To Work or Not While Raising Kids…May NOT be the Question We Need to Be Asking
By Nancy Chapman
Editors Note: this Mothering Matters blog was written by Nancy in 2012. So although Nancy’s life has evolved and her kids are older now, her message is as relevant as ever.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As part of ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of time our kids sit in front of a screen, we recently bought the Game of Life. At first glance, it is a thinly disguised advocate for higher education. Go to university – become a doctor, lawyer or a teacher. Don’t go to university – become a mechanic, an athlete, or a singer.
Both my husband and I hold two post-graduate degrees each and live a comfortable life. While we don’t want to insist our kids pursue higher education, this game previews some of life’s major decisions and the impact your job can have on your lifestyle.
The game’s milestones are necessarily simple — get a job, payday, buy a car, payday, payday, get married, payday, payday, payday, get a loan, buy a house, have a baby (or four). Essentially, players race through a track or “life” where paydays, lawsuits, and other “milestones” determine whether you’re retiring in Florida or Detroit, or even at all.
Then one night it suddenly struck me — if I were playing the Game of Life with my real-life choices, I would lose.
Except I’m not playing the game of life, I’m living it.
A study published in the December 2011 Journal of Psychology purported there was an inverse relationship between depression and working women. That is, working women defined themselves as happier than their non-working counterparts, especially while their children are younger.
I used to work for a large multinational consulting firm. My projects took me away from home for months on end and this took its toll on my young marriage, but I told myself it was worth it – I was at the top of my game, on the Partner track, a master of work/life balance – I was having my cake and eating it too.
Not long into my maternity leave with our first son, I sadly acknowledged I couldn’t go back to my consulting life. I just couldn’t imagine leaving my baby with a full-time nanny while I went to Chicago for 40 consecutive weeks. I knew professional parents who did, but it wasn’t for me. So I took a package and some time out to assess my options.
When our son was about a year old, I went back to work at a technology startup. I was happy to trade my yoga pants for pant suits and was more than relieved to find that my brain still worked! I loved the feeling of missing my boy but I hated dropping him off at daycare, and mother’s guilt sat heavy on my heart. If he cried at being left at daycare, I wept all the way to work. If he didn’t cry when I dropped him off, I sobbed harder because he had already adjusted to life without me.
When I became pregnant again, I agonized over how to balance my career and marriage with two kids. I decided to give up a career I mostly loved because we didn’t want our kids to be raised by nannies. The decision as to who got to stay home was largely economic, with a dash of societal norms thrown in. But by the time our third child arrived, I was fully in the groove of motherhood and I felt happy.
It wasn’t until our youngest went to school full-time that I started to feel untethered again. I finally had my pre-kids life back – between 9 am and 3 pm. But with working out, shopping, lunching with the ladies and the odd bit of blogging – I was adrift. I was accomplishing very little and hating it. When you’ve devoted 11 years to keeping little ones alive, it’s discombobulating to realize you’re no longer chained to a lead ball.
Sometimes I think I would be happier if I hadn’t stayed at home to raise the kids.
But perhaps it was my sense of self that needed maintaining, not necessarily my career.
I chose to stay at home to be there for my boys when they needed me, and sadly I sometimes resented them for something they never asked me to do. My identity was so tied up in my work that I lost my sense of self when I became a mother.
So maybe the question we need to be asking is not necessarily whether mothers should work or not – but rather how we, as a society, can support mothers, working or not, in continuing to nurture themselves while they care for the future of our world?
Nancy is a recovering workaholic with a flair for the dramatic, learning to love to stay at home with her three boys. She is currently in the throes of a mid-life crisis and wrestling with abandonment issues as her youngest started school full-time this year.
To read more Mothering Matters blogs, here is the link.
6 thoughts on “MM #10 – To Work Or Not Raising Kids”
Yes, it’s a very difficult question. I tried to go back to teaching when Jocelyn was 6 months old and just couldn’t do it. It was boring and hard at times, but I also feel it’s what society puts on stay at home moms. My mom stayed home and was never bored and I definitely benefited from it. I went back to teaching when my youngest was in grade 2. I still feel it was too early, I did enjoy it, but there are days that I wasn’t available for my own kids.
