Pausing a Career to Stay at Home
Me, fat & happy at 34 weeks with BabyLoves. Yes, this is a St. Joan of Arc tee I got at Zara in Vegas years and years ago.
Big fatty disclaimer: this is not a treatise on how staying home is morally superior to working outside the home. Not a jot. I do not believe that to be the case. I support moms coming up with what’s best for their children at different times of life. And that they have the right to chance that opinion, modify it, and not be judged any/either way. This is just about how I have paused my lawyerly career to be a stay at home mom.
Something that spurned on these reflections were an article in the Atlantic I read last year that a friend brought up again by Anne-Marie Slaughter called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The dichotomy of either working or mothering. The lack of space for a good dose of both in our society? Read it–it’s more interesting than my little essay here!
I’m not a lawyer for right now. It’s a weird thing, to feel that my career is on long-term hold. I still am a lawyer, technically. I’m still admitted to the Bar. I’m inactive, but that’s still the field I worked in for years and the diploma in my closet. It’s weird. Having a career-defining job title “lawyer” and stepping away from it. And when people ask what I do, I say, “I’m a lawyer who stays home.” That usually elicits further explanation.
Some women I know who are attorneys have similarly shifted to flex-jobs or are on a break while their children are young. Most of the female attorneys out there really can’t. In part because if you’re at a firm or in-house, you simply cannot take years and years off from practice and expect to make partner, or senior level. There really isn’t a viable mommy-track in that regard. Maybe you can come back midlife (I know two women who have). Realistically for them, it meant embracing the fact that they might not have upward mobility. And they were okay with that. Financially, it was okay for their families. Personally, it was okay for their goals.
Another factor are law school loans. And undergrad loans. Student debt from graduate school can be totally prohibiting from being a single income family. The grad program sets you up (supposedly, depending on where you get your degree, how you rank in your class, and how in the toilet the economy was when you graduated) to make a high 5 figure, 6 figure income. You theoretically can pay back your loans before you’re 70, while still being a car & home owner. But you certainly can’t be at home with your infants & little kiddos, not earning and paying those back. It just doesn’t work that way in cold hard terms. So if you wanted to stay at home, and have a graduate degree, which is not everyone’s preference, mind you, you probably can’t. Maybe you can, depending on where you work.
I’m lucky. I feel lucky this is an option for me, for us. If this looks like it could be an option for you, you have a lot to figure out. Here’s how I figured it out for me.
My husband was on board about being single income. That’s big. So I knew that financially even if it was tight, we could swing it because of 1) no child care expenses, 2) one car, 3) no dry cleaning or updated wardrobe for me, 4) no drop off/pick extra time built into the day for day care, 5) no need to leave if child is sick, 6) saving on food budget because of home cooking and not eating out, etc. I wish I was organized enough to do a comprehensive blog post on all the clever ways to save money if your family is single income. I don’t know that that will ever happen. Maybe. Don’t hold your breath.
I left my work as a prosecutor during my pregnancy because of extreme hypermesis gravadium (all-day-vomiting) and because I thought it would be easier to transition to solo practice before the baby–time to set things up, find mentors, clients, etc. I loved loved loved being in court so it was not easy to leave it. I’m an extravert so being alone in my home office frankly sucked. I had been a high achiever in law school, had a federal clerkship, and felt like I should be embarrassed I was taking this step “down” instead of forging ahead with my career. I had support from other attorneys and didn’t mind what I did solo, but never loved it. It was hard to justify what I was doing to some people who really didn’t support career women staying home, and it was hard on my ego.
I add all this because if you do opt to be home, it is not like a light switch goes on and you LOVE BEING HOME AND NEVER MISS WORKING WITH COGENT HUMAN BEINGS. I started this literally knowing no stay-at-home or work-at-home moms. I mean, I knew one but she talked about her window treatments all the time. I was all, “window waaaa?” Now I know and love so many moms who are similarly situated to me. You have to be present for the friendships and opportunities to arise–and I wasn’t really present until I was. How zen. But how true.
When I was pregnant with SweetPea, I hung it all up and am on long-term break. I’m on inactive status and don’t miss it a wink! I’m so so busy with raising the kids, cleaning the house, cooking for us, taking care of my husband’s dress shirts (I hate ironing so much), leading moms’ groups, volunteering in the community, being more active in my extended family’s lives, and more. I did not know I could feel so fulfilled not working, not using my JD, and being at home with kids.
If you’re considering staying home, or working a modified schedule, but are having trouble sorting through it in your mind, like I was, here is how I thought it through in typical lawyer fashion: linearly:
1) Can we afford to live on one salary? If not, how long would I have to work, and not spend, to save up that I wouldn’t have to work? Can I modify my work schedule? How will that affect my long-term career goals (if my work is career oriented)?
2) What are we spending money on we don’t need to? How can I shop and cook smarter?
3) Who can be my care provider? Immediate family? Shared by family members? In-home, larger-scale?
4) Can someone else do what I do at work? Can they do it just as well or better? Or is my work completely personal and unique to me? How will I feel to not be doing what I am doing? Do I love it?
5) Will my child’s care provider handle situations like I will? I’m not talking about “being there for the first moments–first walk, first bite of apple sauce.” Don’t get me wrong; those are great. But I wanted to be there for the teething crying fits, the early tantrums, the need for shaping behavior, the influence of music and media selections, and the like. Not sexy, but for me more meaningful than a first step.
6) Can I try this and if, after six months, it is terrible, may I go back to my career?
7) Am I ready for it to be really hard to be home and very lonely and hard on my ego?
8) How supportive is my partner? How supportive and present will my family be?
Be assured what you’re evaluating is very difficult. People will judge you either way. Most importantly, trust that you and your partner alone can come up with what is best and feasible for your family at this time. And trust that is ever-changing as well.
Now I’m at home, blah blah blahing about it on the internet. Lucky you!
And now evidence of the kids preparing for their baby brother:
Because who doesn’t want breakfast in bed?