Two years ago, on a night filled with homework and pizza-stained sports uniforms, my daughter announced the details of her cellular anatomy project and handed me an exhaustive list of candy. Apparently, the best way to represent mitochondria is to place Twizzlers and Nerds on a cake. My husband chimed in with his shopping list, as he was tragically out of gum.
At that moment, I knew: My eight years as a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) had run its course. My career once involved trauma nursing and neuroscience research, and now I was my family’s personal concierge. I needed a change.
The experiment begins
It was time to create “Is It Time To Go Back To Work?” hypotheses and test them.
Hypothesis No. 1: If I go back to work, I can find a balance between my career, my husband’s career and the demands of raising a family.
Results: When I landed a fulfilling job working from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the flexibility to manage school breaks and orthodontia appointments, “fulfilling” equated to “emotionally draining.” In my second run at this hypothesis, I settled for working from home with the occasional feverish child at my feet, which was only a slight improvement, but progress nonetheless.
Hypothesis No. 2: If I prepare my children for the change of our family dynamic as I go back to work, they will grow from this experience.
Results: The day of my first interview, my daughter refused to get out of the car at school drop-off. The school psychologist also gave up on coaxing her out, and we ended up at my husband’s office where he took over, and I headed to my interview in tears. Our daughters have become more independent and resilient, but this experiment has been just short of dreadful.
Hypothesis No. 3: Catching up on workplace technology will make this transition smoother.
Results: As someone who once trained colleagues on how to use databases in the Fortune 100, I can promise eight years out of the workplace is an eternity in technology years. Being an avid user of social media and school portals is not a way to keep your skills sharp. At some point, I let go of catching up and decided to start over.
Hypothesis No. 4: I will need to let go of volunteer commitments.
Results: I am now two years into this experiment, and I have chicken in the oven for a church dinner, and my in-laws are in town for a visit. Going back to work put into stark perspective how much I treasured being the PTA president, and the mom you call when you’ve run out of birthday party ideas. I loved hosting every holiday and making bizarre Halloween costumes like “Half Good Witch, Half Bad Witch” and “Human Peacock.” There is no sweet spot in this experiment; only the challenge of studying the schedule and making prudent decisions at every turn.
Hypothesis No. 5: I have what it takes to get back in the game.
Results: My husband is my biggest cheerleader, and my kids love the experiences arising from my income, but there is no source of validation outside of myself that made this experience easier. Two years into my experiment, and it continues to take an immeasurable amount of courage for me to invest in myself. As I watch our children grow, I gently try to grow as well, giving them the freedom to fly into their futures.
Research summary: When I became a SAHM, it forced me to be more humble, brave, patient and persistent than I ever thought possible. When I went back to work, the exact same lessons repeated themselves. I don’t think it matters if I work or not; I think the lesson is that as mothers, our real job is to stay flexible, and just keep going.
Wisdom comes suddenly.