What Next?

A week and a half ago I received notice that I would be laid off in August. It wasn’t immediate because I’m on maternity leave, so I can’t be officially let go until my return-to-work date. Thanks to my severance package, this means that I am able to extend my maternity leave. Which is great, really, it means I will have more than 18 months off work with my little guy. But it also leaves me at a bit of a loss.

I have my doubts as to whether I would be good at stay at home motherhood, long-term. I’ve also shared my ambivalence about returning to work. I will say now what I couldn’t say then – I didn’t love my job. I certainly liked it. It offered me a great work environment, fabulous colleagues, amazing flexibility, and the chance to solve problems and use my brain in interesting ways. And I was well compensated for that. But I’ve never felt as if it was my calling to work in embedded software. At least not in the same way it’s my calling to be with my husband or to raise these children we created.

I worry this is self-indulgent on my part, the idea that I should have a job that brings me personal fulfillment. Isn’t it enough to find personal fulfillment in my family, my hobbies and volunteer activities, my friends? Isn’t it enough that my work as an engineer has supported me and my family and been positive, overall? Knowing that so many people don’t have the advantages that I do, I feel whiny to say that my career hasn’t always made my heart sing.

So I sit here, thinking I want personal fulfillment but not sure where to find it. I’m enjoying writing these days, a lot, but it doesn’t seem like a very solid career. At least not from where I’m sitting today, anyway. I consider continuing to live as if I’m collecting EI when I get my severance, and seeing how long I can make it last. Maybe I can stretch it out for a year or two, just slowly drawing on my windfall and spending this time with my kids. Perhaps the answer isn’t to find a new career, but just to drop out of paid work altogether for a while.

But there are problems with that scheme, too. For one, how can I justify paying the money to send my 4-year-old Hannah to the daycare she loves if I’m home all the time? The idea of pulling her out, when she so clearly likes it and is getting something out of it doesn’t appeal to me, though. For another, if I’m not working it places a lot of pressure on my husband in a less-than-ideal economy. We depend on my income, if I’m not making anything it means we need to make some big changes. But mostly, I’m worried that dropping out would leave me in a bad spot.

The fact is I want something of my own. It doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to pay out in exactly the same way as my engineering job did. If I just while away a few years in the slow lane with no plan I’m not exactly advancing my own options. I’m afraid I will find myself a few years older, trying to start over again after not having worked in 3 or 4 years, with rusty skills and no direction. If I need to find a job at that point, will I be in a worse position than I am now? And if I don’t, then what am I supposed to do all day when I don’t have little kids at home?

I would love to hear some insight from other moms. Maybe you took a few years off and went on to bigger and better things. Or maybe you’ve found some way to make some money and do something for yourself outside of a traditional 9 to 5 job. Or perhaps you’ve long since kissed the workplace good-bye and have found meaning elsewhere. I need to hear some stories, because I’m at a loss here. Help a sister out. :)

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    1. Hey Amber

      I just gave my notice that I will not be returning to work after my mat leave is up in 2 weeks. As sad as it was, my career no longer defined me. I am learning how to be a SAHM better and better every day, and brings me FAR more fulfillment than if I went back to work + put my kids in day care + no longer having the freedom to go wherever/whenever.

      Its a wonderful thing though that you have a severance package! LUCKY!

    2. You shouldn’t feel selfish about wanting a job that’s personally fulfilling. I absolutely love my job (although there are days when I wouldn’t say that I do!), and although I don’t have children now, I can’t imagine not working. I would miss all my other kids at school.

      But you have to follow your heart, find your passion. If it’s staying home, then stay home. If it’s finding a new job, then do that.

      If you enjoy writing, what about submitting some articles to parenting magazines? My mom did that when we were little. She worked as an editor/journalist/photographer until she had me when she was 23. Then she stayed home with us, while working on the farm, submitting article, writing a children’s book (that she still says she’ll get published someday…), and volunteering on the school board. When I was in high school, she went back to college at 40 years old. Now she’s an elementary school teacher and has found her new passion. I share her story because it really shows that you can do and be many different things in your lifetime. You can have more than one passion, and find more things that are fulfilling. Hope that helps you out :)

    3. It is a very scarey thing to think about being with your children 24/7. Even though I have been at it for 3.5 years, I still find it frightening some days.

      I too love to write and would love to figure out a way to make that make me some money – if you figure it all out let me know! I love being a sub bus driver in our little town. I can work when I want to, and I am paid well for it. Plus, the hours are fantastic and I can take the girls with me! It is a win win for everyone. I also help out a friend a couple of days a week by watching her 2 sons. They are close in age to the girls so really – they are entertainment for my own children. I still have the time to go to playground, the library and Emma’s preschool – plus, lake season is just around the corner and I don’t want to miss out on that.

      What about your sewing ventures? You are an artist at heart it seems…gardening, crafting, culinary….have you thought about making that work for you….it seems to be a real passion for you.

