How This Attorney Became a Stay-At-Home Mom
If you'd have asked me even three years ago what the chances were that I would become a stay-at-home mom, a conservative estimate would've been -200%. Never, and I mean never, did I think I would leave the workforce to raise a child. I could barely even imagine myself as a mom. So what happened?! Several people have asked me why I decided not to go back to work after having Theo, and I finally have a full explanation to share.
You know that I'm a lawyer, so you can imagine how much I love disclaimers. I'll keep them brief.
- This is a judgment-free zone, and in no way am I endorsing being a stay-at-home mom versus working mom, or vice versa. I'm simply sharing my own journey and thought process. Different arrangements work for different families and different women, and even the same woman can change her mind about what works for her at a given time. No one way is always better. This is the kind of thing that every person has to continually reassess. Life circumstances change, your needs change, your kids' needs change. It's impossible to say that one way works for everyone or even that a certain choice will always work for the same person.
- I am fortunate to have the luxury of choice regarding whether to work outside the home or raise my son full-time, but many women don't, and I acknowledge that. The idea of "deciding" whether to become a stay-at-home mom is moot for far too many women. Many women have to go back to work shortly after giving birth. Many others have no choice but to stay home because the cost of outside childcare is prohibitive. I'm one of the lucky ones, and I know it.
- This post isn't supposed to serve as advice! I just want to discuss my thought process—mostly to clarify it for myself, but also because many others have been curious. You may not relate to anything I say here, or you may relate to all of it. No matter what choices you’re making or are planning to make as a parent, you’re doing great! I would love to hear your feedback if your views differ from the ones expressed here.
I never wholeheartedly aspired to be a mom, and as I discussed in my last post, in some ways I felt that I became a mom by default. But once Ash and I decided to have a baby, it was game time.
Here are the factors I considered when I decided not to go back to work after having Theo:
- After talking to my mentors and reading a ton of different perspectives about women in the workplace, work/life balance, and life as a working mom, the only solid conclusion I could come to is that time is limited and you have to make choices about how to spend it. This topic is nuanced and can inspire countless blog posts. (Believe me, I'm working on them.) But as much as I tried to fight it in the past, I reached the obvious conclusion that any time I spend away from home—whether it's spent working, socializing, working out, or whatever—is time away from my child. And I wanted to be sure that my time with Theo wasn't sacrificed for something I wasn't obligated to do or wasn't genuinely passionate about. Which brings me to my next point. . .
- Although I loved being a lawyer, I realized that I didn't love working as a lawyer. I've written about this in a previous post, but once I had the financial freedom to choose whether or not to work outside the home, it was clear that I didn't love the reality of life as a lawyer. Even the ideal legal job (which I had after I left BigLaw and before I had a baby) comes with stress, unpredictability, and generally unpleasant situations. I had to come clean with myself and ask if I was really happy. I was not. Powering through abnormally long work days while suffering from extreme morning sickness and fatigue during pregnancy is not something I'd recommend to anyone who has a choice. I would also not recommend a job that really has no time boundaries, unless it's something you either love or need to do.
- Fear is a terrible basis on which to make decisions. On reflection, the only thing that kept me undecided about whether to return to work after having Theo was fear. Fear of what, you ask? Here's a non-exhaustive list:
- fear of what others would think of me;
- fear of what I would think of me;
- fear that I would never be able to reenter the professional sphere after a hiatus and be taken seriously;
- fear that my brain would dissipate and that I would become a dim-witted imbecile;
- fear that I would completely lose my identity and never get it back;
- fear that I would go crazy staying home alone with a baby every day;
- fear that I'd be jealous of all the things my peers were accomplishing at work while I was out of the game;
- fear that I'd resent myself and my family after realizing all the things I gave up to stay home.
Maybe I'm not in the best position to assess this, but these fears seem reasonable to me, even in retrospect. Do I think it's good to care what other people think about me? Of course not. But I'm not above it, and I don't know anybody who truly is. I don't think any of these fears is unfounded. But making foundational decisions based solely on fear and without appropriately weighing all that could be gained from a big life shift is more than small-minded. It's sad.
- I seriously considered all I stood to gain by staying at home:
- I could spend as much time with my baby as felt natural. I'm sure many of you can relate to this: when Theo was a newborn, I felt like he was still a part of my body. I always wanted to be near him, and I felt an ache when he started sleeping in his own room. I think our nursing relationship contributed to this. I would've had a hard time being away from him for a whole work day because it felt so natural to be with him. And I'm so grateful that I've been able to spend unlimited amounts of time with him, even though he drives me to the brink of insanity (and sometimes actual insanity) every single day.
- I would be able to raise my child according to the parenting philosophies I have researched and embraced. I know that there are incredible caregivers out there. But having moved to a new city just two months before getting pregnant, and without an extensive support system in place, I had a lot of trouble finding a nanny whose philosophies closely mirrored my own. Raising babies is hard, and even more so when you have an extensive list of best practices you'd ideally like to follow. It's challenging to constantly speak to non-verbal babies in order to develop language skills. It's hard to constantly narrate emotions so as to facilitate the development of empathy. It's tough to constantly stimulate babies and provide opportunities for sensory play. It's impossible to always be patient with children, and it takes a lot of work to remain engaged with them. The list goes on. And if it's this hard for me to accomplish these things with my own child, how much harder would it be for another caregiver? I felt that I would be the best person to raise Theo because, simply put, nobody would care about doing it "right" (however that's defined) more than I would.
