This week, one of the very few outspoken, “normal” (not involved in an extremely high-powered or extremely high-earning career), visible-online, relatable working moms that I am aware of announced that she had quit her job to stay home with her children.
I don’t begrudge anyone this privilege or opportunity or choice. In fact, if it was important to me, I could also be a stay-at-home parent. But I couldn’t help feeling a wave of disappointment at the loss of one of the few online voices of working moms like me: moms who work because they prefer to, who aren’t trauma surgeons whose work is “heroic,” who are professionals but who aren’t earning super impressive $300k salaries, who don’t trudge to work longing to spend more time with their kids, who aren’t made miserable by their dual role as breadwinner and parent.
Laying in bed last night, I thought, “I may just have one tiny little corner of the Internet to write about this, but why not put it out there? I know there are moms just like me who might stumble upon what I have to say and feel a helpful, supportive connection.” So I’m starting this series about being a working mom, and my only hope is that it helps one other woman feel like she’s perfectly normal and not at all alone.
After all, we shouldn’t feel alone! Almost half of all American mothers are full-time working mothers. But see the rest of that article? We also get a lot of feedback that tells us that we shouldn’t be working full-time, that working full-time is bad for our children and our marriages, and perhaps most importantly, that we shouldn’t want to or enjoy working full-time. When I returned to work after my son was born, people made a lot of assumptions about me. I heard, “It must be so hard to be away from him,” “It must have been tough to come back,” and even, “You must be saving for something.” None of those were true for me. I was thrilled to return to work. Of course, I am lucky enough to have an employer that understands that it’s a process: I returned to work full-time immediately, but I worked from home three days, then two days, and now one day per week.
It’s easy to feel like something is wrong with you when you’re a mother of young children who wants to work full-time, enjoys working full-time, and doesn’t long to be with her kids while at work. But why is any of that considered unusual? Men are expected to work full-time, to enjoy it, and to be satisfied with the amount of time they spend with their children. So why not women, too?
I know that I’m a great mother, but it took me a while to fully believe that in the face of feedback that told me that great mothers are with their kids 24/7 and don’t care about having careers.
For me, being a full-time working mother has more benefits than downsides. Here are the three biggest pluses:
- More money. This is a simple one. It’s important to me to be able to go out for dinner, cook high-quality meals, entertain friends, dress well, improve my home, save for retirement, and go on vacations. With two incomes, all of these things are much easier to achieve, yes, even with the cost of childcare.
- Higher-quality time. I’m not, have never been, and probably never will be someone who’s crazy for babies and toddlers. I love my child and I love spending time with him, but I get more out of that time when it isn’t 24/7. I enjoy my kid-time more when I also get time to not think about kid stuff at all and focus entirely on an editing project, producing a great piece of writing, or interpreting a tech white paper.
- Changes for my child. We live in a small home, and we can only buy so many toys and travel to so many parks. When he’s at childcare, my kid gets a change of scene, some playmates, and caretakers who sing him different songs, talk about different items and activities, and play different games. This wasn’t very important when he was a baby, but as he grows older it’s really helpful. He’s excited to go to care and excited to be home.
And of course there are downsides:
- Career limits. I feel limited both geographically and time-wise while I have very young children. Luckily I have a job that suits me perfectly, but if I lost it, I would not want to switch to a super long commute or to a position that might demand a lot of overtime or cause a lot of stress right now. Those options will have to wait a few more years.
- The daily grind. Waking up and getting a kid ready for childcare in the mornings is definitely a chore! It takes a lot of planning and a very stable routine to get everyone out the door smoothly without forgetting anything vital.
- Costs. Childcare costs money. So does having someone else clean my house and so do the occasional takeout meals, convenience food items, and lunches out that are necessities when both parents work. Luckily, at least where we live, those costs don’t come close to outweighing the financial benefit of two working spouses.
Let’s begin there. In my next post, I want to talk about some of the online working mom role models and inspirations I’ve found so far, and how they’ve helped me navigate this role.