      If you ask Steve, it is hard sometimes being the sole bread winner for 5. There are things we would like to have but don’t, a newer car, better home renovations. But, I don’t think I would want to trade these days with the girls for better things.

      I too worry about what I will do when they are in school full time – because I don’t plan on sitting on my ass at home all day (yikes). I think I would still like to stick close to home and I hope that being a full time driver for our village will be an option by then. Those hours and work days work wonderful in my mind. Don’t forget how young you are and how educated and skilled you are too. And, don’t forget, Hannah will be going to kindergarten sooner than later and you won’t be having to pay for her to go to daycare.

      It is hard to think about stepping out of the work force as anything but limiting yourself. And, I can definately see two sides to it, and I don’t think it is wrong for a mom to want to work. It is just too bad we weren’t compentsated in some way for all the work we do in the home raising these children…that would be sweet!

    4. My suggestion would to not feel pressured to figure out the “perfect” job for yourself. In this era, everyone changes roles many times, and you just need to find one that you enjoy. It might lead to true fulfillment, or not, but if you learn something and find it interesting, that already puts you ahead. Plus, you’ll know a little more about yourself for the next round of changes, when they inevitably come.

      And in the meantime, lots of snuggles with the little ones!

    5. It’s a very, very difficult decision. I have struggled with this for years. And I still do, every single day. My only advice is to follow your heart, and try to find a good balance of what is best for your family and for YOU. And when you find it, let me know the answer :)

      My oldest son is five, and I have been on leave for the full five years. Having my kids so close together, I chose not to go back to work between my births – I was pregnant with my second well before my first turned one and I felt so miserable I decided to extend my leave.

      When I was younger (I am 35) I worked in writing, PR and marketing. It was a fun, exciting field of work but I felt something “missing”. I then went back to school to get my Education degree and became a teacher. Very fulfilling, yet a huge paycut for me. Long hours. I haven’t felt ready to tackle that yet, but like you, I often don’t know if I’m made for this SAHM stuff.

      Now I am in the difficult situation of wanting to go back to work and not being able to afford three small kids in daycare on my salary. I finally begged for one more year leave from my school board, which they granted. So for now I am home one more year and will go back to work in Sept 2010 – at which point both my boys will be in school full days, leaving only the baby to pay for a full day of care.

      I do yearn for more than being a mom many days. I sell some of my craft stuff and really love doing crafts – of course I don’t make much money but it keeps me busy. I’ve done a little freelance writing work in the past, and hope to possibly try some more of that in the coming year . . . but time is always an issue for me. My husband works a lot so caring for three kids (plus one more I am currently babysitting M-F) full time is completely exhausting me. I have very little left at the end of the day to do anything remotely productive lately.

      See – you’re totally not alone . . . I think this is something many mothers struggle with – and no wonder, these are huge questions!!! Good luck!

    6. I had the same fears as you during my first mat leave. I decided to return to work, and it has been both wonderful and terrible. I feel stretched too thin in both directions, but I love my job and I love my boy too! Now I’m pregnant with #2 and I don’t know quite where I’ll end up after the end of my next leave. From where I sit now, I think I’d prefer to explore part-time or contract work rather than attempt full-time again, but whether that happens depends on what life brings I guess!

    7. I waited to comment to see if anyone had The Answer. As usual, it’s more like everyone has the same question, which I somehow find very comforting.

      First of all, I think it’s terrible how many people go through life without the opportunity and/or the inclination to search for the life’s work that makes their heart sing. It’s terrible when you’re not free to search for that thing, and then it’s scary when you feel like you do have the opportunity and you’re not sure you’re up to it.

      You’re one of the most active, thoughtful, creative and intelligent stay at home Moms I (sort of) know, and you seem like one of those people that will start some amazing business or trend while raising charming, artistic, well-rounded prodigies. I’ll try not to be too cranky and envious.

    8. i realized i never commented on this. you know i have no answers, but just want to say i’m sorry you got laid off.

    9. It seems like you’re not the only one that’s undecided. This is a question that I am pondering as well. I make a good income and represent 50% of the income at home. The problem is that my hours are varied, working most week-ends and some week-nights.

      I’m debating doing something different or staying at home altogether (but finding a SAHM type of job to supplement, which is easier said than done).

      If Hannah gets enjoyment from the daycare, I would still keep her in it. Don’t feel bad about it because I’m sure she’s getting a different experience than if she would at home. Plus, I’m sure she has a lot of friends that she would miss.

      Whatever you decide, I know the decision will be out of love so it’ll be the right one for you and your family.

    10. You don’t know what to do…yet. After what will feel like an eternity, and when you’re least expecting it, an idea will come to you and it will be a major turning point in your life. You’ll have clarity and will be able to devise a plan to achieve whatever it is you decide that you want to pursue.

      And the exciting part about life is the process happens over and over. Enjoy it!

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    1. […] (Speaking of which, thanks so much to everyone for their kind words and support as I try to decide what to do next, it means more than I can possibly […]

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