Voices on Work and Parenting
The Complete Stories from Our Fall 2019 Newsletter Article
Edited by Becca Perry-Hill
Before my daughter was born, I was getting a lot of messages about how you should return to “normal” life after about six weeks. Although I knew this wasn’t exactly true, I had no idea how profoundly a child would impact my relationships, energy, finances, and especially career. Looking back, I’m so glad I went through these changes, but it was also one of the most challenging transitions in my life.
In this article, we wanted to explore the changes and transitions working people go through when they become parents. What factors impact their decisions about work and career after having children? How do their relationships change? How does becoming a parent impact their sense of purpose or calling? In this article, we hear how some parents always knew they wanted to stay at home with their children and how others never imagined they’d be in that position. Other parents stayed in their full-time careers, but struggle with balancing time and energy for both work and family.
This article is by no means a representation of everyone’s experience. Rather, it’s simply a compilation of personal stories. Most of these stories are written by parents of small children and babies—people in the thick of it, so to speak. And, most of these parents are women. Though some men make big changes in their work lives, it’s still more often women who change their career paths when becoming parents. Regardless of your experience, we hope that you find these stories about parenting and work to be meaningful and relatable. For those of you who are past this stage, you might reflect on how this transition went for you.
Alicia from Chappaqua, NY:
Since becoming a mother, I went from working full-time, to part-time (with one kid), to staying at home with both kids. Working at an environmental non-profit, I wasn’t earning enough money to pay for childcare in my area of the country. So, the economics of the situation made my decision for me—I needed to become a stay-at-home mother.
Working 20 hours per week when my son was younger was a nice balance for me. I wasn’t earning much (and almost all of that paid for his care while I was in the office), but I was able to do the work I wanted to do. I was making a difference. I also got a break from my son two days of the week. I was able to listen to NPR on the radio (vs. the Raffi children’s songs that were continuously playing while he was in the car). Plus, I was still able to be home five days a week with my little guy. We did mommy and me music classes. We went hiking. I loved watching his curiosity and learning about the world. It felt important that I was able to help foster his interests and teach him all I knew.
After my daughter was born, I stepped back from the part-time job and was now a full-time mom. This, I have to say has been hard (fulfilling, but hard none the less). Some days seem so very, very long. I do see staying at home as a privilege (one that I know a lot of my friends wish they were able to have), but it’s also all encompassing. I started losing myself in the process of raising these two tiny humans. After about two years, I’ve started to find a balance, and I’m making myself a priority. I joined the Board of Directors of the environmental non-profit that I used to work for, so that I could continue making a difference. I started taking a Spanish class to keep my brain sharp. I am not afraid of bringing in a babysitter for a couple of hours every week so I can go get a cup of coffee by myself or catch up with a friend.
I still see my environmental work as some of the most important work that I should be doing. I actually have more of an urgency to do this work now—for these kids. I’m afraid of what the world will look like by the time they have kids. However, I have the unique opportunity to teach my kids that all creatures are connected, that we need to use our resources wisely, that we need to care of the earth. And they get it (at 2 and 4 years old). I might be raising the next generation of change makers. That’s a really important job!
Luckily, many of our friends had kids at the same time as us (or we became friends with other moms with kids the same age). However, I feel like these relationships are more superficial than in previous chapters in my life. I don’t know much about them (their likes and interests), but I do know a lot about their kids. We’re there for each other if we need an emergency pick-up from preschool, or passing along clothes, but I sometimes long for the deeper connection I’ve made in past relationships.
As for my relationship with my spouse, I feel like we’ve gotten closer. We’re a team now. We each had to step back a bit from individual ambitions and priorities in order to create the sense of family that we wanted for our kids. While some can get resentful of this, it’s worked for us. Our New Year’s Resolution the first year after our son was born was to have a date night each month. We have continued this. We see this time to reconnect as the center of our family. If we’re not strong, the rest of the family is not strong.
While adding two kids to a family has certainly added chaos, noise, and a messy house, it has also added countless belly laughs, moments of immense pride, and overwhelming amounts of love. I know looking back that I will not regret the decision to stay home with the kids. They’ll have many memories of things we’ve done together. I sometimes feel bad for my husband that he doesn’t get to enjoy them as thoroughly as I do and doesn’t know them in the same way I am able to know them. I try to relay the funny and happy moments to him when he gets home from work, but it’s not the same as experiencing it. With that said, I’m still looking forward to returning to work once the kids are both in school. I’m ready. I want my kids to know their mom tried really hard to create a better world for them.
