My B.C.-self (that is, before child) had always expected to have a two-career family. Heck, that’s what my parents did. I knew working full-time while raising a family would be tough, but I didn’t yet understand why mothers chose to stay at home, especially after earning advanced degrees. I even caught myself saying, “I didn’t earn my MBA to stay at home.” Just a year before my son’s birth, I finished my MBA, which I earned over 2.5 years while working full-time and attending classes at night (I don’t recommend this approach if you’re married or have a family, as it’s incredibly rough on everyone involved). But this spring I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. So what changed? Becoming a mother.
We give into the pressures of being an ideal worker—the temptation of ambition—and we need to be counter-cultural in order to achieve balance. We need to get our priorities in order with God number one, our spouse second, our children third and everything else after that.
My aha moment didn’t occur all at once. While home on maternity leave I started to freak out about the logistics of getting myself ready for the day, nursing an infant twice (my son was nursing every 2.5 hours at the time I went back to work), getting my son ready for daycare (my husband took care of drop-off), and myself to work all by a decent hour. And how was I going to run errands when I had to pump over lunch and rush home to pick up my little guy at daycare and nurse all by 6 p.m.? I needed to create more time in my schedule, so after much contemplation, I decided there was no good reason not to ask for reduced full-time status (32 hours a week over four days, while retaining benefits and a 20% pay cut to match my new schedule). I gathered up the nerve, called my boss and asked if I could return to work reduced full-time. He had no problems with the new arrangement, so I started the paperwork with HR. My new schedule would be working Mondays through Thursdays and spending time with my son and getting things done around the house on Fridays, so that we could enjoy the weekends as a family—at least that was the idea.
First Day Back at Work
We prepared for my going back to work with three practice days of daycare the week before my first day back in the office. We hoped this would help with the new morning routine and help us to learn what we needed to pack for Levi each day; this also allowed me to get acquainted with his teachers and be there for his first drop-off. One of our practice days we forgot a bottle nipple. Oops! This also happened two more times in the first few weeks. Luckily my husband works close to home and daycare, so he ran home and retrieved this critical feeding utensil both times it happened after I went back to work. The night before my first day back at work, I packed Levi’s adorable little puppy backpack, my surprisingly heavy pump bag and healthy lactating mom lunch, and I laid out my laptop backpack, so I wouldn’t forget it in the flurry of the morning routine. The next morning, I woke up early, nursed Levi, laid him down for a little siesta while I got ready for work, ate breakfast and nursed him again before we were to head out the door. Mind you, we were running late at this point, so both Dave and I were frazzled and patience was running thin. We buckled Levi into his car seat, and when Dave picked it up, I noticed something dripping from the car seat onto the table. We quickly inspected they mystery liquid and discovered it was poop! Ewww! We divided and conquered—I cleaned up and changed Levi, while Dave washed off and dried the car seat as best he could given the fact there wasn’t enough time to wash it in the washing machine and lay it out to dry. Both Dave and I made it to our respective workplaces around 10 a.m. that day. Sheesh!
The Daily Grind
We finally settled into a routine, but travel days certainly put a kink in the schedule. Those days consisted of me waking up at 4 a.m., pumping in the airport bathroom and in the bathroom stall at client offices, and missing my baby and husband like crazy. My husband did a great job taking care of Levi while I was away, but there were a few hiccups. On more than one occasion, he picked up Levi late at daycare (for those who haven’t sent a kid to daycare, you’re charged by the minute past closing time). Another time, Dave had somewhere to go, so he didn’t stop by home to let the dog out and failed to bring the baby bag with him. Let’s just say I’m thankful that he was at the house of friends who also had a baby. Everyone survived unscathed.
There were many more signs after going back to work, but my epiphany really started during my yearend review. Since my boss was located at our world headquarters and I was in a regional office, he conducted my yearend review via phone. After he walked through my ratings and said nice things about me, he proceed to tell me that he was going to be focusing on another practice group, so there would be an opportunity for someone to step up and lead our little group. He mentioned that he could see me or one of my colleagues in that role, but my first thought (which was likely all over my face and why I was thankful this review was by phone) was that I wasn’t at all interested in doing more than what I was already doing. Pre-motherhood, even while pregnant, I would have jumped at the opportunity. Wow. Maybe I really had changed.
