From One Yo-Yo Mama to the Next
by Sarah Steele
After having my first child in 2005, I faced a huge question that so many women face every day…do I work outside our home, or do I stay home with my new baby? It was a question with enormous gravity, and one that would change the path of my life indefinitely, so I thought. Would I be stuck with an endless life at home with kids and no working identity, or with a cycle of continually juggling work and daycare? Little did I know that this decision would lead me on a difficult, yet beautiful personal journey. After 14 years of yo-yoing between work and home, I am finally at peace. And you can be too. Here is my story…
In the Beginning
At the time of being pregnant with my first child, I was the Director of Marketing for a consulting firm, working long hours, often until 10 PM with significant stresses of proposals, meetings, planning events, deadlines and travel. Before babies, I thrived on this. I was great at my job…not just great…I killed it. Enter pregnancy; morning sickness, throwing up in the bathroom at work, and fatigue. Boy was that life hard to keep up with this growing life inside me. My husband started asking me if I was happy, and if it made sense to keep this up. And more importantly, was this stress healthy for the baby.
As months went on, my workload and responsibilities only increased and my pregnancy challenges mounted. We prayed and determined with cuts in our budget, we could try to make it work. Ouch, losing my salary sure hurt (in more ways than one)! However, the work stress was just not sustainable during my pregnancy. In my 30th week,
I gave my notice, and started a new journey of being a new “stay-at-home parent.” This is a decision that I would not regret, yet one that would prove to be harder than any job I had ever had.
When I had my son, the feeling of love had never been greater; nor had the work! The schedules, the feedings, the naps, the diapers, and the endless nights of a sleepless baby. Next day, repeat. Next day, repeat. I remember hardly having time to shower. But I loved that little being more than any love, so much so that it was time to have another. Two years later, enter a sweet baby girl! A sweet baby girl who had colic…which seemed to last forever. With a busy toddler and a colicky baby, the “work” had never been greater.
And although being home with them had been beyond hard, and at times I felt as though I had COMPLETELY lost myself and my identity, I still felt so grateful that I was able to be there to do it. And I felt pride in it, but society made me feel otherwise.
The Word “Work”
I always found the word “work” to be an interesting one. When I stayed home with my children, people would ask me “that” question, “Do you work?”; Or, “What do you do?” I would immediately feel a ping of shame for saying, “No, I’m home with my kids.” Like a canned response, people would almost always say something like, “Well there’s no harder job than that.” Gosh, I hated that question… until I started working again. It got easier. “I’m the marketing manager for an environmental company.” There…that was easier. But even though it was an easier “guilt-free” response, I started feeling frustrated that the answer to who I am or what I do would fall to my job title.
And that guilt, it was always there! If it was a time I was working at home raising my kids, I felt guilty I wasn’t bringing in a paycheck. If I was working and bringing in that check, I felt guilty I wasn’t with the kids. I felt guilty all the time! And I’ve come to realize that guilt…it’s TOTAL B.S.
My personal yo-yo; From Home to Work to Home to Work Again…
I stayed home for the first four years with my children and supported my husband’s business. I did some marketing and accounting for him while keeping the kids. Was this work? ABSOLUTELY! Did I consider it work? Nope. I felt like because I didn’t get a paycheck, it didn’t feel like work, rather just another household duty. Then came 2008. I don’t know if you remember, but this was when the housing marketing completely crashed and we entered a major recession. Because my husband had a mortgage company, it was tough. I’d like to say going back to work in the beginning was my choice. But there was no choice. We needed insurance and money to sustain the recession.
I had to go back into the workforce, but the pressure of entering at the Director level again felt like too much. And to be completely honest, after being home for four years, I wasn’t sure I still had what it takes! I found an amazing executive assistant role at and environmental consulting firm. At first, I worked 3 days a week to ease back into the workforce and was beyond blessed to negotiate insurance at the time. And finding childcare was beyond difficult. But after prayer, God connected me with a girl I used to nanny for when I was younger. She was the perfect nanny.
Now let me tell you something. After being home for four years with toddlers, when I went to work – IT FELT LIKE A VACATION! It was so quiet in the office and all I had to do was take care of my job. I remember the bliss of only having to feed myself lunch those days! The nanny would send me photos of the kids at the park, at the zoo, doing artwork, etc. Life was good. I strived greatly at my job and my marketing responsibilities increased naturally. And that three days was no longer enough…my boss wanted me to work the full week. My nanny at the time gave her notice, and the caregiver that replaced her was not a “win.” I got scared! I spent my workdays worrying about them. I got no correspondence like I had before, and my kids were a miserable mess when I got home. So…I gave my notice! The exhaustion and worry was just too much for our family.
