At week 11 of my 12-week maternity leave, my husband did something I was desperately hoping he would do: he asked me to quit my job and be a stay at home mom with our son.
We both had reservations about leaving our child in daycare, and we were talking about what other options we had. In that conversation, he gave me permission to do exactly what I had wanted to do since I found out I was pregnant.
And it made me absolutely furious.
One week later I returned to work, leaving my son, still too young to even hold up his own head, with daycare teachers, women I dramatically and grudgingly referred to as “strangers.”
I had no excuse stopping me from being a full-time stay at home mom. It was something a part of me truly wanted, for a long time I just didn’t think was an option for our family. With my husband’s blessing to stay at home with our son, I realized I was now the only person standing in the way of what I thought I had wanted.
Given that choice in that moment, I chose work.
More than two years later, that offer still weighs on my mind, and not only do I question if I made the right decision, but I still regularly revisit that option. Sometimes I wonder if it’s too late to make that transition now. But the truth is, I am afraid to be a stay at home mom. I know that what I envision the experience to be is both idealistic and unrealistic, and on the hardest days, while it is a relief to indulge in that fantasy, I know that’s all it is.
There are real-life consequences to staying at home that keep me returning day after day to my window-less cubicle, in part because there is no way to prepare for those potential consequences or to even fully understand them unless I would make that decision to stay at home. They are things that honestly terrify me.
We could get by on my husband’s income alone, but not without both personal and family sacrifices. Plenty of families make it work, and on a lot less, but there is an independence that comes with my own income. I have the freedom to indulge in the things that are just for me – lunches out, new clothes, trashy celebrity gossip magazines – things that would also be quick to go if I left my job. While it sometimes feels selfish, they are things I don’t want to give up.
Both my husband and I have full-time careers. In the evenings and on weekends, our roles in childcare and within the home are relatively equal. If I left my job, I would expect to take on the lion’s share of home care and child care. Right now, I can’t go for that. No can do.
Career Set Back
If I left to stay at home, I would always plan to return eventually. But I would have no way of knowing how this mom-gap in my resume would affect future job prospects. Not only would I likely be behind on technological changes, I would also be majorly set back in my retirement savings and opportunities for upward mobility. I was never seeking out a corner office, but would a mom gap eventually force me to the bottom of the office totem pole all over again?
Loss of Identity
Growing up, I didn’t dream much about being a mom. I didn’t play with baby dolls, I didn’t babysit, I didn’t really care about babies. My own mother worked, most of my friends’ mothers worked, and it was a time when the media seemed to be celebrating the successful single career woman – that’s who I wanted to be. So it caught me off-guard when I realized my desire to stay at home with my son. It’s not who I saw myself as, and I didn’t know what to do with those feelings. If I left my job and stayed at home, who would I be? More importantly, would it be enough? And I don’t mean to other people, would it be enough for me?
The more time that passes the further away I get from being a stay at home mom. My son is getting older, and those daycare “strangers” I leave him with each day all have names. And my son loves them. Each morning he runs to them. For that, I love them too. He has favorite playmates, he learns songs and sign language, he plays outside every day, and he gets a healthy, balanced breakfast and lunch each day. We had our reservations about daycare, but my son has learned so much there, and he is excited to go there each morning. It was a good decision for him, and it’s something I couldn’t take away from him now. I miss him everyday while I am at work, and while I only get 2 hours each evening with him during the week, I try to make sure to appreciate those couple hours of dinner, play, and bedtime routines.
It’s hard to be a parent. Bottom line. And while I love the idea of being at home with my son everyday, my biggest fear in being a stay at home mom is that I won’t be any good at it. Working moms, stay at home moms, work at home moms, we all have our challenges, and it can be hard to figure out the right balance. Like so many parents out there, I feel like I am searching for that perfect balance, one which may not even exist. But I owe it to myself and my family to keep trying to figure it out.
Note: For clarity, I want to point out that this piece was originally written in the fall of 2014, shortly after the birth of my first son and the end of my maternity leave. I didn’t publish it then because – I have no idea why. I did a major edit in 2016, but still with no publication. I’m choosing to publish it now as I am wrestling with these same thoughts, fears, and questions as I near the due date of my second son. I wanted to revisit this piece that still feels so relevant to me.