Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Two years back at work: What I've learned

Two years ago today I went back to work after eight years as a stay-at-home mom. Normally I'm terrible with dates - birthdays and anniversaries regularly pass without my noticing. About this anniversary, though, I'm feeling surprisingly introspective.

When I went back to work and gave up the role of primary caretaker, it was a huge turning point for both me and the kids. My husband and I were talking in the car this weekend about whether the kids will appreciate all we do for them someday. I think they'll appreciate his contributions more than mine. He's the one logging the hours after school now, doing the carpool shuffle, making the snacks, supervising homework. I did all those things, too, but earlier in their lives. Now I show up at dinnertime. Memory favors more recent events. They'll likely see him as the one who was there, and I will be the one who was not.

I've learned a lot in the past two years, about myself, about my family, and about balancing work and parenting. Here are a few of my realizations:
  • I miss the things I thought I hated. I miss driving the afternoon carpool. I miss sitting in traffic with the kids in the car, picking music I know they'll like. I miss washing grapes and cutting up apples and putting them into small containers, then handing them to each kid as he climbed into the minivan. I miss waving to the teachers as I pulled into the carpool line. I miss listening to the kids chat with their friends about the events of the day as we drove the half-hour home. Now, by the time I get home from work, it's mostly "good" and "fine" and "not much" when I ask how their days went. 
  • I miss exercising. Yes, I know plenty of people find time to exercise and parent and work full-time. Frankly, I don't know how they do it. They must sleep less. Oh, and they probably don't have a second job blogging (see my food blog In Erika's Kitchen). I've thought about blogging less in order to have time to work out. Hasn't happened yet, though. Apparently I have a lot to say to the world.
  • It's true - your brain really does atrophy when you have babies. I resisted that fact for a long time, but there's a whole part of your brain that you use constantly as a working person which goes dormant when you're an at-home mom. I only realized it when I went back to work and it woke up again. Thankfully, waking it up didn't take too long, and it happened on its own, or maybe as a result of being in an adults-only environment for so many hours a day. I'd say within two weeks of going back to work I was firing on all cylinders again. 
  • My "Mommy voice" can be useful at work. Another mom who lived nearby when our kids were small went back to work before I did and taught me this (thanks, K). Not that you want to be patronizing or condescending. But sometimes, when people are being particularly thick or stubborn, it helps to slow down your pace, look them in the eye, and say, "Now, Jack, I know that you're frustrated about this presentation. We all know it's important. Let's take it one slide at a time and figure out what we really want to say. Okay?" Seriously, this is a way of taking charge only a mom can get away with.
  • I need to work on putting my own stuff aside when I come home. Another wise mom friend told me that she uses the 15 minutes between leaving work and picking up her girls as conscious transition time. She doesn't want her kids to pick up on her work stress, and she wants them to feel like she is focused on them 100 percent when they're together. I aspire to that, but I rarely get there. I'm not sure whether that's a lack of self-discipline on my end, or a personality trait/flaw, or something else. Perhaps a desire for pity, or at least empathy, from my children? Not sure. In any case, this is an area in which I can certainly stand to improve.
  • I am not an entirely self-sacrificing mother. Sometimes I make selfish choices. I go out now and then on weeknights with girlfriends or for work-related dinners. I spend weekend time when I could otherwise be with my kids going to food blogger meetups or getting my nails done. I love my children, but I don't want to spend every free moment with them. Now that I spend my days at work instead of at home, I have significantly less free time overall, and I need some of it for myself. I hope my kids will realize someday that this made me a happier, more well-rounded, mentally healthier human being. If not, that's what the therapy fund is for.
  • I think my family respects me more. One time when the kids were younger we passed the building where I worked before they were born. I pointed it out through the car window. "Oh Mom," laughed my older son, "you never worked! Your job is to stay home and take care of us!" It really threw me. Was I setting the right example for my two boys? Would they grow up chauvinistic and locked into traditional gender roles? Now they know for sure that both mom and dad contribute to supporting the family, and that all combinations and permutations of parental responsibilities are possible. You're welcome, future wives.
  • I have no regrets about having stayed home. I used the time well. I got to spend quality time with each child alone and with both kids together. When they got older and started school, I used my free time to do things for the family (cook) and for myself (tennis, Weight Watchers).
  • I have no regrets about going back to work. It was necessary, anyway, so there's no place for regret. But I do have sadness. People talk about spending "quality time" with their kids. For me, it was all quality time, even sitting in traffic on the most congested freeway in the country on the way home from school.
  • I'm happier now. You'd think the opposite would be true. But, sitting here thinking about it, even with all the added stress, juggling, and whining from kids who miss me, this combination is better for me. I'm stronger, more confident, and happier all around. Happy anniversary to me.

