In my neighborhood in central Pennsylvania the people are friendly and the introductions are often. Usually the first question they ask is my name. The second is almost always, "Do you work outside the home?"
For five years now my answer has been no. I have considered myself a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) since I stepped out of the classroom to embrace motherhood full-time. I feel fortunate to have a husband with a steady job that provides a good income so that I have the opportunity to be home with my children. I love being there for their first words and first steps and snotty noses. (Okay, maybe not the snotty noses.)
But the truth is, after the first year at home with a toddler and an infant I wasn't happy. I loved my children more than anything, but I didn't have the sense of fulfillment I expected.
No one talks about the difficult transition to being a SAHM, but when you are an educated and independent woman who has never needed to rely on anyone but herself, it is difficult to lean on your partner financially. It is hard not to resent the gap in your resume and the lack of adult interaction. When you couple those feelings with a changing body image and a reality that doesn't always live up to the expectations set forth by television fantasies and Pinterest boards, it is hard to learn to love your new job as Chief Diaper Changer and Bottle Maker.
It's really no wonder that several studies have shown that working moms are happier than SAHMs. However, studies have also shown that having a full-time parent at home makes for happier, better-adjusted children. I felt like going back to work was putting my own happiness above theirs. Mommy guilt, it's what's for dinner. Believe me, it's there. Between the mac 'n' cheese and the canned green beans, it's always there.
Once we added a third child it made no financial sense for me to go back to work. Daycare costs alone would have eaten my entire salary.
I was just so very, very bored.
Lucky for me, I live in the 21st century and here, in the Land of Opportunity, there was balance to be found. It just took me a while to find it.
At first I jumped in with both feet. I started my own child-centered business: a community toy library. I took my kids to work with me, I was helping to expand the economy, I was teaching again, and I was busy. Too busy.
When our oldest son was diagnosed with special needs, I had no choice but to shut it down. There was no room for balance in that schedule. Family will always come first.
I dissolved my business, but I had gotten a taste of the working mom's Kool Aid and I wanted in. I did not, however, want to leave my kids in daycare and miss all of the precious moments of their youth. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too and I was determined to do just that.
Around that time I started blogging. I found an amazing online community of moms in the same stage of life. It was a hobby that provided a much-needed social outlet. At first that was all it was.
I answered a Craigslist ad for a part-time teaching job at a local non-profit. My background in education made me a good fit to teach their parenting classes a few evenings each month. I was bringing in a small income, getting adult interaction, and the schedule was perfect for us. It was amazing. I started to feel like me again and not just Mommy.
Eventually the kids grew older and more independent. I made the decision to do just one thing each day to focus on my blog. Monday I made a media kit. Tuesday I would make a list of editors or other bloggers to approach for networking opportunities. I applied for jobs in the writing field. I was shocked when the editor of a local magazine actually offered me some freelance work. The blog networking turned into an opportunity to collaborate on a new book and I became one of the authors featured in the Amazon best-selling humor anthology I Just Want to Pee Alone. I queried agents and publishers and was shocked again when I was offered a contract for a children's book.
Although I still consider myself a SAHM, my days now include juggling editor's notes and conference calls. My paychecks are starting to get bigger, although I doubt they will ever be huge. Most importantly, I have seen every first step and heard every first word.
I believe we can have it all, just not at the same time. I also believe that putting my career completely on hold for five years would have been a bad idea.
When I was a little girl I dreamed of one day being an author like Judy Blume. I never thought it would really happen. It was my fantasy job. I dreamed of writing like little boys dream of becoming professional athletes, but in the end settle for being accountants because it is practical. Signing the contract for my first book made me feel like a first pick in the NFL draft.
It was an opportunity I would have never had if I had not chosen to walk away from my full-time career to focus on my family. My family. I walked away to focus on my family and my family includes me.
It took me almost five years to realize that.
I truly feel like at this moment I have it all. When you do what you love and keep doing it intentionally, someone will eventually pay you for it.
The best part, for me, is that when someone asks, "Do you work outside the home?" my answer is still no.