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.
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