About seven months ago, I quit my lucrative job in the pharmaceutical industry to be a stay-at-home mom. I had been working as a pharmacist for eight years. And then one day near the end of August, I embarked on my last commute home.
Of course, it wasn’t an overnight decision. I made the choice to stay home with my now almost 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter after months of deliberations, pro-and-con lists and late-night pillow talks with my husband.
Four years ago, I wouldn’t have predicted this move. I was always career-oriented, contemplating my next step and setting five-year goals. My work was challenging and fulfilling. Not one day went by that I didn’t learn something from a recently published study, an experienced co-worker or a new drug approval. The decision to put it all on hold temporarily is one that I agonized over.
The choice of whether to continue working or stay at home to raise my family tore me with excitement and fear. The excitement of being around more during my children’s formative years and not spreading myself so thin. The fear of not contributing to my retirement and undermining my career prospects by taking time out of the workforce.
My hour-plus commute each way made morning and evening routines with the kids exponentially complicated. I remember listening to podcasts on my way in an effort to justify the commute as much needed time alone. The more integrated I became in my team, the more projects I was leading. I needed to physically be in the office more often and travel to more conferences, meaning less time working from home and less time with my family.
Every morning I thought to myself, Who will I let down today? I constantly felt like I was sacrificing something.
And yet to be the type of mom I wanted to be, I needed to be more present with my children. Every morning I thought to myself, Who will I let down today? I constantly felt like I was sacrificing something.
When my daughter was born in 2015, my husband and I struggled to balance our careers with being parents. I remember traveling for work shortly after returning from maternity leave. Between coordinating child care while I was away, pumping at a convention center in between meetings, figuring out how to keep the milk fresh and doing my job well, being away for a week was a logistical nightmare. But as working parents do, we figured out how to achieve some sort of a steady state.
When my son was born in 2017, I knew it would be difficult but I anticipated returning to work again after maternity leave. I felt confident that with a 50/50 spouse, dependable child care and supportive grandparents, I could juggle my career and my home life. I understood that it would not be perfect but I was OK with that.
As expected, there were periods in which life ran smoothly and others in which one hiccup would have a spiraling downward effect. As a working mother with two children, I overcompensated because I didn’t want anyone to feel that I was distracted or not doing enough. I put unnecessary pressure on myself to succeed. Because I had to leave at 4:30 p.m. to pick up my daughter from preschool, I would sign back into work after bedtime to finish anything I couldn’t get done during the day. The next morning, I would start all over again.
My husband is a physician, which requires him to be at work early and stay late. Most often, he was simply unable to do preschool drop-offs so there I would be at the school at 7 a.m., waiting for the doors to open. That was the only way I could make it to work on time. I remember one day when our nanny couldn’t come in and my husband and I stood in the kitchen at 6 a.m. arguing over who could stay home because I had can’t-miss meetings and he needed to be in the operating room. Things were insanely hectic.
We were living one day at a time, hoping that some kind of work-life balance would eventually emerge. My husband and I both knew that this wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle.
Eventually I realized that the time to be at home with my children was now. When my family and I were ready, I would figure out how to get back into the workforce.
There were times I would think to myself: I can do this. It’s manageable. I’m overthinking everything. I just have to make some sacrifices but we’ll make it work.
Another side of me kept whispering, You’ll never get these years back. There was always a voice telling me that I needed to make a change.
Decisions like these are incredibly personal and dependent on each individual’s circumstances. But eventually I realized that the time to be at home with my children was now. When my family and I were ready, I would figure out how to get back into the workforce.
Of course, coming to terms with the decision took some time. It all seemed so backwards. I was taught from an early age to be ambitious and reach high. I went to school for a long time to pursue the type of career I wanted to have. There was always a next step: get into pharmacy school, earn good grades and graduate, complete a fellowship, work in the pharmaceutical industry, and continue to advance my career. I was walking away with no concrete plans on when I would return. I felt like I was giving up what I had spent my entire life building.
My immigrant mother raised my brother and me while working full-time. She had no other option. As I contemplated leaving my stable job and steady income, I thought to myself, What would my mother think?
The risks were constantly running through my mind. What will this cost me in the long run financially and emotionally? Will my kids still look up to me? I wondered if I would still be valuable to potential future employers. I was well aware of the stigma associated with leaving your career to focus on motherhood. I thought about how I would no longer be bringing in a substantial portion of our household income. How would my spending habits change when I was no longer a woman who made her own money?
Who am I if not a working woman? This is the ultimate question I’m still seeking to answer. I miss my life as a pharmacist, yet I’m slowly redefining the way I see myself.
After seven months of being a stay-at-home mom, I realize I have the opportunity to reinvent myself: a chance to learn and grow and evolve as a person. The path I carved out for myself from the moment I applied to pharmacy school as a high school senior is no longer the road I must continue walking. I have the chance to start paving a new way. I’m serving as a co-chair at my daughter’s preschool for a fundraiser in which the kids showcase their art to the community. I have the chance to volunteer with a cancer advocacy group that I value tremendously. I take my son to story time at the library in the middle of a weekday. I blog about style and motherhood while my son sleeps.
I am incredibly grateful that I can stay home while my husband financially upholds the family. I know that isn’t a possibility for many families. But though I am no longer contributing to our savings account, I am providing value in a different way.
I’m no longer measuring my worth by how busy my calendar is. A day with nothing planned is an opportunity to explore the world with my son and daughter. An unexpected snow day or a babysitter who calls out no longer sends my husband and I into a tailspin, as it once did. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would unwaveringly make the same decision every time.
My new normal isn’t one I went to school for. It’s not necessarily good on paper. I’m not making six figures. I’m not contributing to my 401(k). I don’t have a fancy office. But I’m here for middle-of-the-day dance parties. I’m here for a game of hide-and-seek after breakfast. I’m here to read Dragons Love Tacos five times in a row. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now.
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