I was putting my second child back to bed for the hundredth time, packing my kindergartener’s school lunch and trying to organize my house from the hectic day. My family room looked like Toys-R-Us threw up all over it – toys were everywhere.
I was pregnant with my third child. I was tired. I just wanted to sit down. I wanted the day to be over so I could relax and not be at someone’s beck and call every minute. As I finished making my daughter’s sandwich, I kept thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Signing the invisible contract
By “this” I meant the 24/7 non-stop parenting thing, and all of the bazillion activities that keep our lives and house in order. But, “this” is what I signed up for, right? I chose to leave my thriving public relations career three years prior to stay at home with my children. In a way, I signed an invisible contract to work at home. To be the 24/7 nurse, administrator, entertainer, cook, housekeeper and so on. I took a back seat from my career so my husband could focus on his. I was willing and able to stay home. I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. But I did.
I was feeling envious of my husband. He was often gone a night or two (or more) during the week. He got plenty of alone time. Going to restaurants by himself or with colleagues, working out without juggling child naps or wake-up times and getting to sit down for goodness sake – whether it was in his car or at his desk. In my eyes, he had it pretty good. But, on the flip side, I knew he too was tired. Being away from us didn’t mean he was on vacation – he was working.
Without calmly collecting my thoughts and knowing my husband was exhausted from the day, I told him how I was feeling. Our conversation (ahem, my rant) wasn’t all lovey-dovey. I was upset and he was my sounding board. I let him know “this” was bothering me and something had to change.
Giving to myself
That evening, I did a lot of soul searching. Maybe it was the first-trimester hormones talking, but I think it was the wake-up call I needed. Don’t get me wrong, I love being home with my children and it was the choice I wanted to make. But, I knew something had to give. Much to my surprise, the answer was actually me.
I’m not just talking about setting aside time for yourself to exercise or read a book. I was already doing that. I actually ran the Cleveland half-marathon six weeks pregnant with my third child. What I’m saying is we need to do something we love, something we’re good at. Too often, we get caught up in our children, husbands and the daily grind that we forget about ourselves. For example, my sister, also a SAHM, is going back to school to become a nurse – a profession she fell in love with after having a double mastectomy. One of my best friends, also a SAHM, just completed her master’s degree. Others started direct sales businesses.
My own personal story and the ones of those close to me kept me thinking. I shared my concerns with a dear friend and former colleague. She encouraged me to pursue a freelance gig for a professional contact who was searching for PR help. I wanted to immediately jump on board but I hesitated. I felt a lack of confidence from being out of the industry for a few years. My internal dialogue was holding me back.
“What qualifications do you have?”
“What’s your most recent project?”
“Why should we hire you if you’ve been out of the industry for XX years?”
For me, staying at home is by far the most challenging “job” I’ve ever had. There is ZERO alone time. Unfortunately, managing my three-ring circus (four, if you count my husband) and changing a diaper in the blink of an eye will only get me so far. That’s reality.
I’ve been staying at home for five years now. My kids are seven, five and one. I do plan to stay home for a bit longer – at least until my youngest is in school. Once I’m ready to re-enter the workforce, my ongoing fear is that I’ll be passed over for someone with more relevant skills and experience.
These fears coupled with the need to give back to myself ultimately lead me to say yes to the freelance gig. I took on my first project and my SAHM life started to change. I created more time for myself without my kids. Even if it was as little as five hours a week, it was the break I needed to be a better Mom. I was able to do something I was passionate about, get paid well and still be home to manage my circus. I went on to tackle other referral-generated work over a two-year period.
Getting my professional and personal house in order
Sure, a referral can go a long way, but I still needed to impress strangers who knew nothing about me, my work ethic or my skills. One thing that did work for me was to under promise and over deliver. I gave each and every project 110 percent. I presented ideas and pushed back with a different outlook. I often surprised myself. I was actually still good at my work. I resurrected my professional confidence – something I hadn’t felt in years.
Because my freelance work started on a whim, I didn’t have my professional house in order. No business cards, work samples, bio, rate card. I had nothing. For almost two years, I created something when someone asked for it. It wasn’t until this year I actually got ahead of the game. I contacted my former employer to obtain copies of my performance reviews. I used them to create an updated print and digital resume. I had a photographer friend from my son’s school take headshots of me. I purchased business cards and notecards to send hand-written notes. I was on the ball and ready to proactively seek work.
My professional house was in order, but my personal side needed attention. Freelancing often comes with the price of not knowing when work will show up. Someone needed to help care for my children when I worked.
Thank God for my family, friends, neighbors and babysitters who helped when I was in a pinch. But, I soon had enough of playing the juggling game and found a committed babysitter via Care.com. In order to be successful, you need to be available. Having help on hand when I need it allows me to be a better professional.
Getting better at “this”
I’m still figuring out my freelance gig. I’m a work in progress but I am light years ahead of where I was two years ago. The projects I completed turned into relevant work samples. Today, I’m much more confident about networking and talking about my work. In fact, my recent networking and freelancing resulted in two job offers (real jobs, not just freelance projects). What a confidence boost! I am not ready to sign an official contract, but those offers made me feel I’ve still got it. I made the right decision about starting up my career again.
I may have added more chaos to “this” life of mine. But, I can stay home and have a piece of my career. That’s important to me right now. The 24/7 parenting thing doesn’t get any easier, I think we just get better at it. Through trial and error, and fears and tears, we figure out how to be a stronger and happier person. In the end, we’re a better mother, wife, friend, sister and daughter because of the change we made to give back to ourselves. I think having part of my career back does it for me.
What about you? What do you do to keep “this” life of yours more manageable?