That is a title of a blog post that I never, ever, ever thought I would be writing. It’s true. I remember just about 4 years ago, talking to a co-worker about his wife who stays home with their children. I specifically remember saying “that’s so great that she does that, but I could never do it.” Little did I know, that that would be my life not too long after.
It may come as a shock to some of you, and others not. I was VERY career focused. I studied 4 long, hard years of Chemical Engineering at a prominent engineering school. I scored some hard to get internships and experiences there, and was president of the engineering sorority. I quickly got a job offer at the beginning of my senior year in college with a prominent company, that I considered to be a “Chemical Engineering mecca” that happened to be headquartered very close to home and family.
In the 7, almost 8 years, that I worked there, I had 3 awesome jobs that took me from headquarters, down to Charleston, SC, and then back up to headquarters (which they paid and provided for), all in the technical fields.
But, at just a little over 1 year ago today, I left that career to stay home with our 20 month old at the time, and hoping to be pregnant with #2 soon. I remember the day SO clearly. My office was completely empty of all of my belongings, but it had everything I ever wanted in an office. Privacy, tons of natural light, a standing desk, and sit down work space, and a table with chairs that I could collaborate with people at. I specifically picked out all of the furniture myself, hung white boards, picture frames, and calendars exactly where I wanted them. However, having all of that, and a comfortable career, I still wasn’t happy.
When I’ve slowly told my friends about leaving my job over the past year, all of the responses were nearly the same: “Wow! That’s awesome! What made you decide to do it?” Everyone was so supportive, but I still think about the answer to that question every single day. My life has been full of big goals, hard tests, and huge obstacles that I feel like I’ve achieved and/or overcome. But really, the answer to this question ends up being in a nutshell: “to find my happiness”.
Quitting my job to stay home with family has been the only decision I’ve ever made in my life that was only for me and my happiness. It’s so weird, but oddly freeing to say that, and I’m still getting used to it.
I’ve spent my entire life trying to please other people by striving for perfection in everything. I knew I was a perfectionist, but it took me this long to realize that perfectionism is to put out an impression for other people, rather than making yourself feel better. I wanted to do perfect in school, perfect at work, have the perfect birth, be perfect at parenting, and just be the perfect daughter/friend/co-worker/wife/mom/etc.
I think a lot of things in my life happened for a reason and I’m happy they did. But nothing really prepared me for when Connor was born and I didn’t have the picture-perfect breastfeeding experience that I imagined I would have. My world kind of came crashing down because for once, something was completely beyond my control and I felt broken, and I felt like I failed. You probably think I’m crazy for saying that, but when your entire life up to this point has been set because of your determination and hard work, and something completely beyond your control happens, it absolutely crushes you. I mentioned back in Connor’s birth story a little about that experience, but I’ll probably save the whole thing for another post. It took me a good 4-5 months to really accept it, but I never really processed it until now. My lifelong obsession with perfectionism really took away a lot of my personal happiness in the first few months of Connor’s life and I hate that so much.
I went back to work part time (4 days a week) when Connor was 5 months old. I managed. I was enjoying feeling like an adult again, talking to adults, having a bit of free time, doing what I thought was important work. I pumped 4 times a day while I was working up until he was a year old, because that’s how often Connor was eating while at daycare. I was able to accept my new normal, a lot with the help of Katie Madden‘s breastfeeding support group every Friday afternoon while I was on maternity leave. We talked a few times about going back to work, and telling your baby/toddler/kid/teenager about why you go to work and not to just get a paycheck.
The days went by fast, but then the weeks started to drag on. A few months before Connor turned 1, we decided to take him out of his daycare because we weren’t happy with it anymore. I took a week off of work to spend time with him, and after the holidays, he started at our neighbor’s in home daycare. We were super happy with the setup, especially since we could take and pickup our car seat hating child to school just by walking. Even though we were very happy with his new daycare, I was starting to get less and less happy at work. Spring and summer came around and I really felt like I was dragging myself to go to work everyday.
