Demoting Myself

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High Heels and Briefcase in Hallway

“I demoted myself.”

A friend shared this with me one summer day while we were chasing our kids at the beach. We had graduated college together almost 12 years ago and now both work full-time. This statement totally summed up my return to work and what some women our age are, in fact, doing…demoting themselves.

Should I lean-in, lean-out, opt-in, or opt-out? Should I work part-time, full-time or stay home? There is abundance of information thrown at moms about what is the best choice, what not to do, when to do it, and how. People want to tell you what happens if you DO do it or DON’T do it and how you will feel ten years later. It is totally overwhelming and there are way too many ridiculous phrases. Women from different sides of the issue, different life situations, and different backgrounds, are all talking about the same issues as though there is one single answer for us all. It’s insane.

Before becoming a mom, I had no idea that “stay-at-home versus working mom” was an actual issue. I didn’t realize that people wrote books about it, published articles, and dedicated blog posts on this very topic. I was unaware that women debated it, judged each other, felt guilty, felt superior, felt awful, opted-in and opted-out. Or that my Twitter feed would be so full of links, posts and articles making me question my own decision and inundating me.

I had been EJ’s mom for less than twenty-four hours when I heard, “Are you going back to work?”

“Yes I am.”

And at the time, I meant it. I was going back.

I graduated college and fell into the non-profit world. I got (and get) paid peanuts but I love it. It is where I was meant to be and what I was meant to do. I love fundraising. So at twenty-one my main goal was to become a director before 30. At 29 I received a director position at a university. I didn’t love the situation I was in there but I was really proud of where I was at. It took a lot of work, a lot of strategic job maneuvering and some guts to say I could do it…and mean it. It felt great. I could only keep going up and began to dream of a VP position.

Then EJ came home.

When I returned to work after 3 months at home with him, he reverted back to the baby we saw in Ethiopia staring at the ceiling and off in his own world. I would pick him up from daycare and he would cry when he saw me. Not a little cry but a loud, desperate cry that would last for minutes. It broke my heart. I would take him home and he would sit and glaze over. All those weeks of progress and attachment were slipping away.

I quit my director job. I left that week and didn’t look back.

My two years at home and then working part-time were the best and most difficult years of my life. I feel completely grateful to have had those years with EJ…to even be able to do that was a gift. And I will never, ever regret it.

I remember that when I quit some people close to me, other moms, actually said, “I like my independence. I couldn’t leave my career.” As if quitting my job made me dependent, and incapable of taking care of or supporting myself. It trivialized all that stay-at-home moms do.

I went back to work full-time last year. EJ and I were both very, very ready. I desperately needed my brain to work and I was quickly losing myself. Within a few weeks of being back full-time, I felt myself return. The strength I once had returned, followed by my confidence, balance and normalcy.

But I didn’t return as director. I almost did. I was offered a director position and for a brief second contemplated returning where I left off. But I wasn’t at that place anymore and I wasn’t the same person.

I didn’t return to my once charted career path. I demoted myself. I wanted the summer hours, the Fridays off in July, the school vacations, the ability to take a sick day, the flexibility of not being the one in charge. I wanted it and I needed it.

My husband will always have the job that makes us the money. He will always have the job that has little flexibility, longer hours, less time off, and not exactly family friendly. He makes huge sacrifices of his time (time with EJ, time with me, and time to himself) to support us. I sometimes get jealous that his career is still moving forward, rather quickly. I sometimes get jealous of his title, his responsibility…and his pay. But then I remind myself of the sacrifices he makes and I am grateful.

I don’t know when I will completely “return” to my career. I am not even sure that career path is the one I want on a long-term basis. I have started exploring the idea of actually writing for a living, but that is still just a dream. There are definitely days when I long for the responsibility, the decision-making, and the title but I feel lucky to work with great people, in a fun environment and have a job I really enjoy. I have no idea if I have made the right choices for myself long-term, did all the right things, or really just screwed myself in the long run. But at the time, it was the right choice for us all.

And on those weekdays in the summer, when I am pushing EJ on a swing at 3:30pm or picking blueberries or taking him for a swim, I realize that those are the moments I will never get back. And I don’t regret only opting in halfway.

