I always knew I would be a working mom. My mom had stayed home with all of us and watching the consequences of those choices shaped my view. I truly felt she would have been happier if she had the chance to continue to pursue some of her passions outside the home. I also spent a lot of time, work and money getting my degrees and establishing myself. I adore my kids, but my career has always been a big part of my identity too.
Recently, I decided to take a corporate career break. It’s been a really tough few years on many fronts. And I just need to hit the pause button, although it wasn’t simple or easy for me. I agonized over the decision, but in the end I realized I really needed more time and space to figure out what is next. I still “work.” I founded and run a not for profit called Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund, focused on increasing educational opportunities in Ethiopia, my daughter’s birth country, and that takes a lot of my time and energy. I write and have a number of public speaking gigs lined up this fall.
But am I still a working mom if I am not getting a regular paycheck?
A lot has evolved and changed since my early years in my career and as a mom. My eldest will be 22 early next year and my 25th law school reunion is fast approaching. My view of what is most important to me has moved from titles and compensation to impact and reach. My view of what makes a good mom changed too. I have come to understand I am more of a coach and a guide to help my kids discover the answers that work for them, and, in some ways, we are on the same journey just with different goals and more or less real-life experience to rely on for answers and options.
I have learned a few interesting things so far in my pause. First, no one seems very comfortable with me not working. It appears many want to help me find my next thing. I, too, find a natural pull in that direction. It’s been a rare conversation where I share my lack of plans for what’s next and I get an affirmative response of understanding. Not surprisingly, it most often comes from someone with a similar life experience. My kids, too, don’t quite know what to do with my “in between status.” My youngest said, “I like it. Is that OK? I also liked when you worked.”
I don’t feel like I am not working. It’s just different. Strangely, I find there still aren’t enough hours in the day. I have years of to to-dos backed up, including piles in almost every room of my house. Things I had pushed down or to the side because I didn’t have time and energy to deal right then. I am trying hard to say “No” to new requests and just honor those I already committed to before. I am trying to stay right here, and avoid figuring out what is next just yet.
Everyone seems to have uses for my “free time” as if it is an unlimited supply. I was hoping for more sleep, exercise, time to think, to breathe and be with those who are precious to me. I am getting some of all of those things, but not nearly what I expected.
So the answer for me is, yes, I am still a working mom. My identity is and always has been more than what I do in my home or with my family. But I have a new appreciation for those whose identity is “stay-at-home mom,” because if I am totally honest, I am sort of one of those right now too.