Kate from Saunderstown, RI:
People gave me all sorts of advice prior to having kids, mostly helpful. I have no idea who told me the following (because my memory is real crap since having kids): being a working mom you will never feel like you are doing a complete job at home or at work. I have found this to be mostly true, but I don’t know what it would have been like to parent while not working or to be in my current research scientist position not pregnant /with kids, either. I do know that I am sometimes too tired to analyze data or write coherently and that I miss my kids like crazy at other times while I’m at work. I sometimes wish to have a specific moment of time off from work, but I believe that it is a better fit for who I am to be a working mom rather than to stay at home.
My husband and I have adjusted our lives greatly to accommodate being working parents. We don’t travel for work unless absolutely necessary. We very rarely attend a happy hour unless it’s in a place that’s family friendly. We schedule our lives very carefully. All of these things are quite different for us. We had both spent more than three decades with high mobility, independence, and levity. Kids don’t allow for that (except the levity which is required with kids). What they do allow for is sheer, unexpected magic in mundane events, a way to see the world a second time, and a realization that we owe the next generation a better world.
Michael from Asheville, NC:
Finding a childcare “answer” while both my wife and I worked was incredibly challenging. We would work long hours just to pay for childcare. Once family finances were “creatively stable,” I was in the position to make the leap and quit my job. I have been a full-time stay-at-home dad for a little over a year. Being able to personally take care of my two kids (ages one and four) every day is the most rewarding and challenging “job” I have ever had. Thinking about past jobs makes me laugh at their insignificance. Priorities and purpose get solidified being a parent to young kids. It is enlightening, freeing and incredibly rewarding. It is also stressful, taxing and incredibly nerve-wracking day in and day out. All the other priorities take a back seat and get done later (or don't). I feel incredibly fortunate to be in this position and am constantly aware of how rewarding this time of my life is. I know it will be gone before I know it. I need to make sure I don't take it for granted.
Becky from Toledo, OH:
Since I graduated college, all of my jobs centered around environmental education, conservation, and teaching science. My sense of purpose was getting kids excited about science and developing a connection to our natural world. This passion was strengthened through marriage when I married a park ranger with similar convictions.
Early in our relationship, my husband and I made decisions about our careers and hopes for a family. We chose his career as an interpretive park ranger to support our family and knew my career would stop and start with each inevitable cross country move as my husband’s career developed. After our first big move, I continued to work full-time, teaching science during the school year and working as a seasonal park ranger in the summer. But when we were expecting our first child, we moved across country again and it was an easy “stopping point” for my professional life. I transitioned into being a “stay-at-home mom.”
Ten years, four kids, and two more moves later, I am still at home. Our youngest is two, and my transition back into the working world is approaching. I worry about finding fulfilling work as I can’t simply return to my old profession. Now that it has been a decade since I’ve been employed, will I be at a disadvantage in the applicant pool?
I feel fortunate to have been home with my kids and been present for all the milestones and changes that happen so fast as they race through childhood. I don’t regret giving up a paid career, but the reality is that I never stopped “working.” My sense of purpose remains the same and the drive to inspire and succeed is stronger when the children at stake are your own.
Amber from Madison, WI:
While in graduate school I got baby fever, so we decided to start trying to get pregnant as I was starting my final year of the PhD program. We were thinking that while we didn’t have much money, the flexibility of graduate school was not the worst time to become parents. And I’d seen a couple other students manage it pretty well. But, with how the timing of getting pregnant and applying for Postdoc positions worked out, I ended up accepting a job in April, defending my dissertation in May and moving to start the new job on June 1st. This meant switching doctors and jobs and cities all at once while about six months pregnant. I wouldn’t recommend that much stress on anyone else! But I went into it with the mindset of wanting a tenure track professor job at a large research university.
