Kids

Career or Kids: When to stay, leave, or scale down your career for kids – at least for now

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August 12, 2021

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We want to live lives we enjoy and find meaningful, and for many of us, our career plays an important role in doing just that. But somewhere along the line, many of us become far too aware of how limited our time and energy are. Work can feel like it’s endlessly competing against our family and personal lives for time, energy, and brain space – leading to stress and exhaustion. Nothing highlights this more than having kids – and suddenly, it feels like it’s a constant weighing of career or kids.

For many of us, we’re left wondering how to best allocate our time among work, family, and ourselves. Should we scale back to part-time work so we can spend more time with our kids? Should we leave our careers entirely – at least while our kids are young? Should we power through, knowing things may feel less stressful as our kids get older and more independent?

This is a crowdsourced article full of insights from real women

Since there are no right or wrong answers to these questions, I asked women in my community (i.e., on my email list and Instagram) for their take on these questions.

Many responded, all with such thoughtful, vulnerable shares. Some women explained why they stayed in their full-time roles. Some explained why they left to be home with kids full-time. Others explained how they scaled down their full-time role to part-time work. Others shared how they started or hope to start their own businesses, allowing for more flexible work. Others explained that they’re currently working through these questions right now and shared the factors they’re considering.

Thank you to all who shared so vulnerably and thoughtfully. I so appreciate it and know others will, as well.

I candidly went back and forth on how to share all of their insights. On the one hand, I thought it’d be helpful to synthesize the commentary into the factors these women considered. On the other hand, their stories, standing alone, are powerful. So, I did both.

The first part of this article is the synthesis of the input. In it, I lay out various factors these women tended to consider and share relevant parts of their stories. I also share some resources and podcast episodes I found illuminating.

The second part of this article contains each woman’s story in full, without my commentary, in case you’d prefer to hear directly from them.

Enjoy it – however you’d like. If you have anything you’d like to add, feel free to do so in the comments below or email me at ke***@ke********.com and I can add your input to this article anonymously. The more people’s insights, the better for all!

Alright, let’s dive in.

 

 

 

Kids or career - mom working on phone while child plays with laptop

Career or Kids: First things first, staying or leaving is not a forever decision

The first thing to point out is that whatever decision you make right now is not a decision you’re committed to for the rest of your life, which hopefully eases the pressure to make the one “right” call.

While certain actions, like leaving the workforce entirely for a number of years, may make reentry difficult and lifetime earnings less (see more below), leaving does not need to be permanent and those challenges may very well be worth it for you to enjoy this phase of your life. Similarly, your decision to stay in your career right now does not mean you can’t leave in six months.

While there’s an appeal in making one decision and being done with it, it’s more realistic to realize this likely will be an ongoing decision-making process you go through throughout your life. For example, many of the women who wrote in chose to stay in their careers with one kid, but left or are contemplating leaving now that they have the second kid. Similarly, many moms scaled down or left work when their kids were young, but ramped up when kids got older and more independent.

Your decision evolves as your family and situation evolve.

Whether you stay, scale down, or leave work entirely, consider taking a page out of the books of some of the women who wrote in and intentionally reevaluate your situation every 3-6 months.

J, a mom of two who continues to work, shared,

“Every six months I assess how things are going at work and at home. I decide, has the last six months been really hard? Will the next six months be ok?”

I love this practice and recommend calendaring time every 3-6 months to ask yourself these questions. Put the questions themselves in the calendar entry. And, if you can, schedule time to do this when you can be somewhere quiet or special – perhaps in nature or at your favorite coffee shop – so that you can reflect and devote the attention to these questions that they (and you) deserve.

And if you don’t like your answers, make a change.

As J shared,

“Three years ago, my answers didn’t come up right and so I made a move from a very large, national company (where I had been for 15 years) to a smaller, local company. While still in a leadership position in my new company, I have more say in the direction and next steps of the small company. I worried it wouldn’t have the same prestige as my household-named company, but I got involved in the same great work and have more time to be with my kiddos and husband and have never thought about that aspect after the first six months.”

Alright, let’s turn to the factors you may want to consider when making these types of decisions.

Career or Kids: Factors to consider when making the decision of whether to stay, scale down, or leave a career for kids – at least for now

Below are the factors women considered when deciding whether to stay in or leave their careers. While there’s no magic formula to how they shake out (wouldn’t it be nice if there were?), hopefully having them clearly articulated will help you clarify the issues in your head and your own thought process.

I’ll go through each factor and then mention some suggested alternative careers and, for those who leave work entirely, tips for how to set yourself up for your reentry into the workforce if you decide to pursue it down the road.

Factor 1: The Financial Pros & Cons of Staying in Your Career, Especially as the Primary Breadwinner

An obvious factor – but one we have to address – is the financial benefit of staying in your career.

J, a mom of two, shared,

“Staying in the workforce as long as I have has enabled us to have more savings (we save nearly all of my monthly salary which is over six figures) and are at peace about our financials. College is saved for, we have no debt and we can afford to travel during our time off.”

Even if your salary doesn’t cover the insane cost of childcare (at least to a degree that feels worth it), staying in the workforce does tend to lead to higher long-term financial earnings (see this fascinating 2005 HBR article about why women leave work and the impact it has on their careers, including the long-term penalties of leaving – an average loss of 18% of earning power, which only increases the longer one stays out, up to a 37% loss for those who spend three or more years out).

That said, it’s a little crazy to be unhappy with your life for years just to protect your somewhat-arbitrary lifetime earning potential if you can financially swing an alternative career/situation that would make you happy right now, particularly during a phase of life you can’t get back.

Moreover, I hope these historically-true stats change over time. The pandemic has pushed many women out of the workforce, and I have to believe that employers will be less judgmental about those who leave the workforce temporarily during this crazy time. Similarly, as more women rejoin the workforce in the coming years and demonstrate that it works, I hope companies open their minds to women rejoining the workforce after a break of any kind. And as taking a hiatus from the workforce becomes more normal, I hope women will have the leverage to demand higher salaries when they reenter the workforce or at least as they rise within companies post-once they return. So, obviously consider the finances, but make sure to balance them with all other factors we discuss in this article.

The Flipside: A salary can make you feel trapped

While we’re talking about salaries, it is worth noting the flip side: the salary can also make you feel trapped.

When we make the big bucks, and buy houses, cars, and send our kids to schools based on those salaries, we can start to feel stuck in our careers, forced to keep earning money to sustain that lifestyle.

This is particularly true for those who are the breadwinners of their families.

B, a woman who has stayed in her job full-time and is the sole income-earner of the family, shared,

“The very idea of looking for another job seems impossibly hard, and I can’t even imagine what else I could do that wouldn’t mean a huge pay-cut which, given that I’m our sole income, is out of the question. I often feel incredibly trapped by my high-salary, prestigiously-titled, c-suite job.”

Similarly, another woman, H, a woman who also stayed in her job full-time and is the sole breadwinner of the family, shared,

“One aspect of this topic I’m navigating but don’t see discussed often is what to do if you’re the primary income… [After my son with medical needs was born, we] decided it made sense for my husband to make a career change, since he was not happy in law and because I like my job and am (typically) good at it. He is now a stay-at-home dad (we took our son out of daycare for it to make financial sense) and he will soon be working as a teacher. It has absolutely been the right thing for our family but now I’m left with some questions:

1. Do I really want the pressure of being primary income? Does this mean I have to keep at an intense job or stressful senior position to make the income needed? 

