Work-Life Surprises

When my husband and I got married 12 years ago, we both were in our early 30s, just out of graduate school, getting our toes wet in new careers, and in loooove. We figured we had a good life plan that included two strong careers, a rent-controlled apartment in New York City and plans to have five (count 'em, five) kids together.

Looking back, it's hard not to scream "What were we thinking?!?!" Because, of course, life since then has been one surprise after another. If I could time travel, I'd go back and whisper to myself: Honey, fasten your seatbelt, the roller coaster ride is about to begin and you're not getting off for the next decade.

First, we had trouble having a baby. Then, in two years we had two babies. We moved to New Jersey, back to New York City, then off to Minneapolis. My husband changed jobs twice; I worked part-time, then not at all, then full-time again. We moved back to my hometown of Washington, D.C. We had a third baby. Our families had a hard time keeping track of our home phone number. People at work said things like, Wait, I thought you had the baby. That's another one? Our string of apartments and townhouses each resembled an unregulated day-care center, littered with toys, diapers, and Cheerios smashed into the floor.

For the past six years, however, our phone number, address and family size have not changed. In September, our third child, now nearly six years old, joined her older brother and sister at a local school with a good after-care program until 6 p.m every night. For the first time in years I had a chance to think (for more than three seconds) about what was next for us.

For nearly a week, I toyed with having another baby. I jettisoned that plan the day I looked in the mirror after wrestling all three kids through dinner, homework and bath time and my face was a dead ringer for Edvard Munch's The Scream. I figured if I had another baby, my head might just fly off my body.

My next thought was a return to full-time salaried work, a change from the flexible freelance writing-and-consulting life I've had since 2005. Finally, I thought, I would resurrect that ambitious, optimistic 30 year old, the old me who thought working until 9 p.m was a fine way to spend every weeknight. That plan lasted about four weeks.

Then the truth snuck up on me: Parenthood has changed me. I don't want to juggle or blend or scramble a 60-hour work week along with raising three children. Right now, I want to be there for my kids far more than I want the economic and professional benefits of a full-time job. I can't "have it all" the way I once blithely assumed I could. And I don't want it all anymore, at least not all on the same day.

Looking back at myself and everyone I know who has children, I am still surprised at how plunging headfirst into parenthood changes us, our work goals, and what we want in life. And although my experience with parenthood has been mundane (no health crises, no divorces, no major physical disabilities -- the mental ones are another story) what I've seen is that personal earthquakes wreak even larger, more profound changes in life goals.

So today's topic is: Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would? What has surprised you the most about your work-life challenges and the solutions you've found? What advice or guidance would you give if you could go back in time for a little chat with your pre-parent self?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  January 23, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
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Parenting and working is far more rewarding and challenging then I ever thought. I guess I never really paid any attention to my friends who had kids and how they balanced their life. Also everyone's work/life balance is different. I have a friend who doesn't use day care. She works in the office during the day and telecommutes two days a week. Her husband works nights and out of the home the two days she telecommutes. Other good friend stayed home for 16 years. Several guys I know have stay at home wives. Some use local day care or babysitters. But until you become a parent, I don't think you pay a 100% attention to those issues because it doesn't affect you. I am impressed that you would want a fourth child. I am scared stiff of balancing life with two and working 36 hours out of the home. I think the hardest part living in the DC area is the commute. I think life would be a lot better without the commute.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 23, 2008 7:41 AM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

Yep,and it's been great!

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 23, 2008 8:03 AM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

Nope. Not in a million years would 20-year-old me have imagined being a stay at home mom. I was going to be on the Supreme Court, and clearly would not have time to raise rugrats.


What has surprised you the most about your work-life challenges and the solutions you've found?

I've been amazed at how non-conflicted I've felt about my decision to be at home while my daughter's young. I still cannot imagine being a SAHM forever, but for now, I like most aspects of my life (and the parts I don't like, I can't control anyway).

What advice or guidance would you give if you could go back in time for a little chat with your pre-parent self?

I might consider telling her to think about having kids first, before going to law school, because that does seem to have worked well for some moms I know and admire. I'm somewhat apprehensive about having dropped out as a mid-level associate, and about how hard it will be to go back to work.

Posted by: newsahm | January 23, 2008 8:12 AM

WOW! Leslie, at first I thought I was reading someone elses post. You've changed doing the past year. I don't know what to say.

Posted by: lourd | January 23, 2008 8:19 AM

I can't really say my life didn't go according to plan, because I never had a plan to begin with. My life goals were not to be bored and not to be poor, but I had no clue how to get there. And even if I had tried, the options that I have now didn't exist back then. There weren't a lot of female doctors and lawyers and such, and those that had made it had to conform to the 90-hr-week expectations just to survive (and all 90 of those hours had to be in the office, since we didn't have cellphones and blackberries and the like). I knew I didn't want to spent nights and weekends in an office, but I didn't know there was any other choice. I guess I'd say that where I am right now -- husband, two great kids, part-time partnership -- is where I would have hoped to be had I known enough back then to realize it was an option.

