There was a time when I was a career woman. I had clients and happy hours and expense accounts. I threw on the charm. I negotiated deals and wore high-fashion clothes and heels. I made a lot of money. It was great. I was doing something with my life.
Money meant things. And I wanted all of the things. And I bought them. If I had the things, that meant that I was successful. The outward show was important. Then I started to have kids. It was even more important then.
I wanted my kids to have it all, so I continued to work. My career changed and I was working a weird schedule. There were early mornings, late nights and lots of time on the road. But I was making money, so it was worth it. I was good at my job. I was successful. I was important.
Then one May day, I lost my job. It was sudden. The business just closed its doors, and my career was over. I was shocked. My husband and I talked it over and decided that I should take the summer off to be with our kids. He is self employed and summer is his busiest time. I filed for unemployment and looked for something new to start in the fall. It was tight, but we were making it.
My kids were nine, seven, four and one year at the time. I had never had the opportunity to just be with them, less my three-month maternity leaves. Waking up every morning and being able to make breakfast and not rush out the door seemed like magic to me. I was content to be at home playing games and maybe heading to my parents’ house to swim. I didn’t need extravagant adventures or lush vacations. It was simple and I was happy.
As the summer dwindled, my husband and I talked it over and decided to take a leap of faith. His business was steadily growing and our kids weren’t getting any younger. We decided that I would become a stay-at-home for the foreseeable future. It opened up opportunities for me that I never had before. I could attend class parties and do lunch duty. I was able to take my toddler to story hour at the library, or take a walk in the afternoon. It felt so liberating.
I am not naive to the fact that this is a privilege and that I am very lucky. But know that with this privilege comes sacrifice. My husband works all the time. Every day, night, weekend, he is always on. That’s tough on our family, but we all know that it is essential if I am going to be able to stay home. And there are trade offs. I do the laundry and I cook and I clean. I drive our kids to and from school. I make lunches and pack snacks. I take care of teacher gifts and sick notes. And I am 100 percent happy doing those things. As a matter of fact, it’s perfect for me right now.
That summer off has turned into years; it’ll be four in a couple of months. Now I spend my days doing laundry and cleaning up messes. I play with dolls and watch kids get really excited to show me their new video game moves. And that’s enough for me. There is nothing about my life that is exciting. I don’t walk out the door wondering if I will achieve my sales goals for the month. I don’t wish to be the account executive of the quarter. I just hope that I get all the laundry done.
Which, by the way, never happens.
Please understand, I do not sit at home eating bon bons and watching soaps. I am working, it’s just a different kind of work. And this life is definitely not for everyone. I truly wasn’t sure if it was for me. But as my children grew older and became more involved in school and activities, it became somewhat of a necessity for us. My husband can’t drop everything to pick up a sick kid and take them to the doctor. His work is our livelihood. He doesn’t work, we go broke. It’s as simple as that. So I pick up that slack and I am happy to do it.
But what about my career? What about my contributions to our bottom line? What do I have to show for myself? That’s where I got it all wrong. My worth in my family is not measured by a paycheck. I am important even if I’m not bringing home the big bucks. There is merit in changing diapers and planning meals. It isn’t glamorous, but it is fulfilling. I am happy with less things and more time. What I don’t get is paid time off or dental benefits. I am not putting money into a 401K. But when it’s time to retire, I’ll have a wealth of memories that I never would have had if I tried to have it all.
And that is enough.