2. Can I balance this and still be a mom that makes it to recitals and baseball games? Am I emotionally OK with missing out on some things?

3. If I want a better quality of life or work/life balance, what are my options? Do I move to a more affordable town and find a job that’s less fulfilling or has lower relative salary? 

So, for me the question is less around making a decision to be home with my kids, it’s more about making a change to have some degree of more time with my kids but still maintaining an income needed for my family.”

At the end of the day, we often feel that financial benefit comes at the expense of our time with our kids and ability to have breathing space. As P, a mom of two, shared,

“I’m torn right now going back full time [from 80% so I can pay off student loans from law school] or having that time to feel like I can breathe and be present.”

In short, your salary and long-term earning potential obviously play a huge role in your decision. That said, one of my old law firm partners once said to me that you can live a great and happy life making a lot less money, you just have to plan for it. Whether this means you exit work entirely, find a more flexible full-time job (even if it pays less), or scale back to part-time work (and a part-time salary), it may be the right fit for you to make less money if you’d benefit from the change, as we’ll explore more below.

This is such a personal decision, influenced by personal preferences, family needs, family lifestyle, student loans and other debt, cost of living in your region, and more. If you truly would like a change and feel like it would mean less money, before you rule it out, make sure to put together a monthly expense sheet, where you can see how much you truly need each month – including building in some wiggle room and reevaluating certain line items. You may find that you could swing a lower salary after all with some planning and modifications that may be worth it to you and your family.

Factor 2: The Stress Toll that Your Career Is Taking

While staying in your career may make obvious financial sense, the most obvious downside (described by almost every woman responding) that pushes women to consider leaving or switching up their careers is the stress of trying to manage work and life with kids.

 As B, a woman who has stayed in her job full-time and is the sole income-earner of the family,  shared,

“[Y]our prompt of having it not be the financials, but the mental toll a stressful job takes resonated with me — Over the past year or two, as I moved into an executive role and had our second baby, I’ve for sure questioned whether I should find a new job with a lot less responsibility and stress. The decision is much tougher than the one we faced seven years ago [when we had our first child].”

For many women, while the stress of managing work and family was steep before, the pandemic indescribably ramped up that stress – and pushed many women toward the career door (at least for now).

T, a mom of two who left finance to run her own business, shared,

“It took me a LONG time to pull the trigger, and in the end, the pandemic is what sent me over the edge. Before the pandemic I was able to compartmentalize a bit more, but with the pandemic and staying at home, the demands of my job and my children both collided and expanded, and I was overwhelmed and so very stressed.”

Similarly, A, a mom of two and teacher, shared,

“As a teacher, I felt like I have been ‘go go go’ since March 2020… while being a mom, wife, friend, etc. and managing Covid in regards to both home and work life. Knowing I wouldn’t get the time I needed to recharge this summer as I’ll have an infant on board soon, I felt like it was a good time to hit pause and focus on my family. We’re not on the same school schedules (my 2-year-old son is starting preschool), and I started to feel like if I push through, I was going to burn out earlier than expected.”

For another woman, it was actually her partner that pointed out the stress on her family. She shared,

“My husband sat me down and told me my job had become unsustainable for our family (our twins were 3 at the time and I was doing litigation, traveling a lot, regularly working 50-60+ hr weeks). I never considered quitting work altogether, but I needed something with a lot more flexibility. I didn’t see that as an option at any local law firms (I had been telecommuting) or in house, so I started my own firm.”

Stress caused by trying to juggle work and home life can truly affect how enjoyable we find life, how well we sleep, how present we can be with our kids during our limited time off, and our overall health. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the stress – and heightened stress of the past pandemic period – has prompted women to consider and follow through on the decision go part-time, leave a position entirely to stay home with kids, or start their own businesses – all with the aim of reducing stress by finding more flexibility.

That said, here’s a tip from a mom who’s stayed in her role full-time and made it work. J, a mom of two, shared,

“Key stress points are when work and kiddo demands clash – holidays, summer and winter breaks as well as the school special occasion that happens mid-day. So, I save up for time off then and soak in the kids. I also pre-plan things and deescalate expectations I heap on myself about holidays. I’ve also learned to let go of any household chore that I can pay someone else to do – deliver my groceries, deliver my dry cleaning, clean my home and mow my yard. I work hard to not outsource my kiddos to anyone but family…  Oh and note: I am THE WORST COOK EVER. I have chalked that one up to we eat to live, and I save the living to eat for date nights when we go out- I appreciate it so much more!”

Factor 3: Similarly, You May Suffer from Curveball Overwhelm, Especially If Your Family Prioritizes Your Partner’s Career

One tricky part that all families confront is the reality that children = many curveballs (e.g., sick kids who have to stay home from school, pandemics that suddenly mean kids at home for months on end).

M is a mom of two who recently left her role to stay home with kids with the aim of finding something more part-time and flexible. Her decision was “initially spurred by logistical complications (the never-ending childcare juggle complicated by covid, nanny issues, and my husband’s uncompromising work schedule).” She explains,

“This move, for right now, is what is most consistent with my values and what I want at this very specific time in my life. On any day of the week if you ask me, ultimately, what is more important to you: family or career? The answer, for me, is a no brainer. I enjoyed my career, and hope to return to it, or something that resembles it. But family, and our family’s general wellbeing (including mine) is more important to me. And with my job demands and my husband’s, we weren’t really enjoying our time as a young family. We were stressed all the time about how x was going to get done. And every time something unexpected came up (nanny has to take off, kids are sick, dog has to go to the vet, grandma needs our help with something, etc.), it sent us into a tailspin. We had no extra bandwidth. And I was sick of it.” 

To make matters trickier, here’s something I didn’t even realize happened until my friends and I started having kids: in a dual-income household, many couples find themselves in a position where they have to expressly decide whose career to prioritize. While some couples may be able to tradeoff who handles kid curveballs, the reality is that many couples find the disruptions to be so frequent that, because they don’t want to affect job performance at both people’s jobs, which may jeopardize both careers, they expressly prioritize one person’s career. While the prioritized person may help when they can, the non-prioritized-career person is the default caretaker when something goes wrong – which can happen a lot and often at seemingly the worst time. Enter: even more heightened stress. Leaving work, scaling down work, or finding a job with more flexibility can become pretty appealing at those times.

Factor 4: Wanting More Time With Kids

Many women want more time with their kids than their current positions allow and truly feel like they’re choosing between career or kids. As M, the woman above, explained,

“I have always struggled with all that I was missing out in with my kids while I was at work every day.  I genuinely wanted more time with them.  And covid, and being home all day and literally witnessing (or at least hearing through the floor of my upstairs office) all those moments – all the sweet kisses and hugs the nanny got, all those times they called for mom and I couldn’t go to them, and the tantrums that weren’t handled exactly as I would have liked – they really drove this home.  

“I don’t think I ‘have’ to be home for the benefit of my kids. I think they would be just fine if they were still with a nanny or in daycare 4 days a week like they were before. But I was sad to be missing all that time. I think that’s important because really I made the decision for me, not for anyone else.”

Similarly, A, the mom of two and teacher who’s left teaching temporarily while her second is a baby, shared,

“There’s no right answer, and I’m anticipating my time at home will be hard work but I’m also excited to have this time with my kids while they aren’t in full time school. As I know, I can’t get these years back.”