Of course, I'm totally with Leslie on that roller coaster thing. There was a lot of "not fun" stuff to get to this point -- seems like every time we thought we had something that started to look like a plan, something bad happened to throw it into the crapper. I didn't expect my husband's plant to shut down when I was a year away from partnership; I didn't plan to deal with infertility and miscarriages; I didn't expect my less demanding, "time to have kids" job to come with an abusive boss; I didn't plan on another plant shutdown when I was 8 months pregnant; etc. etc. etc. There was a time shortly after our daughter was born that I wondered if I'd ever get back to happy.

And yet, somehow, after 6 yrs of turmoil, I found myself right where I would have wanted to be if I'd known enough to want it. In retrospect, all the crap helps me better appreciate what I have now. Every time I look at my kids, I think how lucky I am to have them. When I get annoyed at my current job, I think back to the horrible one and am grateful not to be there any more. When I feel like working at home, I'm so glad for the internet and blackberries and cable modems. There's just not a lot I take for granted.

Of course, now that I pretty much have what I want, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | January 23, 2008 8:19 AM

And the fun and changes don't end just because most of your kids are grown!

2005/06 was the year(s) of Katrina for us. But 2008 will be the year of cancer!

From David Bowie

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-changes
Dont want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I cant trace time

Posted by: Fred | January 23, 2008 8:43 AM

I think the hardest part living in the DC area is the commute. I think life would be a lot better without the commute.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 23, 2008 07:41 AM

Have you thought about moving someplace where you would have a shorter commute?

Posted by: dennis5 | January 23, 2008 9:21 AM

I have a large extended family and grew up with cousins of all ages so I went into parenthood with my eyes wide open. The only thing I would tell my post college, pre parent self would be to get a dog sooner - I had no idea how good mine would be at cleaning the kitchen floor after the toddlers finish eating!

Posted by: kvaak | January 23, 2008 9:32 AM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

No way. It never occurred to me that I would be a stay-at-home-dad with my two daughters. After our first daughter, my wife went back to work as an attorney four days a week and we had a nanny come in while she was at work. Two years later, when our 2nd daughter was born, the nanny had a baby of her own on the way. We pieced together about 9 months of someone being home with the girls between my wife's time off, my time off through FMLA, grandparents and a very good friend who was a teacher off for the summer. After that we tried daycare with both of us working. We quickly realized that was stressing us all out. My 4 year old, who was 2 and a half when she started at that particular daycare still talks about how much she didn't like her "new school."

I left my job at the university to do private career counseling and independent workforce development consulting while my wife went back to work 5 days a week. I don't make a lot of money as my primary responsibilities are watching the girls. I just never could have imagined this would be my life. It's the toughest job I've ever had, but I love it and it's working well for all of us, although I could be a better cook in the kitchen. I'm thankful we have the opportunity (and that my wife has made the sacrifice of giving up her day off with the girls) and that we have the choice. I don't know how so many people manage when staying home is not their choice, but they don't have any other options.

What has surprised you the most about your work-life challenges and the solutions you've found?

How simple the idea was, but how difficult it was to walk away from a "good paying job." Every once in a while I get pangs of anxiety that I'm not working full-time. I'm also surprised at the reaction I get from moms when I'm out with the girls, at gymnastics or the Dr's office or at the grocery. It's amazing to me how much credit I get for doing the same or less than they are doing. And I'm surprised at how few Dad's I see out with their kids. I've noticed more in the past year, but that may just be the result of the girls getting older and I can turn my attention away from them to notice my environment more.

What advice or guidance would you give if you could go back in time for a little chat with your pre-parent self?

Kid-induced sleep deprivation doesn't last just 8-12 weeks after your baby is born. Count on being tired for the next several years.

Posted by: Indyssent | January 23, 2008 9:37 AM

Had a crazy day at work yesterday and missed yesterday's blog.

Fred, I'm a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. My prayers are with you, Frieda, and your family.

Good quote for the day: Life is what happens while we're busy making other plans.

We are living in a city where I vowed I'd never live.

We thought we'd have 2 or 3 kids. We have 1 and we can't have more, and we are very happy, despite my "plan" to never ever have an only child.

We have both changed careers during our 15 years of marriage.

I could go on and on.

Enjoy the ride! Plan for the big things -- education, retirement, etc.

But don't get too caught up in planning everything else. And know you will be thrown plenty of curve balls!

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | January 23, 2008 10:03 AM

Hey Vegas Mom,

This will be going on for a while so I don't think you will be late. I remember from your blog on how long it took your hubby to get better.

And, if you ever need some more kids, you can borrow (long term) any of mine. All sexes, sizes and ages above 16!

F.

(Well, maybe not AF dau who is daddy's favorite for some reason!)

Posted by: Fred | January 23, 2008 10:11 AM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

Yes. I expected to work before, during and after, and have. And I enjoy it, too.

"What has surprised you the most about your work-life challenges and the solutions you've found?"

