I hit the jackpot in the career department. Ok, not so much in the financial sense. I’ll likely never be the breadwinner in my home, but in terms of work I enjoy that keeps me learning new things alongside people who make my life better - I won the lottery. Twice. I’ve had two completely separate 10-year careers. Each one came with a paycheck, benefits package, lifelong friends...and of course, annoying meetings, people and stress.
The first four years I was a mom, my kids were in year-round childcare. For about three years, I had no problem with that.
Then kid #2 arrived, and the daydreams about having more time with my kids while still having a job that challenged and fulfilled me started. I stewed on it for a year, considering every possibility:
- Maybe I can go part-time at my current job. Just kidding, my employer didn’t even offer this option.
- Maybe I can find a part-time job. Oh wait, we actually rely on the insurance benefits I carry, and most part-time jobs would barely pay enough to cover my child care costs.
- Maybe I could just stay home. Ok, I honestly never even considered this because, for all the reasons covered in this post, it just wasn’t a good choice for me.
So I just kept scanning job listings and fantasizing about a well-paid and intellectually-stimulating part-time gig. And then my unicorn came along. A teaching position at a university -- a full-time job for the nine-month academic year with full benefits. It didn’t require a teaching degree, just a master’s degree -- which I had. I had found my sweet spot.
In the nearly 12 years I’ve been a mom, I have experienced drastic changes in how much I want to work and the work I want to do, but I've always wanted to be a working mom.
Look at this cuteness on Bring Your Kid to Work Day. These precious bundles are all preteens and teens now. My apologies on the picture quality -- it may have been taken on a Blackberry if those even had cameras.
Seventy percent of moms work outside the home -- some because they want to and some because they have to. Looking back on my different work experiences, I realize some of my reasons for wanting and needing to be a working mom were clear to me before I ever had kids. Others I just see now with the benefit of hindsight.
Working Gives Me (And My Kids) Strong Relationships
I leave on a 12-day vacation in two weeks. It involves two families and a total of 11 people (only five are adults - so please pray for us). We’re driving nearly 3,000 miles to see some amazing national parks, and I AM PUMPED. Planning for the trip started nearly two years ago because Yellowstone is apparently the Disney World of national parks and requires reservations way in advance. Throughout their lives, our kids have spent more time with this other family than anyone else besides actual family because the mom was our full-time babysitter for six years.
We’ve also watched their kids grow up - the first will graduate in two years and I’ll still be in denial long after I’ve made food for his graduation party and helped send him off to college. We’re lifelong friends with a bond forged out of massive amounts of time spent together. My boys learned to tie their shoes in her basement and know the look on her face that means “You better stop that right now!” as well as they know my expressions. Every day at drop-off and pick-up, we shared stories and laughs and tears.
Our friendship with this family shaped my entire family’s life, and it happened because I had a job and needed childcare.
This photo of my youngest and my sitter's oldest is from 2013 - she's a couple months old and he's 11.
Same two kids in 2019 - she's 5 and he's 16 (gasp).
In my first job working in health care public relations and in my second career as a teacher, I worked with people who became most of my closest friends. Again, the depth of those relationships ties back to seeing them every single day and walking through so many shared experiences -- both at work and in life. Science shows you need to spend about 50 hours with someone to consider them a casual friend and 200 hours to think of them as a close friend. Feel free to fact check in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships study. In a typical work week, maybe you spend 10 hours a week with a co-worker, which means you hit “casual friend” status in about a month and “close friend” status in less than six months. It takes a whole lot of playdates and get-togethers to hit that same 200-hour mark.
My co-worker friends visited me in the hospital when my son was born, one with her one-week-old in tow.
The ladies who keep me sane in career #2.
I picked this lesson up straight from my own working mom. Her group of girlfriends met through work, and though I have no memory of the days when they actually worked together, those women have been part of my entire life. The same is true for Kristie - she talked more about it in the post she wrote to thank her mom for living a powerful story. I have my own circles now - women I met at work who are now my support network, my margarita buddies and my parenting gurus. And my kids have their circles in the kids of my friends.