G, also a mom of two, shared,

“I had been working at the same place for about 6 years when I decided to leave—my kids were 2 and 4 at the time and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to work, it was that I wanted something different. I found a job that I thought would be perfect but I only lasted 6 weeks. Quitting that job was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but the commute once the school year started and traffic got worse was killing me. I was gone for 12 hours a day and one of my girls would regularly come into my bedroom in the middle of the night crying and would fall asleep on the floor next to my bed. I first told myself that she just needed to adjust, and then I realized I didn’t want her to adjust to her mom never being around, so I made the tough decision to quit for my family. While that made me feel like a failure in terms of being a working mom, it was 100% the right thing to do. The next week, my daughter ended up being hospitalized due to asthma complications and I was so incredibly thankful I had made the decision I had and realized that I needed a job that was much more flexible. That led me to start looking for remote positions and I am so incredibly thankful that I have been able to work in 3 different remote roles over the last 7 years.

“While I can’t say that the first two were ‘dream’ jobs by any means, they were a way for me to stay in the workforce, be mentally stimulated on a daily basis, yet have the time and energy to focus on my family as well. Finally, in 2018 when my girls were 6 and 8, I did find my dream job! I was so incredibly thankful for my previous experiences that had opened the world of remote work to me and led me to this amazing opportunity that I have now been in for 3 years. Sure, there are challenges working from home and juggling kids’ schedules (especially in the summer), but I’m so thankful I get to work for a company that I love, do a job that I love, and still be a mom that’s around a lot!”

While many women want more time than they currently have with kids, how much more time you want will dictate if you want to leave work entirely, go part-time, or whether you start your own business.

For example, T is a mom of two and an attorney. She dissolved her pre-kids partnership with another attorney and went out entirely on her own to gain more flexibility. In her words,

“I… worked when my kids napped or after they went down for bed. I created a patchwork system of sitters that were available for a few hours when I had to go to court, but I stopped taking court appointments, never advertised, and didn’t pay myself, but kept my practice going the early years that I had babies. Now my kids are 5 and 7, and this fall will be the first time both kids are in the same school, full time (fingers crossed!).  … [I have] been able to learn who my kids are in a slow way (which is great for a percolater like me!).”

For me, full-time stay-at-home momming wasn’t appealing. That said, neither was working full-time in the law firm environment I was in before I left law. I love my middle-ground life. My daughter is in daycare Monday through Friday from 8am-3:30pm. I get a lot of time to work and do things by myself, and I have the luxury of having plenty of time with her – in the mornings (usually two hours before school), after school (1-3 hours depending on whether my husband is home; he takes afternoons if he is), and full days on the weekends (solo-parenting about 50% of the time). That’s about 37-47 hours a week, which is plenty for me! I love the time I get with her – and I love the time I get to myself when she’s at daycare or my husband’s in charge.

I share to encourage you to really get clear on how much time you want with your kids. If you can, break it out into hours and really try to envision life with that result. And then, get creative to find a job that would allow you to do that and experiment. Your answer may change over time!

Career or Kids Bonus Tip: If you’re considering going part-time…

If you are contemplating going part-time in a more traditional work setting (at your company or elsewhere), consider speaking with another mom who is or has been part-time. I know many moms who’ve gone part-time in the legal world who’ve found the work to still be incredibly time-consuming and stressful – and now they’re just getting paid less to do it. This is not to say don’t do it, as I know it works for some women, but it varies by company and it’s worth learning more about how it plays out in real life at your company (and better yet, your team) before you make a decision.

Another Career or Kids Bonus Tip: If you’re considering becoming a stay-at-home mom, see if you can test out it out first

As T, a mom and physician shared, “Staying home with the kid(s) is no joke!!” While it seems like an “easier” out to leave work entirely to be a stay-at-home mom, you might want to make sure you want that role before you jump.

S, a mom of two and someone who is now working full-time, shared,

“One of the best things that ever happened to me (no, seriously!) was that I lost my job twice in two years. Once was due to a totally dysfunctional organization, and then a year later due to the pandemic. It afforded me an opportunity to spend some unexpected time as a SAHM to my toddler while my husband worked full time, and, unlike during maternity leave, it wasn’t frenzied hormonal what-the-hell-am-I-doing time. In both cases I got to reflect a lot on whether I might want to stay home full time. In both cases, I concluded that I didn’t, and was fortunate to find another job within a few months. My recommendation to anyone wondering if they should quit their jobs to stay home is: see if you can try it first. Many companies are amenable to employees taking 1-2 months of unpaid leave if you discuss it well in advance. Even just four weeks at home will give you an idea if the stay at home life works for you (and your budget!). Or, be like me and get yourself fired :)”

Factor 5: Not having any remaining time after work and kids for you

Even if you’re feeling good about juggling work and kids, many women do so by putting themselves on the back burner to make it happen.

J., mom of two, shared,

“What I have sacrificed through all of the years of working and parenting have been my own doctor appointments and working out. Both are now back on my radar as I need to care for my body if I need all of this to stay in balance.”

If you feel like you’re doing okay on the “career or kids” front, but you’re neglecting your own health and sanity, this may prompt you to look to lighten your workload – whether staying in your full-time role and drawing more boundaries, leaving entirely, or scaling down into another position.

Factor 6: The Safety & Cost of Childcare

For some moms, the thought of having others in charge of their children is hard to stomach – from a safety and/or cost perspective.

K., the mom of two and attorney, shared,

“After I had my first child, I couldn’t imagine putting her in daycare. I was doing criminal defense work at the time, and had done a few shaken baby cases, and it just felt like too much of a risk for me, whether or not it was based on reality. Also, I was completely unprepared for how hard it was to find suitable daycare. And how expensive!”

If the safety of third-party childcare is a concern of yours, this may guide you to be home more to be the lead caretaker – or at least be around with a nanny in the home. If you have family nearby, some moms feel more comfortable leaving children with family.

To offer a different perspective in case that freaked you out, I’ll just throw out there that my first daughter had a nanny at six months and entered daycare at 18 months, and my second had a nanny at four months and entered daycare at 12 months. I’ve been thrilled with my decision to put them in daycare, at least for that age and up, and know they’re getting far more social interaction and exposure to crafts and activities than I could ever provide. In addition, it’s been wonderful having them out of the house at daycare/school so I can work and have time to myself. I share just to offer a counterpoint so that you know getting out-of-home childcare help can be a great option!

That said, the cost of childcare is no joke. I calm my panic about this by focusing on the short-term nature of this investment and by considering the alternative of being the full-time caregiver for both kids (something I candidly don’t enjoy doing beyond a weekend).  That said, it’s a very personal call, both in terms of your own financial situation and what you would find ideal (e.g., if you’d prefer to be home full-time with your kids, it’s hard to shell out that money, whereas if you’re excited to get time to yourself to work, run errands and do things for yourself, the money is easier to justify).

 

 

 

Parents walking two children to school before going to work

Factor 7: Does your job make you happy or not?

This may sound obvious to some, but sometimes we’re so fixated on our work performance and juggling kids that we forget to ask the question: Do we enjoy our job?

If you enjoy your job, standing alone, it’s worth getting creative to see how you can keep it (perhaps at a reduced schedule). If you don’t enjoy your job at baseline, it’s a lot harder to rationalize the stress and childcare costs that go into making it work.

