I always thought I’d go places. I finished my undergraduate degree in three years and my graduate degree in two, all while working and paying my own way. At age 23 I was teaching university students older than me. By age 24, I’d married my college sweetheart, bought a house, and landed a great, well-paying job. I averaged 60-70 hour work weeks, traveled throughout the country for work, enjoyed spending my hard-earned income, and climbed that corporate ladder. I started out in an entry-level position and within two-years was managing a department with staff and high-profile clients such as Kodak and Encad. The next year found me in a Director-level position, reporting directly to the CEO, and housed comfortably in a gorgeous corner office. I was on my way and everything was as I dreamed it would be.
And then something changed.
I got the itch. I wanted a baby. I craved holding a little one on my shoulder, smelling that newborn smell, and expanding the “us” to include a physical manifestation of our love. I got pregnant and had my first baby just after turning 28. Once I held him in my arms, I knew I couldn’t leave him. I didn’t even hedge: I took my maternity leave, gave my notice, and embraced stay-at-home motherhood (SAHM).
The adjustment from being a career woman to a SAHM was difficult, and perhaps worthy of another blog post, but I made it. I worked from home 10 hours a week for the company I’d risen through until a new CEO gave me an ultimatum to either work full-time or quit…so I quit. I taught college courses in the evening once my husband was home to care for our son. While I wouldn’t change being home with him during those early years, I did discover that being a full-time SAHM wasn’t my thing and I needed a professional outlet.
Fast forward two years and we moved from Salt Lake City to Reno. I’d found a job teaching part-time at TMCC. We lived with my in-laws, also perhaps worthy of another blog post (ugh!), and my husband struggled to find a job. I found a second job and found myself working those insane hours once again. This time, however, there was a little guy at home asking after me, sad because I wasn’t able to take him to the park that day, adjusting to a new caregiver (grandma) and a new routine. I wasn’t climbing the ladder; I was simply working and doing my best to do a passable job at everything.
Fast forward two more years and I was pregnant with my second child. I was drowning in full-time work and being a mother; I couldn’t imagine what adding another child to the mix would do. Call it luck, call it divine intervention, call it fate…but I found an amazing part-time job. It required a Master’s degree, tons of experience, and they only wanted me 24 hours a week. It was a dream come true. And, for a while, it was.
But true to my nature, I worked hard. I expanded my program and made it incredibly successful. My part-time job soon found me working late nights, weekends, and traveling at least twice a month…this time without the big salary. I became a victim of my own success and we suffered for it.
And then, I got the itch. Again.
Enter baby number three. I quit entirely, thinking that this time I could do the SAHM thing. After all, I now had three kids to care for and I’d have plenty to do, right? But I found myself yet again craving the professional outlet. I taught a couple of courses again. I did some freelancing. And I ended up going back to the organization I was previously at, part-time again, but this time reporting to the position I once held. I had a great boss who was able and willing to work full-time. Married, without children, young, and experienced; she reminded me so much of 10 years earlier self. She was gracious and good to me; but I was miserable. It was incredibly hard putting my career on hold, not climbing, and turning my career into “just a job” so I could focus on being a mother.
After a year of this, I decided to try something new and round out the old resume. I took a new position performing a job I wasn’t proficient at. I love the company, I love what I do. I love that they’re flexible for me and I get to work part-time during the summer when the kids are out of school and full-time the rest of the year. Yet, I’m struggling. My boss, and the CEO of our company, is a fantastic man and one I know I have so much to learn from. But it’s humbling; he’s younger than me and he doesn’t have to rush home to take care of sick children, or to take his son to swim lessons. He has a stay-at-home wife who does all that. We recently hired a new employee who shares many of my job duties. She, too, is younger than me. She’s incredibly educated and a true gem. She doesn’t have children and can be available day in and day out and I see our boss making her the “go to” person. I’m watching her climb that ladder and I feel threatened. I feel like a has-been. This was my choice – putting my career on hold so I could be a better mother to my children – but that doesn’t mean it has been easy.
I know this is temporary. That my babies will only be babies once and I can never get this time back. I know that I won’t ever regret being able to take them to the lake, their doctor’s appointments, or having friends over for playdates. I won’t regret being there for those firsts and teaching valuable lessons; I won’t ever feel badly for spending the afternoon baking with my daughter or playing hide and seek with my kids. Every single child was planned for; every single one was a person I chose to bring into this world and I don’t regret my time with them for a second.
It’s incredibly difficult juggling a career (not a job, but a career) and motherhood. As I type this, I’m sitting on an airplane on my way to a business training which will help me to take a more prominent role in leadership at my new employer. I’m excited for the opportunity. And yet all I can think about are my two-year-old’s tiny arms wrapped around my neck and his kiss on my cheek; my daughter’s eagerness to go to Grandma’s because Grandma will take her to do the fun things I don’t have time for (gulp); my eldest son’s quick hug good-bye so he could return to his project as he’s used to mommy rushing off to work. It’s a two-sided coin, this motherhood/professional gig. And I’m not sure I like it.
I’m approaching 40 and have been told I’m still young and have plenty of time to climb that corporate ladder. Maybe there still is time, especially once my little ones don’t need me quite so much. Or maybe this place where I thought I’d go is right here with a loving husband who supports me and three beautiful children. Maybe that true career path involves nurturing three little people and helping them to shape their own future careers. Or maybe someday I’ll figure out how to do both without this internal struggle. Until then, I’ll keep trudging along and trying to balance this bilateral me.
How about you? Are there any working moms out there that face this two-sided coin? Have you successfully navigated these waters? Have you struggled too? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!