Going Back to Work After the Kids Start School Isn't as Simple as I Thought

Monday was my 7-year-old's last day of first grade, and yet last Friday was a prescheduled no school day. I've never quite been able to understand the logic behind non-holiday-related no-school days, all I know is there sure are a lot of them. Inservice days, professional development days, budget reduction days, grading days, conference days. I read somewhere that here in Oregon, there are something like 175 school days in the year.

Most parents, however, have 250 working days. That's a pretty big gap that has to be covered in some way, not to mention the days when kids are too sick for school. Add in classroom events, after school sports, doctor's appointments, and various other extracurricular activities, and here's what I'm coming to realize: I don't think I'm ever going back to work full time. And honestly? I'm not sure how I feel about that.

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When I was pregnant with my first son, it was a foregone conclusion that I'd be a working mom. We couldn't afford to lose my salary, so I never really considered the possibility of staying home. Even in the early days when it felt awful to leave my baby at daycare, the reality was that we had no other choice.

By the time my second son was born, I had the routine down pat. I was grateful to have my maternity leave, but the truth is I was eager to get back to work. I liked the balance of spending part of my day doing non-childcare-related things. I enjoyed being around other adults, being recognized for my skills, and earning a nice paycheck with benefits.

It started to sour after a while, though. I was increasingly unhappy with the management at my workplace, and my traffic-choked commute felt like it was stealing actual chunks of my soul on a daily basis. I discovered that two small children can swat a virus back and forth between them like a fever-triggering badminton birdie, and it seemed like every week my husband and I were playing the unpleasant calling-in-sick game of Whose Job Is More Important Fuck You It Was Me Last Time Well But I Have a Big Meeting Well *I* Have a Deadline.

After a lot of discussion, a lot of budget-wrangling, and more than a little pants-filling terror, I quit my office job in September of 2010 to become a freelance writer. I've been working from home ever since.

My plan was never to do this forever. In my mind, I wanted to be home until both boys were in elementary school. That's when life would get easier, I thought. Once the kids were in a classroom for the majority of the day, I'd be free to rejoin the workforce. Maybe go back to marketing, maybe explore something else.

What I see now, though, is that it doesn't get easier when they start school. In fact, once we bid daycare farewell, the logistics became harder. My husband works 90 miles away, so I'm the sole parent responsible for all the dropoffs and pickups, the in-betweens and afterwards. I'm on tap for sick days and soccer practices. My kids are home with me on all those no-school days, holidays, and breaks.

That's what I signed up for, of course, and I'm incredibly grateful to be able to be there for them while still earning a living. But when I think about my long-term plans, I don't see the same picture I used to. I don't see myself going back to a job where I have coworkers and I contribute to larger goals and I'm recognized for what I bring to the table, because regardless of how appealing those things sound to me, I cannot imagine any job-related benefit that outweighs the flexibility I have now.

Nothing's set in stone, and who knows what changes may come my way as time goes on. But what I believe now is that I'll be home for years to come, as long as our situation can support it. I feel so lucky to be able to make that choice, and at the same time, I feel ... well, a little trapped. A little lost, maybe. Thankful -- truly -- but a little mournful for the other life I won't get to have.

Have you changed your career in a big way since having kids? Have you gone through any of these same feelings?


Image via Linda Sharps

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