22 comments:

Yvonne Condes said...

I Love this post! I work from home and I really miss being in a newsroom with smart people around.
I bet your kids will realize later how hard you work for them. If they don't believe you you can show them your food blog and all of the amazing meals you made for them!

Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious said...

Wonderful post! Congratulations to you on a successful stint staying home, and now a successful and sustained return to the outside working world.

Hilary Cable said...

The workplace would be a darker place without you. So glad you decided to come back to it!

Erika said...

Thanks for the supportive words, friends. I was tearing up on and off all day today. Way more emotional than I expected about this!

BonnieBanters said...

I was able to be @ home w/my children until they were in high school. My husband was self-employed, and eventually I had to find a job that would offer a good health insurance program, since it was becoming pretty much unaffordable for an independent business person. (I was self-employed also, but my family did not depend on this.)

I pretty much reinvented myself, taking on a whole new career. I started out just part-time for the insurance, I never imagined I would eventually be working full-time! Next thing you know, my family was depending on me as the major provider. (My husband developed some serious illnesses.) Life has it's twists and turns, and I keep telling my children, be prepared!

Honestly, I prefer to be self-employed or just a stay @ home caregiver and entertainer!

Now I'm blogging and between jobs.

Paula {JustABiteDesserts.com} said...

Thought this was terrific, Erika! I've been working from home in various ventures since my first was born 15 years ago. They still don't "get" that I work. Just started going in to hubby's office a few days a week as I'm working with him now too. Maybe this will change their perception. I agree with what you said about being a role model and hope that someday they think of me as more than just a mother, though I think it is one of the world's most important and toughest jobs! LOL

Marly said...

I have been on both sides of that fence too. I loved staying home with my daughter when she was young. There are pros and cons to both sides. Thanks for sharing this post!

marla said...

Erika, this post is fabulous. A well needed read. For me the balance has come from working at home & being able to take care of the kids - though it is very exhausting I am grateful. xo

Cara said...

Well said, Erika. I've had similar reflections, as I went back to work full time outside of the home two years ago at the end of April. I don't regret my time at home with my kids at all. At the same time, I'm glad I can provide them with a different part of my identity.

Tricia@onceamonthmom.com said...

Thank you for the reminder that I would miss the things that sometimes drive me crazy now or seem mundane. I need to remember that they will pass all too quickly.

Tricia@onceamonthmom.com said...

Thank you for the reminder that I would miss the things that sometimes drive me crazy now or seem mundane. I need to remember that they will pass all too quickly.

Jeanette said...

Erika, what an honest down to earth post. I made the decision to stay home with my kids after working 15 years. It was hard going from a professional job to staying at home full time, but it has been a phenomenal experience. I do think it's important that my kids (all boys) know that I am just as capable of working as their dad, and hope someday soon to return to the workforce, albeit in a different sector.

Sommer J said...

Absolutely loved this...really needed a read like this honestly. Happy Anniversary to you! You DESERVE happiness!!

Megan said...

Great post. I just put an app in for a 6 hour job and I have been thinking how I'm giving up my mornings. And I am wondering how my blog will suffer. But I think it will be a good thing and I loved hearing your words on the matter.
Now...lets see if I get the job.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be precisely what I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome blog!
My site is on [url=http://www.thehealthydietplan.net]Detox diet plan[/url].

Erika said...

Anonymous - thanks for the offer, but I haven't been paying enough regular attention to this blog to be able to deal with guest posts. Glad you like it though!

Anonymous said...

very interesting article! I will follow your themes.
Can I subscribe to your posts on Twitter or on your Facebook profile?

Erika Kerekes said...

Anon, how kind of you to ask. I tweet and Facebook mostly about food, if that's of interest. I'm @erikakerekes on Twitter and http://www.facebook.com/InErikasKitchen/ on Facebook.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your information!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I think you've encapsulated the mission of this blog and our challenge.

Anonymous said...

very interesting article! I will follow your themes.
Can I subscribe to your posts on Twitter or on your Facebook profile?

Erika Kerekes said...

My twitter is @erikakerekes - on Facebook you can "like" my food blog page at http://www.facebook.com/inerikaskitchen/ but I'll warn you that's much more about food than family. Thanks for asking!