When My 8-Year Maternity Leave Came to an End

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When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was a high school teacher. I planned to have the baby in winter, so I could have an extended maternity leave through late August (healthy reproductive system privilege, I know). I planned also to have the daycare near our home instead of work, so my spouse could be an equal in parenting responsibilities. We would split the drop-off/pick up duties to ensure maximum time with our sweet and precious child. We would get a housecleaner; we would meal plan; and we would outsource everything we reasonably could. We were going to be two working parents with maximum efficiency in our time spent at home. 

Then I had the baby. Panicked at the idea of leaving her with someone else. Did the math calculating my take-home pay plus commuting expenses, minus daycare costs in Minneapolis.  And decided to be a stay-at-home mom. 

For eight more years in three different cities, I ran our household and managed our two kids’ schedules with the same efficiency as originally planned. We were like a fine, Swiss clock, perfectly and smoothly balancing…oh, man, I can’t even finish typing that I’m laughing so hard. 

Staying home with my kids was stupid hard. 

I never considered it a job. It was a choice I made with my spouse. One he had to be talked into, but quickly realized was truly a great gift to him as well. (They were 5 and 7 before he took either of them to the doctor, and that was only because I was so sick.) I would never claim to regret the decision we made for me to stay home, but as an extrovert with a massive love for people and conversation, I was often bored out of my gourd. It was worth it, but it was difficult. Mind-numbingly difficult. 

When the littlest one approached kindergarten, I was asked once a week if I was planning to return to teaching. I never hesitated, “No.” I don’t think I could ever go back to the rigid schedule, or more importantly, the sheer magnitude of responsibilities. (YES, many if not most teachers have kids of their own. THEY are capable of something I’m not sure I am. Just because they can do it, doesn’t mean I could do it.) 

I tested out the SAHM-while-the-kids-are-in-school for exactly two months. Booooooring! More seriously, I spiraled out of control, often not getting anything done at all in the six-plus hours they were gone each day. I texted my friend who owns a local restaurant and asked for a job. I started two days later. For eighteen months, I worked 10-15 hours a week as a server, something I hadn’t done since college, but was kind of like riding a bike. I got out of the house, I made some cash, and most importantly, I was fulfilling my soul’s deepest desire to connect with and love on people. (Serving is great for that if you work in the right place.)

But the scheduling conflicts grew as my kids aged and joined activities and had weekend tournaments and blah blah blah. So, I quit. And quickly decided I should go back to work “for real,” not just because I have a friend who owns a restaurant. I had two college degrees sitting around not being used, so I wrote a resume and joined all the job sites. I had to buy interview clothes. And the possibilities were intimidating. It took me over a month to even apply for a job. Because staying home was boring. But returning to work? 

Returning to work full-time was panic-inducing scary. 

I was going to have to explain the eight-year gap in my resume. I was going to have to compose all of the volunteer work I’d done while I wasn’t working into an impressive narrative highlighting my marketable skills. I was going to have to put on pants EVERY day. And, GASP!, also a bra. I almost talked myself out of it on many occasions.

But one day a job popped up looking fun and challenging. I applied. Got an interview. And was offered the job. I didn’t take it, because it didn’t feel right and the pay wasn’t great. Because I had the freedom to do so, I wasn’t going to take the first job I was offered. I quickly applied for six more. Being offered the first one after more than eight years was an incredible confidence boost. I took four more interviews and was offered three more jobs. The choices were mine to make, and I realized how incredibly wrong I had been to be so scared. 

All of the people who interviewed me were also moms. I never once had to explain what I’d been doing for eight years.   

Ultimately, I took the job that offered me the most money. But it didn’t make my heart sing. So when ANOTHER wonderful opportunity fell into my lap only two months later, I didn’t hesitate to take it, even though it paid considerably less. 

I’ve now been back to work for seven months, and I’m still unclear if I’ve made the right decision. I have a supportive spouse who shares household work with aplomb. I have a fulfilling and flexible job that DOES make my heart sing. I have two happy, healthy kids who said, “Oh, that’s nice,” when I told them I wouldn’t be home after school anymore. (A little sadness would’ve been nice, amirite, moms?)

Two things I am sure of: 

  1. It’s hard to say “restroom” again after so many years of saying “potty.”
  2. I miss my kids. I see them every day. I still get them out the door for school in the morning and have dinner with them every night. But I miss them wildly. The days of being together all day, every day are gone. At ages 6 and 9, they would’ve been gone anyway. (Wipes tears off laptop.)  

Our little life here still doesn’t run like a Swiss clock (does anything other than the timepieces themselves?), but we are all adjusting very well. If you are considering staying home with your kids, but are worried your career will be derailed, fear not. There will be a place for you when you want to come back. If you too are bored out of YOUR gourd staying home and want to go back to work, get excited! The job market is doing great and would love to have you. 

But you’ll have to wear pants. Can’t win ‘em all.