Given the abundance of opinions about working – or not – once a woman becomes a mother, it’s no surprise that I began wrestling with this decision long before I became pregnant. As is often the case when we think about topics we’ve yet to experience ourselves, I had plenty of opinions about what a woman “should” do.
I had a near-constant monologue running in my head that went something like this: “Your mom has always worked in a ‘big job’, so you should, too. Carry on the family legacy! Remember that neighbor who got divorced? Well, that wouldn’t have happened if she had a job. Look at Sheryl Sandberg – keep leaning in, Elizabeth!!”
Of course I would return to work once I had a baby, whenever that day arrived.
And then one morning, everything changed. Every single thing. My husband was still asleep when I nudged him gently to say “the test is positive.”
Once there was an actual baby to consider, the to-work-or-not-to-work debate both escalated and ceased in my head. On the one hand, I was now actually pregnant and considering actual, not imagined, circumstances. On the other hand, I had a growing sense that this new life would change me in unimaginable ways, and would satisfy and challenge me in ways that no job could.
I resigned from my job a few days before Ava was born. In the months since, friends have connected me with job opportunities which could be interesting, but something has stopped me from pursuing them. I’ve spent hours half-heartedly browsing job postings and even landed a few interviews, only to find myself longing for uninterrupted stretches of time at home with my baby. Sometimes I see women rushing to work in their tailored suits and heels, and feel pangs of envy about the lives I imagine them leading.
It has taken me almost one year to make peace with the fact that I’m now a stay-at-home-mom. If I’m honest, some days that peace is still elusive. And yet, as we celebrate my daughter’s first birthday, I truly would not change a thing. My journey has been nothing like I imagined, and the pros and cons of being a full-time mom certainly aren’t as black and white as I imagined so many years ago. In fact, it has been better, richer and more rewarding than I could’ve ever dreamed or hoped.
As you consider what your own life might look like once your little one arrives, I encourage you to be kind to yourself. Be patient. Be gentle. Offer grace. Think about the facts, consider your preferences and goals, seek wisdom from those around you, and be brave in making the decision that’s best for you, whatever that might look like. Whatever you decide, and however your journey unfolds, I salute you!
If you do decide to make the leap to life as a stay-at-home mom, here are few tips to ease the transition:
1. Build your mom network and make it diverse. As a new mom -- or as a mom who is new to being at home full-time -- you need other women who are in the same season of life as you. This will come in handy at 3 am when you are trying to rock your baby to sleep and are in need of some sympathy via text message, when you want to discuss the best ways to get your pre-baby body back, and when you want to discuss brands of diapers that don’t leak overnight. You also need women in your life who have been down this road before -- women who will encourage you to savor the newborn moments, even when they feel so very hard; women who will share their experiences with pediatricians, preschools, and babysitters; and women whose own lives have settled down enough that they can breathe some energy and peace into yours. Finally, you need to hold onto those friends who don't have children. Staying connected to your former self not only nourishes your soul but it can keep you from settling into a routine that is totally dominated by motherhood and parenting. These friends will encourage you to get your nails done, meet for a glass of wine, and ditch the ponytail for a night -- all little ways of reminding yourself that you are a dynamic, energetic, interesting woman.
2. Decide what three things you need to do to feel good at the end of the day. That is, make a short list of "must do" items that, when completed, will help you to breathe easy at the end of the day, even if a lot of other aspects of your life are chaotic. For me, it's reading the newspaper, exercising, and spending good chunks of time fully focused on playing with my daughter. The transition to being at home full-time can be challenging as the hours blend together, home-related tasks become your primary "work," and no boss is telling you what to do. This can mean the day may end before you’re aware that it even started, and what is true in the office is true at home: articulating your goals and priorities makes them much easier to achieve.
3. Get out. Get out with your child, get out as a family, get out with your husband. Just GO. Take a class, go to Starbucks, hop on the bus or subway to see an exhibit, try a new bakery or visit a friend. The tendency to stay inside -- especially in the blur of the early days -- can leave new moms feeling isolated and alone. This compounds the feelings of "who am I now that I don't work/have a baby/am a mom?" Getting out of the house is the best way to remind yourself that there is a world out there, beyond nap schedules and burp cloths and late-night feedings. Be brave and try to plan a mix of small and more ambitious outings each week to keep your life -- and yourself -- fresh.