This was my determining factor when I left law four years ago. While I’d really enjoyed practicing in Boston (and may have stayed after kids), I very much did not enjoy my job after we moved to California. I didn’t enjoy the subject matter as much, and the hours were crazy (when your husband’s medical residency schedule looks good in comparison, that’s a bad sign!). And that was pre-kids. I kept thinking back to the book Lean In and the part where Sandberg talks about putting yourself up for a promotion or fun project before maternity leave so you’re excited to come back to work. When my husband and I decided to start a family, I knew that the fact that I already dreaded working didn’t bode well for me returning to work after having a baby. I needed to find something else.

I wanted to enjoy my work, have more flexible hours, and not work in a job where the number of hours you work is the main metric by which you’re judged (most legal work is really tough in that regard). So, I left law to start my own business.

All that to say: a major factor in the career or kids debate to consider is – do you enjoy your work? If so, try to figure out a way to keep doing it, whether by staying full-time, going part-time (temporarily or permanently), or starting your own business in the same space. If not, consider making a bigger change, like leaving entirely, exploring a new industry, or starting a business in an entirely different space.

K, the mom-of two and attorney, shared,

“I was miserable with my law partner, miserable doing criminal defense, and having a child only magnified that to an unbearable degree. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be my time with my child. My old law partner used to ask me all the time – so which would you pick, being a lawyer or being a mommy? (He said it like that in a very snide voice). And thinking about that still infuriates me, we shouldn’t have to pick. Instead of stopping everything, I dissolved my partnership with my law partner, went out on my own, and worked when my kids napped or after they went down for bed. I created a patchwork system of sitters that were available for a few hours when I had to go to court, but I stopped taking court appointments, never advertised, and didn’t pay myself, but kept my practice going the early years that I had babies.”

She’s now created a practice she loves and plans to scale it now that her kids will be in school.

Similarly, T, a mom and physician made a good point that, even if you enjoy your work, going part-time may align with what’s right for you personally. She shares,

“Going part time was also for me… I was burnt out working full time. I don’t think I realized how burnt out I was though until [my little one] came along and gave me a ‘good reason’ to stay home more.”

Factor 8: Sense of Identity

The mental component of leaving a job you’ve invested a lot into, especially a “prestigious” one, can be oddly hard to do. I’ll admit that while I didn’t think of myself as a particularly ego-driven person before leaving law, I did struggle for years after with the “loss” of answering “attorney” when someone asked me what I did. I hadn’t realized how much ego and “prestige” factored into my sense of worth.

Similarly, N, a mom of two who left finance to run her own business, shared,

“I’d made my corporate job part of my sense of identity and felt that if I left I would be a failure and would have let my colleagues and family down. In the end, I left. And I haven’t looked back.”

Similarly, A, the mom of two and teacher, shared,

“The mental component will definitely take time, as I feel like I’m losing part of my identity that I’ve worked hard to build over the past twelve years.”

While the struggle is oddly real, at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s worth staying in a role simply because of that ego component. But it is fair to think through and prepare yourself for the struggle. For me, even while I struggled with the ego component, the thing I kept bringing myself back to was how much happier and less stressed out I was – things that meant more to me than prestige. Similarly, while I’d love to say I overcame the need for validation related to my job, I also regained that work-related confidence as I found my groove with this business. All that to say, reducing stress and increasing happiness will go far to help you weather the potential ego-crisis, and, for those who do find part of their identity in their work, you’ll find something else that fills you up. It may take a while (~2 years for me), but it has been well, well worth it.

Factor 9: Recognizing fear may be holding you back

M., mom of two who left her job and hopes to eventually find more flexible work, shared,

“The biggest reason I almost didn’t make this decision was fear. Fear that part-time work will be impossible to come by and that it won’t be possible to come back after a few years totally out of the workforce. I had voices in my head from well-meaning women before me that at all costs, I needed to ‘stay in the game’ or work even harder right now to get to this theoretical future position where I might be able to take more time for my kids while not ‘sacrificing’ my career…

“But to all the people who wanted me to lean in now so that I could hopefully reach some future position with more flexibility, I call BS. I don’t see the kind of flexibility I want around me in my industry. I asked for that flexibility now and was told no. So, if this is what I want (and I want it now), I have to create this path myself [of leaving and eventually starting my own business to either grow it into a full-time business or transition back into the traditional workforce]. It reminds me of the advice I got at my undergrad b school graduation, something like ‘your employer is running a business, they are not taking care of you. They are not your friend; they are your employer. You don’t owe them anything and they don’t owe you anything.’  This advice has served me well over my career. And in this instance, it helped give me clarity too that it’s not my employer’s job to make sure my family life is okay. And it’s never going to be. They define the terms of employment, and it’s my job to accept or decline. For now, I’m declining. (And while I do believe there needs to be a WHOLE re-working of the system with part-time work being a viable option, that’s another conversation entirely, and not something I can pin entirely on one employer).”

Mic drop. No commentary from me necessary.

Factor 10: Which decision will I regret the least?

If you’re still on the “career or kids” fence, one thing to think through is something T, the mom and physician who decided to go part-time, shared,

“What I can share about my experience is that when it came time for me to make the decision of going part-time, I just thought: when I look back on my life and this specific time period, will I ever look back and think ‘wow, I wish I would have worked more’ or ‘I wish I had spent more time with my son while he was so little and changing so fast.’ That made it a very easy no brainer decision. It was still hard telling the chairman and disappointing the people in the department but a really great quote from the book Untamed is ‘If you have to decide between disappointing someone else or yourself, always disappoint someone else.’”

Similarly, N, the mom of two who left finance to run her own business shared,

“In the end, I left. And I haven’t looked back. I still have moments where I feel like I gave up everything for my kids and I resent it, but then I remind myself I made this choice for me, so I could be with my kids more (in a way where I wasn’t screaming at them to be quiet BECAUSE MOMMY’S ON A CALL), and so I would have the time to pursue a passion.”

Factor 11: It may be hard to leave, but the sadness doesn’t seem to last long

For many of us, we enjoy the people we work with, making leaving for another position or to stay home difficult. That said, the sadness likely won’t last long.

M., mom of two, shared,

“It was hard leaving a firm I liked. But honestly, it hasn’t been as hard to not be there anymore as I expected. I cried on my last day, but now that I’ve left, it really is out of sight out of mind.”

Similarly, I’ve left two law firms and other positions before law school. While it’s always sad to leave the people you enjoy, you stay in touch with those you really value – and you let others go. The sadness gets replaced by excitement about what’s to come and getting to know other people you’ll meet.

Factor 12: Partner Support for your “Career or Kids” Decision

Obviously, whether your partner – and perhaps even your parents and other close family and friends – support the decision has an impact on how you feel about it.

Candidly, I don’t think my poor husband understood my decision to leave law, particularly to do something so out of character and risky as starting a business – and particularly when I’d been the breadwinner and he was still in residency (which pays far too little and entails grueling hours).

Something that helped was putting together a spreadsheet of our monthly expenses, savings, and his income, and explaining how long we could go before I had to make money in this business and before he made more money as an attending physician after residency. That said, I wouldn’t say he was enthused with my decision, which, candidly, was fair. Financially-risky leaps, especially ones that’re out of character, are hard to get enthusiastic about.

