Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Work or Not to Work...

I remember discussing career options with my mom when I was in high school. She encouraged me to think of careers that might be more likely to offer flexible scheduling so I could spend time with my future family.

That's how she saw it at least.

At the time, I saw it as her limiting my options, trying to force me into a career that was generally deemed “woman’s work.”
Like being a teacher or a nurse instead of a lawyer or a doctor.

Don’t get me wrong. She always supported me and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. She just always reminded me to consider what would happen when I had a family.

Did I listen to Mom?

Does anyone listen to their parents when they are offering genuine, helpful advice that doesn’t directly support her own particular notion of how the world works at that time?


I had it all figured out. I talked to many working moms over the years and asked them how they managed to balance career and a family. (No matter that I was asking people who were working, so obviously they were at least somewhat happy with their job situation. I ignored that part.) They offered me helpful advice, like hire good daycare, divide household chores, and buy prepared cupcakes for school birthday parties instead of making them.

I asked myself if I could take their advice.

Could I give up the idea that I had to be room-mom? Yes.

Could I relinquish some control and allow my husband to pick up our kids from daycare. Sure.

Would I be willing to buy store treats sometimes instead of homemade. Yup, no problem. (For those who know me, go ahead and start laughing...when have I ever brought store-bought anything to any sort of gathering?)

Turns out, I was failing to ask myself the most important, fundamental question of all:

Would I be willing to leave my child in the care of someone else for 40+ hours each week?

The answer to that is (and always has been) no.

But, I was so hell-bent on proving that I was a liberated, liberal, independent woman who could do anything she wanted that I forgot to listen to my own heart.

So I went to college and got a four year degree... went to graduate school and got a masters... went to law school and got a J.D. And then I landed a job at a prestigious law firm. I pushed my Birkenstocks to the back of the closet and bought a pair of black pumps. I bought multiple suits. And I loved it. Since work was slow, hubby and I decided it was a good time to try to get pregnant. And, lucky for us, I got pregnant.

I worked my tail off before and after I was pregnant. I argued cases in court- and won. I drafted briefs. I talked to clients. I also put off making childcare decisions. (Clue #1.)

Maybe we’ll get a nanny, I told myself. But I didn’t interview any nannies. I didn’t even advertise for one. (Clue #2.)

The week before my little one was born, I finally looked at, and put a deposit down on a wonderful Montissori daycare down the street from us. I told my mom and sisters how perfect it was. They served organic food. They allowed the children to learn at their own pace. They loved each child and allowed them to experience nature. And when my well-meaning mom and sisters asked if I was going to be okay putting Karis in daycare, I said sure. I had to be. We needed the income (to afford our giant student loan debt incurred while getting my law degree and hubby going through medical school).

And then I had my little baby.

My sweet, precious, darling little girl.

It’s tempting to say I changed. Or my perspective changed. But it didn’t. Nothing changed at all. I was just forced to ask myself the question I had been avoiding since I was old enough to avoid it: Can I leave my child in someone else’s care?

The answer remained, no.

So I blamed it on my job. I couldn’t work 80 hours a week, but I could work 40. I found an awesome job - a dream job. One that people spend a lifetime looking for. I have an awesome boss. I work for an awesome institution. They created a position just for me. They pay me well. They let me go part-time.

But, I still couldn’t leave my little girl with someone else.

So, my mom came to stay with us. Just for a month. Until I was ready to put her in an in-home daycare with a wonderful woman near my new job.

And then the month was up, and I couldn’t do it.

My mom moved in.

And now, almost four months into working part-time: I still cry every morning on my way to work. I still cry every night as I drive home. The person that used to be a diligent worker who could only think about work, took on extra projects, and sometimes forgot to eat because she was so engrossed in a project (once again, for those who know me, forgetting to eat is BIG)... she was gone. I now barely can focus on work. All I can think about is what is Karis doing. Is she sleeping? Is she hungry? Does she wonder where her mommy is? Does she think Nana is her mom? Can I work from home? Should we sell the house?

And those are just the day-to-day questions, there are many more:

What do I tell my daughter when she wants to be a doctor? How to I tell her what Mom tried so hard to tell me? Can I ever describe what it is like to have your heart living outside your body in this beautiful little human being?

And there are, of course, big picture questions:

How does this change my definition of feminism? Is there truly a movement towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle, centered around the home? And what is my role in that movement?

I have so many questions and so few answers.

What I do know is this: Mom, as she usually is, was right.

Like she has always said, there are some wonderful mommies and daddies out there who work outside the home. I aspire to be like some of those mommies. But, it is not in my DNA. I may love practicing law, but turns out I love being at home...
with my baby...
all day...
every day...
with all the laundry, bodily fluids, chores, stresses, and other not-so-fun aspects of staying at home that comes with it...


  1. I love you, Katie!!! I know you're a wonderful mommy and Karis knows it too!

  2. Maybe that should be the definition of feminism, the choice to do what your heart tells you to do, whether it is work outside the home or stay home and raise your own children. I follow your blog 'cause I am a friend of Nana

  3. Yes, it is an important question!! I waited until I was 30 before I had my first child. Luckily, I _did_ ask myself that question before she was born - I trained as a laboratory scientist, so it was either work or no work; part time was not an option in my field. (sigh) Also luckily for me, my husband could earn enough money to support us (though, of course, not in as grand a style as if we had two incomes).

    Hard, hard choices that every woman has to face. Some women have husbands who can be the caretaker (might even be better at nuturing than the Mom is; I know a couple like that:)...some need to be out and about, not at home, for mental stimulation. No matter what choice a woman makes, it is difficult (and we always try to second guess ourselves and wonder if we've chosen the best for our children:).

    YOu are a brave woman to blog about this issue - not many young women give it enough thought! Blessings on you and your family.

    :) Linda

  4. It is a tough question.
    I chose to have my kids early-ish ( I was 23 when my eldest was born). I had no "career" path as such and like you had no plans to let someone else look after my children. As my children are getting older and my youngest will be off to school next year, talk about returning to work has happened, but if i'm honest, it terrifies me. I've been a mum full time, longer than any other job I've had.

  5. Tara, thanks! Love you too!!!

    Kathy B, I love your definition of feminism and agree! I hope I'm able to communicate that to Karis as she grows up.

    Linda, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your story!

    Vicky, Good luck with your decisions coming up! I guess the difficult decisions never do go away, do they? Keep us posted!

  6. Like we always say, God has a way of working things out in their own time. Trust, trust, trust that He has you in His hands and will not only take care of Karis, but also you and Rustain. XOXOXOXO


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