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Finding the Right Balance

Tough choices, big rewards

Our daughter turns 3 next week. She’s becoming a little person.

As we celebrate her birthday, I’m especially grateful for having been able to share these first years with her at home.

That’s because two and a half years ago, my husband and I made a tough decision: For me to leave my full-time job. 

I agonized over it, wondering how, financially, we’d be able to get by. I had worked full-time for 20 years, establishing a good career with a good paycheck. How would we manage on half of what we were accustomed to making — with a baby just added to our family?

And how would I adjust to not working, when, for so long, my career had been a big part of my identity?

I stayed up at night worrying about it. But after much discussion, number-crunching and deep breaths, I left the full-time working world. I knew I wouldn’t get another chance to raise my daughter, and I didn’t want to miss it.

My husband was incredibly supportive, but still, I felt a little guilty about not bringing in any salary. And it was weird, even a little scary, to be dependent on him for money. I hadn’t been financially dependent on anyone for decades (since I left my parents house at 21). 

At the same time, I was happy to be at home with Julia, witnessing so many of her milestones: crawling, then walking, then talking. Some days were tough, tougher than going to “work.” Some days I wanted an escape. But I never regretted our decision.

I quickly began to network to find a part-time job. For me, like many moms, that’s the ideal situation: A flexible, part-time job. 

I was lucky: I found one — and one that I liked. 

I teach part-time at a college now. I also freelance on the side (like writing this column.) I don’t make even close to what I used to, but it’s enough to pay the bills and even throw a nice birthday party for our daughter.

I’m working toward a master’s degree, too, in hopes of landing a full-time teaching job when Julia is in school. 

I know we’re fortunate: We had the choice for me not to work full-time. Many moms don’t.

I was reminded of that again recently when a friend described stay-at-home moms as a dying breed, and when another friend agonized over having to go back to work full-time.

I always thought I’d handle the balance of work and children like so many of my good friends and great moms. One friend is a doctor, an OB/GYN, and has three kids. Two others are journalists each with two or three kids. They always made motherhood and career look so easy. 

But it’s not. I don’t know any mom who will say otherwise.

I’m grateful I’ve found the right balance for me — and I think, my husband and daughter, too.

So Happy Birthday, Julia. Glad I got to spend these first few years with you. 

Kaye Spector (Editor) October 03, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Hi Susan! Great column. I think the nicest thing the Plain Dealer did for me was to give me a year off to stay home with my son when he was born. Now I'm working at home and am so grateful for that, every day.

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