I made my mistake seven years ago.
Today, when I talk to friends who are in the process of planning to have children, many of them later in life, I tell them to hold onto to their jobs after the baby is born and not to make any hasty decisions about leaving their full-time jobs.
My own decision was hasty.
I loved the job that I had when my first child was born. I worked in a publishing house with supportive co-workers and a job that got more and more interesting every day. The few years before the birth of my child were great professionally and when my company was acquired by a larger one, it only got better. Benefits, raises, opportunities, business trips – they all rose. I used to tell my husband and friends that I would grow old with that company. I truly believed that. I never thought I would leave my job after the baby was born.
We were only married a year before I got pregnant at age 32. Everything happened so quickly. We got married and were living in NYC. Then we got pregnant within six weeks of trying. Shortly after that, we moved to the suburbs and the baby came a few months later. I took a few months off to be with her. While I was out on maternity leave, my office moved out of the city, much further away to where we had chosen to buy a house. Boom, boom, boom. Everything changed, with the blink of an eye.
Suddenly I faced a long commute, breast milk seeping through my shirt during meetings, the exhaustion of juggling work and home life, a tumultuous relationship with a babysitter who I felt was stealing my role as mother to my own child. The emotional roller coaster of trying to balance both worlds was driving me bonkers.
It didn’t help that right after I went back to work, the tri-state black-out struck just after I was leaving work to catch the bus to go home via Grand Central. I got stuck in NYC for a night and cried as I pumped milk for my three-month-old who was home alone with a babysitter who was struggling to find candles and flashlights (that was our fault for not preparing her, I realized later, but who knew this would happen two days after my return to the workforce?). The two of them survived the night, but in my mind, after that my working days were numbered.
When I first returned to work after completing maternity leave, my managers allowed me to work in the office three days a week, two days at home to help ease the transition. It did help, but my mind was still rattling with fear that I was missing out on my daughter’s development. She was learning to walk without me. She began to call my babysitter “mommy” and wouldn’t come to me when I got home from work. When I tried to go to the park with her at the end of the day, I undoubtedly got called on the phone by the office and had to run back for conference calls. I kept getting sick from running back and forth with one sinus infection after another. The late nights with a newborn didn’t help either. I was run down.
In addition, I am sure that my work performance fell. I was lugging my pump to work, closing my office door for privacy so I could continue breastfeeding. I would work through lunch so I could leave work early enough to make it time to spend time with the baby. When the day came to resign, I don’t think anyone was terribly surprised, although I did manage to leave the company on good terms.
I wish I could tell you that I never looked back, but I can’t. For the first six months, I actually continued to work for that company on a part-time basis which I realize now was a savior. It was hard for me to stop checking my email when I left; I missed my colleagues; I missed the brand I had been working so hard to promote. I continued to pine for the company and my job for years after that.
I got pregnant again rather quickly, within weeks after leaving my job, and my home life got really busy. After my son was born, I had two babies at home – they were only 19 months apart. And it was hell. One could cry, then the other would cry. One would go to sleep, the other would wake up. I couldn’t get a handle on being a mom to two so close in age.
So, I realized very quickly that staying home with them wasn’t for me and I grew extremely depressed. During a trip to England that summer, I met many women who had amazing part-time jobs and I became determined to return to the U.S. and find one of my own. I was fortunate to have a contact from my old job that led to a part-time job in publishing a few months later. That job lasted nearly three years and spiraled into a consulting career. But the problem with consulting and part-time work is that it is not reliable and quite often my skills aren’t fully utilized. I have somehow taken a detour, yet I am not quite qualified for the positions I feel are my true “dream jobs.”
I am glad, in my own way that I got to experience my children’s early years. Working part-time, I have been there for everything – ballet lessons, school events, piano lessons, concerts. I’ve also made sure that they have never missed anything and have been the best mom I have known how to be.
But sometimes I wonder what if I had hired a babysitter all those years ago who didn’t make me feel jealous? What if I had given my job more time? Unfortunately, I’ve wondered that more times than I’d like to admit. The honest answer is that my kids would have been fine – and great – either way.
The truth is, and this is hard to admit, but I’ve never really liked going to the playground. I don’t always love being at school for drop-off and pick-up. I have never liked dealing with some of the mothers at school who have insisted staying for play dates even after the kids were old enough to be dropped off. I don’t love making lunches.
The truth is that I don’t love being responsible for the kids all day, every day. It’s hard to admit and I sometimes feel like a bad mom, particularly when other moms answer the doors wearing aprons, just having baked cookies with their children and my own child and I feel like I’m dealing with Barbara Cleaver. And I’m Courtney Love in the kitchen. My kids would love to bake cupcakes and cookies all day, but I’m not that kind of mom. I wasn’t meant to be a stay-at-home mom. Only I had no idea when I made that drastic decision early on about leaving my job.
I’m not saying that I think it’s easy to work full time and raise children; it’s not. But personally I like the satisfaction of working, of making my own money, of handing over some of the childcare to someone else. I’ve noticed that my own children are often better with new blood in the house. Not only do I do better as a mother after spending time away, but they in turn benefit from being with someone who is not as burnt out as myself after spending so much time at home as their sole caretaker.
So, if you are a new mom and are thinking of giving up your full-time job, don’t come to me for advice. If you have a chance to work part-time, and it’s in a job that offers the same type of responsibilities as a full-time job, then that sounds like a good idea but weigh your options carefully. Life balance is everything and do what is right for you. But if you love the job that you have before your children born, and you don’t want to worry about your options later on, stick it out. The longer you are in a position and give your best to a company, they will respect your life balance and it will be easier to go to the odd dance recital or doctor’s appointment during the week when something comes up. You will get in the groove of working and raising a family and it will work itself out.