One of the more unexpectedly challenging situations in my motherhood journey was deciding to be a stay-at-home mom (sahm). I chose not to return from maternity leave after having my second child. I was thrilled about the idea of being home with my kids. But when it was time to actually take the leap, I was consumed with doubt, fear and anxiety. How could something that I desperately desired and that seemed so right be so scary?
I initially started entertaining the idea of staying home during my pregnancy but I knew I didn’t want to decide for sure until after giving birth. I wanted to see how I felt after being home with a baby again. It had been 12 years since I gave birth to my daughter and I wasn’t entirely sure that I wouldn’t welcome the idea of returning to work after a few months home with a newborn. Early in my pregnancy, my husband and I evaluated our finances to see if it was even feasible and after developing a plan, we tabled the idea.
A major factor that made me hesitant and anxious was my sense of loyalty to my employer. I was working full time at a company that I had been with for over 9 years. I started at the company as a legal administrative assistant and a little over a year later I had worked my way into an entry level position in the Information Technology department. Fast forward a few promotions, awards, several trainings and a degree in Information Systems Management and I found myself working as a Programmer/Analyst and Database Administrator. The company had been great about rewarding my hard work and that made me want to work harder. And the benefits? We’re talking top-of-the-line health care coverage at incredibly low premiums, unheard of 401k matching, a pension plan and generously subsidized parking (huge deal in Washington, DC) to name a few. Between the benefits and the company’s history of recognizing outstanding performance, I was finding it extremely difficult to decide to walk away. Particularly since leaving would mean not returning from maternity leave and I felt incredibly guilty. It didn’t help that I was promoted and given a generous salary increase a month before starting my maternity leave. So what was I going to do?
Once my son was born, I was of course completely enamored and had no interest in leaving him to go back to work. I decided not to think about it until closer to the end of my maternity leave so as not to riddle my fourth trimester with extra anxiety. When the time came to share the news with my manager, I had no idea how to start – I couldn’t find the words. I consulted the master of all things how-to, Google, but found no clear answers. All I could find were tons of mothers sharing how they experienced the same emotions. Reading those stories ended up being all the answer I needed. It told me that how I was feeling was normal and there was really no right answer. It was a tough decision any way you looked at it and I just had to choose what was best for me. So I started to tell myself that if at any moment my company decided to change directions and my skill set didn’t fit into the vision, I would be let go. It would be a business decision, not personal. Well, my family is my business and my husband and I made the decision to change direction. Me working full time no longer fit into the equation. It was business, not personal.
I kept telling myself “your kids only grow up once.” Sure I could have sucked it up, enrolled my son in daycare and returned to work and he and I both would have been just fine. But I knew from experience that ten years from now, I would be drowning in regret-filled what-ifs and I-wish-I-would-haves. My oldest child was already 11 years old and I spent most of her childhood working seven days a week and being a full time student. I did what I had to do as a single mom but I would have loved to have been just a little more present in her early years. This time around I wanted it to be different. I reasoned that ten years from now there was no way that I would say “I really wish I spent less time with my kids when they were young.” And so my mind was made up. I was still terrified of breaking the news to my manager but I knew that I was without a doubt making the right decision for myself and my family.
How did you decide whether to stay home or return to work? Were you overcome with a wide range of emotions or was it a fairly easy decision for you? Share your experience below.