That I still don't understand why so many are so conflicted about what they are doing.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 23, 2008 10:12 AM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

By Leslie Morgan Steiner '87 | January 23, 2008; 7:00 AM ET

I didn't think. I let my wife do the thinking for both of us. When we married, I thought we'd go on living in the same town house by the Aberdeen railroad station. It was her idea to buy the house across the road from the farm which is now an 18-hole public golf course and will soon be a housing development. Then I thought we'd stay there. It was my wife's idea to move closer to the children's school. Anyone who thinks he can plot his life's course on a graph and follow it will soon learn the truth of the adage, "Man graphs, and Gosh laughs!"

"What has surprised you the most about your work-life challenges and the solutions you've found?"

Didn't know the little ones would miss me so much when I went on business travel during one five-year job. True, the only three times I spent a weekend away from home was when they sent me out of the country. Still, the little ones (and even the not-so-little ones) need their father home during the week, too.

"What advice or guidance would you give if you could go back in time for a little chat with your pre-parent self?"

I would say, "Matt, you are right to look for a girl to marry who wants to be a Stay-at-Home Mom. There'll be a lot less juggling involved. But if a job comes up that requires you to travel out of town a dozen or more times a year, turn it down until all your children are in college. When they're still at home, they will need both parents there."

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | January 23, 2008 10:21 AM

LOL Fred.

Any of your kids handy with construction projects? We could use a hand on my DH's latest project . . . .

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | January 23, 2008 10:23 AM

As a 32-year-old struggling with infertility and miscarriages, step-parenthood and being a second wife, this post and its comments really hit home.

I consider myself forward-thinking and always imagine that I'll look back at this time in my life and wonder what propelled me to keep going.

Thank you Leslie and all of the other readers. This post reminds me that this is the hard part and I, like almost everyone else, will get through it.

Posted by: erin.alissa | January 23, 2008 10:42 AM

Older son has some construction experience. AF Dau could provide security on the work location, if the AF would let her go.....

Posted by: Fred | January 23, 2008 10:43 AM

Well, since hindsight is always 20/20, I can say that I was unprepared for nearly everything. First, we were so elated with finally getting pregnant that we really did not talk or plan much beyond the birth date. We should have talked about how we would divide responsibilities, arrange schedules, etc. Second, I was totally unprepared how difficult it is to combine motherhood and a high profile job in DC. Third, I was totally unprepared how much my chosen career is unsuitable for motherhood: not just the number of hours you have to put in but the amount of travel and no ability to predict your schedule. Fourth, I still work but I am so "done" with working full time. If I could find a meaninfull (both financially and intellectually) 9-3 job, I would take it in a second. As for solutions, ironically, having children so late had allowed me to develop professionally to the point that when I had to switch careers I was able to transition into a respectable 40 hour week position. If I could chat with my pre-parent self I would stress that life is never the same after you have kids; accept it and go with the flow.

Posted by: tsm | January 23, 2008 10:45 AM

Balance didn't work out the way I thought it would - it was actually closer to the way I dreamed it would. I thought I would be one of the women waiting until her 30's to marry and 35 before she had kids, then would probably end up "doing it all" - or rather, most of it, most husbands do help some.

Instead I had children in my early 20's, my husband *prefers* staying home to the "rat race", and I still get hours of time every day with my kids, plus loads of time on the weekends. Not much free time, but I'm okay with that. I idly dreamed of my husband staying home with the kids when I was younger, and of getting a career while still having my children cared for by their parents full-time.

If I could go back in time, I'd tell myself to offer more money to my MIL the first time she broke her word about how available she would be for childcare, and then to hire someone else if that didn't help quickly. My husband needed more support during his first days at home, and I really regret first depending on her, and then not doing something more proactive when it became clear that she wasn't dependable anymore. But otherwise, I actually think I had a good idea what I was getting in to. So far, at least.

Oh, yeah, I'd also tell myself that the career thing would actually go even better once I had kids. I think it makes me stand out from the other 20-something kids in my field. Even with taking almost a full year off, my career is comparable to others in my graduating class - who didn't take time off.

Posted by: ethele | January 23, 2008 10:58 AM

i'm always surprised to see families living in the dc metropolitan area. honestly, life is much harder and more complex here than it is other places. It shouldn't take two hours of your day to drive to and from work. It shouldn't take an hour or more to run a simple errand. It shouldn't cost $400,000 for a somewhat-decent townhouse.

When i visit friends and family who live around the country, I'm always struck by how much free time and lack of stress they have, compared to their counterparts in greater DC.

Why don't those of you with families move? My DH works for the government and will be sent abroad the great majority of the time (probably 6-8 of every 10 years), with occasional posts in DC. If this were not the case, we wouldn't live in the DC area. I mean, the tradeoffs are worth it IF you really take advantage of the great museums, events, etc, but SO many families never go into DC for these things. So then you have all of the headaches and none of the rewards!

I really don't mean this to be snarky, I'm just puzzled by why so many families choose to stay here.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 23, 2008 11:10 AM

Is my life like I thought it would be? Not in a million years. i was going to be a high flying career person, didn't even know if I'd ever get married, I always thought adopting would be the better choice, cause why bring a kid into this world when there are so many unwanted kids.

