After eight years of stay-at-home motherhood, I took the plunge into the part-time-paid-work-outside-the-home realm. Yes, stay-at-home motherhood is a job and a demanding one to boot, and yes, I’ve been paid over the years as a freelance writer, but for the first time since Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration speech (the good old days), I clock in and out of a workplace at a location outside of my home on specific days and at specific times…and not in my pajamas.
It’s a small step—a dip of the toes in the water, if you will—but it’s a big deal because eight years ago, when I stood unshowered and sleep-deprived in my kitchen breastfeeding a newborn baby in one arm and flipping a grilled cheese sandwich for a toddler in the other, I couldn’t imagine having the time, energy, or desire to be accountable to anyone but my precious snowflakes ever again.
Yet, here I am. One day a week, I teach creative movement, tap, and ballet at my local YMCA. It’s fun, exhausting, demanding, inspiring, and always unpredictable. In fact, it’s a lot like stay-at-home motherhood but with other people’s kids wearing pink tights.
Rediscovering my true calling after a decade entrenched in motherhood has been a gift. I feel like I’m exactly where I am supposed to be, but my new endeavor has come with a steep learning curve. Going to work has triggered a delightful dose of mayhem at home and has taught me some important lessons about the intersection of stay-at-home motherhood and work.
Murphy’s Law is no joke. When your kid wakes up before dawn, you’ll be late for school, when you go to the trouble of cooking dinner, everyone will hate it, and on the morning of your first day of work outside the home after almost a decade, your kids will get the stomach bug. If you’re lucky (I was), your angel of a babysitter will show up anyway and be rewarded with a big fat tip and good karma for the rest of her blessed life.
Saying yes is as hard and worthwhile as saying no. When I was encouraged to apply for my job, I said yes even though I hadn’t updated my resume in a decade. When I was offered the chance to teach in the afternoon after my kids got out of school, I said yes even though I had no plan for childcare. When a friend offered to take my son to his drum lesson while I worked because she took her kids at the same time, I said yes. Those yeses were scary, but once they spilled out, things fell into place.
Small change = big chaos. The average newborn baby in the United States weighs just 7.5 pounds, and we all know those tiny humans are flipping tsunamis! Whether you work 40 or four hours per week, your routine will come unhinged. The easy breezy flexibility of stay-at-home motherhood and the entire family’s expectation of said flexibility—to spontaneously invite friends over to play after school, to wait at home for a delivery, or to run to the craft store today for a project due tomorrow—will need some adjusting. Not to worry, like with infants, it gets better.
You have (earned) permission to reframe the cost. I was flummoxed by Sheryl Sandberg’s plea in her book, “Lean In,” for working women to stay the course during the early years of motherhood, especially when the cost of childcare consumed most of their paycheck. It made sense in theory, but in execution…not so much. When I quit my job to stay home full time, I did it for a lot of reasons, but the cost of childcare was a major factor. Today, it’s still a factor—I hand a significant portion of my weekly paycheck to a babysitter—but I’m leaning in this time around because my babies have morphed into moody adolescents on the cusp of middle school, Instagram accounts, and curfews. Now, I’m investing my next chapter…me.
Your self-esteem will skyrocket. I’m grateful to have a supportive circle of family and friends who could care less if I’m a stay-at-home mom, working mom, helicopter mom, lawnmower mom, free-range mom, Dutch mom, or hot mess mom. They just want me to clean the toilet seats when they come over, and I do all most some of the time. But, I don’t live in a vacuum. I’ve been on the receiving end of “What do you do all day?” many times, and it takes its toll. I relish my new responsibility. It’s given me a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to learn, and it’s introduced me to many interesting adults and some fascinating kids. It feels good to be a part of something outside of my household, and getting paid for my time and skill is swell, too.
Your kids will miss you (and…psst…you’ll miss them, too). You know how the kids go bonkers when Daddy gets home from work or emerges from the bathroom after disappearing for an hour? “Oh, Daddy, we missed you! We love you! You’re the best Daddy in the world!” For stay-at-home moms who reappear after going to the DMV or getting a root canal, it’s more like, “Oh, Mommy, why didn’t you cut the crusts off my sandwich before you left? There’s no ice in my water! You didn’t come when I called for you!” When I get home from work, my kids’ eyes light up. It might be because they’re hungry or can’t find the iPad charger, but I’ll take it. Also, it feels good to prep for and teach my classes and then put my work away for the night. It even makes me appreciate a sink full of dishes. That’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.
Independence, baby! (Not yours, although it’s nice to interact with people who don’t ask you to hold their trash.) Since I started working, my kids do their homework right after school, pack their backpacks in the morning, and bring their plates to sink occasionally (i.e. when there’s a full moon during months that start with “M”). They’re learning in big and small ways to do things for themselves. I don’t know if it has anything to do with my job, but I like to think my newfound autonomy (and my commitment to flushing the toilet) is rubbing off on them.
Your kids will surprise you. They might give you the side-eye when you arrive home after several hours with a babysitter, and they might not ask many questions about what you do, but one day one of them will bring home a picture he drew at school and you’ll realize they have been paying attention, they are curious about what their Mommy does at her job, and despite their surface discontent, they just might be a little bit proud.