“How long is your maternity leave going to be?” – Nice Lady
“Five years.” – Me
“What? Did you say five years?” – Nice Lady
“Yes. I plan to stay home until the baby goes to kindergarten.” – Me
“Oh.” – Nice Lady
About 4 1/2 years ago I became pregnant with my third boy. The pregnancy was a bit of a surprise. To be honest, it was a big surprise. At the time I was 42 years old and my husband and I were not really planning to have anymore children. I was back at work as a teacher’s aide in my two older boys school. My middle son was finally adjusted to school and I was getting my feet wet by reentering the workforce on a part-time basis. When my belly started to get bigger people began to realize I was pregnant. The conversation above is between myself and another parent, who was wondering what my future plans were.
I remember this conversation so well because of the nice lady’s response to me telling her I would be on maternity leave for so long. Her simple words, ‘oh’, were said with surprise and maybe a bit of shock. I was working and I was saying I would not be working for a very long time. The conversation ended quickly after that, as she had somewhere to go and I needed to go back to work. I answered the question with an honest answer. I knew, if it was possible, I would be home until the baby went off to kindergarten. And with my little son turning 4 in a week, I think I was right.
Before my husband and I got married I told him I really wanted to stay home with the kids. We both had come from divorced homes and although our mothers stayed home with us when we were very young, we had no memory of it. When we had our first son, I quit work without looking back. I was a Child Development Center Director at the time. It was a stressful job and I had been working for over 15 years caring for other people’s children. Now it was time for me to care for my own. I was home with my first boy and soon the second one came along. Those early parenting years are still a blur. Two kids in a very short time can be very stressful, but I knew I made the right decision.
When my middle son headed out to kindergarten, it was hard. I began to realize that being a mom may not be enough anymore. Suddenly other moms I knew were heading back to work, so I thought it must be for me too. I may still be working right now if not for the pregnancy of my last son. I knew I wanted to be home with him and also knew the frugal life my husband and I lived would allow me to do so. But there would be a price to pay. Not for my child, but for me. I would no longer enjoy all the wonderful things that working has to offer women. I would lose a part of my identity, a community, friendships, income and independence.
I will not lie. My third boy has brought so much joy to my life. Being home with him has been wonderful. Even on my stressful days I am very grateful. But now he is getting older and will head out to kindergarten in a year. I once again must think about my next step. I do not have a plan. I do not know what is next and it makes me very uneasy. I am a planner by nature, but now I just don’t know. I am back in school, but I am not sure what I will do when I am finished. I will be 48 when I reenter the workforce again, this is not young. My husband tells me to not worry about it now, something right will come up. But how does he know?
We live a world where it is hard to live on one income. But even when families can live on one income, many are chosing not to. It used to enough for a woman to be a mother and wife as a career goal. But now women want more, they want the satisfaction of working and being a parent. For me I am still on my journey. Will I return to work, stay home or both? I do not know. I have not reached my final destination. I am still on a journey to nowhere.