I kept thinking back to our discussions in breastfeeding group about what you tell your child about your work. I just really didn’t feel like I was contributing to society anymore. I’m not a doctor or a nurse who helps sick people. I’m not a teacher who educates people and helps them pursue their passions. I could go on and on, and create a stretch story about how the products I do experiments on help make peoples’ lives easier/safer/better, but I just really wasn’t feeling that anymore. At that point in my life if someone asked me why I went to work, it was strictly for my paycheck. And please hear me out. That is NO way to live your life. It was slowly killing me inside. David and I are fortunate enough to be comfortable in our living situation that we didn’t need both of us to work, but my pride in wanting a successful, perfect career, and also wanting the freedom with money and doing renovations kept getting in the way. And really, also being a successful, independent woman did too. I kind of hated the idea of not making any money and relying on my husband to be the provider. What if something happened, and I wasn’t working? It would be wildly beyond my control and that made me so uncomfortable. And how could I have spent the last 29 years working my ass off in both school and work to just quit and do something that doesn’t even require an education? All of these things really help me back for awhile.
I finally made the decision that being absolutely miserable at work was not worth me missing 9 hours of my son’s life everyday. Sure, I could have looked around for another position that made me happier, but I was slowly beginning to realize that my desire to work was now more leaning to raising and spending more time with Connor and our future children everyday. So, I put in my notice at the end of the summer, and told them that I would be leaving in October. I wanted to leave on good terms, as they had treated me well over the past 8 years, and they deserved a smooth turnover for me to train someone for my position (which didn’t end up happening, but that’s a whole different story).
I recently came across these pictures on my phone. My last day of work was a Thursday. And these were taken on Friday, our first full day together with me as a “stay at home mom”
Those pictures make me so happy.
I’ve really been trying to process a lot about my decision and myself over the past year. In the process, I’ve come across two things that I really related with.
The first being this quote. I wish I remember where I found it, but I just remember immediately noting it down when I heard it:
“The pain of regret far outweighs the pain of risk.”
I needed to take this time in my life to spend more time with my children in their formative years, while also using it to figure myself out. I will never get this time back with them, so I’m going to take it and cherish it as much as I can. I didn’t want to look back at this time in my life and remember how miserable I was at work. I wanted to look back and remember all of the fun things I did with my children before I sent them off to school everyday. I decided to take that risk, so I never experienced that regret.
The second was this video I came across about women and the advice that they would give their younger selves:
One of the women says “I would give myself the time to indulge in the things that I now understand are the most important” and it totally hits home for me. I have the ability to indulge in my time with my children, so why not jump at the opportunity?
Man, I can’t watch that video without tearing up. I feel like I can relate on so many levels, and I realize I have so many things I still need to work on. Especially the one about “being, not doing”.
Also, you may have noticed that the title of this post states that I chose to stay home with my family, instead of kids. We’re very lucky that during this time, David has a great career that he is really happy with and allows him to work from home. He still works for his company that he worked for when we moved from South Carolina to Delaware and they allowed him to work from home. It was really the perfect opportunity in our lives to all really spend more time together.
We all wake up around the same time and have breakfast together. David heads off to his desk (still in the playroom, haha) and gets started on his day, and Connor, Layla, and I get ready and usually leave the house for the morning for either nature preschool, the library, a hike, some food shopping, hitting up a local garden (Longwood and Winterthur are our favorites!), the zoo, the coffee shop down the street, or meeting up with some awesome friends at one of the above. We come back around lunch, all eat together, and then Connor heads off for his nap, David goes back to work, and Layla and I either relax or get some stuff done around the house until family time in the evening.
I will cherish these days, as I know we are lucky and not all families get to spend this time together everyday like we do. I’m so grateful that I can be here for Connor and Layla everyday, and that David and I can be each other’s “co-workers” haha. Because seriously, if we both didn’t have another adult to talk to during the day, I think we’d both go a little bonkers. His conference calls and chats with his real co-workers only go so far haha.
So, this post wasn’t really to explain myself. I don’t really need to explain myself. That took me awhile to realize, too. I admit, when people ask me what I do, I still slightly have a hard time saying “I stay home with my kids.” I still feel the need sometimes to add in “well I quit my job recently as an engineer to stay home with my kids.” I’m embracing it. I’m happy. I’ve found my current happiness as a stay at home Mom! We’ll see what the future holds for me after that.
And, if you’re reading this and you’re a mom that works, don’t read this the wrong way. I really thought that I would be a working mom, and there was no other alternative for me. It’s just for me, personally, my situation changed for the time being. There is no judgement on either side, because “SAHMs” and “working moms” are all the hardest working people I’ve ever met.
Overall, in this post, I just hoped that I could share my story with others. It was a big turning point in my life where I knew I needed to make a change for myself and my happiness. I really hope this inspires others to truly find their happiness, too. <3
Amazing post Carolyn, thanks so much for sharing 😉