I Regret Not Working When My Kids Were Little



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.


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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.


    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!


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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.


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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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  10. 13

    Savvy Mom Stylish Girls says

    All through college, grad school, and into my career no one ever told me that life is going to drastically change after children. That after children you will have to decide to work or not. (if you even have the choice). That balancing work and family is one of the hardest things to accomplish. Some of this advice would have been nice to have as I was working so hard to start my career. I had no idea.

    So now I am a mom who works 40 hours a week out of the house. Yes I have an awesome job with a supportive boss, make great money, and I truly feel like my kids have thrived. However, if I could have quite I would have. Maybe I would have regretted it later on but I spent the first 5 years of my kids lives wanting so bad to be home. But we were never able to make that happen. Sometimes I think if I could quit now I would. But I know how lucky I am to have the type of job I have so I try to remember that.

    I think if someone wants to be a SAHM they need to plan for it. They need to plan financially and emotionally with forward thinking. I totally agree it should not be a decision made hastily.

    Sorry I could go on with this topic. I love the original article you mentioned. I applauded her for speaking her truth on the matter. I think woman need to hear both sides.

    Thank you.

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  11. 14

    Christine says

    Oh how I could go on and on on this topic. But first let me say that I completely agree and how brave of you to be so honest about it. I have chosen to keep working while raising my boys (2 & 4). I live in Canada where we have a wonderful system that allows mothers to be in employment insurance for a year maternity leave while their jobs are protected. I’m not sure I could have worked during either of their first years – though I longed to, I was just too tired. With the second I had the good fortune to be able to do some work from home and it helped me feel connected, like I was holding on to a little bit of myself. The thing is, working and mothering is the right fit for me. It keeps me whole and DOES make me a better parent. It’s who I am. Like you I’ve struggled, I’ve felt guilt, I miss them (of course I do) and there are days when the commute is particularly difficult that I think I am totally crazy. But then I see them flourishing, being loved by many adults and I know they are okay. As long as I know they are okay, then I can do what I have to do. All this to say. Yes! I think some moms really do need to work. And it’s okay that we do. There is no right way, only different ways. I wish everyone could see that.

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  12. 15

    Kim @ This Belle Rocks says

    I feel much the same way…I’ve never had the opportunity to really be a SAHM, but I know I wasn’t cut out for that anyway. I always felt a little bit guilty about that, but I knew there had to be others out there like me!

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  13. 16

    Beckytwogirls says

    I’m glad you wrote this. I have three – 5 1/2, 3 and 7 months. Love love love them to pieces, but being a SAHM is not for me. I need that time away for my sanity, my own well-being. And they have gained so much by being cared for by another provider who loves them every bit as much as I do (she doesn’t tell me if they accidentally call her mom). Not working is not a choice for me and some days I wish it were just part-time, but I would be insane if I were home 24/7.

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  14. 17

    charissa says

    It was the right decision for my family for me to stay home with the kids after our second was born. That said, I’m not really cut out for the stay at home mom gig and I’m looking forward to becoming a full-time grad student in the fall when they are all in school!

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  15. 18

    Lynn MacDonald (All Fooked Up) says

    Today,my second child turns 20. For me, I had already been consulting and didn’t love my job so being a SAHM was just what I was going to do. Having said that, I WISH there had been a job that I loved so that there was something I could do for me.

    My opinion is the BEST mom is the mom who is happy, whether that be from being with the kids, or having a job. The more fulfilled you are, the better off your kids are. I was home, but half the things we did bored me to tears. I’m all about honesty and my kids have always known how I felt.

    Of course, I don’t believe in regrets either.

    Excellent post!

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  16. 19

    The Military Life says

    I fought my husband, tooth and nail, after getting out of the Navy to stay at home and not work. On paper, the numbers just didn’t pay me to work. We actually made more with me staying at home. I did work briefly when my oldest was two, and guilt overtook me. I felt as if I were paying someone else to raise my child. With the hubster in and out to sea, I was the stable parent and thought it my job to provide stability the best way I knew how: staying at home. When I say stay at home, I mean, I’ve had a sitter once per year every year, with the exception of this one (I even drug them to the ER with me and begged the dr not to hospitalize me for pnuemonia during one deployment) and none of my three kiddos went to nursery or pre-school. They all started their school lives at Kindergarten at the age of five.
    Twelve years later, my youngest teetered off to Kindergarten, and I planned to do all the things I had been putting off including finishing my degree, getting a job, and all the cool stuff I thought I couldn’t do with kids at home. Well life happened, and here I am, halfway through my daughter’s kindergarten year, still at home, doing the same stuff.
    I regret not chasing my dreams down. In the midst of being a support military spouse and a mom to three, I’ve sacrificed everything for myself personally and professionally. I’m now almost 35, and I feel as if the only things I have accomplished is getting hitched and spitting out babies. To many, I’m still young, but I’m absolutely terrified of the real world now.
    Hindsight is always 20/20.

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    • 20

      Mel says

      Similar with me as well when I separated from the Air Force, didn’t want to but knew the kids needed one of us home, we both deployed constantly. 4 kids and 12 years later, the real world is scary!! I did my degrees while I was home with the kids, while he was deployed and during PCS’s, never easy but did it. Now I have a full time job not related to any of my degrees and am still kinda scared of this civilian stuff because it is so different from the military. Adapt and overcome, right? You got this.

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  17. 21

    Lady Estrogen says

    Great read! I went back to work part-time when the twins were 8mths and then full time when they were 16mths. I love working; I love the glam of it. And you hit one very strong truth – I think I am also a better mom when I have had some time away from them. 24/7 of all things baby was not a gig I was ever going to sign up for.

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  18. 22

    Arlene says

    I loved my job as a middle school teacher but once I had my first and tried juggling it all I was MISERABLE! I couldn’t focus on my job when I was there and I couldn’t focus on my kids when I was home. Apparently I was a disastor multi-tasker! So, I quit my job to stay home. I like to think I made the right decision…I don’t miss anything, they can lounge in their jammies all day if they want, I don’t have to worry about taking days when they are sick, and the list continues. Now, I am no super mom, but I am making a sacrifice for them. I figure I will probably work for 20 more years once they are in school, so enjoy the time home with them now!

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  19. 23

    Vicki Archer says

    Wow! Great read…I haven’t worked in 7 years now! Ever since my first pregnancy…three kids later I have transformed…is it good or do I sometimes miss “my” life, which in turn I have a “family” life?! It’s a hard choice to make!!

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