When A Stay-At-Home Mom Chooses To Go Back To Work

by Clint Edwards
Evgeny Atamanenko / Shutterstock

I knew my wife, Mel, going back to work was coming. Or at least I assumed it was. She’d been a stay-at-home mom for several years, and even though I’d gotten used to it, and we were lucky enough to be able to make it work financially, she wanted to do it. She was ready, and she had my full support, of course.

We’d gone through a few arrangements during our 13 years together. When we first got married, we were young, 22 years old, and we both worked. Mel had a full-time job, and I worked part-time while I finished college. Then I went to graduate school, and Mel became a stay-at-home mom for several years.

Once I finished school, I worked two jobs while Mel took classes online and cared for our kids. There was a short time when I was a stay-at-home dad while she worked an internship.

Obviously, we’d been through a few changes, but I will admit, Mel staying home with the kids while I worked had been the least complicated, at least from my perspective. But of course I’d say that. I was the one benefiting the most from it. Mel being home all day gave me the flexibly to pursue my career with little concern for child care. I knew my kids were in good hands — the best hands.

But when Mel was offered an opportunity to work outside the home at our children’s school, building up their new gardening program (she studied horticulture in school), she was ecstatic. It was the perfect job for her. She could use her degree, she’d have summers off with the kids, and the school provided affordable day care for our toddler in the same place she worked. It was exactly what she wanted.

And she will tell you, most importantly, that it got her out of the house.

Being a stay-at-home parent can be pretty isolating. Mel and I had talked about it before, but it wasn’t until I spent time in her shoes that I fully realized what it was really like. When you are a stay-at-home parent, having your partner come home after a long, hot day, trapped inside four walls with wild children, can feel like a cool drink of adult conversation.

And yet, when Mel approached me about the job, I will admit, it gave me pause. I wanted to be excited for her, but at the same time, I knew it was going to add another level of complexity to our already busy lives.

We were standing on the front porch of our small Oregon home, our children playing in the yard, when she told me.

“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” I asked. “When we got married, all you wanted to do was be a stay-at-home mother. Are you sure you want to give that up? We are doing okay with money. You don’t have to work.”

Mel didn’t give what I said much thought. She responded immediately with, “Yes.” She paused for a moment. Then she went on, “I want to do this. I love the kids, but I want to do something that isn’t just them. And I want to use my degree, and I don’t really care what anybody thinks. This is for me.”

I thought about all the support she’d given me over the years. I thought about how she worked while I went to school, and watched the kids while I attended class. I thought about all the papers she proofread. I thought about how I dragged her from Utah, to Minnesota, to Oregon for grad school and jobs and opportunities. Even though I knew our life was going to grow more complicated with her going to work, it was going to add something beneficial to her life, and as her husband, I knew that the right thing to do was to support the woman I loved because she’d always supported me.

So we went for it.

Mel’s been working at the school for almost a year now, and in that time, I’ve had to step it up more with child care. Not that I didn’t pitch in before with the kids, I did. We have always been a team. It’s more that I can’t just get up, get ready, and go to work like I used to. Our mornings are more chaotic now with Mel and I both getting ready for work while juggling the tasks of getting the kids ready. And just like Mel did with my career, I’ve been spending time helping co-author and proofread education grants for her garden project. I’ve spent weekends helping her build garden boxes and haul soil in our pickup.

Basically, I’ve been supporting her the same way she always supported me. And I suppose in a situation like this, some people might say that they are doing these things because they owe their wife something, and initially, that’s what I thought.

But now, I don’t think that’s what it’s about. When a stay-at-home mom goes back to work, you should support the transition regardless of whether you need the money or not, and it shouldn’t be about how much they supported you in the past. It should be about partnership. It should be about pitching in, not about who owes whom. Not that you shouldn’t think about those things and be grateful, you should.

But the reality is, Mel and I are in this together. I want her to be happy, and I want her to pursue her dreams. I feel confident that she feels the same. But ultimately, that’s what marriage is all about. It’s about looking at what opportunities you have and the desires and dreams of the person you are with, and doing all that you can to support them in those pursuits. In return, it’s good to feel confident that the person you are with will do the same for you.

Now we plan out our days around both our work schedules. We juggle the kids. We discuss our work priorities, deadlines and obligations, and although it’s a little more stressful for me at times, Mel is obviously a lot happier. And that makes everything worth it.