So, I was a SAHM when the first was born, went back to work when number 2 was 6 mos, and may or may not stay working full time, we'll see. I never thought I'd be in Atlanta for this long - I would love to live in many different places, so I never thought I'd stay in a place for so long.

I'd maybe have another kid if DH even had an inkling, but since we are each one of three, and his mom's one of three, he doesn't think it's such a great idea. He likes having two, and I'm on the fence, so it doesn't look like there's any more coming.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 23, 2008 11:14 AM

newslinks1: my guess is so many "choose" to stay here b/c their jobs/careers are tied to DC the same way your husband's is. My husband could work anywhere (I can't) and he does not want to. He feels there more job security here than anywhere in the US.

Posted by: tsm | January 23, 2008 11:16 AM

newslinks: I understand your thoughts. I have tons of family in the new york area who think living outside of that is insane. However, they have 2 + hour commutes, and NEVER EVER take advantage of what NYC has to offer. I live IN a city, so I'm 2 minutes from the museums, performing arts, etc.

I think they are insane for putting up with it. Really, I wouldn't have a house at all if my DH didn't want one (and wasn't so handy) - I'd've gotten a bigger condo, or a townhome, or whatever. As it is, we're talking about when we move out of the house, cause we're not going to need it forever. :) And the kids are only 5 and 2.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 23, 2008 11:17 AM

and my DH gets job postings sent to him about jobs all over the place ALL THE TIME. Each and every time he asks if I want to move to such and such place. I always say yes (well, except for LA), and I never hear about it again...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 23, 2008 11:18 AM

tsm: there's really no job security at all, unless you work for the feds, I suppose.

We've been thru so many layoffs (and so have friends) that we'll never *rely* on a job to be there next month/week/year. But we will keep our skills up and know that we can weather any storm.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 23, 2008 11:21 AM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"
Nope. Figured I'd get married around 30, have kids at 35; have two kids, one boy and one girl; DW would work full time throughout; and I'd stay at my really-fun Fed job until 55. Instead, got married at 27, first child born at 29, we have 4 kids; DW has gone from full-time WOTH to SAHM to part-time WOTH now back to more-or-less full-time work. And I quit that Fed job 7 years ago, a few years after it had stopped being fun.

"What has surprised you the most about your work-life challenges and the solutions you've found?"
The kids are way more fun than I ever thought they'd be, and I'm having more fun being an involved father than I would have thought. I used to think I'd be a terrible father; I have no patience. I was surprised by how quickly patience came with the kids. (But if you listened to 11-year old DD this morning, I'm indeed a terrible father.) That, and travel's more of a bear, family-wise, than I would have thought. Both family travel and business travel.

"What advice or guidance would you give if you could go back in time for a little chat with your pre-parent self?"
Invest earlier in the dot-com boom; get out of the market earlier in the dot-com bust, and the kids' college education would not present such issues. And quit the Fed job earlier; it really stopped being fun several years before I jumped and the job security was illusory.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 23, 2008 11:21 AM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

Yes. I find it is all about priorities. I cannot count how many times I have run out of the office because a child called sick, stranded with no ride home, etc. My goal has always been to be a wife and mom first, and a working mother second. I volunteer, often to the dismay of my husband, but I am involved in my children's lives. My children recognize I work, I travel for work, but that I am first and foremost their mother. They can call me whenever, and I make no apologies to who I am with at the time. I simply excuse myself and take care of the "crisis" of the moment.

I really do believe that my son, who is now in the workforce, will be even more supportive when he gets married, if his wife works, than my husband has been. My husband grew up with his Mom working, full time as a school teacher, and now my son has seen how a family must work together to get food on the table each night. And, yes, both do cook when I am out of town. My daughter does as well.

Looking back, as my children are now grown, daughter is off to college in the fall, I would like to offer a bit about balance:

1. Working full time, I had to be ready to sacrafice me time when my children were young. I have found that as the children got older, my me time grew exponentially.

2. I listened to whatever they had to say. When they talked about legos, transformers, etc., it was so very important to them at that time. I found listening showed them that I found their world important, and now, they still talk to me about their world, and this is when I want to really hear about it. We have moved on from legos to relationships.

3. I always volunteered at some level. I was not active in elementary school, and do not regret it. Did go on a few field trips, baked a few cookies for the bake sales. Yes, I did bake cupcakes for inschool bday celebrations! Became much more active in high school as meetings, etc, are more conducive to working parents.

4. I was not afraid to make a bit of fool of myself. My children still recall the winter days on the way to day care when we would sing holiday songs at the top of our lungs. Better than listening to the radio.

Balance changes. I am about to embark onto the empty nest syndrome, and not dreading it. I love my children, will miss them, but will NOT miss their activites. I look forward to the next stage in my relationships with them.

Posted by: marcik | January 23, 2008 11:22 AM

Laura -- I know I just gush about everything you post, but I just cannot help myself.

What you said about your goals being not to be poor and not to be poor -- well, I never would have said it so eloquently and simply myself, but I totally identify. What great goals.

I am really glad you are a part of this discussion. Now, sadly, the trolls who are out for me will come after you. But I just can't help myself.

