The week before the end of my maternity leave, my boss called to tell me that as of my return to work on Monday, my position would be eliminated.
After the shock had subsided, my first reaction was relief. I had spent weeks stressing about my daycare plans, how I would fit pumping into my already jam-packed work day, how I would function while utterly sleep-deprived. Now all of that was gone. Play with my baby all day? Yes, please!
My husband and I decided I wouldn’t look for another full-time job right away so I could take more time to care for the baby without the stresses of balancing my new family responsibilities with work. I looked forward to this unplanned extension of my maternity leave.
But as the day passed when I would have gone back to work, I realized a big part of my identity was also gone. I was no longer a magazine editor in the glamorous world of publishing. What was I now, besides a mom? I certainly wasn’t a “housewife.” I had little energy for housework or cooking, and I started to feel guilty when my husband came home each day. Shouldn’t I be greeting him with a martini as dinner wafted from the kitchen, and shouldn’t I be wearing lipstick and heels instead of yoga pants?
OK, so maybe my idea of a stay-at-home-mom came more from stereotypes of 1950’s homemakers than modern reality, but the question persisted, for me and presumably my husband, of what exactly I spent my time doing. Everything and nothing, it seemed.
I was feeding, changing, bathing, clothing, entertaining, educating, consoling and loving my son. I was not dusting, vacuuming, cleaning toilets, tidying or making gourmet dinners. I certainly wasn’t being what I had always thought I was: a career girl. That part of my life seemed to be over.
I joined a moms’ group, but we only seemed to be together in our isolation. We talked about being lonely, about being solitary in our homes all day, but still found it hard to get together more than once a week. Just getting out of the house with a baby was a project, and could be so stressful that it defeated the purpose of seeking solace with others.
Eager to find a new purpose—well, besides the all-important purpose of raising my child —I decided to start writing again, hoping to find a new path working from home. But every time I started working, my son would wake up from his nap, or stop playing contentedly by himself and cry for my attention.
As I struggled to type one last paragraph while he screamed, I realized I wasn’t being a very good writer or a very good mom. Trying to squeeze things in while taking care of my son wasn’t working because taking care of him was a job in and of itself. I found myself getting frustrated at him—my baby, the little being I had tried so hard to create and who now needed me more than anyone else. How could I not be content just being his mom?
Before I had kids, I once made a comment to my sister about how she had it easy because she didn’t work, except to take care of her toddler. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had!” she retorted. I scoffed at the time, but now, I finally get what stay-at-home moms have been saying for years: They do work, just not in the same way.
But what was I to do about my career? I still felt the pull to work, a little twinge of jealousy when I saw Facebook posts from my former coworkers about the fabulous events they were attending or heard about the cool new writing assignment they got.
But now I try to remind myself that my son will only be a baby for a couple of short years. Yes, I may feel like a slob most days, unshowered and covered in unspecified substances. But I made a choice to stay home with him, something that many working moms would be envious of as well. I am leaning out, and I am trying to embrace that. Staying home has changed how I view myself. But whether you work or not, becoming a mom does that to you.