I should have listened to my mother.
My mom was a stay at home mom. She hated the term “housewife” and often referred to herself as a homemaker. My sister and I would roll our eyes. We were too young to understand the value of a home, or the energy and effort it took to create warmth and cleanliness, order and comfort. Hominess. But even then, my mom’s role was not just homemaker, it was mother. She repeatedly claimed that being a mom, being our mom, was the best job in the world. Ungrateful as we were, we rolled our eyes even harder.
I know now what I couldn’t have known then – for me, just as it was for my mom, being a mother is the best job in the world. Being a mother is what drives me. It is what inspires my days. It permeates everything I do. It informs my reading choices, my eating choices, my drinking choices, everything. It is what I want to do. Problem is, it is the only thing I want to do and I can’t do it because I am a lawyer and the sole breadwinner of our family.
I made this bed. As a young adult, I was sure I wanted a lucrative and fulfilling career. I scoffed at women like my mother who warned that I may want to stay home with my children. Not me, I thought. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have children! I passed over articles about work-life balance or about “having it all.” I didn’t need to have it all, I thought. I just want to have success. And for me, “success” meant a career, not a family.
Then my sister had my nephews and my thoughts on children changed. They might not be so bad. I wasn’t sure that I wanted any, but I wasn’t ruling it out, either. That said, I was still very career-focused and career-driven.
After college, my partner (now wife) put her career objectives on hold so that I could attend law school and pursue a career in law. I worked hard, graduated at the top of my class, and obtained employment. It wasn’t very lucrative. It wasn’t very fulfilling. I tried a different position. But the stress and 80+ hour work weeks nearly killed me. I tried yet another position. I soon came to realize that there were a few things I liked about being a lawyer, but there was a lot that I didn’t like.
Time moved forward. My wife and I married and a few years ago we bought a house. We built our nest and began to have discussions about filling it. By this time, I had come around to the idea of having children so much that I actually longed for one. We wanted a baby and because I needed to focus on my career, we decided that my wife should carry and birth the child.
After nine months of trying, my wife was finally pregnant. We were beyond excited.
About six months into the pregnancy, I had a talk with my employer about family leave. They had known my partner was pregnant, but seemed surprised that I would want to take time off when the baby was born. I was told that they would need to discuss the issue with HR. Discuss the issue, I thought. Aren’t I entitled to some sort of parental leave? I realized then that for all the laws I researched for other people, I hadn’t spent enough time researching the laws that impacted me. I looked up the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). I didn’t qualify. I was shocked and crushed. I hoped that maybe my employer would be altruistic, that maybe they would realize how much this meant to me. Instead, I was told what I already knew: I didn’t qualify for family leave. However, they added, if I wanted time off I could take an unpaid personal leave of absence, capped at four weeks.
I took the four weeks. They flew by.
When it came time to return to work, I bawled. I thought back to my mother’s words, “Once you have your own baby, you’ll know.” She was right. The pull to be home with my daughter was stronger than I could have ever imagined.
I didn’t love being a lawyer before I had a baby, and now I struggle even more. I hate leaving my beautiful, smiling baby girl only to spend the majority of my day stuck in front of a computer researching statutes. Maybe it’s the type of lawyering I’m doing, I think. I apply for new positions. But even these new positions lack luster.
I wish I could just stay home with our baby. I envy my wife, who spends her days snuggling our daughter, taking naps with her, playing with her, and keeping the house. We can’t swap roles or even both do part time work because it does not make financial sense. Because she can’t earn as much as I can. Because her career ambitions took a back seat when I went to law school. Because this is what we agreed on. Because I thought I knew myself.
I feel stuck. We need my earning potential. We need the money to pay our bills, to support our family, to pay off my student loans. But I need something to change. Something’s got to change.
I just want to be a mother.