The inner debate as to whether to go back to work or stay home after having a baby is a complicated and stressful one. The decision depends on a number of factors and sparks many questions within a family. Can we afford it? Do I want to delay my career? Do I want to pay daycare costs? Can I leave my baby? How will I balance it all? Will I get bored staying at home? Will I be thinking of my baby all day while at work? The list goes on and on. I went through all of these internal debates after the birth of my daughters Faith and Fiona. Ultimately, I decided to go back to work and was a working mom for a very long time.
Recently, I had to make that decision again. At age 45, after being in the work force for 25 years, I was faced with the decision to work or stay home with my baby. In the end I decided to stay home with my baby. Oh, and did I mention, my “baby” is a freshman in High School?
I made the decision to be a stay at home mom while my girls are in 3rd grade and high school. Choosing to stay at home with your kids is a very personal decision and women make this decision for a number of reasons. I support all women’s decisions, but for me, the decision to quit at this stage of my life felt right. I was an executive director at a non-profit, and a registered dietitian. My job had a lot of stress and demanded a lot of my time. I was often working late and on weekends. I liked the work I was doing, but it was consuming most of my time. I found myself coming home and not wanting to engage with my family at the level I should. My 8 year old, is still at that age where she can come snuggle on mommy’s lap and snap me out of my “work mind” through her giggles, warm body, and incessant chatter. However, there was this other elusive creature inhabiting my house. She was tall and beautiful. She was moody and quiet. She was like a temperamental ghost, floating around the halls every once in awhile only to disappear into her room.
As anyone with teenagers knows, getting a conversation out of them is like digging for gold. You work and work trying to find a little gem, and once in awhile you uncover something valuable.
However, those times are few and far between and I was missing more of them because of my demanding work schedule and subsequent mental and physical exhaustion.
In December my daughter decided to transfer from private school to public school mid year. This was a decision that she had put a lot of thought into, and while my husband and I were nervous about her transferring from a school of 400 to a school of 1700, we supported her. I also knew that this was going to be a challenging transition for her. It was her first “adult-like” decision that she made for herself. My little “baby” was taking a step into adulthood. This is one of many steps she will be taking in the next 3½ VERY SHORT years before she goes away to college, and I was likely going to be witnessing it from the sidelines as a stressed out 60-hour-a-week working mother, too tired to engage with her. This terrified me, especially with all the pressures that young women face today:
What was she doing online?
Does she want a boyfriend?
Does she HAVE a boyfriend?
Was she eating enough?
How are her friendships?
Does she feel pressured to drink or do drugs?
I realized that answers to these questions may or may not be offered up freely from her to me, but I knew for sure that there was a better chance of her coming to me about these things if I was simply in closer proximity to her.
Quitting my job was not without stressors and complications. It was not without some serious questions about my identity, my husband’s increased responsibility, and our finances. It was a transition that required a lot of planning and sacrifices. It is also a privilege that I know everyone does not have, and I do not take that for granted. However, in the end, there was no question that this was what I needed to do.
Now I am here in the morning to make her a smoothie and drive her to and from school. More often than not, while we are making those rides in the car, she’s got her nose in her phone and gives me one-word answers to my questions. There are lots of “eye rolls” and exasperated sighs coming from her. I’m far from a “helicopter” parent now, but I do try to engage. When she comes home from school I am there to greet her. Most of the time she mumbles something as she plops her backpack in the middle of the floor and runs upstairs to her room. There has also been more enforcement and “groundings” because I am more aware of unacceptable behavior. This means more slamming of doors and “no fairs” and stomping around. But other times, she sits down and chats with me about classes, politics, and friends. I also noticed that she texts me more throughout the day. She knows she will get an immediate response to a joke or funny meme she sends me. At night, I’m not so exhausted and I can sit with her in her room and watch a movie or a TV show.
Don’t get me wrong; she still is like a beautiful, elusive, temperamental ghost floating through the halls of our house, but now the ghost oftentimes has to pass through me simply because of the proximity of my presence. And sometimes, on the very best of days, she’ll take my hand as she passes by and invites me into her world. It is during those moments, that I realize that my decision to quit my job and stay home with my 14-year-old “baby” was the right one for my family.