I feel that for the most part it is a myth that women can have it all — at least at the same time.
I have been the primary breadwinner in my household since my marriage 5+ years ago, working as an RN Case Manager at a health insurance company. My earning potential is more than double my husband’s, so when we were finally blessed with our son, it seemed logical that I would work full time and my husband would reduce his hours to part time in order to avoid the need for childcare. My husband is an excellent father, and my son thrived under this arrangement. It was a huge relief to me to know that my son was spending his waking hours with the people who love him the most in the world, particularly when I heard my colleagues’ daycare horror stories.
However, being a full-time working mother was very difficult for me. After years of infertility and miscarriages, it broke my heart to have to be away from my baby (who is likely the only child I will ever have) for more than 40 hours each week. His infancy flew by, and I will never get over my regret at how much of it I missed when I was working full time.
I find it highly regrettable that in our society it has become the norm for mothers to have to leave their 3-month old babies to return to full-time work, and when I was in this position I really resented the widespread attitude that this was just a normal “mommy milestone” that I had to get used to.
We have recently found a way to make it financially feasible for my husband to return to work full time and for me to be a full-time, stay-at-home-mom, with plans for me to seek part-time employment in the fall. This has been somewhat of a financial risk and has involved some sacrifices. For example, my future part-time position will be in a hospital setting where I will have to work overnight shifts and holidays. But we have determined that the sacrifices, financial and otherwise, are worth the trade-off of me being home more. Having non-traditional roles in our household was less than ideal, due to my husband’s and my personalities. I am the organizer/planner and have a strong personality, where my husband is more laid-back and relaxed. Consequently, when I worked full time, he was constantly in the subservient role. Now that he’s the full-time breadwinner, our roles are more balanced.
When I was working full time, I spent a lot of time playing corporate politics. I loved my coworkers, and there were aspects of my job that were valuable, but I had to wade through a lot of corporate games to get to those components. Now my days are spent playing toddler games, and I can’t imagine a more valuable way to use my time and talent. Loving and teaching my son and helping to facilitate his growth and development is the most rewarding career I have ever had.
Many people in my life assume that I’ll return to full-time work once my son is in school, but at this point I don’t anticipate increasing my part-time schedule until he’s grown. Even for families with school-aged children, having both parents employed full time is often less than ideal.
Children go to school 180 days a year, 6 hours a day. This means that when school is out, parents need a patchwork of childcare arrangements to cover the remaining hours that Mom and Dad are working. We live in a fast-paced society where people are perpetually busy, and I want to slow it down for my son (and myself) during these precious years.
This is more important to me than trying to have it all — at the same time, anyway.
[Previously published 2009]
(© 2011 Claire Boeck)