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Growing into motherhood has meant
taking risks I would never have pondered in my earlier years. Halfway through
my older son's year in kindergarten, I quit my heady corporate stint as a senior software analyst to stay at
home—a life-changing milestone that was entirely my own doing.
I had considered
it over the years but remained inside the cocoon of safety it provided all four
of us. After years of dealing with the challenges of pregnancy, childcare, nursing
two newborns back-to-back and a husband finishing up law school full
time, I felt like I was neither here nor there.
And so I did what everyone least
expected me to do—I quit. (I then immediately booked a backpacking trip across Europe with my last (boohoo) big tax return.)
Not since summers off in grade school (come to think of it, not even those: summer courses and work usually filled up those months, too) had I enjoyed such an open, airy expanses of time. In the months after I quit, I did all the things I never had time to do before: finished up my to-do lists, fixed a few things around the house, stenciled my powder room in an elaborate Moroccon-inspired design with a homemade stencil. I signed my sons up for miscellaneous toddler activities at unheard of office hours.
I don't think I could have appreciated the time, as it was, if I hadn't worked, if I hadn't known what life on the other side was like.
My decision felt so jarring and
monumental that I initially couldn't even bring myself to talk about it.
Strangely enough, my work-from-home schedule allowed me to putter along through
my day without telling anyone, aside from a handful of close people, that my days
no longer consisted of a mind-boggling jumble of meetings, tantrums, conference
calls, diapers, briefs, food shopping, and dinner consumed piecemeal while
When I did share the news,
reactions were sprinkled all across the spectrum. Some congratulated me on a
break well deserved. Others told me they were stunned, that they'd always taken
me to be a "career woman" (whatever that means). Some women looked deeply into my eyes and
asked if I'd be willing to share how I came to my decision (to my shock, a few eventually
followed suit and came back to tell me our conversation had swayed them). Others peered at me strangely and said they could never leave work no matter what, they just so enjoyed what they did and wouldn't be able to handle "sitting at
I get it. The decision is a deeply personal one. One
that a woman can only make for herself.
My a-ha moment was when I realized no one was going to come along and pat me on the back and say, "Alrighty, enough of this work business! It's now the perfect time to stop working and dedicate more time to your home and children—go on, turn in that two-week notice!" It was then I knew I'd have to carpe diem my own destiny and live with the decision I had made.
I never realized how burned out I was until it all stopped.
I felt fortunate enough to be in a position that allowed me to quit with few repercussions. I also had a great boss who assured me there was a place for me if I ever changed my mind. I was blessed to have a decent track record on my resumé, having worked full-time since college and throughout graduate school. I had the promise of being able to work in the years ahead, when my kids would be older and, hence, more independent. But for now, they were just as needy of me as I was of them.
"Now" being the key word. While they were still excited to have mommy help out at school, chaperone fields trips, be there for pickups and drop-offs, to help with homework and watch them at soccer practice. These were the little bits of my day that I gained and appreciated in a huge way. I don't think I could have appreciated the time, as it was, if I hadn't worked, if I hadn't known what life on the other side was like. I knew what it was like to have to watch the clock and worry about a conference call with upper management, stressing over whether the kids in the room would suddenly turn awry and embarrassing. (The mute button was my very best friend.) I understood the stakes of having to leave a game at halftime only to floor it back to work and still be late for that lunch meeting. After I made the change, my stress levels dropped and melded into the rhythm of a normal schedule.
It just felt right.
Sure, there were many things I missed dearly, like having my own income with great health and dental benefits. I missed adult conversations not having to do with feedings and sleeping schedules. But nothing seemed to be worth the new sense of normalcy I acquired in those early months. To eat a meal sitting down, to not multi-task exponentially to the point of madness, to enjoy my children in a way I had guiltily thought impossible. I mean it, it was bliss.
When I got the narrow eyes, the disappointing looks, and the, "Well, what are you gonna do all day long now?" I wanted to tell people I wasn't imposing my views on them.
I had never had the luxury of childcare, aside from a family member stepping in randomly for an hour or two once in a while, and so it had been all me, my job and the kids all day and often times well into the night, scrambling to finish up what a crying toddler didn't allow me to get done during office hours. I never realized how burned out I was until it all stopped.
After the decision had sunk in, I felt blessed to have been able to make the choice for myself. In hindsight, it was exercising my own definition of the dreaded f-word (no, not that one). Feminism at its truest essence. Not to work tirelessly for 50 hours a week in the office and endless hours at home to "have it all," but rather to know that even though I was fully capable of working—and despite the perks and fulfillment a job had to offer—making a confident decision to stop and allow myself the peace of mind the "other side" brought me.
When I got the narrow eyes, the disappointing looks, and the, "Well, what are you gonna do all day long now?" I wanted to tell people I wasn't imposing my views on them. Rather, I was an advocate for women being able to make a choice to either stay home or work, and not feel shamed—by other women, least of all!
The same way I don't judge a mom who works and travels round the clock and
relies on outsourced childcare, it should never be acceptable to make a woman
feel inadequate for making a choice not to work and be home with her children.
The choice is ours, and we should not only support, but celebrate, each others'
decisions and triumphs.
By projecting our personal ideals and circumstances on
one another, we are only adding to the baggage of judgment and weariness that
is inflicted upon us everyday as mothers, wives, and most important of all—as