I considered naming my blog Drawn and Quartered, because that’s how I would describe being a working mom – like each of my limbs were being pulled in a different direction in one of the most brutal forms of execution ever devised (I have a penchant for the hyperbolic). I loved my daughter. I loved my husband. I loved my job. And I was failing all of them.
OK, I wasn’t actually failing any of them, but I felt like they were all getting my B level effort. My daughter was in day care for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. I did the math in my head all the time. After subtracting sleeping, commuting, and time spent at work, I was spending less time with my family than I was with my coworkers and clients, some of whom were certifiable. When I was at work, I was thinking about my family. “We need to get serious about potty training. There is so much laundry to do. I need to cook more. We aren’t eating healthy enough.” When I was at home, I was thinking about work. “I need to find a way to get in to work earlier in the morning. I need to do more outside of my client work. I need to show that I deserve the promotion I was just given. More is expected of me now. Am I being judged for leaving the cocktail hour to see my daughter before she goes to bed?” B level effort – there was so much more to be done.
I don’t like getting Bs, especially when I know I’m capable of more. During one semester of undergrad, I accepted a C in Biology so I could focus on getting an A in Calculus. It was better to relieve myself of the obligation to Biology, (who the hell needs to memorize the Krebs Cycle anyway?), and get my A in Calculus, than to work myself into a stress-induced coma only to walk away with two Bs.
So in March of this year, I quit my job. Not like a Jerry Maguire “Who’s comin’ with me?!” kind of quit, but more of a teary, “I’m so sorry!” kind of quit. It was so much harder to cut my employer loose than my thick-German-accented, jerk of a Biology professor. I really did cry, which made me feel embarrassed, unprofessional, and stereotypically feminine. I tried so hard to hold it in. I started off diplomatic and matter of fact. But my boss was so incredibly understanding, proud even, that I couldn’t help it. He told me that he thought what I was doing was brave. BRAVE?! That thought had never occurred to me.
I assumed that what I was doing was selfish and weak. Here I am, after generations of women have had to fight for the right to have a career, I’m throwing it away. I’m choosing to stay at home and care for my family. I’m choosing to spend my time on my own terms, and maybe even a little bit on myself. How dare I? How dare I put the full financial burden on my husband? How dare I abandon my employer, who praised me, promoted me, and needed more from me? How dare I waste the MBA I’d just spent two years to get? So what if I’m stressed? Isn’t everyone? Is B-level effort really so bad? Everyone else can do it, why can’t I?
But it’s not like one day I just threw my hands up and said, “I give up.” It was an extremely difficult decision. I spent months worrying about the repercussions. Despite my husband’s pushing me toward it, I worried that he would resent me for quitting. I worried that my friends and family would come to see me as a lazy housewife, lying on the couch all day eating bonbons. I worried that I would get bored. Grocery shopping, wiping up spilled milk, and watching 3-year-olds on the playground didn’t sound nearly as challenging and exciting as management consulting (granted, that depends on who you ask!). “What if no one will hire me once I decide to go back to work? What if I don’t live up to my own expectations? What if I’m not as good at all this as I want to be? What if I change my mind???”
In the end, this is what I wanted to do. The guilt was consuming me, and I needed it to stop. This is what I needed to do to be happy, now. I suppose I could have spent another decade of my life forcing myself to be OK with B-level effort, but so far I haven’t been successful. (If anyone has been successful changing a long ingrained, potentially inherited personality trait, please let me know!) I’d rather look back on my life and know that I always did what I needed to do in order to be happy at that moment, instead of making decisions that I hoped I’d be happy with in the future.
I still struggle with those fears. But overall, I am happier. I am a better mother. I am a better wife. And some day, when I’m read, I’ll be a better – whatever I wanna be when I grow up. I trusted my gut. I suppose that making the decision that makes me happy, in spite of all the fears I had, is brave.