9 a.m. There was no rhyme or reason. For a complete Type-A first-time mom, this was torture. I wanted to “fix” her and get her on a schedule, but no matter what I tried, it just got worse. I couldn’t even make coffee; my husband did it and in attempt to cheer me up, left me sweet notes. Aside from that coffee he made, I lived on quesadillas (really just microwaved cheese on a tortilla–not the nice restaurant kind), and Diet Coke. Not exactly the diet of (breastfeeding) champions, but it was all I had the energy to make and all I could eat one-handed. Trust me, you did NOT want to disturb that baby once she was asleep, or you would pay–big time. One time (probably more than one time), it took me over an hour, including driving around for a good 20 minutes, before I could get her to sleep. When we arrived at my in-laws for dinner the baby was finally asleep, but then we opened the door… Their sweet dog barked in excitement to see us; baby instantly woke up; I instantly swore and cried. With so much sleep deprivation and such an unpredictable baby, there was no way I could have been even a semi-functioning or reliable employee.
Of course it wasn’t all bad. We had so many great days as well. She was born during an unseasonably warm Spring, so we got to spend a lot of time outside walking. We had many sweet moments cuddling and reconnecting from the hard moments. She was (and still is) an incredible child and I got to enjoy seeing her grow and learn every (literal) step of the way. She was my doll, my muse, my heart, my everything. For those six months, I knew I had made the right decision to stay home.
Then our savings started to take a hit and I started to look for work again. I found the perfect part-time position, working for a legal nonprofit, with the ability to work remotely. I found and was offered the position quicker than I thought the job search would go. I worked 10 hours per week, exclusively from home for about 7 months. As the baby was getting older and a little bit better with sleep, our organization was growing as well. I was promoted and my hours increased to 15 hours per week, requiring in-office time. I found a great childcare set-up thanks to my in-laws and a family friend. Aside from an occasional sick child day, I was able to pull off a pretty great work/stay-at-home-mom life balance…until I had baby #2 about a year later.
My boss warned me that going from one child to two children does not duplicate the workload, it exponentially increases the workload. He was definitely correct, especially with a spirited 2 year-old and a constantly-hungry newborn. Working for a small nonprofit gave me in flexibility what it could not provide in monetary benefits. I was able to take 12 weeks completely off (unpaid), and then slowly increase hours, varying between at-home and in-office depending on my breastfeeding schedule. I had the most patient and understanding boss in the entire world. Every time I would talk to him about how stressful it was trying to get everything for home and work done, he would not only empathize, but go completely out of his way to work with me on changing schedules and duties. I tried to resign a few times and he talked me into staying. I have never felt as valued at a job as I have working for him. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. That made it even harder to stick to my guns of resigning.
For months, as my life situation has changed, I have gone back and forth on what to do. On the one hand, I would feel like a weight would be lifted off my shoulders. I would not have to worry about driving two hours to drop off children at their respective preschool and childcare (and paying for it); missing the early-bird parking (therefore paying $25+ for parking); letting down my boss, interns, and clients for not staying caught up on work; letting down my family for not staying caught up on things at home; for being so stressed on how to balance being a full-time stay-at-home-mom and a part-time work-at-home/office-mom. On the other hand, I would worry about finances (the small income was enough to help us out when my husband was laid off this past summer); keeping my career going, setting an example for my children, using my graduate degree, and pride in myself. Bottom line, there is no right answer, and this is the real struggle.
A few weeks ago, I finally ripped the Band-Aid off and decided to take a leap of faith in resigning for real. My husband’s new job had become very demanding, requiring a lot of night and weekend hours, meaning I had been on kid-duty instead of being able to complete my paid work. As much as I loved my paid work, it became unfeasible to try to do everything and be everything to everyone. I felt like I was failing at work and at home.
So today marks a new day, a new chapter, a new journey. I am incredibly fortunate enough to be able to call myself a stay-at-home-mom. I was already doing this job as a mom, but now am going to revel in my pressure-free days and still cry in my tantrum-filled days. There will still be a lot of coffee and wine, but a lot more freedom to focus on my babies while they are still babies. A mantra has been taped to my refrigerator for years and now I can live by it.