Yo-yo again. I’m back at home…now working in both worlds of being home with my kids while working from home! I was home, but I needed to contribute financially to the family while we were building back from the recession. I first started babysitting. If you think watching your own toddlers is hard, add a few more! This wasn’t for me. So I started an Etsy shop and sold wooden family signs. They were beautiful, but let’s be honest. I hated it! All the sanding, painting, printing…this just wasn’t me either. So I went back to searching for a more traditional job. I found the most amazing company that needed marketing assistance from home. I could work my own schedule as long as I got my hours in for the week. That blessing of a job brought me five amazing years of working for a corporate learning, development and leadership company with flexibility that allowed me to still help at the kids’ school, and be there to pick them up! I just loved it…and I was rising in the company. Until I got sick…
I had a hard time getting out of bed and was unable to work. I went to a myriad of doctors who were perplexed. The next couple of years would be spent with health challenges and multiple surgeries. Working was not an option as simply being out of bed and making dinner felt like my greatest accomplishment. Having my health compromised was the worst identity crisis I had ever had. I had to rely on others to handle all my responsibilities. My family and friends had to step up and do all the laundry, the bills, the cooking, the cleaning…these were MY chores, MY duties. The worst was missing my kids’ school and sporting events. I felt guilty.
I had to submit to the fact that the only “work” I could do was on myself. And that would prove to give me the greatest gift of all.
During my greatest life struggle, my faith, strength and love for myself grew so much more than ever before. Being stripped of my healthy being gave me the opportunity to turn inward and put in the work on myself along with my nutrition, yoga, meditation, prayer, exercise…and BALANCE.
Now, I have been back home with my family for 3 years and am feeling stronger and healthy again.
And guess what! My family, they learned how to do all the chores. And I’m realizing they aren’t all just mine! I have help and everyone is a little more independent! I’m cautiously getting busier again. I’m leading a women’s group and teaching middle schoolers at my church. I volunteer and help in my community whenever I can. I am a resource for my friends and family who go through challenges. I also have a passion for helping others with their health challenges. And…I’m contemplating my next yo-yo move…which will undoubtedly be in the service field!
People still continue to ask me, “Do you work?” And after nearly 14 years, that ping of shame has never gone completely away, but I’m learning to take pride in where I am. What I want to say is, “Yes! I work my a#$ off every day!” But that isn’t what people are wanting to hear. When I was younger, I used to revert back to tell them, “Yes, I am a Director of Marketing. But I’m taking a brief break right now.” Sometimes I would even lie in attempt to prove my credibility in some way. Now that I’m in my 40’s, I can’t believe I did that! My husband tells me to “own it” all the time! He encourages me to be proud of what I’m accomplishing every day! And he couldn’t be more right. My path hasn’t been traditional, but it has made me me!
Here’s the thing. This guilt we have. Ahhh…it makes me want to scream. We feel that we aren’t doing enough. We aren’t doing it right. We aren’t exposing our kids to enough, or we are exposing them to too much. We aren’t at home enough. We are home too much. We simply aren’t enough. That guilty feeling we feel…it’s DEAD WRONG! Whether we are working inside or outside of the home, where we are is no accident. And until we realize that, we may feel guilt or shame. But after we realize that and learn to live in the present moment with a grateful heart, with the most pride, we can respond with our truth.
Life…it’s and interesting journey, isn’t it? Just when we think we have it figured out, something seems to shift! But I’m learning to embrace the shift. I now trust in my greater purpose. I focus on my spirituality, and I am PROUD of who I am. Not because of “what” I do, but because I am simply me! When I look back, life seemed to dictate where I needed to be…and I made it happen! Everything I did had its purpose, and nothing was an accident! So trust your instinct, follow your heart and just know that even in hardship and struggle, we grow. In fact, struggle is where we find the MOST growth and our true inner strength! Your “work” isn’t “what” you do, it is found within! Embrace yourself, love yourself, trust yourself and do yourself a favor, get rid of the guilt! YOU ARE ENOUGH! Us yo-yo mamas, we’ve got it made!