My life as a stay-at-home mom was all roses and buttercups. My well-rested children would rise in the morning with glee in their hearts, and I would prepare a multi-course breakfast. As the day continued we would play on swings at the park, color a bit, bake cupcakes and wait eagerly at the window until daddy arrived home from a day at the office.
And then I woke up.
After a long day of changing diapers, running errands, doing laundry, making snacks and tucking kids into bed, the last thing I wanted to do was look for a job. But something fell in my lap, something great and creative and flexible. That last part was key — flexible.
Stay-at-home moms return to work for lots of reasons. Some always knew staying at home would be a short-term thing. Some need the extra income or insurance for their families. Some crave adult interaction.
My reasons for returning to work were nothing that a million other moms hadn't already considered. I certainly didn't miss going to an office every day, but I did miss having projects to manage and goals to achieve. I love my two girls with all my heart, but I needed something more to make me whole. And, of course, bringing home an extra paycheck wouldn't hurt.
Guilty vs. Not Guilty
I heard stories of moms dropping off their kids at daycare for the first time and crying all the way to the office. In my case, I felt guilty for not feeling guilty. After all, I had barely finished paying off my graduate school student loans when I started staying home with my oldest. I was doing what was right for my family by becoming a stay-at-home mom at that time. But eventually going back to work was never a question.
And I'm not saying that I've never felt guilty. My daughter will remind you of the birthday party she missed because she had to go to after-school care. And there was that day when the kids got out of school at 11:30 a.m. and the school office called me because I didn't pick them up. Or the day I sent my kids to school with only Cheetos because the rest of the lunch was left on the counter.
I'm truly lucky that my job lets me be home before dinner time and early enough to help with homework. I've learned to make up lost time in other ways, like making sure we eat dinner together as a family during the week and hosting play dates at our house to see my daughters interact with their friends.
We don't have family in the area. That means no overnights at grandma's house, no aunts to pick up the kids from school and no older cousins to babysit. We're on our own. How would the kids get home from school? What if my daughter needed to stay home sick? What about half-days (that I can remember) and school holidays, not to mention summer break?
My husband and I equally share the duties and take turns caring for the kids. But I am responsible for scheduling after-school care and summer camps. And I leave work to pick up my daughter from school when she has a fever. Does it upset me... not really. My job is more flexible (part of the reason I took it in the first place), so I just figured it would be that way. Other families work differently.
I've come to rely upon and appreciate a close circle of friends who understand what working moms go through. Those friends bring my kids to and from sports practice. I return the favor as much as possible, watching their kids when I can or having their family over for a weekend cookout. It's important to understand that no mom is an island; we all need a little lifeboat every once in a while. It's what gets us all through.
Everyone knows that a second income means more money coming through the front door. But going back to work comes with lots of extra costs. We don't pay for daycare most of the year because my kids are in school. But after-school care, because of a late meeting, is often an unexpected expense. And full-day camp takes up a pretty significant chunk of my paycheck during the summer months.
The second income has been important to our family. But it can be rough knowing that the extra money you bring home goes to pay someone else to watch your kids. And in many cases, it's not extra money. It can be a vicious, frustrating cycle.
I know I'm not the first mom facing these issues, but I had to figure it out on my own. We all have to. Does it make more sense to have a job or stay home with the kids from a personal, logistical and financial standpoint? Each family must decide based on their unique circumstances. There is no one right answer. Sometimes circumstances change, and the right decision is made for you. And sometimes the best scenario ends up somewhere in the middle. Freelance work and job-sharing arrangements let more and more moms (and dads too) split their lives between part-time work and part-time parenting.
What has been your experience as a working mom? Sound off in the comment section below.
Kristin McCann is a working mom with two young girls. She strives to have fun, quality time with her family and a fulfilling professional career — even though many believe the two to be mutually exclusive.