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by Jennifer Fogliani
Being a stay-at-home with three young children is sort of like running a small day care. And some days I feel like calling it quits and going back to work.
In 2001, I graduated from Stanford. Soon after, I began an exciting and purposeful career in health care writing, covering topics such as life after cancer and health care for seniors. Eleven years and three kids later, I use my master’s degree in English to write grammatically correct grocery lists.
I became a stay-at-home mom because my salary barely covered the cost of childcare, but I was so focused on how great staying at home would be for my children that I never considered how hard giving up my career would be.
Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate certain things about the home front. I love the look on my daughter’s face when I show up in her classroom to help. I enjoy the peaceful evenings when I’ve cleaned the house and made dinner by the time my husband gets home.
With a husband who works long hours and travels frequently, our family functions better with me staying home. But, occasionally, when I sit at my computer and bounce a fussy baby on my lap, I look up at my Stanford diploma and wonder if I’ll ever find a way to make use of the degree I worked so hard to achieve.
The Bay Area is filled with highly educated, stay-at-home moms who, like me, have pushed their degrees and careers aside to devote their days to diaper duty and carpools. It’s sometimes a struggle, as we try to gain satisfaction from meaningful but unpaid work that has nothing to do with our professional ambitions.
There are moms who never settle into the role of stay-at-home mom and return to work. Others are grateful to leave stressful jobs and pour their talents into school boards and fundraisers. And there are some who manage to both stay at home and simultaneously have a career.
Teresa Rasco, deputy director of the WorkLife Office at Stanford University, has spent the last 15 years advising educated, career-minded women who struggle with their decision to stay at home.
“Stay-at-home moms still need stimulation and to feel like they are a viable member of society outside the home,” she says, adding that the answer may be as simple as going to a park and meeting other moms.
However long they stay at home, she urges that moms try “to savor every moment with your children – you never know when circumstances may change and you’ll find yourself back at work.”
Deirdre Ghiossi, of San Jose, loved her job as a high-tech recruiter, but she always wondered what it would be like to be a stay-at-home mom. She got her chance in March 2009 when she was laid off.
Ghiossi immediately appreciated certain things about staying at home. She enjoyed having more time to prepare meals and bond with her sons, Caden, 6, and Shane, 4. “I loved that, for once, I didn’t feel guilty about the drop-offs to daycare and turning my back on my crying child.”
Eventually, however, she decided she was happier at work.
“At my core, I am ambitious and I wasn’t able to translate that into my role at home,” Ghiossi says.
Staying at home also put financial stress on the family. So after five months at home, Ghiossi went back to work. She’s glad she got the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom but is now certain that both she and her family function better with her working.
When Joelle Lumish, of San Carlos, was about to give birth to her first child, she remembers being “very overwhelmed by the nanny process.”
She and her husband, both patent attorneys at a prestigious international law firm, figured they would need at least two nannies to cover their busy schedules.
After giving birth to her daughter, Alexandra, now 6, Lumish decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Soon after, she had another daughter, Samantha.
Today, Lumish enjoys having a large presence in their young lives, even though it’s meant giving up her career. She satisfies her intellectual side by taking advantage of opportunities like joining the board at her daughters’ preschool and volunteering in their classrooms.
“I’m the first person the teachers call when they need help because I always say yes,” says Lumish, who sometimes thinks about the day when she will go back to work. But it won’t be as a lawyer.
“I don’t feel like being a patent attorney is a job I could do part-time,” Lumish says, admitting that, in hindsight, she would have chosen a different career for herself, one that would be easier to do while raising children.
Rasco works with many women who would like to return to work but are overwhelmed by demanding jobs.
“Being a parent means you have to pick your child up from day care at a certain time and take them to the doctor when they are sick,” Rasco says. Some employers or some jobs don’t offer flexibility. But, she says, “it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Sara Cecchin, a writer and web designer, was excited to go back to work after having her first child, Joey, who was born six years ago. Her boss agreed to let her work from home half of the week, which to Cecchin felt like the best of both worlds.
But after having her second child in 2007, “it started to make less financial sense to pay for childcare for two.” It was also difficult to “say goodbye to a job I loved and a boss who had been so accommodating to me as a working parent.”
Being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t so easy, either. Cecchin felt disconnected from the working world and like she had “less to offer.” Though she loved being at home with her children, she yearned to be more than just their mom.
“I have a past, present and future self who loves to write and design,” she explains.
Cecchin stayed in touch with her former employer and, eventually, he hired her to help on various projects. These days, she does most of the work from home, but sometimes goes into the office. Recently, when Cecchin got dressed up for a work meeting, her daughter, Clara, was shocked to see that moms go to work, too.
Cecchin now makes a point to share her work projects with her three children, especially her two daughters. Cecchin wants her daughters to learn that women can be both a stay-at-home mom and have a career, “maybe not all at once – but it can be a give and take during their own mothering years.”
Just the other day, my own 4-year-old daughter, Josie, pointed out a day care center near our house and asked if she could go there to play. I told her it was just for children whose mommies and daddies work. She told me to get a job.
If only it were that simple.
Like many stay-at-home moms, I experience days when I’d give anything to drop my children off at day care and go to work. But there are also days when I’m perfectly happy at home, tackling tantrums and making play dough.
I hope that one day, perhaps when my three children are all in school, I can find a way to balance having a career with being a mom. Then, instead of feeling like a mom who was meant for more, I can finally become the mom who has it all.
Jennifer Fogliani is a parent and freelance writer who lives in Mountain View.
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If you are planning to return to work, see our article on page 42.
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This article makes some excellent points, and when I was a mother of three young children, I clearly remember the conflicted feelings of wanting to work but also wanting to be there for my kids and husband. "To everything there is a season", before you know it, the toddlers go to elementary school, then to secondary school, then they are gone to college or to careers. Hanging in there with children, whle they are young is, in my opinion, the best option. But if you must work, part time work is great, and once the childrlen are in school, juggling home and work is much easier. Now as a grandmother of 6, I find that working in my own business as a freelance researcher provides the best of two worlds: I love my work doing focus groups, and I also love being "support services" for my grown up "kids" and grandchildren. Enjoy the present moment, all you young Moms!
by Rosi Fontana
Half Moon Bay, CA
09/10/2012 - 11:54 am
As I was reading this article, I couldn't help but think that the term "Stay At Home" mom is really misleading. I don't know too many "Stay At Home" moms who actually stay at home. They are in their car, at the grocery store, back in their car, at the park, back in their car, at the toy store, back in their car, at ballet, back in their car, etc. I happen to know the author of this article and you just have to spend one day with her to realize she is anything but a "Stay At Home" mom. Those kids are always on the go.
I don't have any children so I don't know what it's like to bring children into this world and to make decisions that are best for your children, at the expense of your own dreams. Jennifer is someone who could do anything she puts her mind to. Skies the limit. From watching Jennifer raise her children, you would think that being a "Stay At Home" mom is her dream. That's how seriously she takes her role as a parent and "Stay At Home" mom. And of course, you can't forget the role of the father when he comes home from his job to give some relief to the "Stay At Home" mom. Jennifer is fortunate on that front as well.
La Jolla, CA
09/07/2012 - 07:19 pm