Lilly’s birth was traumatic for me—particularly because I had some complications that left me less able to physically care for her than I had envisioned. Then having to go back to work after seven weeks, I felt I didn’t get the chance to bond with and enjoy her for long enough. I was surprised by how much I loved her and wanted to spend all my time with her. I definitely had the “OMG I love you so much!” feeling as soon as she was born. That has only grown as she has gotten older and more fun, although she definitely tests us as parents! For these reasons, as well as some issues with my supervisor, I struggled to enjoy work but didn’t want my degree (and all I’d been working on before becoming a mom) to “go to waste”.
After a lot of thought, reflection and guidance from others, I realized I was too focused on what I thought I was supposed to do, rather than what I actually wanted or what would make me happy. At that point I decided to leave my Postdoc early and spend more time with Lilly. I remind myself that this is temporary—babies are only babies or little kids for a short time. And I don’t want to miss out on that by working a ton right now. This doesn’t mean I’ll never want to work a lot and advance in my career, but right now this is what makes me happy. I find that being a mom is the most challenging and rewarding role I’ve ever taken on! And it’s amazing seeing your partner grow into a new role as well.
One major challenge for both of my pregnancies and postpartum periods has been the lack of paid parental leave in the US. Both times I’ve had to cobble together time off, and as a Postdoc I didn’t even earn vacation or sick time, so ended up feeling indebted to my supervisor for “allowing” me to take seven weeks off. With my second, I at least qualified for FMLA (so could use vacation and sick time to get six weeks paid and six weeks unpaid). I still felt like I owed my colleagues for covering for me while I was out, and like I should work extra hard when I returned. Currently I’m working half-time, which is still an adjustment when I’d rather be home with my baby most of the time. One difference from postpartum with Lilly is this time I really enjoy my job and colleagues, and it’s very flexible. So, I don’t want to give up my job completely, but it’d be nice if I had had another month or so of leave.
Sarah from Hingham, MA:
Our twins arrived before I really had time to get a “career” off the ground. Also, with two babies to take care of it just made financial sense that I stay home full-time with them. Any work aspirations could wait. When the twins were three, and with the understanding that caring for them was still my first priority, I began dabbling in part-time work. This was a gift to me as I was so hungry to use my other skill sets, engage my mind, and interact with adults again. I took any job that allowed me to work from my own computer, put in hours while my children slept or allowed me to bring my children with me. It was a random smattering of opportunities, but it all provided me different engagement that was energizing in ways beyond mothering. When our twins began elementary school, I put in more hours and had thoughts of finally getting a “real” job. Then our third child came on the scene and I was back focused on taking care of kids.
I have never resented my position of being home and over the years my gratitude for the time I have with our children has grown. I also have a visceral understanding that mothering our children very mindfully and with extreme presence is quite valuable to us all. However, I have constantly wrestled with knowing I have other gifts and talents to offer. Since children, I have not felt that I am living up to my potential and that knowledge has been difficult to balance.
Now that our children are growing into teenagers, I am more aware of my position as a role model. There is less direct instruction happening with them and more watching and listening on their part. When they were younger my tasks were focused on safety and healthy physical development. I now realize the more important lessons to share with our three are how to be kind and helpful contributors to society, how to cultivate joy in one’s life and how to be empathetic and compassionate to oneself and others. So, how I live my life is a huge lesson for them. I am a firm believer in “walking your talk” and with adolescent eyes watching I am constantly held accountable. As I consider entering into my “career” for the first time, I am very conscious of my children observing and this definitely informs my choices.
My own mother shared with me that one of the best parts of parenting is having our children introduce us to new experiences. I can’t agree more. Not only have I tried new activities, pushed myself physically to keep up, read different genres and thought differently about topics like history and sports, I am now choosing a career path I hadn’t considered before. I want to be a role model of love, peace, empathy and compassionate action for my children. I also want them to witness my own enjoyment and fulfillment from my job. I fully believe that it is because of my position as a mother and the timing of raising my children that I have found a path leading me to purposeful work. It has taken time and patience, but now is my moment to really engage my other gifts and talents and move towards folding in additional work that engages, excites and provides me with meaning beyond, but also inclusive of mothering.
Holly from Asheville, NC:
I always knew I wanted to be a stay at home mama. Even in college.
My first son just turned three, and my daughter is eight months old. It has been quite the journey, even though I knew it was what I wanted. I would say that it’s only been recently that I’ve stopped thinking about my “past life” (before kids) and my job I had when my son was born. It was a great job at a private school in downtown Chicago. The benefits were amazing, and I loved being a part of a large community workplace like this non-profit school. My husband and I had moved to Chicago from Florida, and my colleagues became like family.