I started reading Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte, which I’m hoping to finish soon. Written by a journalist and mom, Brigid Schulte confirms what my husband and I have been discussing for a while—the U.S. workplace isn’t conducive to work-life balance. She gives a plethora of statistics, research results and real-life examples in this fascinating commentary on modern life. Combining what I’ve read thus far in Overwhelmed and what I’ve learned from some pretty awesome Christians who’ve taken the time to invest in me and my husband, my takeaway is: We give into the pressures of being an ideal worker—the temptation of ambition—and we need to be counter-cultural in order to achieve balance. We need to get our priorities in order with God number one, our spouse second, our children third and everything else after that.
This got me thinking back to how I had been struggling with not knowing who I was anymore now that I am a mom. I knew I was still the same person, but my life looked so different than it did before my son. I no longer defined myself by what I did. My family became so much more important than my career. I felt like every day I spent at work or even every minute sat in traffic, I was choosing to be away from my baby, missing his next milestone. He needed his “Mom-Mom,” and I needed to be reminded that as a Christian, my identity is in Christ.
After talking through my identity crisis with my husband, mom and more experienced mom friends, I finally sat down with my husband to run the numbers and see if we could afford for me to stay home. We determined that we could afford it—yay! Now it came down to having the guts to go through with it and finding the right time. Timing was important because I still owed my employer for a portion of the tuition reimbursement I received for the MBA I earned while working full-time. After one particularly frustrating work day, I was motivated enough to calculate how much I would owe if I quit then verses every other month leading up to when my balance owed would be zero. I talked it though with my husband and decided I would quit at the end of 2014, using my yearend bonus to pay the remainder of my tuition reimbursement. I am so blessed to have a supportive husband who doesn’t care if I work or stay home, as long as I am happy. He reminded me that we could swing the tuition reimbursement payback sooner if I wanted to start staying home with Levi while he was still under a year old. It would be a painful check to write and a hard hit to our savings, especially after having to replace a vehicle and air conditioning system in recent months, but we could do it.
Trying to Do It All
So in 2014, I tried to keep doing it all, balancing my career—albeit four days a week instead of five—with being a wife, new mom, friend and lay leader in a new church plant. In addition to both our careers and my husband’s volunteer involvement in Rotary and as an elder at our church, my husband and I run a small non-profit, RighTrak Industries, which helps one individual or family at a time overcome poverty and become self-sufficient. Collectively, my husband and I only have so much capacity, and something had to go. I was stressed out, exhausted and had little energy left for my family at the end of each day. I was swimming upstream and wondering how do people live like this?!
My thoughts turned back to the fact that we could afford for me to stay home, so I was choosing to work, choosing to leave my baby in the care of others while Monday through Thursday I only spent a handful of Levi’s waking hours with him, choosing this stress. What kind of mother did that make me? Both of my parents worked when my sisters and I were growing up—in fact, both earned their master’s degrees while working and raising two of their eventual three kids—and we appear to have turned out OK, so maybe what I was doing was the right thing. But it just didn’t feel right for me and my little family.
I wanted to put God first and my family second, and the more I prayed about my conundrum, the more God revealed that I needed to simply quit my job and focus on my family and our mission. The Lord also reminded me that he will provide everything we need, albeit not necessarily all we want. I needed to trust Him to provide, not our savings account. So after much ado, I finally mustered up the courage to march into my new boss’ office and quit my job. He could tell it was a really hard decision for me and even stopped by my desk later that day to console me and tell me how his wife did the same, staying at home when their children were young. You know what? God rewarded my obedience further with an opportunity to stay at home full-time with my son for the rest of the year and not have to pay back my employer for tuition reimbursement! A couple weeks after giving my resignation, I received a job offer from my employer to work part-time on my terms. So starting in January 2015 I will be working a maximum of eight hours a week, mostly from home on a schedule that corresponds with my son’s part-time preschool program. What a blessing!
I’m currently entering week four of being a stay-at-home mom and loving it. It’s exhausting, and I still need to work on managing my expectations about what I can accomplish while caring for a now 11-month-old, but I’m not as stressed. I’m happy and witnessing first-hand all those special little moments when you can just see Levi’s little brain working and the pride on his face when he learns something new. Really, who wouldn’t want to spend more time with this adorable little man?