That said, while he wasn’t actively enthused about my move, he wasn’t openly or actively against it. And I was so adamant about it that, because he wasn’t actively against it, I moved forward. In total transparency, we had a financial situation that allowed me to be a bit bull-dozer-y in my plans because I knew I wasn’t tanking our family if business growth was slow. I say that just because I don’t want to mislead anyone into doing something that may put them in a financial bind later. (Also, we weren’t pregnant when we made the decision but then found out we were five days after I left, so we were relatively naïve about the cost of kids – and that was a fun financial curveball to address… haha ahhhhhh).

K, mom of two and an attorney who started her own firm, shared:

“Of course, my husband is a huge part of [my ability to start my own firm], and has been supportive of my decisions from Day 1. We both had moms who stayed home, so there wasn’t as much shame or handwringing around me staying home. We now talk about scaling my business so that my husband could quit his job and go on his own journey, similar to what I had after having the kids.”

I love K’s point that you can “take turns” for who gets to explore alternative careers. While one of you could stay home more and explore alternative careers when kids are young if that makes you happy, you could later ramp up your career, hopefully allowing your partner a turn to explore an alternative career that makes them happy. Going back to one of the first points we discussed, no decision is permanent.

 

 

 

Kids or Career - Woman taking notes while working on phone

Career or Kids: Alternative Positions to Consider

Alright, if your balancing of these factors causes you to want to explore alternative careers, here are some ideas to get you started.

Starting your own business – whether it’s in your current industry or a whole new one – is an option. It’s obviously what I did. There is financial risk in it as it can be slow to start making a real profit. That said, if your family can float the long-term play of starting a business and you’re willing to work hard at it, it can be well worth it.

K, the mom of two and attorney who started her own firm, explained that she started her firm but didn’t make a ton of money while her kids were young. That said, she’s built a firm that works for her and she can scale it now that her kids are going to school full-time.

Starting your own business can be challenging and time-consuming as well – but it just hits different when it’s something you love and you’re building it on your own. Another woman, also an attorney and a mom of three, started her own firm after not seeing more flexible legal jobs in her area. She shared,

“I’m really ambitious so I honestly can’t imagine not working at all (which means that in short order I was working 50-60+ hr weeks at my own firm. Turns out old habits die hard). Putting in those hours on my own terms is still very different from when I worked for a firm.”

Creating a business, even if you don’t make a lot money in it and never plan to scale it, is also a way to keep your foot in your industry, which can help you re-enter the more traditional workforce when you’re ready.

A word of warning: depending on what you want your business to be, I do recommend getting childcare help at whatever level you feel comfortable with to help you build the business (versus planning on working only when your kids are asleep). That said, depending on what your goals are (e.g., profiting v. keeping your toes in the water), working only when your kids are asleep will cut into the little alone time we get as moms, leaving you with little to no time to do fun things for yourself and sleep (on that note: I recommend getting some childcare help even if you’re not working at all for your own sanity!).

If you’d rather not start your own business but are interested in switching things up, one woman recommended considering a job within a school. She shared,

“If you live in the same district, your hours and vacations are likely exactly the same. There are administrative jobs nursing jobs social work, counseling jobs, cafeteria work which would be part time, administrative work in the athletic department, working with special needs students as a paraprofessional, and even technology/IT and human resource positions. I guess what I’m trying to say the field of education is actually very broad and the flexibility of the schedule as it aligns with your children makes it very convenient!  Maybe this would be a solution to some of your readers!”

Another woman found success in remote work, allowing her to continue working but in a way that allowed her to be at home more and gain experience she used to get her dream job seven years later.

If you leave, what to do if you hope to return one day

If you decide to leave your job entirely, one thing to do right away is to update your resume with the position you last left while the work is fresh in your mind. If anything, be overinclusive, knowing you may whittle what makes the final cut for submission to a particular company down the road based on the role. Doing so now will be so much easier and faster than if you do it in, e.g., three years. (If you want to do this, calendar time right now so you don’t forget!)

Furthermore, M, mom of two, shared,

“With the ‘stay in the game’ advice in mind [that I received from other women], I am trying to keep at least my toes in my industry. Once my son returns to preschool in the fall, I plan to line up some part-time childcare for my daughter so that I can start my own business that is related to my prior field. I fully acknowledge this business will probably grow at a snail’s pace, but it will at minimum hopefully provide a way to stay involved and provide valuable experience on the business side that will be useful to speak about at future interviews. In an ideal world I would grow this to be a full-time job as my kids get older. I also plan on calling up close former colleagues on a regular schedule (one per month for example), to grab coffee or even have a quick zoom chat. I have worked hard to leave the door at my prior firm as wide open as possible for an eventual return and set expectations that I would be calling them when I’m ready to come back.”

Along these lines and similar to the “update your resume now” advice, consider starting a “Networking” Excel/Google spreadsheet and just brain-dumping all the people you can think of who you want to keep in touch with. Include columns for their names, contact info, roles, companies, personal information (e.g., kids names, overlapping interests and hobbies), and history of your contacts with them (past and ongoing). Then, calendar a time once a week or every other week to reach out to 1-3 of them. In addition, each week, read through the entire list of people. Keeping the people fresh in your mind will help you think of tht person who may love that article you just read, so you can quickly send it their way to keep the relationship going in an organic way.

 

 

 

Resources to help you rejoin the workforce when you want to

In researching this topic, I found a ton of great resources out there, and I’m sure there are many more. Here’s a sampling (and if you know of others, comment below or email me at ke***@ke********.com):

What it feels like to scale back your career

For those curious about what it feels like to have left a full-time career, here’s some insight from two women.

M, mom of two, shared,

“[W]hile my days don’t feel nearly as ‘productive’ or intellectually stimulating as they used to, it’s actually a fine change of pace. As I said, I’ve got some plans to change that on a limited basis. But it’s really nice to just slow down for a minute. I’ve been racing around with my head cut off since I graduated, and it’s nice to just live my life (ya know, toddlers permitting of course).”

Similarly, K, a mom of two and attorney, has loved the breathing space and creativity running her law firm has afforded her, explaining,

“Stepping back and focusing on what I wanted to focus on was probably the best thing I’ve done for my mental health and my creativity. In the time I’ve had kids, I’ve crafted my practice into something I’d want to do, wrote 2 manuscripts for fiction books I’d love to have published one day, was hired to teach a class at the local law school, explored many other business ideas, and been able to learn who my kids are in a slow way (which is great for a percolator like me!).”

Interesting Podcast Episodes

I loved listening to the following podcast episodes about women who took breaks from their careers and returned (thank you, C, for the suggestion!):

In Conclusion…

There’s no right or wrong answer to whether or when to leave your career in some capacity because of kids. Similarly, there’s no one answer for you – you may decide something now and completely shift course in two years. And hopefully, that’s freeing to you.

As you consider what’s right for you at this point in time, consider all the above factors, listen to what feels right for you (not what you “should” do or about what others your work with may say). This is your one life. Do what makes sense for you right now and trust that there will be great opportunities for you down the road.

And if I can help in my time management-y way – whether by helping you figure out if your current role could be more feasible or help you plan for and protect time for a next, new chapter – I’d love to! You can learn more about my eight-week time management program here.

