When I went on maternity leave in 2003 when Jake was born, I didn’t think I was going to sever my job with iVillage where I had been an editor for four years. But as life happens, I made an entirely different choice and decided to stay at home with him while taking freelance work, figuring that a blend of the two is how I could celebrate my “having it all” moment. You know, balance my life. Take care of the baby and write while still making money.
The jobs slowly came in. There were a few long term projects that kept me busy. I could afford to hire sitters and hang out with my child. But what began to happen surprised me. Hustling for freelance jobs that didn’t always transpire (e.g., an editor of a major magazine asked me to form a pitch into a potential draft, into a second potential draft and then decided that she wasn’t all that interested in the story after all) took up so much of my time that I was left with very little time to do much else. Including write. I counted on Jake to take naps, which, you know, when you’re working, it isn’t so brilliant to bank on a toddler’s nap schedule.
After Elke was born, I had better time management and child care so that I could look for work and produce work–but the whole of it was exhausting. I wanted back in an office. I wanted a boss to tell me what to do. I wanted other adults to problem solve with. So I began the full time job search. Friends said all sorts of things:
“Reentry is hard.”
“How are you going to figure out child care?”
“You’re going to miss your kids.”
What I found was that none of those issues really mattered! After nine years of not being in the work place, I found that I wasn’t all that hire-able. Okay, that’s not totally true. But even with my freelance writing resume (The New York Times, Salon, Huffington Post, Babble) there were plenty, plenty, plenty of writers who had/have a stronger pedigree than me. Plus, there were talented writers coming out of college who would take a position at a lower price. And writing positions? Oh, right. Those don’t really exist anymore. But I was–am–more than a writer. I’m an editor. A copy writer. A blogger. An essayist. I teach a blogging class. I had so much to offer. Didn’t I? Don’t I? Where were the jobs? Oh, right. They’re entry level now. I’d have to reprove myself. Learn new systems. New lingo.
Very quickly, I found myself in the weird middle-age hiring issue that I used to think only happened to old people and washed up mothers. What would I do with this place in my life?
NY Times Motherlode’s KJ Dell’Antonia discussed the going back-to-work dilemma in her column last week. She wrote about this as a transition–one many of us find ourselves in no matter what our position.
I’ve been there. I think most of us have. There is a moment, in any transition, when you are at the bottom of the next climb and the whole slog just looks impossible. My advice with respect to the slog is to find a way — any way — to enjoy it. If you’re a list maker, make the best lists you can and relish every check mark. Love interviewing? Relish every interview for itself. Get dressed every morning whether you’re going to work or not.
We all fall into ruts. With parenting. With our marriage. Career. When my full time job search kept coming up short, I pushed at what I was good at. Blogging. Here and other places. I’ve gotten new blogging gigs, writing about topics that I never thought I’d be covering (kids and technology). It feels good to take myself out of that comfortable place because it strengthens me as a person.
And though sure, I’ve second-guessed myself (Why did I leave my job? I’d be employed ad in a much better position if I hadn’t)–but who doesn’t second guess themselves over huge life changes? And when I’m done beating myself to a pulp over what could have been my career, I don’t look at my kids and think, Ohhh, I did it for youuuuuu.
No, sorry. I love, adore and would die for my kids, but I’m not that much of a martyr to realize that I’m not the only one who could assist in raising them. And anyway, too many studies show that stay-at-home mommying isn’t always the best choice for us and the kids.
Now I have to look at my life like this: whatever opportunities I was able to take not working in an official workplace has benefited me as a person, and has ultimately benefited my career.