Should I Stay or Should I Go. . . Back to Work?
When we Moms transition between our outside careers to and from being a full-time Stay At Home Mom (SAHM), our insecurities, doubts, questions and guilt (Oh, the guilt!) may creep into our already spent minds.
If we are working outside of the home and considering becoming a SAHM, we can sometimes question how our professional skills are ever going to transfer to the home.
You cannot exactly satisfy the needs of your baby crying at 3 am with a power presentation or resolve your toddler’s tantrum with a quick email.
And when your preschooler won’t eat the organic meal you just spent the past hour cooking, we may think: “Surely someone else can do this job better than me.”
Conversely, I’ve seen some of the most natural parenting come from those who have little to no experience with kids prior to having their own. So, I don’t really think that a SAHM resume must include “Previous experience with children” as an “Essential Qualification.” In fact, I have worked with children professionally for over 20 years and know that there are more qualified SAHMs out there than me.
Even if you think that you can do (or are doing) the SAHM thing very well, what if you WANT to find a new career or go back to your old job because you get it, you are confident in it, or you went to school for a looooonnnnggg time to be that professional?
Or, what if you NEED to provide food, shelter and possibly a future college education for you and/or your family? Or, what if working provides a vacation or some material bonuses that make you and your family happy?
I have been/done all of the above at one point or another.
Whatever the situation, why do we sometimes feel so darn guilty for wanting or needing to work outside of the home?
I recently listened to an amazing commencement speech by Abby Wambach (i.e. retired professional soccer player Abby) that changed my view on how I saw myself and – by connecting the dots abstractly – took away some of my guilt and confusion about working outside of the home.
Abby told the graduates at Barnard University about how she was more scared about losing her identity than her paycheck when she retired from soccer. Soccer had always been a main focus in her life and it later became her means of living. But, alas, she had to stop playing – as all professional athletes eventually need to do – because of age or injury. During this transition, she effectively flipped her fears and decided:
“Soccer didn’t make me who I was. I brought who I was to soccer. . . And I get to bring who I am wherever I go. And, so do you. . . Don’t just ask yourself, ‘WHAT do I want to do?’ Ask yourself, ‘WHO do I want to be?’ . . . The most important thing that I’ve learned is that what you do will never define you. Who you are always will.”
Wow. I had always viewed my participation in competitive soccer as a huge player in creating many parts of my personality. But did I choose to play soccer from youth into the collegiate level because it worked well with who I already was at the core? And, is this core commonality also why I tend to gravitate towards other athletes? And, why I like working on teams?
Mind. Blown. And, the reflection continued.
After we had our third child I transitioned from working out of the home into being a bona fide SAHM. I loved being around my kids and ready to be there for them physically and emotionally at anytime. But, I also kinda resented being ready for them physically and emotionally at anytime. Ironic. Confusing. Guilt-evoking. Those of you who cannot get yourself to take your old business cards out of your purse or who feel like you have zero personal space in your day may also get it.
As a SAHM, I completely brought who I was to the home setting.
I cooked ridiculously elaborate meals and anxiously awaited feedback from the family at the dinner table. I volunteered extensively with the PTA. I had a weekly routine of group exercise classes that I would squeeze in between dropping off the kids at school, my son’s naps and the trips to the store to buy stuff for my recipes that had ingredient lists the length of my arm. I analyzed (possibly over-analyzed) my children’s development and all things that would support their development. This was likely the physical therapist in me silently yearning to go back to work. And, I probably lingered too long at my friends’ houses because I really needed to be around people who knew how to put more than two words together for part of my day.
I was trying to use my skill set exclusively (there’s the catch) for the people that I loved whole-heartedly, but it just didn’t completely jive with my entire self.
Abby Wambach’s speech made me realize why I felt such an inner dilemma during this brief period of my life as a SAHM.
My urge to go back to work was not because I didn’t love, cherish and feel grateful for the opportunity to be available to my family and present for every milestone and piece of homework. I brought who I was to the home setting with all of me giving everything to the job that I had before me.
I felt pretty darn good about my job as a SAHM, and my memories of that time and the friendships that I made because I had time to meet at the park/museum/coffeehouse regularly are held closely in my heart and mind with deep gratitude. I miss those times and those friends dearly, and I have yet to figure out how to have the time to make these connections again now that I am no longer a SAHM.
However, during my SAHM life, who I was just didn’t have enough space to grow exclusively in our home setting.
I was juggling (pun intended) less than what I was used to juggling. In addition to Team Hall, I felt the need to contribute to a larger team.
Upon this reflection, it also became clear to me why I love working in healthcare and why I have expanded my professional aims to spread medical information to whatever end of this Earth has the internet.
It is who I am. I like being part of a team. I like helping others. I like to work. That is where I want to go with who I am at this stage of my life for part of my day. Therefore, I now need and want to work outside of the home.
So, to those of you who are battling with what feels like guilt (but might just be an un-satiated internal yearning like I had) because you need or want to go back to work, maybe you simply know what you need, what you are seeking or what you want personally and professionally at this stage of your life. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love your family with all your heart. Your inner voice just might be telling you to use your skill set beyond your home for part of the day. You can juggle it! And, your kids may miss you and vice versa, but they also can gain other things.
Because I work outside of the home, my kids have learned to be resilient, flexible and respectful of others in a variety of childcare settings that they have had over the years.
They know that they have to be organized as I cannot run a project that they left at home up to the school. They all make their own lunches every day and help cook dinner from time to time. They have also seen me put my education to work, which is helpful when explaining to them why science really can be useful to learn.
To those of you who are thriving as a SAHM, your inner voice has also likely whispered (or shouted) to you what you and your family need and want at this stage of your life. You’ve figured out your balance. You will not get an annual review, a pay raise, mileage reimbursement or a company car in spite of how many miles you drive to practices or the remarkable ways that you handled the complaints at the dinner table and at bedtime. You get paid in slobbery kisses, big hugs at the bus stop and fond memories of building and cooking and drawing together after homework is finished. This is indeed priceless, and I hope that your family also gives you the deserved praise for every big and small thing that you do.
There is no need for moms to look up or look down to each other based on where we spend our day. Where we work doesn’t define us.
I know that I am no better or worse than a SAHM or my previous existence as a SAHM. That made sense then although I learned that it was not my ideal fit. However, I do occasionally crave my previous existence as a SAHM mostly so that I would have more time with the people I already love and with people that I would like to know better. Although I do now understand more about why I feel the need to be a working-out-of-the-house-Mama right now. This may change one day.
So, thank you, Abby Wambach, for providing an explanation for why I feel compelled to express my skill set outside of our home. You have also inadvertently helped me cope with the occasional guilt of working that mind creeps when my kids say with exasperation, “You are STILL working?” while I fiercely entrepreneur on the weekend or write reports and insurance appeals in the evening hours.
It is I. The little girl who used to kick a ball against the wall before soccer practice trying to improve upon her weaker left-footed passes. The teenager who burnt the candle at both ends and got a really bad case of mono as a result. And, the woman who is learning to keep her hand down more often, but will always be willing to help others and contribute to a team. Unapologetically me. . . working (mostly) guilt-free.
In closing, with props to Abby. . .