I'M Afraid Motherhood Has Ruined My Career
As I near 40 and my children range in age from one to nine, I am starting to be afraid that the career I dreamed about is never going to be the one I have. I never expected to be a stay-at-home mother to my children. When I had my first child in my late 20s, I fully expected to be that mom who juggles working full time and motherhood. But that's not how it worked out.
Within two months of having my first daughter, I knew it was going to be impossible for me to return to work the way I'd originally planned. I simply could not imagine leaving my helpless 3-month-old in daycare that cost as much as my salary. At first I thought I could negotiate. I called our department's director and tried to negotiate with her. Can I cut my schedule to part time? Can I work from home two days a week? My director, a divorced mom of one, was having no part of that.
"No one gave me any handouts when I had my baby," she told me. "You have to make your choice."
And so I did. I left. My plan was to take a year off, then put her into care around 12 months, a time when I figured both she and I would feel more ready. Of course, that's not how it happened.
The first year I was home with my daughter was the best year of my life. I freelanced for various websites on occasion, but by and large my life was filled with playdates, playgroups, time at the park, and Mommy and Me yoga. To be sure, it was hard. Those long hours with only a baby as company can get exhausting and repetitive. But I also felt strongly that I was doing the right thing for her and for our family. I also got pregnant again right around the time she turned nine months.
I was thrilled to be pregnant, but also well aware that I'd just restarted the clock in terms of my career. I'd have to take another year or two off. And so I did.
By the time I looked up again, my son was 18 months and I'd taken more than three years off from my career. The sad truth is, those were the years most people my age (late 20s and early 30s), including my husband, were getting promotions and moving up the ladder. I was at home with the kids. Sure, I was writing, but I wasn't making editor. Or senior editor. Or getting any other senior positions. Right around the time my son turned two, a full-time job fell into my lap.
At the time it seemed semi-flexible and was all from home. Unfortunately, that job didn't work out for a number or reasons, but a place I'd been freelancing did have an opening for a writer and so I went back to work. Again, the job was entirely from home, but it had benefits and a 401K and a stock plan and all of the things people who have jobs and are not stay-at-home parents get to enjoy.
By then I was in my early 30s and hungry for career advancement. But it never really happened. I wouldn't compromise on working in an office, and the lack of face time coupled with the four years of regular employment that were missing on my resume kept me low on the totem pole. I did eventually become an editor, but by then I was in my mid-30s and aware that I was years behind my friends who'd kept working. I also had a third baby and cut back to part time hours.
As my older children went off to elementary school and became more and more involved, I got to know other mothers in the same predicament. These are women who are now in the 40s with children attending school who find they don't know what to do career-wise since they made that choice to stay home.
I was in a slightly better position since I have a part-time job, but as I near 40, I am well aware that women my age are in director level positions while I am still very much at the bottom. It was a conscious choice. And one I know I am lucky, with the support of my husband, to be able to make. But I don't judge other moms who do make that choice. In many ways I envy them.
I fear the choices I made have affected my earning potential and that puts pressure on my husband. We have three kids to send to college and so much of that is likely to fall to him. I still have plans. I am currently training to be a yoga teacher and working on a novel (in my rare spare time), but I am also aware that the future of our family rests a lot on my husband. Not only is that high pressure for him, it also makes me feel like a loser.
Even so, I wouldn't change what we have. I am the one my kids see at 3:15 when they get out of school. I am the one who takes them to their activities and listens to their stories about their days. They get to come home and relax after school, and I get the pleasure of their company. It's trying, but it's worth it. Almost a decade into this whole parenting thing, I am well aware of the way the decisions I made early in parenthood are affecting us now. It's hard to realize the career I dreamed of in high school might not be the one I have.
Still, all I can do is move forward with the knowledge that if I could go back in time and remake all the decisions I've made, I wouldn't change a thing.
How has being a mom affected your career?