Thanks for writing. I’ve been thinking how best to answer your concerns. It’s important to remember that what works for one family might not be the best solution for you. I think the hardest decisions we make are not between good and bad, but between good, better, and best. Those choices seem to weigh on us the most. Those are the choices that should send us to our knees, asking our Father in Heaven to help us know what to do.
I chose to be a Stay At Home Mommy (SAHM) but every time I visit with my pediatrician, family doctor, or OBGYN I am grateful that these fantastic women chose to be working moms. They’ve made such a positive impact on my life. I know that they are sacrificing when they go to work each day, and I know that I am sacrificing when I stay home each day. There isn’t one solution for everyone. We need to be respectful of others choices because we don’t know what they’re going through. All I know is that it’s hard either way. We’re all just doing the best we can.
I will share my story with you and some of the things that I faced when making my decisions. My hope is that it will help you think through your options in a different way and if anything else, just give you the courage to make a decision – whatever decision that may be.
I loved my job. I really did. I loved the feeling of influencing something that was bigger than me as an individual. I loved having “powerful” people tell me great job AND pay me! I loved high pressure situations, tight deadlines, presenting to a crowded conference room, wearing “dry clean only” clothes, and critically thinking to solve complex issues. I worked hard in college. I sacrificed to get to where I was. I loved every minute.
When my husband and I decided something (or someone) was missing from our little family, I was terrified. I chose lawn-mowing over babysitting as a teen. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. But I knew that I could do hard things – I was a freakin’ aerospace engineer for crying out loud! - so I was ready to take that plunge into the unknown.
I got pregnant. Life started changing rapidly: moving across the country, husband in grad school, telecommuting full-time, supporting our family on my income. When the baby came it just made sense for me to keep working. I mean, we needed medical insurance and food, right? It was exhausting. I hired my little sister to be our nanny and I knew that my baby was being loved on just as much as I would love on her. I continued breastfeeding (sometimes feeding her while on conference calls – thank goodness for the mute button!) I even made a casserole once! I felt like a renaissance woman. Life was chaotic. Motherhood was exhausting. But I was loving it!
*STAY AT HOME MOM*
My husband got a job with Ford in Michigan after grad school and away we went across the country again. Pratt & Whitney was a fantastic company to work for. They worked with me to find flexible solutions that fit our lifestyle and were supportive of my lengthy maternity leave (C-Section/NICU). But when we moved I was torn on what to do. I loved having my sister as a nanny. I didn’t know how I felt about an unknown daycare environment and at the same time I didn’t know if I could give up my job. I was just so confused. I went to my knees and poured my heart out to our Heavenly Father. I asked him to help me understand what I needed to do. The more I prayed the more I knew I needed to quit my job. It was the hardest and easiest decision of my life.
The next year was a difficult one for me. I found the transition from technical design reviews to play dates at the park to be challenging. It took months before I stopped introducing myself as an engineer and started introducing myself as a mom. I felt that somehow I needed to explain to people that I didn’t “have” to be a SAHM and they would think less of me unless I divulged my entire history. I was apologizing to complete strangers about my life choices. I wanted to shake every new acquaintance by the shoulders and make them see I used to be “important”. One day I realized how utterly ridiculous I was being. Who cares what anyone else thinks? I made the decision that’s right for my family. I’m important to my husband and I am my daughter’s entire world. I was finally able to stop mourning the loss of what I once was and could have been and was able to start living the life I chose. I chose to be a SAHM. That’s who I am now. I proudly introduce myself now as the leader of my own little circus.
I plunged myself into motherhood. And you know what I discovered? Being a SAHM is waaaay harder than I ever expected. I have never done something more constant, more demanding, more self-sacrificing in my life. A few weeks ago I was driving to the grocery store late one night; I realized it was the first time I had been by myself in over 3 weeks! The constant emotional and physical drain is more taxing than I could have imagined. Sometimes it’s hard to feel significant when you’re sprawled on the floor wearing your spit-up covered jammies at 4pm. But I am grateful for the time I get to spend with my girls. I get to be with them when they are refreshed and gleeful. I get to see them at their best and their worst. My babies get so excited to sit on my lap and that they will crawl as fast as possible to me and dive headfirst the last few inches just to be with me.
Would my girls love me this much if I was a working mom? I think so. I hope so. But I am truly grateful that I get to see their smiles all day. I get to teach them to say please and thank you, I get to wipe their chubby bottoms, I get to sing them to sleep at nap time, I get to expose them to new things and new friends, I get to wipe their tears when they fall down, I get to watch them learn and grow, I get to be their mom.
I know that many women work when they would like to stay home. I realize that this opportunity I have is a blessing. It’s hard to remember that when your toddler is having a nuclear melt-down in the frozen food section at Target. But being home with my girls has taught me patience. It has made me more easy going. My daughter spilled a huge bag of M&Ms all over our kitchen floor. Her big blue eyes shot up at me in panic at her mistake. There was a time when “working Jenni” would have been miffed that she was being so careless. The stress from working kept my temper on a short fuse. But I think that “SAHM Jenni” has learned more patience and understands that we are all just trying our best. As Scarlett and I giggled and ate M&Ms off the floor my husband told me how impressed he was with my new care-free attitude. I don’t think everyone needs to quit their job to be more patient, but for me it was an unexpected benefit. I finally feel that I can tell strangers that I’m a SAHM and just leave it at that. I hope they realize what a sacrifice it is to be a mom, and that we’re not just staying home eating bon-bons all day (though that sounds lovely!)
