this mom goes back to work: two days before
I have been trying without luck for a couple of weeks to sit down and write a post about going from full-time stay-at-home-mom to full-time working mom. My difficulty comes from wondering what story I want to tell. I don’t mean “what story I want you to know.” I mean “what I want the story to be for me.” The only thing to do in a situation like this is to begin. The story will reveal itself.
My last 9-to-5 job (public relations) ended in 1999 when I had my first son. I was given an opportunity to work from home as a part-time consultant, and I took it. I did a lot during those first four years at home — managed large accounts, started a community newspaper with a colleague and had my second son. When I was 8-months pregnant with the third son (the oldest wasn’t four yet), I collapsed from all the pressure. I did sporadic freelance writing after that, tried my hand at an art studio and taught Zumba. Mostly, I hung out here with all of you. I worked on my poetry and made lots of enduring and energizing connections.
I never planned to stay-at-home. It happened by default. My freak-out wasn’t the fatal blow. What did me in was the very stark reality that daycare for three tiny boys is cost-prohibitive. I would be staying home. Readers will want to know that I am aware of the benefits to my children of having me care for them. Readers will want to know that I am aware I ought to be grateful for the luxury of “not having to” work. Yes, readers, I am aware of those things, and I also want to say that being out of the workforce was a great sacrifice.
Staying at home is thankless and it’s grueling and the pay sucks. While it has some perks, they come at great risk, including diminishing value to the community (yes, I know this isn’t how it should be, but it’s the way it is), loss of economic advantage (no contributions to retirement plans or social security), erosion of professional street cred, disparities in relationships, etc. etc. Readers will want to know that I am aware that what I was doing instead — taking care of children — was of utmost importance. Readers will want to know that I am aware that I am selfish in saying I have needs and they haven’t been being met by staying home. I’m sorry, readers, I would have chosen differently.
I intended to go back to work once all three of them were in school all-day (Fall 2008), but my mom was sick and I was traveling great distances to see her. We lost her in 2009. I can’t believe it’s been two years, and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to catch my breath.
So there I was in the Fall of 2010 with a resume that could be read as follows: Carolee hasn’t shown up in an office since 1999, and she hasn’t done PR work since 2003. It was daunting. I applied for a few traditional PR jobs, and I didn’t even get an interview. And then I got lucky. I spotted a job posting for a PR/marketing person with social media experience. Could all the time I’ve spent with you — building and participating in community — have real-world (translation: economic) value?
I decided this was the time to embrace my story. I took a risk in my cover letter. Here is the bulk of it:
My professional background provides the strong public relations, writing and editing experience [Marketing Company] is looking for in a [Position Name]. In addition, for the last several years, I have used social media extensively (blogs, Facebook, and others) to reach my goals in the literary community. The power of social media thrills me, and I go after connections and opportunities with a spirit of adventure.
Much of my success in public relations came in my twenties and early thirties. When I took time away from that career to raise my family, I was pleased to discover social media almost immediately as an effective way to manage and promote myself as a writer and artist. I use these interactive platforms on a daily basis.
I would be delighted, as I return to the workforce in my late thirties, if there were a career opportunity that allowed me to work with social media while being informed by the foundation I have in public relations, writing and editing. While I very much enjoyed my years as a strict public relations professional, I do not want to go back to the old way of doing that work. I am interested in new frontiers in the field.
My letter and its accompanying resume piqued The Marketing Company’s interest, and after a couple months of interviewing (via email, via phone and via four in-person meetings), I was offered the job. Starting on Monday, in two days, I will be working as a PR/marketing professional who uses social media to create opportunities (relationship, good will and, of course, sales/revenue) for clients.
Of course, it is going to be a difficult transition. I won’t be able to socialize with friends and poets during the day. I won’t have as much time to write and chat. I won’t have as much time to edit, submit and network. I won’t have as much time to read. I will struggle more with juggling schedules of the 5-member household. I will have to say no to some fun things and so will everyone else who lives here. But it’s time. The disadvantages of staying at home now outweigh the benefits.
I need a different path toward feeling like a real person in the world. I need to feel as though I am making my own way. I want to work, and I want to earn. I want to contribute something other than I have been contributing. And I want to redefine myself. Say what you like about it not mattering how people see you, but it’s also extremely damaging when what people assume is miles and miles away from how you know yourself.
I have no doubt that I will struggle along the way. I am not known for grace, and I am not known for easing into and through anything. I am excited, and I am nervous. And the bright quality of that energy is so appealing (not just with this specific job, but with the decision to work again). It’s a brightness and energy I have never been able to attach to my personal experience as a stay-at-home mother. I know that’s not a popular thing to say.
I spent a lot of time admiring those women who glow and who flourish as full-time mothers. I haven’t been able to achieve it, and I gave it a good go. I even tried it Carolee-style — infusing more me-time than any other mom I know, adding a serious pursuit of a craft (poetry), traveling alone a few times a year, etc. But I have still been having a rough time with it. Something has been missing.