This shows what happens when Kristie and I get our kids together. Laughter, fun, creativity and often injury or damage to property. We also love the adults in the background of this picture - another coworker and her husband - totally oblivious to the madness.
Working Shows My Kids a House Where Everyone Helps
My mom worked and my husband’s mom stayed home. We’ve talked about what we liked and didn’t like about both, but since I knew I wanted to work, it was more in the context of how we could best hang on to the things we liked about both scenarios.
Having worked both a year-round and a teacher schedule, I’ve got a unique perspective. I know the insanity of a household with two working parents -- the constant coordination, Google calendar obsession and 6 a.m. debates over who can shift a work schedule to stay home with a sick kid. I also appreciate the emotional and physical drain of being the parent at home taking on more of the parenting and household responsibilities. I finish quite a few summer days with a messier house, more laundry on the pile and less patience than at the end of a typical work day.
For the most part, though, my kids see a home where both parents have work responsibilities. Where both parents contribute to household tasks. Where kids need to help out because it truly takes all hands on deck. A 2015 Harvard Business School study showed that men raised by working mothers were more likely to contribute to household chores and spend more time caring for family members. This mother of two boys says “Huzzah!” to that.
Working Scratches My Itch to Achieve and Help Others
I earned two degrees and I love my profession. I love writing and working in areas where I’m making a real difference. First health care and now education. I can give back and positively impact many lives through my career. I asked my 5-year-old daughter why she thought I choose to work -- we have family and good friends who stay home, so she’s seen both dynamics. Her answer made me so happy because it’s so true.
“You work because you want to help people -- like your students. And you want to make money. And hang out with your friends.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Then I asked why SHE thinks I should work.
“Because it’s good for you to have “an activity” while I’m at school,” she said firmly, while hopping cracks in the sidewalk.
Good perspective for the next time I’m having a stress attack at midnight over grading that isn’t done or a deadline I need to meet - I’m taking my “activity” a little too seriously.
I was invited to the wedding of a former student and had a great time at a table with several other favorite graduates.
There is nothing that matters more to me than the impact I make on my kids. I NEVER want my work to come before that. But I don’t think strong parenting and professional success are mutually exclusive. I want my work to make me a better parent -- a more patient parent, a more satisfied and confident parent, a parent with the means to model greater generosity in my community and world.
Working Is Necessary for my Mental Health
I’ve joked for many years that if I were a stay at home mom, my kids wouldn’t like me very much. I’m beyond thankful that my current job allows me to be a seasonal SAHM. I honestly feel like I’m cheating the system, and that my summers off will be revoked as soon as someone in HR realizes the mistake.
In the summer (my favorite time of year) when we can be outside (my favorite place to be), I enjoy almost every day I spend with my kids. We don’t set alarms, we take walks, we go to the pool, we eat popsicles and hang out with friends. But winter me -- during the cold, short and dark days -- should not be home all day by herself or with her children. I need a solid routine that involves me putting on adulting clothes and an adulting attitude and answering to a boss about being at work on time and being productive in my work.
Ever heard that phrase, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”? I am a highly functional and efficient busy person. But when I check out, I check out hard core. When my poor husband and I go on relaxing getaway vacations, once every five years if we’re lucky, the first several days I pace like a caged lion because I’m unaccustomed to the unstructured time. Then I downshift into complete hermit mode. I read and ignore other humans for hours at a time. I ditch my phone and all calls and texts. I dream of selling all of our crap and living a simple life in a tiny house on a lake somewhere. Working helps me regulate my extremes.
A 2012 Gallup poll surveyed 60,000 stay-at-home and working moms. Stay-at-homes more often reported negative emotions such as anger, depression, worry and stress. For me, the income, adult interaction, and professional fulfillment I get from working are necessary safeguards against these emotions.