I don’t miss being director at all…

Comments

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  1. 1

    says

    I totally get where you are coming from. I had the privilege of being handsomely laid off after the birth of my now 5.5 year old. I’m not sure I would have been a SAHM otherwise. I’ve been at home ever since. I’ve never felt that I’ve lost myself. I take great pride in the work I do (whether paid or not). I still work so super part time from home in the industry I was in previously. I volunteer at my daughter’s school. I get to organize projects for school that others don’t have the bandwidth to handle (and I totally get that). I get to help fundraise for the school that other folks can’t spend their time doing. I fill a need. Just because I don’t get paid for it doesn’t mean it’s not important. We all need each other and we all have ways we can give and feel important. I blog, it’s my voice, it helps me feel validated. I put good in the world. I do want to go back to part time work again one day while my daughters are in school, when both of my girls have hit first grade (my youngest is now 3.5 so I’m a couple of years off yet). But, as you said, it’s those little moments when you are out with your kids in the sunshine that you realize that you are where you need to be and are doing what’s best for you. Those moments keep me happy. We all do what we have to do (and hopefully want to do) and we all do it together. That’s what makes community so amazing! Happy demotion to you! :-)

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  2. 3

    Kati says

    Thank you! I couldn’t have said it better. I am a SAHM. While being a same I have finished a B.A. and a Masters. I love being home with my kids and we homeschool as well. I know who I am, I have lost nothing of myself. I ensure I take care of myself and one day my kids will be gone and (providing I am still on this Earth) I will have all the time I want for my career. Some days I think it would be easier to deal with adults than kids but then I remember what it was like to work with adults and I would much rather deal with my kids! Lol

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  3. 5

    says

    I’m also a SAHM… I have days, when our girls were smaller, where I’m totally lost and can’t believe I’m a SAHM.. and days where I feel so grateful being at home. There’s no right or wrong, staying at home or not, it’s what works for your family. Moms who are at work sometimes feel they wish they didn’t have to and vice versa. We are all at where we’re supposed to be… just do what feels right.

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  4. 7

    Liza Jones says

    Lauren, what a great post! I feel like the working mom vs. the SAHM mom is the eternal battle…within ourselves. I actually don’t find others putting pressure on me, as much as I put it on myself. I currently work outside the home but sometimes long for the greener grass of staying home. But then I fear that’s not the perfect fit for me, either. I do the best I can and focus on the quality time I do spend with my kids.

    I always joke I’m on a mission to tell all of us moms to cut ourselves some slack. I don’t think our mothers worried about all of the stuff we worry about now? Or maybe they did and we just weren’t aware.

    Thanks for sharing your post.

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  5. 9

    leslie says

    This is so timely, I can’t even say… I got the job offer as a professor that I wanted as I finished my PhD, but I was also pregnant. Talk about a shift in life priorities. As my husband wasn’t able to find work in this small town on the other side of the country that we grew up in, he’s been commuting back to his old job two weeks out of every month while I keep the 18 month old. I’ve decided that we’re moving back so we can be together again (and nearer the three sets of grandparents), but I’ve also decided that if I can’t find an academic job, then I leave my field and find something else that still allows me to use my skills, but also allows me the free time to spend with my daughter that I don’t have now as an early career professor. It’s thrilling and liberating and a little bit scary to be at this point. Thanks for sharing this story.

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  6. 11

    Angela says

    I’m a work-at-home mom. It’s really tricky, at times impossible. Is there anyone else out there like me? I can’t find any other people in the gray area with me. When I say work at home, I mean I have a salaried position with a company that lets me work from home. I have a company laptop, do company project work, regularly scheduled telecons, work 8-5 and sometimes more in the evenings and on weekends. I go to the office once a week, less often now that my 2nd child was born less than 3 months ago. I am fortunate, and not everyone can handle the situation I put myself in, which is doing my work with my arms around a baby bouncing on my lap. I do medical editing, if anyone’s wondering. My daughter is just now starting to head into organized sleep territory, and I just went back to work after maternity leave last week. So we have some kinks to work out, like whether she is going to cooperate while I have telecons. Sometimes I have to stay up all night finishing a project that is due when I didn’t get to devote enough time in a day to it. I am always partly looking for a mother’s helper who can come to my house a couple hours a day and help me take care of my daughter while still getting my project work done, but in 5 years of doing this (I started when my son was 4 months old), I have never actually needed it yet. Just really longed for it sometimes. I put my son in part-time daycare when he was 3 just for the social aspect. Now he’s in kindergarten full-days. My husband is in the same career field, and sometimes he works at home too, but he’s not able to do the juggling like I do. Anyway, there’s no way I can ever regret this. I’m here if my daughter is sick, if I feel like snuggling her, to feed her, but I still get paid a full-time salary. If this situation ever goes away, like my company goes down or they decide they want me on site (unlikely, given my bosses are also moms and have known the situation from the start), I could never ever go back to full-time on-site work. I always want to work, develop myself, DO something, but I never want to do it at an office that isn’t mine, where people have shit to stay about my childcare arrangements, etc. Anyway, I would love to hear from people who are doing what I’m doing? I do everything SAHMs do, including volunteering at school and getting the laundry done, around my project deadlines. It bugs me when my SAHM mom friends complain about all the errands they have to run, because I’m running those errands too AND bringing home some bacon, with a baby in my arms. The only person who suffers sometimes is me, because I end up working forever all week to make sure my work is good and done on time. It is a fun challenge, and I can sit in my PJs at my laptop with spit-up on my shoulder unshowered, and nobody knows. I don’t exactly love my job, but I’m good at it, and it pays well. I’d like more for myself, but I envision that my babies will be there with me if I make a career move to my own business. Somehow. :) And I actually have a higher title now than I did when I was working on-site. Supposedly, the world is going this way, with more telecommuting. Maybe there will be more people like me in that world. I do have to deal with certain people at my office who are incapable of working at home because they’re undisciplined about it, making comments suggesting that I am not actually working. But my work speaks for itself, and that’s why the teams allow it. It bugs me that I hear about comments like those, but I know it’s their personal issue, that they themselves (mostly men, by the way) sit around watching Pawn Stars when they’re at home “working.” Anyway, happy demotion. :)