Hilarious that although I wouldn't know you if we passed each other at Safeway I think you are a really terrific person.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 23, 2008 11:31 AM

OOPS - I meant to paraphrase Laura with "not to be poor and not to be bored!" Freudian slip. I cannot do anything as simply and as well as she does!

The other posts are also insightful and funny and wise. Good stuff.

Parenthood is harder and better than I could have ever imagined in my wildest fantasies. One of the best parts is sharing the ups and downs with other parents like you all.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 23, 2008 11:34 AM

Laura: I definitely had the 'never be poor' thing instilled in me. We weren't technically 'poor', but realistically, every second of every day my parents reminded me (thru actions and words) how we couldn't afford to live like we did. So I vowed to live within my means, and until I had a 'real' job out of grad school, I typically had more than one income (sometimes 3 or 4) at any given time.

It has taken me time also to learn to actually SPEND money, too...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 23, 2008 11:37 AM

Hi Laura -- Your post hit the mark for me. "Not to be poor and not to be bored", with perhaps a bit more emphasis on the latter. I could never have planned to end up where I am now in my mid-40s, with flexibility and security (even in this crazy market and working on soft money my entire career in non profits), but I took some risks and never forgot what an early boss said to me in passing: opportunity is where luck and preparedness meet. I was always focused on being prepared, and never said "I don't know how to do that." I figured that I had the brains to figure it out, if the opportunities came my way.

Posted by: gottabeanon | January 23, 2008 11:59 AM

dennis5:Sure we thought about it. But we couldn't find a three bedroom house closer in. The other thing is my daughter is special needs and goes to a great preschool for her special needs. I wouldn't do anything to jeporadize her education. But even if I was living in Alexandria, the commute is still pretty long. Mostly because of congestion, not the distance to work. I only work 30 miles away from work.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 23, 2008 12:19 PM

I really don't mean this to be snarky, I'm just puzzled by why so many families choose to stay here.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 23, 2008 11:10 AM

for me it is the job. The federal government is the largest employer of statisticians. Also, my daughter's school district is very good for autism support. But I hate the congestion and it is pretty expensive. But lots of people seem to like it here.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 23, 2008 12:21 PM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

Not at all. The work part seems to be going pretty much as expected for me, but life and family not so much. My plans never really involved having a child with a disability, and even when he was diagnosed I wasn't able to imagine how this would impact my family long-term. The drain on our time, finances, and emotions is far worse than I could have imagined, and worse still is simply not knowing where this is going. You think, when you have children, that you're in for a few years of exhaustion and craziness but you console yourself with the knowledge that eventually the children will become more self sufficient and you'll be able to regain some of your time and sanity. That doesn't happen with a child who seems to be in perpetual toddlerhood, but in the body of a seven year old. But then, you can't really plan for things like this, can you? If people spent much time contemplating all of the possible things that could go wrong with having children, probably no one would have them to begin with! At this point my husband and I have given up trying to figure out where we want to be in five years or ten years or after retirement--we just work with the day we have, and in many ways that's not such a bad thing. At the very least, we've learned to be flexible and tolerant. Other people look at us and say "I don't know how you do it." We say "what are our choices?"

"What advice or guidance would you give if you could go back in time for a little chat with your pre-parent self?"
I'd tell her not to have a second child! But I don't think she would have listened. Even if I had been completely blunt with my former self, she would have thought she was up for the challenge and would have thought that the love she felt for this child would outweigh the difficulties. She might have a point there.

Posted by: sarahfran | January 23, 2008 12:24 PM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

Definitely not; before I had kids all I ever wanted to be was a SAHM. My mom quit working when she had me and never went back. I was raised hearing how horrible working mothers were, how they neglected their kids, how sad it was to put kids in daycare, and totally bought into it. Then once I became a SAHM I was surrounded by moms who expressed the same disdain for working moms. I was miserable as a SAHM but going back to work didn't seem like an option.

I never would have dreamed I'd end up being a working mom, but it's the best thing that could have happened to me and, frankly, to my kids.

My pre-parent chat to myself would have been don't listen to what other people say and don't allow pre-conceived notions about "the right thing to do" to keep you imprisoned in a bad situation.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 23, 2008 12:36 PM

My curve's almost the opposite, but I think the lesson is that you learn life as you go along.

So, for me, I always wanted a career I could balance with family. I thought I would have 3 or 4 kids, starting in my 20s. Infertility intervened. Then I lost my full-term daughter. I still wanted kids and had my son. It is as good as I ever imagined and I love him SO much. I agree with a poster above that when the chips are down, he comes absolutely first.

But what I wasn't prepared for was how in the meantime ("life is what happens when you're making other plans") I came to love my work and other aspects of being a part of a broader community beyond immediate nuclear family life.

I always thought I would want to go freelance PT when I was a mother. What I found instead was that working at jobs I didn't love made me resentful. I also learned to my everlasting astonishment (:)) that while I am the best and only mother to my son, being his mother does not have to mean that ONLY I ever teach him things or care for him. I learned that first with my husband, second with my other family, and third with his care providers. I entered FT WOHM life in August.

