Last fall, my work-life balance was just not working, so I quit my job. Exactly two months after walking out of my office, I returned to the same job, but under my terms. I feel a little bit like the office boomerang, but the break was just what I needed to take a breath and really think about what I want out of life, for my family and my career. (If only all mothers could take another maternity leave when their kids are 4 and 6!) Here are five things I learned when I quit my job:
1. The grass isn’t greener.
I had the unique opportunity of experiencing both sides in a short span, and I’ll tell you this: Being a working mom and a stay-at-home mom are equally challenging. I think we both want what the other has because life with kids is just plain hard, and we think there must be an easier way.
Driving to work in the mornings, I envied the moms going to exercise class, meeting up at Starbucks, or leisurely strolling to the playground with their kids. But when I stayed at home in the uniform of black Spandex workout pants, a tank top, and ponytail, by the afternoons I longed for a faster pace. Before, I dreaded my morning commute to downtown Orlando, but now I appreciate 45 minutes of NPR and peace and quiet. Well, not exactly peace and quiet — my first week going back to work I was rear-ended on the interstate.
2. Just speak up.
I am such a people-pleaser to a fault. I’m a horrible negotiator, cheerfully saying yes, yes, yes, yes, until one last straw that leaves me completely exhausted and resentful. One week after leaving my job at the magazine, they got a new publisher who began implementing some positive changes. When he called me to ask if I wanted my job back, I hesitantly agreed to a meeting. It took having nothing to lose to give me the nerve to ask for what I wanted, which was being able to work from home and having more flexibility with the kids. And guess what? He said yes.
3. Shed the mom guilt.
When I wasn’t working, taking my kindergartner, Anders, on field trips and to his speech and occupational therapy sessions was very gratifying, as was spending one-on-one time with my younger son, William, each afternoon. We spent a lot of time at the playground, and my stay-at-home mom friends taught me that it’s okay to have grown-up conversations and not entertain my kids the entire time, which is something I felt obligated to do when I worked. I learned that spending too much time with them wasn’t necessarily advantageous. When I have a break, I’m more fun and patient with the kids.
I also had a little wake-up call with Anders. One of the many voices in my head told me staying at home would solve all of his problems, from speech delays to bad behavior to sensory processing disorder. But after I quit my job, his behavior actually flared up again. We were called into parent-teacher meetings, and his teacher greeted me every afternoon with negative reports. They didn’t know where it was coming from.
It turned out Anders was resentful I was picking up William at noon while he stayed until 3:15 with the other kindergartners. I think he actually likes the routine of a babysitter, and it’s good for him to deal with challenges without me. He must learn that I have needs and wants, too, and understanding that will only help his personal growth.
4. If I don’t want to do something, I can say no.
This one is so hard for me, but it’s so important. I am a perfectionist, and setting high expectations for myself has gotten me in trouble all my life. I cannot be all things to all people all the time and give it my best. My husband has a work dinner and spouses are invited, a friend is hosting a party selling product X, there’s a social hour for the parents at school, the kids want to go to the park after dinner, classmates are exchanging elaborate, handmade Valentines, there are work events two nights in a row — if I’m feeling tired or stretched thin, I say no. Because if I’m not careful, I lose that valuable balance, and I fail at everything.
5. It’s okay to do what I love.
I really had to explain myself to the boys when I quit work and then decided to go back in such a short span of time. I told them the magazine needed my help, and my new boss was really nice, was going to pay me more (they were impressed!), and didn’t want me to miss their field trips (even more impressed!). I also tried to explain to them that I need to do something for me, and it’s one of the reasons I went to school all those years. I love writing, trying new things, and giving people great ideas when they come to Orlando on vacation or sharing my parenting stories with the readers of Orlando Magazine. After a gratifying day at work, I’m so ready to be with my family. Once I’ve had me time, I’m even more attentive and dedicated to “our time.”