Why I’m Glad I Worked Before Staying At Home

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Telling people recently about my decision to quit and stay home full-time with Raven has gotten me comments from both ends of the spectrum–

I’ve had moms who expressed sadness that I had to work my baby’s first year of life, who have told me that it must have been hard to miss milestones and to spend that much time away from my baby, especially since she’s my first.

And then I’ve had people who, when they learn I just quit to stay home, have said, “Wow. That’s noble of you,” and who inevitably end up throwing the word “sacrifice” in there somewhere, too.

I’ve learned to just accept that people are going to have a whole lot of varying opinions on everything to do with motherhood, especially on the issue of staying at home vs. working outside of the home.

But other people have already explored both sides of that equation, and have done it convincingly both ways.

Today, that’s not my intent.

Today, I actually want to explain why I’m so grateful that I chose to work before I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, and why I’m glad I didn’t choose to stay at home from the beginning (or to keep working, for that matter).

My story starts when I was much younger, probably when I was a young teenager. The feminist movement had been gaining real traction since the late 1960’s (not that I was alive then to witness it, of course), but by the time I was a teenager on the cusp of the 21st century, the feminist movement had been pushed to the extreme edge, where feminism equaled the idea that working outside the home and basically giving up all the “menial” chores of house and home was the way to truly show how powerful women were and how women were able to make their highest contributions.

It’s funny that I became so attached to this idea, seeing that my own mother stayed at home until I was probably 10 or 11, and even when she started working, she pretty much worked the hours I was at school for the first several years (and she’s one of the most amazing, influential women I know).

But somehow, I got it into my head that to be the ultimately respected Woman (with a capital W) in these feminist times, you had to make your big contribution through your career.

My thoughts and feelings about this matter of making the biggest contribution through a career only intensified as I entered college, and for the first few years, I often wondered aloud if I’d ever get married, much less have kids. The fact was, the idea of such a permanent and never-ending commitment scared me, and since work was something I was good at, I pursued it ferociously, often working several jobs in addition to taking a full 18-credit course load.

I was constantly busy and stressed and exhausted, but since I thought that my best contributions to the world were going to come through this type of work and outward achievement, I pressed on.

Near the end of my sophomore year, I received the devastating news of my nephew’s sudden passing due to a rare bacterial infection. I am not exaggerating when I say that the news turned my whole world upside down, and that for the first time in perhaps my whole life, I was able to see clearly what really was the most important. During that time, my sister (who had lost her child), remarked to me how grateful she was that she was able to say that she had spent every single day of his life with him, and that she was so glad that she had chosen to stay at home for those years because it meant that she was able to have no regrets.

That really hit me. Up until that point, I had never entertained the idea of staying at home, but after her comment, I started looking at stay-at-home motherhood as something to aspire to, rather than to simply accept or deign to do.

Fast forward several years—I had grown up a lot. I no longer felt like believing in the inherent worth of being female meant working outside the home. I had obviously gotten over my fears of marriage and kids (seeing that I was now married and was about to have one). And in those few weeks before Raven was born, Matt and I still hadn’t decided what we were going to do about our work situation—he still wasn’t working full-time but felt it was worth it to stay on with his company, and I still needed to put in a fourth year of teaching to get the retirement benefit. So even though my small taste of stay-at-home life on my maternity leave had been wonderful, I went back to work last August without *too* many regrets (although there were still moments when it was really tough).

As I went through the last school year, it seemed to be really hard at first to leave Raven, and then it got a bit easier as I got more used to it. But then, near the end of the school year, when Raven was getting older and much more expressive, I started noticing how much she seemed to be craving my attention, and how much anxiety she seemed to get whenever we were separated for awhile. I started realizing that I just didn’t know her schedule or her ways of communicating or her little milestones as well as I did before because I just wasn’t around her as much as I was before.

And I missed it.

I knew she was getting exemplary care from her daddy (and that those months of him staying at home meant a lot to him, too). I knew that she was being taken care of at the sitters’ house. But then I also realized that in my heart of hearts, I wasn’t where I wanted to be—I wasn’t with her.

And that’s when we started looking at the option of me staying at home.

But I’m not sorry at all I chose to work first–

If I hadn’t, I think that when the stay-at-home mom life got to be a little monotonous (as it sometimes does) and seem unexciting or crazy-making or unappreciated, I think I might have started wondering about that outside world of work and thinking always in the back of my mind of how much happier I might be if I went out there and worked again. And I think it might have been hard to put myself out there after so long at home because I’d  have more guilt about doing it, whereas the way I did it–right near the beginning–forced me to see that that way works well, too, and that being a working mom definitely has benefits (for both me and for Raven).

In short, working that first year led me to see that I WANTED to stay at home, not that it was just something that was “expected of me.” It makes it so that now, on those harder days, when I’m wondering what on earth I’m doing here and if this is all making any difference anyway, I can think of how hard it was to work full-time as a teacher AND be a mom to a baby/toddler, and it makes me realize that I would pick THIS hard any day, as long as I’m able and as long as it’s a financial option for us. Because now I know–I REALLY know–that there is no greater contribution I could make anywhere else (and I hope those contributions come, too!) that will compare to the contribution I’m making here in my own home.

I don’t know what the future holds for us; I don’t know when I’ll go back to working.

But for now, I’m really glad to be home. And I’m thankful for the year of work that made it so I can truthfully say that I’m really glad, without any wondering or “what-ifs.”

For me, this is where I’m supposed to be now.

And I’m thankful we’re able to make it so.

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