Pros and Cons – A Retrospective

For the most part this blog is selfish, I admit it.  It’s primarily my therapy.  However, I did say in the beginning that I hoped it might also be a sort of guide to anyone considering leaving corporate life to stay home with their children.  I get asked a lot what I’m liking most about staying home, and less often, what my biggest adjustments and challenges have been. We never put together a pros and cons list when we decided for me to leave work.  We just went with our collective gut.  I’m proud to say that our instincts, if not our timing or preparation, were right on the money.  We did the right thing, but where we ended up wasn’t quite what we’d planned.  This is the pros-and-cons, a then-and-now look back at why we decided for me to leave work, and why, after 4 months, we’re doing something different now.

Then

When I thought about leaving work, I looked forward to leaving behind a commute, work travel, and work/life conflicts like not being able to stay home with a sick child when I had an important meeting.  I was nervous, on the other hand, that I would miss a unique kind of validation and sense of achievement that I got from working. Not nervous enough to stay at work. But what drove me to my decision more than anything wasn’t what I would leave behind, but what I felt I was already missing: Doctors appointments, firsts, moments with my children, to scratch the surface.  I felt my time with my children wasn’t only short, but had less of me in it. I was already mentally if not physically at work during breakfast, cranky during dinner, and exhausted on weekends.

The cons list I never wrote down for leaving work was pretty short, and I gave the few items on it very little weighting, and still do.  As is the case with most decisions I make, there isn’t a whole lot of stopping me.  If you recall, I was offered an incredibly flattering best-of-both-worlds scenario when I handed in my notice, and I turned it down.  My reasons included concern over fairness to my team, and worry that I’d have to travel more to compensate, thus negating the whole time-away-from-family argument.  Plus I hate to fly [whole other post].  Determined as we clearly were, we couldn’t ignore the loss of an income and a set of healthy corporate benefits.  Still, the money we’d save in daycare, work wardrobe, fuel and tolls, and the juggling act that held my husband’s small business back from greatness, all added up to enough. And finally, even if it didn’t work out or we hated it, we couldn’t see ever regretting trying it, we just knew if we didn’t, we’d regret not trying it.

Now

We’re glad, if not a little sheepish, that we made the decision for me to leave.  No regrets, even on our toughest days.  Looking back, we did a piss-poor job of planning this operation.  Admitting that was painful, but necessary.  If we could do it again, we would.  Just better.  We’d have waited a little.  We’d have amassed a ridiculous amount of savings so our financial goals wouldn’t miss a beat. Mind you, our financial goals might be a little lofty [we want to move to France one day, for example], so we may have waited indefinitely. At 4 months in, a third of the way to our 1 year trial, we’ve made it past the knee-jerk, oh sh*t stage, there were days, let me tell you.  And we’ve learned a lot about us, what it takes to make us happy, what we want for our family now and down the road, what we want to do differently, and what we’re willing to do to achieve our goals as a family. It’s brought us closer together.  We did a good job of talking about things.  We’re not ready to throw in the towel completely, but we’ve realized that all or nothing doesn’t work for us, and low-and-behold, there is a middle-ground solution.  Consulting.  I’m lucky.  I have a great relationship with my last employer, and I’m networking with other potential clients about projects that fit my skill set.  It feels great.  I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed the actual work I did until I stopped.  But now I make my own schedule, and agree to only what I know I’m capable of without compromising my family’s, or my needs.  I can be there, and contribute financially.  France might not be such a lofty goal, and I feel good about being able to help give my family that opportunity, or something like it.

I still love knowing where my kids are at all times, since most of the time they are still with me.  I’m so much more involved and have so much more energy for them.  I’m not missing nearly as much of their lives, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. And I get to be there for everything, from sick visits to soccer games to mystery reader at school. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission, and that feels amazing.

Truth, there are things I hate[d] about being a SAHM.  One, the Pinterest pressure.  Seriously, ladies?  I adore those moms who actually enjoy making their own paper using flax seed and recycle recycled paper [yes, I said it twice and I meant it], but I know now that I don’t have to be one.  I think some moms struggle to feel valid when they don’t earn an income.  Some, I would venture to guess, might even struggle for recognition or just plain old appreciation for what they do as moms.  The gratification can be delayed and sometimes seem nonexistent.  But when my 3 year old says thank you without being prompted, or has a surge of confidence that propels him to the top of the monkey bars when he didn’t think he could do it yesterday, it doesn’t get better than that.

I’m also pleased to say that our strategy of shifting centers of responsibility in the house has worked as we hoped.  My husband’s business is taking off because he is more focused on it.  And my laundry is getting folded the way I like it.  Turns out I freaking love laundry.  No seriously, I know I probably need my head checked. We still share household duties and he’s much more aware of what I need to keep the house running smoothly, because so am I. For example, he figured out I’m too tired to clean the kitchen at the end of the day, so he does it first thing in the morning because he’s an early-riser.  There are still kinks to be worked out, but I’ve also learned that perfection is elusive for a reason.  And I’m getting over that.

So why didn’t I just work part time to begin with?  We ask ourselves that sometimes, but then remember that we still needed to try.  Consulting is the compromise that we might not have arrived at without going to the other extreme first.  But because we tried, we now know where the middle-ground is.

Will I continue to write this blog now?  I don’t know yet.  In some ways I think it helped me get to where I’m supposed to be right now.  And I now know how important writing is to me.  I still want to write.  And maybe there is still something to write about: How a mom strikes the ideal balance in an increasingly conventional work-life setup.  How to raise a family on two small businesses.  To vaguely allude to the metaphor that titles this blog, there are a number of ways to go about it, but life is about discovering the best way, at any given time, for yourself.

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