There is a saying that in order to live a creative life you have to give up certainty.
The first few weeks after saying good-bye to my tech career, I found myself uncomfortable. Gone was the frantic schedule that started at 7 a.m. and ended at 7 p.m. No longer was I driven by someone else’s agenda on a daily basis.
I began saying yes to every opportunity that came my way. I became more involved in my son’s school, I said yes to a consulting job for a start-up, I started writing for a friend’s blog, and I slowly returned to a novel I had started writing a while ago.
Suddenly I realized my life was as frantic as it had been while I was holding a demanding job. I had to ask myself, What am I doing? What am I so afraid of?
I was afraid of becoming the stay-at-home mom, trapped in her cage, who suddenly finds her way to the vodka bottle.
Yes, I was pursuing my creative dream of writing a novel, but that’s a pursuit that often feels like driving down a country road at night with no headlights on. The journey is long, it is lonely, and it is hard.
Part of my fear was that I didn’t know how I would be perceived in the world. What would I say that I did for a living? I ran into several people who stirred my feeling of insecurity.
Some of them assumed staying home meant your days were now vast and open. More than a few men said to me, “Look at all the time you have to yourself now. If only I had that much time.
Mothers really have it easy.”
Others asked, “What do you actually do all day?”—as if now I was spending my days meditating, getting mani-pedis, and reading Us Weekly.
Leaving a traditional career to focus on your family does not mean you have endless hours to yourself. It is continuous work. In fact, being a mother who embraces being there for her children while at the same time striving to maintain a sense of self and individual purpose can be the hardest kind of work to do.
Kids don’t know how to say, “Mommy, you are so good at your job, you deserve a raise.” There is no performance review. No bonus structure.
There is a certain level of sanity in grabbing coffee on your own each morning, having lunch with adults each day, and sometimes getting accolades for your work.
So many of my friends who are working mothers contemplate leaving for a few years. They wonder what it would be like to be home with their kids full time. They long to be fully involved with their children and also to be accomplished individuals. They don’t want to give up the feeling of success. This is a delicate balance, but it’s not impossible.
As I talk to women who have stepped away from their careers, I often hear that once you make the decision to walk out that door you don’t look back. In fact, you don’t miss it. There is a sense of peace and pride that comes from being with your children more. Getting to see them fall down and pick themselves up, to help them establish friendships, to read to them at any time of the day, to watch as they slowly become more independent.
There is a bittersweet knowledge that you won’t always be their number one, and that you are enjoying the time while you are.
Many of us feel that we need to do more than just “be at home.” Women no longer want to participate in the 1950s model of “Daddy knows best and Mommy stays at home to cook and clean.” In fact, stepping away from a traditional career has led many women to their true calling.
Staying at home can mean you now have the opportunity to create the golden mean of having it all. You can nurture family while you determine exactly who you want to be and what you want to do.
There are so many of these stories. My sister, who became a photographer while raising two children; a cancer survivor who wrote a memoir while raising her kids; a mom of three boys who started a makeup business on the side.
Not all of us are fortunate enough to have a choice, but if you are, it is a path worth pursuing—not only for your family but for you as a woman.
When we have the courage to step away from the familiar — the established — we open ourselves up to a lot less certainty, yes. But we also ensure that this generation of women will forge a new path. One where we, and our families, come first.