Good luck with this ongoing decision and journey! I’ll leave you with these wise words from N, the woman who left finance to start her own business,

“One thing to remember: there is no wrong decision, you’re making the decision that feels most right and in alignment with you and your values *at that moment in time.* Try to take a step back from the expectations you have for yourself as a corporate performer or the expectations you think others have of you.

“Have the money talk with your partner and if that’s doable, follow your instinct. Remember you don’t owe your job anything. You can leave if you want to.

“There will always be the option to return if you want. And there is always the option to scale back and continue doing something you enjoy without being the lead. E.g., project based work that you can do part time. My job now is project based and I scale it according to my capacity level, and it’s much more manageable AND enjoyable.

“You do you! No one else needs to understand why. Just do what feels right. And you can always change your mind.”

 

 

 

Kids or Career - mom working on computer on couch next to child reading

RELATED POSTS (in case you’re not reading part 2 of this article)

If you’ve made it this far, you’ll likely love these articles, too:

What Do Working Moms Do in the Summer? 12 Practical Strategies

A SUPER Useful Long-Term Planning Tool (especially for those with kids!)

How to Get Your Partner’s Help at Home: Help Them See the Ocean

Part Two of Kids or Career: Stories from the women in full without my commentary

H, a woman who also stayed in her job full-time and is the sole breadwinner of the family, shared,

“One aspect of this topic I’m navigating but don’t see discussed often is what to do if you’re the primary income.

“My husband and I both had very demanding jobs. He was a corporate lawyer and I’m at a tech retail company. Once our son was born it became apparent life was not sustainable. He had many medical issues in his first year+ of life which caused me leave early allllll the time from work, I was hardly hanging on to my job and performance took a hit. Plus my husband was working till 9/10pm every night. I felt like a single mom with a very demanding job and child. We hardly kept up with family, friends, health, housekeeping etc.

“We decided it made sense for my husband to make a career change, since he was not happy in law and because I like my job and am (typically) good at it. He is now a stay at home dad (we took son out of daycare for it to make financial sense) and he will soon be working as a teacher. It has absolutely been the right thing for our family but now I’m left with some questions:

“1. Do I really want the pressure of being primary income? Does this mean I have to keep at an intense job or stressful senior position to make the income needed? 

“2. Can I balance this and still be a mom that makes it to recitals and baseball games? Am I emotionally OK with missing out on some things?

“3. If I want a better quality of life or work/life balance, what are my options? Do I move to a more affordable town and find a job that’s less fulfilling or has lower relative salary?

“So for me the question is less around making a decision to be home with my kids, it’s more about making a change to have some degree of more time with my kids but still maintaining an income needed for my family.”

J, a mom of two, shared:

“I have stayed working for 10.5 years after having my first kiddo (I now have two kids). Every six months I assess how things are going at work and at home. I decide, has the last six months been really hard? Will the next six months be ok?

“Three years ago my answers didn’t come up right and so I made a move from a very large, national company (where I had been for 15 years) to a smaller, local company. While still in a leadership position in my new company, I have more say in the direction and next steps of the small company. I worried it wouldn’t have the same prestige as my household named company, but I got involved in the same great work and have more time to be with my kiddos and husband and have never thought about that aspect after the first six months. 

“Staying in the workforce as long as I have has enabled us to have more savings (we save nearly all of my monthly salary which is over six figures) and are at peace about our financials. College is saved for, we have no debt and we can afford to travel during our time off.

“Key stress points are when work and kiddo demands clash- holidays, summer and winter breaks as well as the school special occasion that happens mid day. So I save up for time off then and soak in the kids. I also pre-plan things and deescalate expectations I heap on myself about holidays. I’ve also learned to let go of any household chore that I can pay someone else to do- deliver my groceries, deliver my dry cleaning, clean my home and mow my yard. I work hard to not outsource my kiddos to anyone but family 

“I am good at my job, I am (so far) a good mom and am stilly happily married. I have great friends and work hard to be a good sister. I’m connected with my neighbors and leverage social media to stay engaged with a variety of distanced friends, mentors and mentees.

“Last year was the most tough year ever, but I used it to get closer to my kids who were home with me, get to know my team members families better via zoom, force hard boundaries on work and my own expectations and learn to be content. 

“What I have sacrificed through all of the years of working and parenting have been my own doctor appointments and working out. Both are now back on my radar as I need to care for my body if I need all of this to stay in balance. Oh and note: I am THE WORST COOK EVER. I have chalked that one up to we eat to live, and I save the living to eat for date nights when we go out- I appreciate it so much more!”

M, mom of two, shared:

“I recently left my job in wealth management to stay home, or hopefully, find something I can do on a significantly more part time basis (e.g., not more than 20 hours a week, and with a lot of flexibility).

“For me the move was initially spurred by logistical complications (the never ending childcare juggle complicated by covid, nanny issues, and my husband’s uncompromising work schedule). But ultimately we would have solved the immediate logistical hurdle one more time if it weren’t for something more that just felt right about the decision to take a break. There were so many inputs to the decision, but I’ve included the main drivers below:

“This move, for right now, is what is most consistent with my values and what I want at this very specific time in my life. On any day of the week if you ask me, ultimately, what is more important to you: family or career? The answer, for me, is a no brainer. I enjoyed my career, and hope to return to it, or something that resembles it. But family, and our family’s general wellbeing (including mine) is more important to me. And with my job demands and my husbands, we weren’t really enjoying our time as a young family. We were stressed all the time about how x was going to get done. And every time something unexpected came up (nanny has to take off, kids are sick, dog has to go to the vet, grandma needs our help with something, etc), it sent us into a tailspin. We had no extra bandwidth. And I was sick of it. 

“On top of all that, I have always struggled with all that I was missing out in with my kids while I was at work every day.  I genuinely wanted more time with them.  And covid, and being home all day and literally witnessing (or at least hearing through the floor of my upstairs office) all those moments – all the sweet kisses and hugs the nanny got, all those times they called for mom and I couldn’t go to them, and the tantrums that weren’t handled exactly as I would have liked – they really drove this home. 

“I don’t think I ‘have’ to be home for the benefit of my kids. I think they would be just fine if they were still with a nanny or in daycare 4 days a week like they were before. But I was sad to be missing all that time. I think that’s important because really i made the decision for me, not for anyone else. 

“The biggest reason I almost didn’t make this decision was fear. Fear that part time work will be impossible to come by and that it won’t be possible to come back after a few years totally out of the workforce. I had voices in my head from well meaning women before me that at all costs, I needed to “stay in the game”, or work even harder right now to get to this theoretical future position where I might be able to take more time for my kids while not “sacrificing” my career. 

“With the ‘stay in the game’ advice in mind, I am trying to keep at least my toes in my industry. Once my son returns to preschool in the fall, I plan to line up some part time childcare for my daughter so that I can start my own business that is related to my prior field. I fully acknowledge this business will probably grow at a snail’s pace, but it will at minimum hopefully provide a way to stay involved, and provide valuable experience on the business side that will be useful to speak about at future interviews. In an ideal world I would grow this to be a full time job as my kids get older. I also plan on calling up close former colleagues on a regular schedule (one per month for example), to grab coffee or even have a quick zoom chat. I have worked hard to leave the door at my prior firm as wide open as possible for an eventual return, and set expectations that I would be calling them when I’m ready to come back.