Surprise surprise I love it, and it works for our family. I know my son is well cared for during his hours in out of home care, but they are not as long as I thought they would have to be, thanks to some scheduling juggling. I am NOT a tired harridan at the end of the day (except rarely). We have time to laugh and play and sleep and do it all again; our weekends are joyful. We are not constantly stressed about money; I am not stressed about finding the next contract.

What I do know now is that this will change. Maybe my son WILL need more time and attention. Maybe my job will change. Whatever it is, though, it won't be what I expect. Hopefully it'll mostly be better.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | January 23, 2008 12:37 PM

Re: staying in DC. I stay because my family is here and starting over in a new town doesn't seem as thrilling in my 30s as it might have in my 20s.

Friends discovered that moving to a lower cost of living area with family around was still a caveat emptor situation. They had to balance the positives of cost of living benefits and family support with the bumps in the family relationships that come with proximity.

Posted by: tntkate | January 23, 2008 12:45 PM

I loved reading your post today because it was thoughtful on your work/life path while giving all the personal context. So many times you read the "work/life" debate but it's much less introspective.

I have been a "career gal" for most of my life and am just in transition right now. In fact, Feb 1st is my self imposed date for making a change. So, if you ask, "Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?" - the answer today is a resounding "Yes, but man is it hard to juggle!". What I've found to be true is that at some point you have to put ONE of work, life or family on the top of the pile. It doesn't always need to stay the same way, but there can only be one number one for me.

In my twenties and prior to kids it was about "life" - me, my husband, our dreams. We lived in NYC, Boston, San Francisco. We pursued adventures we knew we couldn't later - and then just enjoyed the mundane Saturday night with a video (VHS, then!) and a cuddle. And, we zipped away at our careers - but eh, it wasn't as important as living! I even changed from marketing to going to get a masters in history (which is what brought us to Baltimore) because I wanted to "live the life I wanted to live."

Then, I had both my girls within 18 months when I was 29 and 30 years old. Our oldest is definitely a post-9/11 baby - life was precious but time seemed to be more fleeting, so "family" shifted to the top of the pile. And, I pretty much had NO life. :o) It's fairly inescapable, especial with two in diapers, two in cribs, etc. but it was OK because family was what I wanted and did change me.

And, even as I had those little two precious bundles, I knew - just knew - that I would need to keep something in my life that was for me, that used my mind that I had worked so hard to develop, that kept me in contact with that part of me that was had "spark" and passion outside of my home. I went back to school to finish my masters and then began an entrepreneurial venture with my husband and another couple, and "work" became the top dog.

For three years, I've worked to grow a successful business as an entrepreneur. Our business helps busy parents put healthy dinners on the table, so I had a passion for it like nothing else. And, in my own way, hope that what I've helped to build helps other balance work, life and family. My girls are wonderfully happy and have a sense that life is full but fun - and they've seen mommy be in jammies or on tv and know that this is the world they too can pursue. But, I don't know who came up with the cliché phrase "worked tirelessly" because I was and am TIRED. Very fulfilled, very proud, very tired.

Which brings me back to Feb 1st. Next week, I officially hit the "off ramp" - so I've just learned it's called. I made the proclamation to my husband, family and partners that I was just spent and needed to make a change. "Life" goes back to the top of the pile - to Leslie's point, it IS different than before. I know a lot more know about what I want. I know what is and is not realistic. I know what makes me happy: a great day with some intellectual stimulation, some me time, some interaction with adults, and lots of time with girls telling me how they see the world today. And, I know what makes me sad: getting to be so in work-mode that you email your husband a question when he's three feet away or having your daughter say, "You don't need to bring your computer (my PDA phone) everywhere, Mommy. I wish you'd be around more." UGH. That one still makes me cry.

So, I downgraded my smartphone to a regular phone. I'm pulling out of my business to only do "special projects" that benefit my company and, most importantly, that I'll enjoy. I've started a blog for my company and I'm work on resurrecting my own writing now that there are so many more avenues for expressing yourself. And, I'm trying to finally do yoga. And, you know what I've found - redefining myself, reasserting who I am in this new "life" mode, is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. The other phases happened naturally. Now, I've got to put the old me and the new me together and figure out what the heck "we" are going to be.

And, the best piece of advice I've been given and I'd give to my pre-parent self, is that it's OK to not know. It's OK to say, "I'll figure it out as I go." Up until now, I always had to "know" what I was doing, where I was going, what it all meant. Now, I'm hopping on that off ramp with no destination in mind - wish me luck!

Posted by: alexa.corcoran | January 23, 2008 1:08 PM

I'm joining in on the cry of "I'll never be poor (again)!".

Even with two full-time working parents, there were plenty of times I was hungry as a child.

Powdered milk is my "can't fall below" line in the sand. It's a supplement, no longer the only way I consume milk. But the up side to that, I can only drink skim milk. Love good cheese though. And kimchee. I'm not allowed to eat it inside my house though--I have to go outside, or go to my parents home to openly indulge.

I remember someone mentioning hanging laundry outside was his/her line.