- I could teach my son my first language. Before I had Theo, I brushed up on my Persian language skills because it was really important for me to be able to speak to him exclusively in my family's mother tongue. It's not easy to find Persian-speaking caregivers outside of close family, so knowing that I wasn't living near any grandparents, I accepted that I would be the only realistic option.
- I could focus exclusively on being a mom and hopefully be less stressed out than I would be if I had chosen to work outside the home as well. A million blog posts could be written about just how hard it is to be a stay-at-home mom, and I’ll attempt to write some. And I don’t need to tell you how hard working at any job outside the home can be, let alone at something as demanding as law practice. But what I didn’t want to find out firsthand is how hard it is to manage being both a mom and practicing lawyer, balancing two of the toughest jobs in the world. I just didn’t want to do it if I didn’t have to. I have several friends who are doing this very thing and are handling it beautifully. I know that I could do it if I had to. But why should I if I didn’t feel fulfilled by my career as an attorney? To feed my ego? To appease my fear? These weren’t good enough reasons for me.
- I would be there for all the important moments that I didn’t want to miss if I didn’t have to. In no way am I suggesting that parents who work are not incredible parents. Working definitely does not make you a lesser parent! (!!!!!) But I just know myself, and if I had the option, I would want to be there for all my baby’s milestones and everyday development. I think my husband is a fantastic father, and he works full-time. I know that sometimes he’s jealous of me because I get to spend all day with Theo and I get to witness countless beautiful moments of discovery and growth. And I get to take naps with him sometimes. And I just get to enjoy him. Even though staying at home is the toughest thing I’ve ever done (yes, really) I totally understand being envious. And I wouldn’t want to give up that time with my baby unless it was for a really worthwhile reason. Going back to a career I feel lukewarm about wasn't.
- I accepted some practical limitations that would prevent me from being comfortable going back to work.
- I likely wouldn’t have been able to meet my nursing goals. Without getting too much into the weeds of the breastfeeding debate, I think breastfeeding is great if you can and want to do it, but fed is best. I personally wanted to nurse for at least a year, and I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to meet that goal. But believe me when I say it’s been difficult. Theo took to nursing immediately, but started boycotting the bottle at 3 months, and wanted to nurse every 1.5 hours, even after he started eating solids. Nobody could make Theo take my milk out of a bottle, including lactation consultants and our pediatrician. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable leaving him with a caregiver under these conditions. I’ll probably write a post on nursing challenges in the future, but for now I’ll note that I've heard of women who actually had to quit their jobs because their babies wouldn’t take a bottle by the end of maternity leave, despite the moms’ best efforts.
- I wasn’t able to find a caregiver I loved and trusted for the number of hours I needed. I won’t pretend that my standards are normal or even realistic. They aren’t. I figured that if I were going to leave my baby in the care of someone other than me, it had better be Mary Poppins herself. It’s a near-impossible ask. And on top of that, I wouldn’t have wanted someone full-time because it was always in my plan to eventually send Theo to school a few hours a day to play with other kids and be exposed to things that I couldn’t offer him at home. For those of you starting your nanny search, just a heads up – the most in-demand caregivers are often looking exclusively for full-time work. That makes sense, but it just didn’t work for me.
- And finally, I realized that giving parenting my full attention is in line with my core identity. Again, this is assuming that I had a choice of whether to go back to work. I try really hard at everything I undertake. I don’t like to do things halfway. It’s an aspect of my personality that is simultaneously admirable and annoying. I was that kid in elementary school who got all her projects laminated and bound at Kinko’s for that extra touch. I bet you hated her! Even my parents told me to calm down. But here’s the deal: once I decided to be a mom, I felt that it was the most important thing I would ever do in my whole life. The responsibility of bringing a child into the world and educating and loving that child unconditionally is so great, it almost discouraged me from having a baby in the first place. So why would I spend less time and energy and resources on raising a child than I did on school or work, if I had the choice? It just wouldn’t be me. And I had to accept that. Clearly, I don’t think working parents are half-assing it. But I felt that I would be doing so because I would’ve been using a return to a career I had only tepid feelings for as an escape from the heavy lifting of child-rearing that has been so intimidating for me my whole life. Aside from doing my best at being a mom for Theo’s sake, I’ve tried to view the challenge of motherhood as a way to refine my own character and to work toward becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be—a loving and patient person who is centered, calm, and spiritually attuned. I’m a long, long way from my goals, but feel exceedingly lucky that I have the opportunity to focus on them at the moment.
Thanks so much for reading!
- Mar 11, 2018 Things to Consider If You're Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part II] Mar 11, 2018
- Dec 14, 2017 Things to Consider If You're Ambivalent About Having Kids [Part I] Dec 14, 2017
- Dec 5, 2017 How This Attorney Became a Stay-At-Home Mom Dec 5, 2017
- Dec 2, 2017 On Becoming a Mother Dec 2, 2017
- Nov 28, 2017 What I Miss About My Former Life in BigLaw Nov 28, 2017
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