I felt a loss that I hadn’t expected when I stopped working. I also became very isolated as a new mom and had to find my path and my people. Only recently do I feel I have begun to find it. It is a mix of nature groups, library story times, and neighbors with kids. I recently heard that it takes about three years after moving to feel at home, and so this makes sense, since my son is now three. It is also quite a shift going from a dual income household to a single provider. While my husband has been super supportive and made it so easy, it was hard for me to rely solely on him. I am so grateful for these two beautiful humans, and although I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, it is hard, relentless, rewarding work. I think in some ways I’ve been harder on myself through the transitions because this is what I always wanted. I’m learning to accept the good with the difficult.
Joella from Charleston, SC:
I never wanted to be a mother. I know this sounds harsh (especially to those who want so badly to procreate but are unable), but it’s just the way it is. I should also state that I (obviously) love my daughter beyond measure and can barely remember life before her, but nonetheless it wasn’t in my life plan.
My mother always said that when I have kids it’d be good to stay home with them at least until they start school. My problems with this were: 1- I might never have kids so don’t get your hopes up lady; 2- what about MY career?; and 3- who says we will be able to afford living on a one salary income, and if we can, what if my salary is bigger than my spouse's? So, of course once my daughter arrived all I could hear were her words of me staying home. As it would happen, I was working a mediocre part-time job, so it was a no brainer to quit and stay home in order to try this whole parenting thing out.
I didn’t know what I was doing, but then again, in nearly all of my jobs I have had no real experience. I like to think I’m a quick learner. So here we are almost three years later and the last “real” job I had was before I started graduate school (some ten years ago). So yeah, that’s going to look stellar on a resume when my time comes. I feel as if my career path is nonexistent and almost a joke at this point and this saddens me especially when my peers and even younger family members are “making something with their lives” and here I am planning out story time at the library.
My sense of purpose has changed. Despite my feelings of professional inadequacy, every single day I am reminded that life is so precious and these days with my daughter are irreplaceable. I am still very much aware of the importance of planning for the future and making some sort of positive change on this planet, but I am also all too aware that I (or anyone) could die tomorrow. I realize that it is now my job to let my daughter know that she is loved, intelligent, kind and capable of making positive change in this world. I am slowly coming to terms with not having a wildly successful career—or let’s be honest, even a job right now—but the patience, perseverance, negotiating (HA!), and lightheartedness that I am learning in my current “job” will definitely see me through when my time comes to enter the paying workforce again. Let’s hope my future employer agrees!!
I feel so emotionally drained after being with a toddler all day-every day that it definitely takes a toll on my relationships. My husband probably takes the biggest brunt of it because he is with me daily. I hate to say it but by the end of the day I don’t want to talk or listen, I just want silence. I have been tugged at all day from the moment I wake up until sweet, sweet bedtime at 8pm. I just don’t have anything left. My friendships have changed to mostly those who are in the same trenches that I am right now. I also have very little time to do the things that fulfill me artistically, spiritually and recreationally.
I know I sound super negative and ungrateful, but it’s just the harsh and honest way in which I speak. I am fully aware that one day my child won’t be following me around wanting to talk and that husbands aren’t always there for their wives. So, keeping that in mind I persevere the best I know how…but it’s a challenge for sure. I never imagined it would be so hard to balance relationships after caring for a demanding toddler for three years straight.
Seeing my daughter’s innocence is a constant reminder of forgiveness from a greater being. She teaches me patience (which I really struggle with) and laughter, both of which I believe that God shows us daily, but we are too busy to notice. A child’s innocence and love are like nothing I have truly known before. Seeing how she learns from and mimics me is finally a legit reason to put all of my years of “churchin” into real practice.
After three years, I finally feel like I can do this. I think my daughter is proving to be an awesome kid who is compassionate, smart and observant and I like to believe that I have helped her hone in on those skills. Had you asked me four years ago if this is what I wanted to be doing or where I would even be in my life I would have laughed and said “no” and “no thanks”—but life is full of twists. I am happy to have this opportunity and realize that the hardest jobs are those that are the most important when it’s all said and done.