We've touched on this topic before, I know. I still can't get over the notion of not working because someone is a parent. Again, it must be the whole immigrant thing; or maybe it came with us from "the old country". But no one in my family was voluntarily out of the workforce before retirement.

But, I'm lucky. I have a great boss who is very understanding when I have to leave work because of a sick kid, etc. Despite not being a parent. It helps that the kids are pretty healthy, and that I'm good at what I do, of course.

Re: why live in the DC area? I grew up here. I have family here. I like it here. Admittedly I couldn't afford to buy a home in my parents neighborhood. They lucked out, their $24,500 home (1974) can't be had for less than $550,000 now. I can't swing that! I don't try! I like being able to save for my theoretical retirement too much.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 23, 2008 1:18 PM

"Powdered milk is my "can't fall below" line in the sand. It's a supplement, no longer the only way I consume milk. But the up side to that, I can only drink skim milk."

The "surplus food" powdered milk turned me off to ANY kind of milk for the rest of my life! Blech!

"I still can't get over the notion of not working because someone is a parent."

Me, either. I keep looking for a wheelchair...

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 23, 2008 1:41 PM

There's pretty much no place I'd rather raise kids than DC, despite the costs, the dangers, etc. I loved growing up here. The exposure to politics, free museums, international and local cultures, and a range of interesting careers among adults all made for an incredibly luxurious (not the money part - but the range of lifestyles) way to grow up.

i also happen to love that DC is a fairly secular place. i grew up with little religious influence, and given that we are raising our kids in a half jewish/half christian household, it's wonderful for our family that there is no dominant religion in DC. we and our kids feel like we fit in here.

yes, the traffic is terrible, there's too much crime and corruption, the public schools need fixing. there's nothing bucolic about life in DC.

but i love it here.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 23, 2008 1:47 PM

Yeah, I'm a city girl, but I don't understand the 'but I live in New York' mentality that my family has. If I were to live in NY, I'd live as close to 'city' as possible, which would probably mean brooklyn or queens for me. Not the generic suburbs (when we had kids, people said: oh, now you have to move out of the city - we thought they were CRAZY. My DH (who lived in the suburbs when I met him) said: sure, but if we're moving out of the city, we're moving OUT of *this* city to another one...like, DC, chicago, whatever...he's so funny).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 23, 2008 1:56 PM

foamgnome: I meant why not move to a different city? I'm sure DC isn't the only place you could find a job.

Posted by: dennis5 | January 23, 2008 2:28 PM

"What has surprised you the most about your work-life challenges and the solutions you've found?"

That I still don't understand why so many are so conflicted about what they are doing.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 23, 2008 10:12 AM
---------------------


Because they read blogs like this where people criticize everyone else's choices.

Seriously, it's just a matter of determining your priorities and making decisions that best meet them. For example, my wife has passed up several opportunities to take higher-level positions at her company because she would lose the flex hours she has in her current position. And I could probably make more money if I was willing to have a long commute, but I'm not. It's more important to us that we have jobs that allow one of us to be home with the kids after school every day.

If you are confident that you are making the choices that are best for your family, then you have nothing to be conflicted about.

Posted by: dennis5 | January 23, 2008 2:49 PM

dennis5: I would love to move to another city. I loved living in Atlanta and love the Pacific Northwest. But my husband has family here and I don't think he would be willing to leave them. He would never want to be more then a car ride away from them. I think there are lots of really nice cities out there. But sometimes it is not up to just you.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 23, 2008 2:58 PM

If you are confident that you are making the choices that are best for your family, then you have nothing to be conflicted about.

Dennis5,

You're right. I was unclear. I am not conflicted, I still don't understand why so many people ARE...if it feels (reasonably) right to you, why waste time and energy worrying about what others think?

It's the 15/30/60 rule, really. Not everyone subscribes to it, obviously.

At 15, you do what you do because you are worried about what others think.
At 30, you do what you want to do despite what others think.
At 60, you realize no one gave a damn what you were up to anyway!

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 23, 2008 3:36 PM

"I still can't get over the notion of not working because someone is a parent."

You say that as if you believe SAHPs view their kids as some kind of disability that keeps them from working. Or like you believe that there's some reason why people should work throughout their adult lives, beyond remaining financially stable.

For our family, it's about life and lifestyle, and the equation is simple -- our lives are happier now than when I was working.

I kind of see our lives in phases. DH and I agreed to spend our 20s working full-tilt and living far below our means, so that when we had kids, we'd have the flexibility to explore all of our choices. Those years were about small pleasures and each others' company rather than travel or adventure.

With our daughter's birth, we shifted to a new phase in our lives, one that's more about enjoying the fruits of our hard work in our 20s. I'm a SAHM because I really like getting to be the one who hangs out with my daughter all day. DH, as it happens, also really likes that I'm the person DD spends most of her time with, and we both like the more relaxed pace of our life now that I have plenty of time to take care of the things we used to have to cram into weekends or evenings.

I anticipate that, sometime within the next three years, we'll shift gears again. I'll go back to work, and we'll ramp up the savings again, this time for college. Even if I'm 35 when I go back, that still gives me at least 30 years in the workforce before retirement. Plenty of time to build a career and make a contribution to society. So, what harm do four or five years "off" do? (aside, of course, from any damage to my career that my break has done).