“But to all the people who wanted me to lean in now so that I could hopefully reach some future position with more flexibility, I call BS. I don’t see the kind of flexibility I want, around me in my industry. I asked for that flexibility now and was told no. So if this is what I want (and I want it now), I have to create this path myself. It reminds me of the advice I got at my undergrad b school graduation, something like “your employer is running a business, they are not taking care of you. They are not your friend, they are your employer. You don’t owe them anything and they don’t owe you anything”.  This advice has served me well over my career. And in this instance it helped give me clarity too that it’s not my employer’s job to make sure my family life is okay. And it’s never going to be. They define the terms of employment, and it’s my job to accept or decline. For now, I’m declining. (And while I do believe there needs to be a WHOLE re-working of the system with part time work being a viable option, that’s another conversation entirely, and not something I can pin entirely on one employer)

“It was hard leaving a firm I liked. But honestly, it hasn’t been as hard to not be there anymore as I expected. I cried on my last day, but now that I’ve left, it really is out of sight out of mind. 

“And while my days don’t feel nearly as ‘productive’ or intellectually stimulating as they used to, it’s actually a fine change of pace. As I said, I’ve got some plans to change that on a limited basis. But it’s really nice to just slow down for a minute. I’ve been racing around with my head cut off since I graduated, and it’s nice to just live my life (ya know, toddlers permitting of course).”

K, a mom of two and an attorney, shared,

“This resonates with me a lot – I currently work and also stay at home with my 2 kids. After I had my first child, I couldn’t imagine putting her in daycare. I was doing criminal defense work at the time, and had done a few shaken baby cases, and it just felt like too much of a risk for me, whether or not it was based on reality. Also, I was completely unprepared for how hard it was to find suitable daycare. And how expensive! I remember writing letters to withdraw as representation for all of my clients, basically saying I didn’t want to work anymore, and never sending them. That wasn’t correct, either. 

“But I was miserable with my law partner, miserable doing criminal defense, and having a child only magnified that to an unbearable degree. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be my time with my child. My old law partner used to ask me all the time – so which would you pick, being a lawyer or being a mommy? (He said it like that in a very snide voice). And thinking about that still infuriates me, we shouldn’t have to pick. 

“Instead of stopping everything, I dissolved my partnership with my law partner, went out on my own, and worked when my kids napped or after they went down for bed. I created a patchwork system of sitters that were available for a few hours when I had to go to court, but I stopped taking court appointments, never advertised, and didn’t pay myself, but kept my practice going the early years that I had babies. Now my kids are 5 and 7, and this fall will be the first time both kids are in the same school, full time (fingers crossed!). 

 “Stepping back and focusing on what I wanted to focus on was probably the best thing I’ve done for my mental health and my creativity. In the time I’ve had kids, I’ve crafted my practice into something I’d want to do, wrote 2 manuscripts for fiction books I’d love to have published one day, was hired to teach a class at the local law school, explored many other business ideas, and been able to learn who my kids are in a slow way (which is great for a percolator like me!). 

“I’ve been self-conscious for years about working from home, working when I can, and not looking like a traditional lawyer. But after reading a Twitter thread (lol) about what attorneys would do if money was no issue, I realized that most attorneys would love to be doing what I’m doing – setting my own hours and taking the kind of work I want to take. 

“Of course, my husband is a huge part of this, and has been supportive of my decisions from Day 1. We both had moms who stayed home, so there wasn’t as much shame or hand-wringing around me staying home. We now talk about scaling my business so that my husband could quit his job and go on his own journey, similar to what I had after having the kids. 

“Everyone is so different, so there’s no right answer. But I would have loved to hear from another attorney that alternative paths are possible without losing yourself to motherhood, which is why I thought I should respond to your call for advice.”

T, a mom and physician shared:

“Ah this topic hits home so much. It is honestly on my mind all of the time…. Am I getting enough time with the baby? Should I quit my job? Becoming a mother has been full of so many contradictory feelings. I enjoy my job (most of the time!) but I also daydream all of the time of being home with [my little one] full time. I have moments where I wonder if I will regret not fully quitting for a few years, since these early years are just so unique and short lived. I try to remind myself though that no matter how much time I get with him, I’ll always want more. And that having some time away from him is good for both of us.

“What I can share about my experience is that when it came time for me to make the decision of going part time, I just thought: when I look back on my life and this specific time period, will I ever look back and think ‘wow, I wish I would have worked more’ or “I wish I had spent more time with my son while he was so little and changing so fast.” That made it a very easy no brainer decision. It was still hard telling the chairman and disappointing the people in the department but a really great quote from the book Untamed is “If you have to decide between disappointing someone else or yourself, always disappoint someone else.”

“Going part time was also for me… I was burnt out working full time. I don’t think I realized how burnt out I was though until Ollie came along and gave me a ‘good reason’ to stay home more.  

“Such a great topic though, thank you for asking these questions and getting a conversation going. I do think being a stay at home mom is becoming more respectable again, as it should! Staying home with the kid(s) is no joke!!”

B, a mom of two and corporate executive, shared:

“Our family might be a bit different. We’re two moms. I’d say I’ve always been the more career oriented one; for my wife a job is just a job. [To be honest], on days when my role gets too heavy for me, I wish I had taken that outlook on work as well. Anyways, when our first was due to arrive 7+ years ago my wife decided that she’d stay home purely for financial reasons. She was making pretty much the same a year that daycare would cost, and my earning potential over time was way higher. I also knew I just wasn’t cut out for staying home — I’m an extrovert and needed to interact with other adults regularly. It was a hard transition, but an easy decision. 

“BUT, your prompt of having it not be the financials, but the mental toll a stressful job takes resonated with me — Over the past year or two, as I moved into an executive role and had our second baby, I’ve for sure questioned whether I should find a new job with a lot less responsibility and stress. The decision is much tougher than the one we faced seven years ago. The very idea of looking for another job seems impossibly hard and I can’t even imagine what else I could do that wouldn’t mean a huge pay-cut which, given that I’m our sole income, is out of the question. I often feel incredibly trapped by my high-salary, prestigiously-titled, c-suite job.”

 N, a mom of two shared,

“Oh, how I have been there (and in many ways still am). It took me a LONG time to pull the trigger, and in the end, the pandemic is what sent me over the edge. Before the pandemic I was able to compartmentalize a bit more, but with the pandemic and staying at home, the demands of my job and my children both collided and expanded, and I was overwhelmed and so very stressed. I also had a side gig that I REALLY enjoyed and wanted to do more of, but I knew money wouldn’t be consistent or all that great. And I’d made my corporate job part of my sense of identity and felt that if I left I would be a failure and would have let my colleagues and family down.

“In the end, I left. And I haven’t looked back. I still have moments where I feel like I gave up everything for my kids and I resent it, but then I remind myself I made this choice for me, so I could be with my kids more (in a way where I wasn’t screaming at them to be quiet BECAUSE MOMMY’S ON A CALL), and so I would have the time to pursue a passion.

“My husband also works 24/7 (hi big law!) so we needed me to have a more flexible job.

“One thing to remember: there is no wrong decision, you’re making the decision that feels most right and in alignment with you and your values *at that moment in time.* Try to take a step back from the expectations you have for yourself as a corporate performer or the expectations you think others have of you.

“Have the money talk with your partner and if that’s doable, follow your instinct. Remember you don’t owe your job anything. You can leave if you want to.

