I Regret Not Working When My Kids Were Little

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Messy-Baby

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 3-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 3 days a week, 2 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 new-born 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 fulltime 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 fulltime 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.

Comments

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  1. 1

    Amanda says

    I was fortunate enough after my children were born to be able to work part time. I’m a nurse, so I’ll never make a fortune simply from being a nurse, but I value my time away from my kids a great deal. I worked for about 9 months on a part time basis before taking a full time job and it did allow me to more easily transition into being a working mother.

    And I can’t stand the peppy mothers. I really want to shake them to see if there’s really someone inside.

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  2. 2

    dysfunctional mom says

    I think, if someone is debating staying home vs. working, they SHOULD come to you for advice. Because you represent another side of it, and you’re very open & honest about it. I loved being a SAHM and when I did work when my kids were small, I hated it. It ripped my heart out. But, I totally understand that others don’t feel that way. Some mothers very much enjoy working, and that is perfectly ok. Just as some of us are not cut out to be working moms, some of us are not cut out to be SAHMs, and nobody should feel guilty or inferior for her decision.

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  3. 5

    Christine says

    I try to work (and study) at home while being the main carer for my 2 kids (aged 3.5 years and 13 months).
    My daughter started at creche last week, just 3 days a week, but when it’s combined with my son’s school hours, it means I have just 14 hours a week to try and pack a full working week in…
    I need to do something with my time which is for me – in my case, working from home and studying. It keeps me sane and reminds me that I’m more than just a wife and mother – I actually have a role and a purpose outside the family.

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  4. 6

    Shannon says

    I’ve been a SAHM for about 4 years now… I quit working when my girls were 6 and 4. I had wanted to stay home when my oldest was born, but we couldn’t afford it at the time. So when the opportunity for me to quit working presented itself, I jumped at it.

    But…

    I know the time for me to return to the workforce will come (and probably sooner than I would like), and this thought scares me. Because I have NO IDEA what job I will find when that time comes. So on one hand, I wish I had stuck with my job.

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  5. 7

    I'm So Fancy says

    Here here! I gave it up first though to be a SAHWife when we moved to England and I couldn’t work. Trying to find a new identity was a struggle and I’m still fighting for myself. And I love my girls more than anything but please, please let go of my leg. Have absolutely no shame in your perspective!

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  6. 8

    Grumpy Mum says

    Well, I started a reply and ended up going on with myself a bit on this subject so posted my random ramblings to my own blog instead.
    In response to your post I find it refreshing that you can be so honest about how you feel on this subject. Everyone seems to expect mums to stay at home with their children if they possibly can, but not everyone wants to (and the apron-wearing mum’s don’t help) so it’s just about finding a balance that’s right for you and your children – financially, socially and emotionally. We as mums aren’t much use to them if we’re frazzled out and pining for adult company!

    x

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  7. 9

    Erin says

    Thank you for your honesty and candor – I hope this was empowering for you. That is how this made me feel – empowered and in good company!!

    I’d wager that the apron wearing moms may not feel as happy and fulfilled as you may think…I wear an apron sometimes and GOD KNOWS that I am NOT one of “those moms”

    The whole stay at home parenting gig is REALLY hard and I only do it in the summer – I can admit that most days I feel a rush of relief after I drop my 3 kids off at daycare and head off to my job…does that make me a bad mom?
    Hopefully not but I am running late now so I don’t have time to worry about it:)

    GREAT POST!!! I’d expect nothing less of Scary and her pals:)

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  8. 11

    Liza (@amusingfoodie) says

    Great, great post. I have always worked full-time while raising our two kids, but had no other option – I’m the bread winner. When they were tiny infants (particularly my first, and especially when I had to go back to work at 4 weeks with my second), the pang to stay home and the jealousy of my friends who were able to, grew exponentially. However, in the long run it ended up being right for me to work – and I’ve loved the time that the kids have had learning from other caregivers during the day. It’s crazy day-to-day, but we make it work.

    Liza

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  9. 12

    Krista says

    Oh, I loved this. My career had JUST started to take off when I got pregnant with my first child. I had a boss I respected, a job that challenged me and I was “being noticed.” I was scared to death that being on maternity leave and then coming back as a mom was going to throw everything off. So scared that I worked from home after about week 2 and went in for occassional meeting. Luckily, I have a great support system at home. So I haven’t run into too many problems where “the kid gets in the way.” (God, that sounds bad.)
    I’m now pregnant with my second and this time I’m really looking forward to maternity leave. Mostly because my job has changed. Our company was acquired too, but instead of it meaning opportunity, my career growth has been stunted. When I talk about looking forward to being home, I think my husband thinks that I want it to be a full-time gig. I don’t. I want to have the baby, brush up my resume and start looking for something else. Something where I feel challenged again, something where I feel respected again.
    You said it best when you said it’s a balance. It is. Some people are cut out to be at home baking cookies and doing crafts. I am not one of them. I think I can teach my daughter more by going to the office and having her go to daycare or preschool than I can by being at home with her, letting her play while I count down the hours to nap time.

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