There are pros and cons to every possible decision. Breastfeeding or formula? Cloth or disposable diapers? Stay at home or working mom? While these topics are often discussed feverishly, and sometimes viciously, with folks generally seeing them as “black or white”, each of them has a gray area. Not every choice works for every family, and we’re all doing the best we can given our particular set of circumstances. There are always positives (and negatives) in both sides of an argument, and everyone has a different perspective on what fits into those categories. If you are able to focus (mostly) on the positives, even for those who didn’t make the same choices, you are way ahead of the game.
Recently, Jason and I decided I will abandon my twenty year career as an accountant to work on this blog and stay home with our kids. Before coming to that conclusion, we weighed our options and evaluated each of them carefully. I’ve been home on maternity leave for nearly twelve weeks now, so I’ve gotten a taste of what my new life will look like. Tomorrow, I return to work for a few weeks to fulfill my obligation to my employer. Since my kids are young, it’s unlikely they will reap the working mom benefits described in this New York Times piece. Of course, they’ll receive the benefit of having me home with them and seeing me run a home-based business…tit for tat.
Since this will be my last working-outside-the-home experience for a while, I’ve been thinking about all the ways I can fully embrace and appreciate it. Get the most out of it. I’ve come up with my ten favorite things about being a working mom (in no particular order), because I intend to squeeze every last drop of awesome out of my last weeks as Chris Stephens, Senior Accountant. Perhaps it will inspire me to somehow incorporate these things into my work-from-home life.
- Focus. I work in a quiet office setting, in a cubicle. At the office, I can work on a project from start to finish. The only interruptions are bathroom breaks, coffee refills, or short interactions with another grown-up. These interruptions are all on my terms. This is significant because when you’re home with little kids, you are interrupted. A lot. Like every three minutes. Whether it’s your two-year old wanting to show you the latest jump-off-the-couch move he’s learned, or your infant looking too darn cute for her own good, you will spend your days devoid of focus. The lone exception to this rule is when both littles are sleeping. In our house, that rarely happens during the day… and I’m not willing to give up what little sleep I have at night for the sake of personal accomplishment.
- Warm meals. With very few exceptions, my last warm meal was eaten in a hospital bed the day we brought our daughter home. Since we’ve been home, it’s like she knows when I’m taking my first bite. She will be fed and sleeping peacefully in her travel crib with no sign of waking, until I lift the fork to my lips. Apparently that silent motion alone is enough to jolt her awake, and the only way she’ll feel happy again is if I hold her until my food is cold. Eating lunch alone at my desk may be kind of sad, but at least I can eat leisurely and still have warm morsels until my final bite.
- Clean clothes. Okay, I know…gross. If you’re squeamish, you may want to skip the rest of this description because I’m about to get down to it. Babies are constantly spewing fluids. Out the bottom, and out the top. My daughter is a “spitter”, so when I’m with her I am usually walking around with baby yogurt somewhere on my person. As I write this at nine in the morning, I’m already on my third shirt and second pair of pants (don’t ask). When I go to work tomorrow, I will leave the house with a clean outfit. When I return home eight hours later, I expect my outfit will still be clean…and that’s glorious.
- The commute. I know what you’re thinking. Commutes aren’t always in the plus column. In my lifetime, I’ve had some really long commutes through heavy traffic and I used to (kind of) hate them. Now, I really enjoy that time all to myself. For thirty minutes in the morning and thirty minutes in the evening, it’s just me, my music, and my thoughts inside the car.
- Friendships. If this list had been in order, friendships would have been at the top. One of the best parts of trekking to the office every day is the conversation and laughter shared with my colleagues. It’s kind of amazing to me that these people, who I’ve only known for a few years, know more about my day to day life than almost anyone else. And I know more about theirs. I’ve built some great relationships that will continue after my last day of work, but I’m still going to miss seeing them five days a week.
- Autonomy. Being away from the kids for eight hours a day affords me a more pure sense of free will. I can walk away from my desk whenever I want to. I can hold a conversation with a coworker whenever I want to. I can eat a snack or drink a cup of coffee whenever I want to. See a pattern here? A mother’s life is often governed by her children’s needs and we don’t always get to do simple things whenever we want to. While that doesn’t change just because I’ll be going to work, it does give me a daily break from having to be “on call” every minute of every day.
- No diapers. Good gracious. For a goodly portion of every work day, I am not responsible for diaper changes. I don’t have to risk touching someone else’s leavings, and I don’t have to risk my clean outfit (see item 3). I’m so very sorry to those who work in the medical profession…or in child care…or with animals who wear diapers. This benefit may not apply to you.
- Bathroom breaks. Becoming a mother of small children often teaches us how to use the bathroom very quickly, or with an audience. Sometimes both. When I’m at work…guess what? I can pee in peace, and take as long as I want. Enough said.
- Confidence. Throughout my accounting career I’ve amassed skills, knowledge, and the respect of my peers. I know I’m good at what I do, and that feels wonderful. It builds confidence. Parenting has shaken my confidence more times in two years than I can even count. It’s more difficult than any other job I’ve had, and I doubt I’ll ever feel truly confident I’m doing it right. I think the most comforting thing about it is knowing I’m not alone. From what I understand, all parents have self doubt.
- Contributing. My parents divorced when I was twelve. As the child of a single parent household, there was no extra money for the things teenagers want. I had to pay for my own dance classes, clothing, and fun stuff. So from a young age, I worked. From the age of twelve until high school graduation I delivered papers, cared for children, bussed tables at a restaurant, delivered pizzas, and worked in a warehouse. I had a full time job selling floor coverings while I attended college. Over the last two decades, I built a fantastic accounting career. In total, I’ve been working to pay my own way for (gulp) twenty-nine years. It will be very strange not to contribute financially to our household. I know I’ll be contributing in many other ways that can not be measured in dollars and cents, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a significant loss.