Bekah from Boone, IA:
I’m one of four naturalists working for a county conservation system in Story County, Iowa. Job opportunities in my field are limited and competitive, so I never considered staying at home after Oliver was born. Besides, I felt being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t what I wanted.
Although I didn’t realize the extent until much later, I wasn’t myself during maternity leave—feeling anxious, isolated, and emotional. We spent almost two weeks in the hospital after Oliver was born, primarily because of feeding challenges, so my anxiety led me to record every milliliter of milk he drank, even when it was no longer needed. Returning to work was overall good for me, allowing me to regain some perspective. However, I came back from maternity leave at the beginning of a very busy fall field trip season with a new school group coming through every day at different parks around our county.
I was traveling, and the work could be very physical, including canoeing (and hauling canoes and towing canoes full of children against the wind) and hiking. I knew my coworkers had already picked up the slack during my pregnancy and maternity leave, and I struggled with still feeling less able. Physically, I wasn’t in the same place I had been, and mentally, I was even less focused. My commitments were at home, and I was surviving work.
At the end of a day making decisions and caring for other people’s children, I hated the feeling of having used up my store of patience and good humor, especially since that store was already depleted by lack of sleep. I also felt very vulnerable to losing responsibilities that I previously held via co-workers stepping into that space while I was gone and then holding onto it when I came back. The tension of trying to give quality to work and home (with a husband in grad school) made me feel like there was very little of myself left over for creativity and reflection. I felt like I’d lost myself for a while. But one friend reminded me that our lives have seasons, and I was in the middle of something that would change.
Pumping (breastmilk) was one of my biggest anxieties and complications. My son never breastfed effectively, and this was a trigger for a lot of my emotions of guilt and sadness. His diet was supplemented with formula by his third week, but I wanted to pump as much as possible until he was six months. It was hard to ask [my employer] for accommodations, but I also had this strong feeling that I was setting the stage for whoever was coming next. There is no private locking space in [my office] building outside of a bathroom stall. I requested a screen for my desk before I left for maternity leave, but it hadn’t arrived or been set up before I came back to work. When I started traveling to parks and schools, the lack of accommodations for working mothers was startling. I pumped sitting on a folding chair as far away from the walls of a mouse-infested beach house, in an empty safe at a school, and in closets.
At home, our friendships shifted, becoming tighter with friends with children and more distant with those without children. Bedtimes and the chaos of a young baby also cut into our energy and ability to go out with friends. But our family visited more. We are a seven-hour drive from our closest family, but grandparents, my husband’s siblings and every one of my aunts and uncles made the trip to see and support us. They even squeezed into our tiny house at Christmas, so Oliver had his first Christmas at home.
Elizabeth from Weaverville, NC:
I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom before I had children. It was a dream but seemed so far in the distance. When I got pregnant with my first born, I was teaching school and I was burnt out. During that pregnancy, I spent my days in a classroom and my nights looking for other jobs. Jobs that would keep me at home. It was really important to me. I’m so grateful that it ended up working out and after having my first born, I was able to work from home. Now with two children running around, it is harder to work from home, but it is not lost on me what a blessing this has been for my family.
I have always felt like my calling was to be a mom. I loved teaching and loved my days in the classroom, but I remember thinking, “something is missing from my life.” It wasn’t until I had children that I truly felt complete. Let me be clear, I still have days where I lose my patience, where I crave alone time or a clean house. I miss my husband and all the time we used to have together—these days it’s a quick kiss or a loving look across the room. Each season is hard and beautiful in its own way. But even on the hardest days, I feel really lucky that I get to live out a life I always imagined, and I wish that for everyone. Whether owning your own business, being a stay-at-home parent—whatever it looks like for each individual, I hope we all find a life that is fulfilling.
A note on the friendship side of things: I think we, as moms, really need a village. I think we crave it and it’s really how we are meant to raise our children—in community. I think finding the village is so hard. Finding like-minded women who we connect with but also finding other children that our own children connect with—it’s hard. It takes time and a few awkward play dates but once you find your people, it is like rain in a drought to a mama heart. It was for me. I didn’t even know how bad I needed a village until I found one—women I can be vulnerable with, women I can trust with my children, women I can go out with for a drink after a long week. I hope I can be the same to the women in my life. We are not meant to do life alone, especially as mothers. `