I have a deep hatred for being asked, “What do you do for a living?” I loathe this question with every fiber of my being. While engaged in a conversation, long before it’s even inquired, I can sense it on the horizon and no matter how hard I try to avoid it, there’s no escaping.
My response is always the same, or at least has been for the past 2 1/2 years: “stay-at-home-mom.” Each and every time, my answer is met with praise and approval as though I’m a martyr of some sort. I’m no one’s hero.
As I’m being told how lucky and fortunate I am to have this priceless opportunity, I can’t help but to feel heartache and be overcome with guilt. Fully aware these poor unassuming strangers are coming from a place of endearment and sentiment, I put on a face to keep up the charade. They mean well, and I’ve never been known to burst anyone’s bubble. Telling them what they want to hear, I’ll respond with, “Yes, I’m very lucky indeed.”
They have no idea how this question and any related conversation brings up so many deep-seated emotions for me. I mean, how could they? They don’t know how I long for the career I once had. They don’t know I miss having a separate identity outside of the house. They don’t know how I ache to once again regain my role in the corporate world with responsibilities and purpose other than childrearing, mundane chores, and routine errands. They don’t know my heart pangs every time I see or hear other women and moms gaining professional fulfillment and the jealously I feel that it isn’t me. They don’t know.
When I was employed and asked the same question of what I did for a living, my response was always met with pity as though I was being forced to work when my heart should’ve craved to be at home with my child. After all, what mom would opt to work over staying at home with their little one?
Upon having my first child, I willingly returned to work after my maternity leave. Falling into a routine of daycare drop-offs and pickups, I was pleasantly surprised by how effortless the transition of going back to work was. It was almost too easy. I wasn’t burdened with the overwhelming guilt everyone warned me about. If anything, I felt guilty for not feeling guilty — if that makes any sense at all.
I had the freedom of performing tasks and duties outside of keeping my offspring alive. My child was in an amazing, caring, safe environment, and I was satisfied with my career which gave me a sense of value, worth, and respect. It was the ultimate win-win scenario. I deeply adore my family, but I thoroughly enjoy when not every action or thought revolves around taking care of them. My workplace always supported work-life balance, and I never felt as though I was missing out on anything in either sphere.
Not realizing it at the time, the freedom to work was a luxury to which I wish I would’ve appreciated more. Financially it was a wash, but as long as we weren’t in the negative, I could maintain my presence in the workplace. Deciding to have additional children solidified the need for me to begin my role as a stay-at-home mom.
Of course, I love my children and cherish the time we spend together, but I can’t help but to feel this void. My role as a stay-at-home mom wasn’t a choice, but rather a sacrifice. I’m sacrificing my career and my place working outside of the home primarily because the cost of daycare is too great.
I’m not the only one feeling the financial pains associated with child care. According to the recently released “Early Learning in the United States” report from the Center of American Progress, “The high cost of child care leaves too many families without options. The average cost of center-based care in the United States comprises nearly 30% of the median family income.”
At this point, with three little ones, the expense of daycare has made it more than impossible to pursue the career path I’ve dreamed of and went to school for. It still amazes me how much it would cost out-of-pocket for me to work. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around that statement, even as I type it. How can anyone not afford to work?
When my children are grown potentially giving way to more freedom of continuing my career path, I fear the damage might have already been done. I often wonder if I’ll be able to professionally recover from this gap in employment when I took on arguably the hardest, most important job in the world. According to Fortune, “While the figures vary widely from state to state, the average American woman taking a 5-year break from her career starting at age 26 will lose out on $467,000 in income, wage growth, and retirement assets and benefits over her lifetime. An average American man of the same age will lose $596,000.” Having lost my strong network of working relationships and reputation I worked so hard to build, I worry I’ll be greeted with diminished prospects of employment when I come out on the other side.
Yes, my husband and I were well-aware to my shifting role as a result of having our children. It goes without saying, we wouldn’t change any of the decisions we’ve made that have brought us to this point, including our choice to have our children. We knew this would be our reality, and we weren’t blindsided by any stretch of the imagination, but I am caught off-guard at how strongly I desire and am anxious to get back to the daily grind. For this, I feel an overwhelming amount of guilt.
I feel guilty for being plagued with this ongoing internal conflict. I feel guilty I’m not one of those women who have always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom. I feel guilty for moms who would kill to be in my position but can’t due to circumstance. I feel guilty I have this absurd amount of student loan debt for a diploma that isn’t being used. I feel guilty this life isn’t enough. Am I greedy? Shouldn’t this be enough? How selfish of me to want more when I already have so much already. Why am I not content and grateful — I’m already so blessed and lucky in life.
Knowing just how fast this time will pass and how quickly my kids will grow up, I’m content putting my professional dreams on hold for the time being, during which I’ll continue to hold on to this strong desire to resume my place working outside of the home. This is just one of the many sacrifices we make as parents, and at the end of the day, my kids are always worth it.