Posted by: newsahm | January 23, 2008 4:00 PM

Newsahm:

"'I still can't get over the notion of not working because someone is a parent."

You say that as if you believe SAHPs view their kids as some kind of disability that keeps them from working. Or like you believe that there's some reason why people should work throughout their adult lives, beyond remaining financially stable.'"

You're projecting. Here's some of what I wrote:

"We've touched on this topic before, I know. I still can't get over the notion of not working because someone is a parent. Again, it must be the whole immigrant thing; or maybe it came with us from "the old country". But no one in my family was voluntarily out of the workforce before retirement."

Try reading the whole thing.

It works for you. That's great. It doesn't work for me.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 23, 2008 4:08 PM

uh, yeah, saying you "can't get over the notion" is pretty much saying you can't believe anybody does it, and i'd have written a lot harsher response then newsahm did. i don't care if you don't want to do it, but if you really just can't get over the idea that there are those of us crazy enough to do it, that's your problem.

Posted by: whoopsa | January 23, 2008 4:22 PM

"i don't care if you don't want to do it, but if you really just can't get over the idea that there are those of us crazy enough to do it, that's your problem."

I didn't say it was crazy.

For people who are happy with their decision, you certainly are defensive.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 23, 2008 4:26 PM

to whoopsa: i also thought newsahm's response was pretty mild, given the inflammatory nature of the original posting.

I also think this might be a generational thing. One of my favorite quotes comes from Denzel Washington: "We do the things we have to do so that we can do the things we want to do." I think this does a good job of summing up our current societal feelings about work, among those currently 15-58/60.

But for older generations, and especially for immigrants, they don't support that "notion". They think "you do the things you have to do because you do the things you have to do." and also "you do the things you have to do so that your children will lead better lives."

I'm not saying either worldview is better, just pointing out that they are indeed completely different ways of viewing the world.

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 23, 2008 4:30 PM

no, i'm just cranky, and frankly, so are you - look at your response to newsahm. all she said is why she liked to do it after you wrote about how you can't get over the notion, then you act like she's the one criticizing you. maybe we all just need a time out. and by the way, i'm genuinely confused, what does being an immigrant have to do with it?

Posted by: whoopsa | January 23, 2008 4:30 PM

I am also of immigrant stock and I would rather live according to Denzel Washington's motto than the other one. However, I also work so my kids won't have college debts, for example. There is got to be the golden middle. Since my kids are in school 6 hours each day and don't need me, I see no reason why I can't work during those hours.

Posted by: tsm | January 23, 2008 4:36 PM

Hey, taking care of kids IS work!

Posted by: leslie4 | January 23, 2008 4:37 PM

oh geez, leslie, let's not drag that into it. i take care of my kids, i don't need to call it "work" so i can feel equal to someone who has a paying job, because i already do feel equal to that person. i like my situation, and when my kids go to school i might go back to work or i might not, i don't know, but as far as i'm concerned nobody needs to justify their choices if they work for them.

tsm, there are lots of golden middles, and you should work if you feel like it, whether your kids are in school, preschool or day care. i for one, have no problem with that notion.

Posted by: whoopsa | January 23, 2008 4:43 PM

DH and I have been following our plan for nearly 16 years. He's been the SAHP and I've been the breadwinner.

People accept the role-reversal now, but it was hard for him in the early years. He'd always gotten along well with women, and the "glass floor of the sandbox" at neighborhood playgrounds left him feeling very, very isolated.

The other surprise was older son's autism. Nobody ever plans for a kid with a disability, we all just try to adjust and do what's best for the kid. Neither of us would have chosen to be disability-advocates, but that's what we had to become.

Posted by: sue | January 23, 2008 7:03 PM

maryland mom, all I can about the defensive detractors is . . . a Hax "wow". It was patently clear that you were talking only about your own life analysis in response to Leslie's carefully teed up topic for the day. I'm sorry you attracted the ire of the insecure. Don't let it get you down.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 23, 2008 10:27 PM

"Are you juggling work, life, and family the way you thought you would?"

Not at all. Growing up, my mom was an at-home mom, and I guess I always assumed I would be one, too. But then I didn't meet the man of my dreams until I was 29, and by then I was well immersed in my career, and we couldn't really live well on just his salary. So I had no example of what juggling might be like.

I think I try too often to be the 1960s housewife my mom was plus the career gal I am. Makes for quite a bit of angst.

But I totally agree with Leslie: Even if I could find the child care for it, I have no desire to work until 9 p.m. as I did before kids. My priorities are very different than in the days before children.

Posted by: gchen | January 24, 2008 4:57 PM

I'm not doing what I thought I would be, but I wouldn't have my business if I hadn't had my first child when I did. And I wouldn't be a doula now, something I didn't realize existed before 1996.

And, I didn't realize how fast babies turn into real people with personalities and capabilities for helping their parents make everything work.

Amy
Working Mom to 3
www.sofiabean.com

Posted by: amy | January 25, 2008 9:52 AM

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