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    • 13

      Brit says

      I work at home but my job is very different because I am self-employed. So I can set my own hours (sort of) and take days off if I need to (I just don’t schedule clients those days). Still I have dead lines to meet that I don’t really have much control over. I have to talk to clients and plan things and so on. It IS hard, and your job sounds even harder. Usually I do most of my work at night when the kids are sleeping but then that means I am up until 2 AM and they wake up at 6. :( I don’t actually make a lot of money but I love what I do. My husband and I discussed having me quit and shut down my business once. But every time I thought about it I just couldn’t stop crying. So here we are. I DO love it and I love my kids. They will only be little so long. It will work out. :)

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      • 14

        says

        Wow, Brit. I totally get what you are saying also. I make peanuts! And my husband and I have had that same conversation, too – many times. I just can’t throw away all the work I’ve put in already and – I LOVE my business. It’s the feedback from the families, small local businesses, and non-profit groups that I’ve helped that keeps me going. You’re right – it WILL work out! <3

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    • 15

      says

      I understand so much of what you’re saying, Angela. I work full-time on a business that I started up three years ago. So, like you, I really have two jobs. My kids are getting older – and therefore at school longer – so that makes it easier. I like to say that working from home is the best – and worst! – of both worlds. I love the flexibility to be able to volunteer at school, like you, but I get pretty touchy when people assume that I have an abundance of free time just because I’m at home. It was really hard when the kids were littler (I started when they were 1, 3 & 5) and that was tough b/c they were at home making messes all day that they wouldn’t have made if I were in an office and they were in day care. But, I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. It is a huge blessing to have the choice to work how I want to. I totally hear you and I often say the same thing – “No one gets it.” I do! ;-)

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  7. 18

    Beth says

    Your post speaks to me on a deep level. I’ve been a SAHM for almost 4 months. I adored my job, but for various reasons I needed to leave to take care of my daughter. I was really bitter and lost at first, and honestly, I still have moments where I feel like that. But overall I am so happy with my decision. My little family functions better with me at home. My daughter is 11 months old, and I can now see clearly that there is no one else that she’d rather spend her day with. I figure I have the rest of my life to get fulfillment out of work, but only a very limited time to truly savor motherhood. Thanks for eloquently summing up the “demotion” that some of us choose.

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  8. 20

    MB says

    Thank you! I have had people tell me that they woukd go crazy if they had to stay home with their kids, and at least if he got sick, it wasn’t a big deal because I didn’t work. One, if your kid needed you, you would happily stay home with him and would find new ways to spend your “free time,” like volunteering. Schools, Meals on Wheels, and other organizations love stay at home moms! Two, I may not be paid, but I still have commitments and things to get done while my child is in school, so yes, while it is less of a big deal when my kid is sick, it still requires the juggling of plans that you as a “working” mom face.

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  9. 22

    Amy K. says

    I felt like I *found* myself when I became a stay-at-home mom! Life changes, though, and now my husband is home while I work at a job that is a huge demotion from where I was before I quit. It started out as a great choice because it was super flexible, which offset the demotion for me. Since then, I’ve taken on more responsibility, lost some flexibility, and am still not getting paid very much! How did I end up here????

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  10. 23

    Terri says

    I left my teaching job when my oldest (now 15) was 2. I did not miss any of it until recently when my youngest, of 5, began first grade. I still do not have the right situation to be a full time teacher, but I have begun subbing. It feels like a demotion in a lot of ways. I don’t get trusted to teach a whole lot of anything, but I do get to interact with kids in the classroom, and make contacts for the future. I think there is a timing issue for many of us returning to the work world. Not only must I find the right job, I can’t be all in until my kids need me less.

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