“There will always be the option to return if you want. And there is always the option to scale back and continue doing something you enjoy without being the lead. Eg project based work that you can do part time. My job now is project based and I scale it according to my capacity level, and it’s much more manageable AND enjoyable.” 

“You do you! No one else needs to understand why. Just do what feels right. And you can always change your mind.”

 A, a mom of two and teacher, shared,

“Some thoughts: When I found out I was having a second during my summer break, I decided to take a year (at least) off from working full time. As a teacher, I felt like I have been “go go go” since March 2020… while being a mom, wife, friend, etc. and managing Covid in regards to both home and work life. Knowing I wouldn’t get the time I needed to recharge this summer as I’ll have an infant on board soon, I felt like it was a good time to hit pause and focus on my family. We’re not on the same school schedules (my 2 year old son is starting preschool), and I started to feel like if I push through, I was going to burn out earlier than expected. So many colleagues were supportive of my decision, and I know I will find my career path again in the near future. There’s no right answer, and I’m anticipating my time at home will be hard work but I’m also excited to have this time with my kids while they aren’t in full time school. As I know I can’t get these years back. And who knows what doors will open for me in the meantime!

“The mental component will definitely take time, as I feel like I’m losing part of my identity that I’ve worked hard to build over the past twelve years. Very Interested to hear what others say regarding this… 🙂

R, a mom and teacher, shared,

“Before I became a teacher I saw real estate in the Bahamas and Florida for a large developer. I didn’t have kids at the time, but I can imagine how challenging it would be to have to navigate a 9-to-5 job when schools are on a completely different schedule. I guess my solution for women who are choosing to leave the field they are in is to consider a role within a school. If you live in the same district, your hours and vacations are likely exactly the same. There are administrative jobs nursing jobs social work, counseling jobs, cafeteria work which would be part time, administrative work in the athletic department, working with special needs students as a paraprofessional, and even technology/IT and human resource positions.   I guess what I’m trying to say the field of education is actually very broad and the flexibility of the schedule as it aligns with your children makes it very convenient!  Maybe this would be a solution to some of your readers!”

G, a mom of two, shared, 

“I had been working at the same place for about 6 years when I decided to leave—my kids were 2 and 4 at the time and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to work, it was that I wanted something different. I found a job that I thought would be perfect but I only lasted 6 weeks. Quitting that job was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but the commute once the school year started and traffic got worse was killing me. I was gone for 12 hours a day and one of my girls would regularly come into my bedroom in the middle of the night crying and would fall asleep on the floor next to my bed. I first told myself that she just needed to adjust, and then I realized I didn’t want her to adjust to her mom never being around, so I made the tough decision to quit for my family. While that made me feel like a failure in terms of being a working mom, it was 100% the right thing to do. The next week, my daughter ended up being hospitalized due to asthma complications and I was so incredibly thankful I had made the decision I had and realized that I needed a job that was much more flexible. That led me to start looking for remote positions and I am so incredibly thankful that I have been able to work in 3 different remote roles over the last 7 years.

“While I can’t say that the first two were ‘dream’ jobs by any means, they were a way for me to stay in the workforce, be mentally stimulated on a daily basis, yet have the time and energy to focus on my family as well. Finally, in 2018 when my girls were 6 and 8, I did find my dream job! I was so incredibly thankful for my previous experiences that had opened the world of remote work to me and led me to this amazing opportunity that I have now been in for 3 years. Sure, there are challenges working from home and juggling kids schedules (especially in the summer), but I’m so thankful I get to work for a company that I love, do a job that I love, and still be a mom that’s around a lot!”

If you’ve made it this far, you’ll likely love these articles, too:

What Do Working Moms Do in the Summer? 12 Practical Strategies

A SUPER Useful Long-Term Planning Tool (especially for those with kids!)

How to Get Your Partner’s Help at Home: Help Them See the Ocean

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  1. STEM mom says:

    This article is amazing! Thank you for taking the time to write about this topic. I really need it today, and I will be saving to read it again.
    -Mom of 2 boys (2, 4), scientist and "not scaling up the career" at this moment. In pause for now.

  2. Marie says:

    It’s a very well written article. What about the Moms that can’t make deliberate choices because life is hurling curve-balls at them and they are just thrown into it by default? We never had the option for child-care and I didn’t go back to my career as my husband worked a six figure job, we agreed I would stay home with the thought that I could at some point return to work. But then the first curve-ball came at us when he lost his job and we were stuck with our jaws hanging open with an 8 month old. I quickly felt that I hated being a sahm mainly because of the lack of support and having no energy to do anything else. I was determined to get my life back and first tried switching careers and getting a job as a medical coder but it required sitting for medical boards, I failed my boards two times at least because life threw more curve-balls. Our child was severely ill the week before I was scheduled to take my boards and we didn’t anticipate her being sick for that long and I wasn’t allowed to cancel. I was up all night that entire week and cramming so hard for the test that I also became sick and wasn’t well during my board exam and failed by like 4 points. I realized then the time commitment for it wasn’t going to be possible and the stress level was giving me panic attacks and I had a break down. It ruined my relationship with my husband and I was no good to anyone. I physically can’t do that much because I had already worked myself into burn out and gotten a severe case of shingles years earlier, so it was understood that I would stay home anyway. So I decided to go back to art and design. I would open my own studio and I would work from home. My husband had found another job but was laid off again when our child was three. Now the problem was getting her to and from school and that burden fell on my shoulders. My husband then had an accident and I became like a single mom taking care of two children: my daughter and my sick husband. I remember 4 months going by after me getting all the documentation ready for my design studio, all I had to do now was pitch to clients and I naively thought I would have some time for it. The joke was on me, the pre-school we could afford was only half day and I had about 2 hours each day to myself but became too exhuasted and my brain had turned to mush. I remember the day I just gave up after months of fighting it, I realized that I could not do both without support and we had non or what we had was unreliable. I was a mother and there were all the signs. So after about 6 or 7 months of feeling like a fraud and a failure I just said to hell with it, I can’t do this. I didn’t want to feel like I did something wrong because I had children. I wanted to enjoy my time. I think the only way to do that is to accept it. All my skills are up to date but the more time I spend trying to act like I run a studio with no time for it the worse I feel, I start comparing myself to other successful people instead of focusing on what I can do with what is in my lap right now. So I have gone on hiatus because I have no idea what curve-ball will come next. After they are babies they become toddlers and pre-schoolers and they stop napping. Personally, I’m tired all the time and don’t feel well so a lot of my time is spent balancing my health with the stress so I can be strong enough to take care of our daughter. I also become snippy when I have work to do because our child won’t give me space so the whole thing comes crashing down anyway. Not all of us are built for do it all, just isn’t going to happen.

    • Kelly Nolan says:

      Oh man, Marie. That sounds like a TON to be managing and trying to play through. For what it’s worth, it sounds like you’re making the right call for you and your well-being right now. When I’m frustrated by my lack of time and energy because of my little kids, I try to focus on that it is all a phase – a LONG phase, but will end. Eventually, they will go to full-day school and you will have more time for yourself. And if it helps, put a date on it – this is when she’ll go to school… I’ll need X amount of time to rest and recover… then I can start [career] in earnest on this date. It can obviously shift, but it helps me see the end of the phase more concretely, which helps me absorb that it’s not forever and rest into my current phase more. Completely ignore if you’d like. I wish you all the best!

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