Photo: LearnVest / Marisa Costa
Eight years. I’ve spent the last eight years of my life as a stay-at-home mum.The thing is, I didn’t quit my job to be a stay-at-home mum. I was pretty happy as a working mum. My two young children spent their days with a lovely nanny, and my husband was doing more than his share of helping out with the kids and the house.
I really just wanted to see what it was like to stay home with the kids–take a few weeks off to rethink my marketing career and re-energize myself as a working mum.
My, how time flies.
Now, a new survey has found that non-employed women with young children at home are more likely than their working counterparts to report experiencing sadness and anger.
This, of course, has me thinking back on my own situation, and realising … I totally fit that bill.
What My Stay-at-Home Life Looks Like
As a stay-at-home mum with the heart and soul of a working mum, I made it a priority to weave “professional” me time into my busy days filled with housekeeping and child care duties. I found time for freelance writing, and tried to nurture my love of fiction writing.
But no matter how much I tried to squeeze out more time for me, I always seemed to come up short–and found anger and resentment tugging away at my happiness.
The worst part was I couldn’t figure out why I was so angry and bitter. I found myself short-tempered with my kids constantly, overreacting when my two-year-old age appropriately spilled juice all over his brand-new shirt, or when my nine-year-old daughter would forget to brush her teeth.
I was frustrated with all the housework that seemed endless, no matter how hard I worked, organised and planned. Sure, my husband contributed to the housekeeping, but it was never enough. Like many couples, we found ourselves playing the “who does more” game, and had to carefully manage the resulting friction.
I didn’t have to be a stay-at-home mum. I could have gone back to work. But as I got more involved with the stay-at-home mummy culture (meeting friends at Starbucks for coffee after drop off, helping out during bake sales and other fundraisers, volunteering my time to help out in the classrooms, etc.), I was plagued with the guilt that staying home with my kids was the “right” thing to do. I told myself how lucky I was that our family was fortunate enough to live comfortably on a single income. I should seize the opportunity and enjoy it.
Plus, how could I go back to work in marketing or sales after having been out of the workforce for so many years? I felt stuck–like I was falling deeper into a hole I’d never be able to escape.
How I Hid It … Well
But that was me on the inside. I suspect there are loads of stay-at-home mums who appear perfectly happy on the outside, but secretly wage internal battles with anxiety and depression.
On three different instances I was offered a Xanax by a mum to go along with our glasses of wine while accompanying my child on a playdate. I wouldn’t say stay-at-home mums are handing out Xanax like candy–but it’s definitely carried around in more than a few handbags.
Fortunately, I never allowed my spirits to fall too far, and I was able to ward off full-blown anxiety and depression when it beckoned. I made sure I went to the gym a few times a week, and hired a babysitter for a little “me” time here and there. I refused to feel sorry for myself for too long, despite the fact that my plan of staying home with the kids for only a few weeks had turned into a few years. After all, I was choosing this.
Of course, there were many days I wondered why I was spending so much time folding laundry and organising cabinets of sippy cups. After all, I had an MBA from NYU and had most recently held a senior management position at one of the most well-known publishing companies in the world. I just couldn’t believe how much I’d changed as a person–from the go-getter career woman that I once was to the tired, bored housekeeper that I felt like I’d become.
The frustration nagged at me, but mostly, I ignored it, distracting myself with volunteer work and other commitments that allowed me to interact with adults and made me feel like I was using my brain.
Deciding to Make a Change
Yes, I love my kids more than I ever imagined possible. I am grateful for each and every 9 a.m. school concert that I was able to attend, every 4 p.m. Brownies meeting I was able to lead and every weekday class trip I was able to chaperone.
There is no happiness substitute in the entire world for making my two-year-old son laugh hysterically as I chase him around the playground, or playing catch with my son in the backyard afterschool. I savour these moments every day and know, without doubt, that these are the childhood highlights that I will look back upon fondly 20 years from now.
But all mums know there are times in life when something’s gotta give. When you have to listen to your inner voice that tells you to make a change. To just go for it.
I felt stuck–like I was falling deeper into a hole I’d never be able to escape.
Of course, change is never easy, and deciding to dust off a résumé and actually send it out with a cover letter was a daunting task, to say the least.
Last summer, I wasn’t ready to just jump in full-time right off the bat, so I searched for a “baby step”–something part-time or freelance to get me going in the right direction. After a few weeks of scanning the web for job postings, I found a maternity fill-in position that fit my job experience and skills perfectly–Sales Director at a digital media company.
I applied for the job, got the interview and managed to deal with the stress of how I’d explain the gap on my résumé. I took the questions (and resistance) in stride, not ashamed to admit that I’d been a stay-at-home mum, but at the same time making a point of explaining how I’d kept abreast of the digital media industry and was very enthusiastic to start working again. I knew the most important thing was finding the right employer fit–someone who was able to look at my past accomplishments and realise that I’m extremely capable if given the opportunity.
I was offered the job a few days later.
When that position ended in December, I was a new person. Boosted by the confidence gained in my temporary job, and the surprising ease with which I’d been able to transition back to life as a working mum, I began to look for a full-time, permanent opportunity. My husband, who works in finance and is feeling the squeeze of the bad economy, was thrilled at the idea of adding another income stream.
From Full-Time mum to Full-Time Job
Now, after eight years of devoting just about all of my waking hours to raising three kids (and after five months and 20-something interviews), I’m trading in my days filled with diaper duty, clothing struggles and mealtime disaster cleanup for a working mum’s life of meetings, commuting and occasional missed bedtimes.
Yes, as of this past Monday, June 4, I’m working for a digital media company as a sales director.
Will I be happier with my new life as a working mum? According to the Gallup Poll, the odds are in my favour. In addition to the sadness, anger and depression that stay-at-home mums allegedly feel, the poll also found that employed mums are about as happy as working women without children.
No study such as this would ever convince me that work is the answer to every woman’s happiness. It is a personal choice, and one that I’m approaching with my eyes wide open.
Am I excited to start my new job? Heck yeah. Nervous? Heck yeah. Is going back to work full-time really the answer to my ultimate fulfillment and happiness as a mum? Time will tell. I would have preferred to find a part-time job that offered me more work-life balance and the same upside potential and benefits that a full-time position does, but those gigs are about as hard to find as Barbie’s earring in a bucket of Legos.
In today’s economy, I’m just thrilled to be able to actually land a good job. And, hey, what do I have to lose? If this job doesn’t work out, I know my current employer will be happy to take me back.
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