Now I work full time, have 2 teenage girls, husband and 2 elderly parents that I spend time with and help with their care.
It’s a busy life and no room or time for friends or me.
I have been depressed and on anti-depresentants and gain weight. Now I have changed my eating habits and put exercise
Into my daily life, again. I have lost weight and I am off my medication. It’s very hard sometimes and everyone one deals with it there way. Thanks for sharing this issue.
I’m curious, Nancy, how three years into all your children off to school full time, what you have chosen work/family balance? And how you feel about it now? Also you seem to have been very happy and confident in first attaining your career, then deciding to stay home and liking it and then after 11 years suddenly not so confident in your choice.
It’s so cliche to say the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but sometimes I really think it’s only natural to feel that way, looking back. I do believe that all (parents and children) will benefit from any time spent together. It’s time you can’t get back. They are only little for such a short time and it’s such an important time in their life. It’s a lot of the experiences they have in the early years that conforms them into the person they will become.
But that being said, I have also looked at friends who have chosen to work, come home totally refreshed and say their kids are their escape and are just so happy to hang out and do what needs to be done with them. (We’ve also seen the opposite, that work is stressful and then it gets taken out on the kids in the few short hours the parent does have with them- which is probably my main reason for wanting to stay at home). And so since I’ve chosen to not work and after 15 years of staying home a majority of the time (I have had my children in 2 batches, 8 years apart so hence I am on the last year before all are attending school full time), I look back and some times feel exhausted and tired of being a mother 24/7 and feel I needed some more me, career time. Maybe I should have worked through it all to get a break from my kids. Yet I too was so adamant that I loved being a stay at home mom and that the kids would be better off for it. And now I’m questioning it? I shouldn’t be.
That’s where I think the cliche, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, comes into play. We can only experience our choice, so when we feel stressed about something it’s natural to look back and think well if I had chosen differently, that would solve this issue I’m having right now. Yet if you had done it the other way there would be something else that you’d think would have been better that way.
Great article, Nancy. Very well written. Great food for thought. Thank you.
Thanks for this excellent feedback, Jackie! I will be sure to pass on this feedback to Nancy, so she can perhaps consider answering your question regarding where she’s at now (3 years later).
Excellent comments, Joyce…thank you for sharing your experience!
Hi Joyce & Jackie – thanks for sharing your comments.
Joyce – It’s been said that being a stay at home parent is the toughest job (not to mention caring for aging parents as well!) – serving tiny dictators without pay or praise or chance for promotion, but we often forget that it can be a lonely road too. While my partner worked and travelled and networked to build a successful firm, I got to live a Groundhog Day kind of existence (feed, clean, repeat) for 11 years. And while I did get to the point where I was “decent” at it – clothes washed, house tidyish, food in fridge, kids occupied – I never felt that It was something I excelled at, nor did I particularly want to. I wasn’t the mom who took the kids to the beach and built sandcastles with them – I usually sat on a nearby bench clutching my Starbucks yelling, “don’t eat the sand!”
Stay at home parents have to fight for their “personal” time, whether it’s reading the paper, going for a run, and the odd night away with friends eating something other than chicken nuggets. This time away to focus on me alone was, and still is, critical for my sanity. Good for you for putting yourself first.
And Jackie, as for whether I think it was better that I stayed at home or if I should have gone back to work, I think it’s really six of one, half dozen of the other. The tipping point for me is whether the stay at home parent can manage their own guilt stemming from societal and familial expectations of occasionally missing out (be it a conference, a concert or a school presentation) and proudly march on. I went back to consulting three years ago and I love it. I love dressing up and helping people, but I especially love that my boys get to see me as more than just their mom, but that’s more about me than them. I wouldn’t go so far to say, I wouldn’t trade one box of Annie’s Mac and Cheese when I look back, but I’m glad we were able to afford me not working when our kids were young. However, if we weren’t able to afford it, I would have worked and I know my kids would still be the (mostly) lovely boys they are today. I think we can get overwhelmed by the enormity of such a decision, to work or not to work, but life goes on in either case. My husband likes to say, “happy wife, happy life” and I think my boys would say the same about their happy mom.
Thank you so much, Nancy, for the detailed response to both Joyce & Jackie’s comments and questions…excellent points you’ve made – again!