This time last year, I was frantically searching the internet for wisdom and advice. After seven years as a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I had made the decision to go back to work. I didn’t personally have a lot of friends in my situation. Most of my SAHM mom friends did not intend to go back to work; my working mom friends had never been a SAHM. I found a few blog posts and podcasts on the topic, but mostly I pioneered this journey alone.
Now that I have finished a full year back at work, I want to share my experience if you are also returning or considering returning to the workforce after an extended time home with children. This is not a how-to guide because every situation is so different. Whether you’ve chosen to return to the workforce on your own, or going back to work is a necessity, I hope my experience sheds a little light and hope that you can do this!
Making the decision is half the battle.
In my case, I never intended to be a stay-at-home mom. After our first baby, we moved a few times, had two more babies, and before I knew, I had been a SAHM for seven years. I always felt the tug to go back to work, but just couldn’t figure out timing. I finally made the decision to start looking for jobs when my middle child started kindergarten. That would mean only having to pay for one child in daycare.
Okay, I know I said this wasn’t a how-to guide, but I do have one piece of advice: get on the daycare waitlists early. If you are planning to go back to work, put your children on daycare waitlists about a year before you want to start work. My youngest was on a waitlist for about eight months before he got a spot. He’s still on some waitlists 18 months later.
Those first few weeks are about survival.
I knew going back to work would be a big transition for the whole family, but I underestimated how hard those first few weeks would be. I compare it to the first few weeks with a newborn. You have to figure out a new way to do everything.
My husband and I realized really quickly that we needed to adjust several roles we had played up to that point. As the stay-at-home mom, I had primarily been responsible for laundry, cleaning, meal planning and preparation, bill paying, and all the kids’ things (clothes, shoes, schedules, etc.). Now that I was not home 40+ hours a week, we re-divided those responsibilities. I think this was an essential part of my successful return to work.
After the initial transition, I grew to love our new way of life.
People like to debate which is harder: being a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. I feel like I can confidently answer this question. They are the same amount of hard, in different ways.
I didn’t realize how much I thrived under a schedule and routine until I went back to work. I found being a SAHM really hard, but I could never really articulate why. I love my kids more than anything. I loved the years I spent at home with them. I loved the freedom of going anywhere, anytime. But still, I found it really, really hard.
For me, the routine and structure of getting up every morning and going to work gave me the mental clarity to be a better mom. I have a fairly stressful job, but my anxiety went down when I returned to work. My mental health improved as a working mom. I know this is not the case for every mom out there, but it was true for me. I love having a job of my own, something that is mine.
I found logistics to be the hardest part about going back to work. It is very difficult to find time in our schedule for all the things we want and need to do. Doctor appointments are hard to schedule around work. Getting kids to activities is difficult. Figuring out who stays home with a sick kid is an absolute nightmare. I’m not sure we would have made it without my mom who became Sick Kid Daycare.
Looking back on a year of working full-time after seven years at home with kids, I am proud of what we accomplished. Our whole family worked together to make this transition a good one. The kids were more flexible than I thought they would be. The baby in daycare? He absolutely loves it. I thought I might be crippled with guilt, but I love the extra people he has in his life to love him and laugh with him. He is happy to see them in the morning, AND he is happy to see me in the afternoon.