*I MISS MY JOB*
I really do miss working some days. I miss getting dressed up and using my brain, like really using my brain to figure stuff out. I mean moms use their brain, but it’s different. I just can’t think like I used to (I chalk that up to hormones). It’s hard when my husband comes home from a fantastic day and gushes about all the cool things he got to do. I am excited for him but I’m also jealous that he’s out there making it happen. Since my husband is an engineer/MBA some days I ask him to unload the details of his work so I can learn and think and grow. But some days I don’t want to think, I just want him to hold me while we cuddle on the couch and unwind from the stress of 3 little kids. There are many days when his alarm goes off that I roll over into my warm pillow and fall right back asleep. I love that I can take the kids outside and enjoy the beautiful weather instead of being stuck in an office all day.
*ENGINEERS MAKE GREAT MOMS*
We basically have a degree in advanced problem solving. I use my degree every day as a busy mom! I use it to make processes more efficient, like grocery shopping in the least amount of time. I use it to convert dosages for different concentrations of infant medications. I use it when we set our budget and financial goals. I use it when trying to figure out why my baby is screaming her lungs out in the middle of the night. I use it to replicate the clever craft projects on Pinterest. I use it to increase the safety factor in our home. I use it when teaching our children.
We were trying to solve a medical crisis a few months ago. I finally decided that I needed to attack the dilemma like I would an engineering problem. I typed out a list of my knowns and unknowns. I almost drew a free-body diagram! I took it with me to my doctor and we were able to come to a working solution quickly. She still talks about the report I brought her!
My 3 year old is constantly asking me “why” these days. My favorite response is “what do you think?” I love seeing her little wheels turn as she tries to figure it out. Then we discuss her solution. I want her to have confidence and to think for herself. I realize that we expose her to science way more than arts, but she seems to like it. Here’s a conversation we recently had:
Scarlett: what is power?
Me: "Energy over time:
S: "I need more power."
M: "Well, you can increase your energy or decrease the time you're using it. How could you increase your energy?"
S: "Eat healthy food and get lots of sleep?"
M: "Yes!!! And then you'll have more power!"
We might have a little enginerd on our hands! :-)
*THE FINANCIAL DECISION*
My dad always told me “you can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything.” I really think that’s true. You just have to decide what you really want. When I quit my job I realized we were going to be living off of one income. That was a scary realization. But you can figure it out. Some things have to wait. We decided that paying off student loans was the best choice for us at the time. Other things go on the backburner. I couldn’t have the solid gold baby stroller that I wanted but I found some pretty cool stuff in my price range instead.
With me being home, I am in a position where I can really support Jake’s career. I remember how exhausting the stress of work can be. I try to let him unwind when he gets home instead of shoving a kid in his arms as he walks in (which is my first instinct). I try to be understanding when he works late and I realize that he would rather be playing paper airplanes than listening to his boss’s demands. But there are days when I just need him home. I try, but I’m not perfect. Someday I’ll be the glossy, fancy wife that he married and not this frumpy, frazzled mom that I morphed into, but he doesn’t care. He’s told me how grateful he is to know our kids are home safe with me. I realized that being a SAHM isn’t just about my career, but it’s also about letting Jake pursue his career and giving him the support he needs to really chase his goals. We’re a team. We’re in this messy adventure together.
Will you be able to support your aging parents? I don’t know. Will it be easy on one income? Probably not. Is it possible? I think so.
*WORKING AGAIN SOMEDAY*
I know you have concerns about getting a job after being away from the industry for years. I agree that this is a big concern. I still struggle with that question. I don’t think anyone can predict what our economy will be like in 10 years from now. What I do know is that engineering degrees are often listed as the most valuable collage majors. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/05/15/best-top-most-valuable-college-majors-degrees/). I know that when the economy crashed in 2008 my husband and I graduated from ME with not one, not two, but three different job offers.
If I decide to go back into the workforce I probably won’t be the best engineer right away. I will be rusty and need lots of training to get back to wear I once was. I won’t be able to get my dream job right out of the gate. I will have to start small and ease myself back into the foreign routine. But Force will always equal Mass times Acceleration. Newton’s Laws will always apply. I know how to work hard. So it will be okay.
*TRUST IN THE LORD*
I know that my story is just one small example. I know that you and your husband are the only people who can make the right decision for your family. Go to your knees. Ask the Lord. He will guide you. Trust in Him.
I knew that I needed to be a SAHM. At the time I made that decision I didn’t understand the Lord’s plan for me or why I needed to stay home. One Monday morning my husband and I sat in the OBGYN office looking at the ultrasound monitor at two very distinct heart beats growing inside me. I instantly felt confusion/joy/scared/amazed/overwhelmed/blessed/nauseous/thankful. It was at that moment that I finally understood why the Lord needed me to be home with our kids. I somehow caught a tiny glimpse of what He needed me to do.
Ask the Lord. He will guide you. Trust in Him. Take courage to follow through with whatever you decide on. Know that being a SAHM is a big sacrifice. But it’s rewarding. And sweaty. So sweaty. I feel blessed that I can be home with my girls and that I had the chance to work as an engineer. I hope that you will find the path that will bring you the most joy and happiness too.