When Flora was born, I was freelancing.
When Kate was born, I was working full time for a former freelance client. I was let go from that job when she came along. The agency didn’t have more than 50 employees, it was exempt from the Family and Medical Leave Act.
I was an accidental stay-home mom for awhile, and went back to full-time work when Kate was a year old.
When Michael was born, I was working full time for a global corporation based in Pittsburgh. I took my maternity leave (six weeks of disability plus six weeks of FMLA). Before I went back to the office, I asked to move to part-time hours because I had a new baby, a preschooler, and a first grader. My request was flatly denied. We needed the income from my job, so into daycare he went.
It was fine, although not ideal. With different policies in place, I probably would have made different choices.
The year off after Kate’s birth was the most illuminating for me. I didn’t like being a stay-at-home parent full time. Other parents feel differently, and that’s fine! I was bored and restless, wanting an intellectual challenge beyond figuring out what I was going to do with my children that day. I was trying to freelance again, but chasing down projects, pitching stories, and then actually writing were more challenging with a toddler and baby. Putting them in daycare meant raising my rates, and my clients didn’t appreciate that.
Why Working Outside the Home Makes Me a Good Mom
1. I’m more patient. I have found depths of patience in myself I didn’t know existed. I think this goes hand-in-hand with becoming a parent in general. But coming home from work, and switching into mom-mode reminds me that my children aren’t my coworkers. They aren’t going to leap into action with an email. So I slow down.
2. My children are independent. My children don’t need me to do every little thing for them. They dress themselves, pack their lunches, get their own snacks, entertain themselves, clean up after themselves, and even cook their own dinners. (Okay, they haven’t gotten much past ramen noodles or fried eggs, but they will!) They shower themselves, and go to bed on their own, with hugs and kisses from me and their father instead of the labor intensive bedtime routines they needed as babies.
3. I’m 100 percent mom with them. Between their school schedules and my work schedule, I value the time I have with my children in the evenings and on the weekends. I like being silly with my children, playing games, coaching my son’s soccer team, and reading books aloud. My children like making me laugh, and they trust me with their thoughts and feelings. I have two tween girls, and more than anything, I want them to come to me any time they need to.
4. I know the value of a healthy workplace. Changing jobs made me realize that perks like flex time, work-from-home days, and PTO weren’t optional. Having an employer who recognizes that all workers, not just parents, have lives away from the office is vital. It is especially valuable for parents who have to take care of sick children or need to leave a little early one day a week to get little Timmy to soccer.
5. I’m setting an example. My children seem to recognize the value of having a mother with goals outside of raising children. They understand I’m a person, too, with my own life and wants and needs. They ask me how my day was and what I did at work. They ask about my writing and thoughts on the world. They trust me as their mom, and respect me as a person. I can’t ask for more than that from them.
I’m not here to tell you how to achieve work-life balance (I don’t believe it exists). What I do believe, after nearly 25 years in the workplace and twelve years as a parent, is this: I have value as an employee and as a mother. Finding a job that was a good fit for me as a career-oriented person and for my family has meant the world to me. I can’t promise that working when you have children is rainbows and unicorns; it’s not. And if you are a happy stay-at-home parent, I’m certainly not questioning your choice! I know that I’ve found what works best for me, my husband, and our children. And so will you!
*WOTHM = Work Outside the Home Mom. All parents are working parents – some of us just have a different job, for which we earn a paycheck, in addition to our unpaid role as caregivers.