I am about to become a stay-at-home parent. I’m not going to write about the mommy wars, whether staying home is a “luxury,” the state of maternity/paternity leave in this country, etc. You guys are all smart and have read all those articles. This is just about how I feel about leaving the workforce after over a decade in my career.
For the past 10+ years, I’ve been working with people with developmental disabilities. I started out in college working at a preschool for kids with special needs. I had 8 little boys in my classroom and I loved them all.
After that, I worked my way through jobs at an autism clinic, a feeding disorders clinic (not to be confused with eating disorders), a day program for adults, and most recently, as a case manager for people receiving various services.
I’ve really enjoyed my career. I’ve learned a lot and become a fierce advocate for a person’s right to self-determination. I’ve learned just how hard it is for people to access needed services. I’ve met amazing people doing amazing things. And I have been proud of my career. I like the answer I’ve been able to give to the question “What do you do for a living?”
But that’s all about to change.
When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, my husband Mike and I assumed we’d both work and send her to daycare. We couldn’t comfortably afford a daycare center, so we found an unlicensed neighbor-of-a-friend who watched a couple of other kids. I was a little uneasy about it, but figured it would be fine.
After Amelia was born, I completely changed my mind. I had some PPD going on, exacerbated by my body’s inability to make breast milk (that’s another whole article) and was in agony about going back to work.
Mike and I sat down and really looked at our finances. We realized that we would be spending all but $500 per month of his income on day care. So he got a job bartending a few nights a week and quit his old job exactly 2 weeks before my leave ended. I went back to work, supporting my husband and our tiny baby. Around this time, Mike also went back to school to finally finish the degree he had started in his early 20s.
But it never felt right.
I hated juggling work and parenting. Some people love it and are great at it. I’m just not one of those people. Mike is an amazing stay-at-home parent, but he’s a total extrovert and starts going a little loopy on days he can’t leave the house. I started resenting my job for taking me away from my baby, even if it was paying all our bills.
I had never considered being a stay-at-home parent before but once Amelia was born, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I knew the timing wasn’t right, though. It wasn’t fair for me to ask Mike to work full time and go to school full time. My job had the benefits and better pay. At the time, Mike staying home made the most sense. It wasn’t awful, and it served us well for a couple years.
Fast forward two years and we have another daughter, Violet, and Mike has finished school. We’re about to switch roles. He’s going to enter the workforce and I’m going to stay home with the girls.
This is not a purely financial decision. I want to do this. I’ve been begging to do this since I first laid eyes on Amelia. I’ve cried and agonized about this. And now that I’m getting what I want, I am terrified.
What if I screw this up? What if this is a giant mistake? What if I regret this decision? Mike has set the stay-at-home parenting bar pretty high — what if I can’t reach it? What if the other stay-at-home parents don’t like me?
A big part of my identity has always been my self-sufficiency and independence. I’m worried that I’m going to lose a chunk of that by not having my own income. I have always supported other women in doing what is right for their families, and this is what is right for my family right now. But I still find myself justifying it.
There are things about being a working parent I will really miss. There are definitely mornings when both girls are screaming that I am thankful I can retreat to the semi-quiet of my office. I don’t have to share my lunch. There are no bodily fluids to clean up. If I need to, I can put on headphones and space out for 5 minutes without worrying that someone will run out the door, flush something down the toilet, stab their baby sister with a pen, swan dive off the sofa onto the dog, etc.
But I want my daughters to learn that doing what is right looks different for every family. I want them to see that I have supported our family both by working and by staying home. I want them to know that sometimes getting what you want takes years of planning and work. That it’s okay to change your mind about how you see yourself and what you want.
Mostly I just want them to be happy. And I want Mike to be happy. And I want to be happy. Hopefully this is a way to make that happen. Wish us luck!