Working Fosters Independence In My Kids
I had a friend in college who felt intense stress about moving out and leaving her parents, because she was their entire world. She felt pressured to call and visit, and honestly had a hard time transitioning into school because of the guilt and worry she felt about how her parents were coping. Listening to her story felt like watching an exotic animal I never knew existed. My parents had jobs and friends and activities. I knew they missed me, but had no serious doubts about their ability to function without me.
To steal a phrase from Kristie’s mom, I’m raising my kids to leave. I don’t want to be the mom whose children are afraid to go when it’s time. I want them to know I love them to the moon and back, and will make many sacrifices for them, but that my life and my purpose -- while intertwined with theirs -- is not synonymous with theirs. There are things I am supposed to accomplish. People I am supposed to help. And frankly, things I want to do.
My independence -- and the independence I’m building in my kids by letting them do things on their own or with people other than me -- is my gift to them. It’s the confidence to try things, go places and do things and know that I’ll be cheering them on even if I’m not physically there. I’ve been able to go on some school field trips and be at many school events, but I’ve missed some as well. Dad, grandparents, aunts and friends stand in. I want my kids to be well-loved, but independent. Though they better still call and text me on the regular.
Working Gives My Family More Money to Do Things
I’ll just own it. I also work for the money. My co-workers and I had an ongoing joke that as much as we enjoyed our work and each other, “if they stopped paying me, I’d still stop coming.”
I’ve been honest with my kids over the years that not only do I love my job and WANT to work, but my job also lets our family do things we otherwise could not. In our case, that might mean taking trips or playing club sports or renting an instrument.
We extended a trip to visit family last summer for a trip through the Upper Peninsula and a few days in Charlevoix, Michigan.
There are other times when I absolutely choose time over money. I took a 20% pay cut when I moved into my teaching job. Let me clarify -- I’ve been teaching for 10 years and I STILL don’t make what I was making the year I left the corporate world. It was a hit to the bank account. But I have not one single regret. My summers off feel as luxurious as 800-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. Every. Single. Year. Because I didn’t have them for 10 years.
Working Forces Me to Make the Most of My Time
Quality time is my number one love language. I get obsessive about how I spend it and whether I’m wasting it or getting the most out of it. I want my time to make a difference, even if it’s in small ways, in people’s lives: my family, my students, my friends, my community. When I pour time and energy into students during the day and my family in the evenings, it can drain me. I need to protect myself from over-doing and getting to a place that isn’t healthy, but I never want to waste time and talent that could make a difference to someone else.
As a working mom, I’m acutely aware that I’m gone a good portion of the day and that my time at home belongs in large part to my kids. So I work hard to make focused time happen, and happen often.
The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World, by Amy McCready, talks about the impact of spending focused time with each of your kids daily. Ten to 15 minutes with each kid. Doing whatever they want and with no distractions. She uses the words “magic bullet” to describe the impact on kids’ behavior.
For me, that would look like 45 minutes a day. Some days I sail by this number like a boss. Went on a walk with oldest son, read a book with middle son, played Barbies (dreaded, dreaded Barbies) with my daughter. Other days, not so much. But I’m hyper-aware of the time I spend with my kids daily because my career does take a big chunk of my attention each day.
All moms - regardless of whether they work outside the home - tend to spend the same amount of time with their kids, at least according to a Journal of Marriage and Family 2015 study. The biggest finding of the study?
Quality trumps quantity in time parents spent with kids.
But listen up my fellow mothers of preteens and teens: the one instance where quantity of time spent with kids really showed a major impact was during adolescence. The more time a teen spent engaged with their mother, the fewer instances of delinquent behavior. The study pinpointed six hours a week engaged in family time with parents as pivotal.
All stats and research aside, a mother’s choice to work inside or outside the home takes a whole lot into consideration. Every mom is different. Every situation is different. Circumstances also change over time. But I wanted and needed to be a working mom, and I’m forever grateful for what that’s meant for me and my family.
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