For the last four-and-change years, I’ve never seen myself as anything but a working mom. I never had any real desire to stay at home with my two sons. Of course there have been moments of missing out that have made me wonder, but they are happier in daycare and preschool, and I have always enjoyed getting up and going to work.
It helps that my job was, on the whole, wonderful. I enjoyed fantastic, interesting, fun co-workers, fulfilling work, occasional cool travel, a fairly chill dress code and low stress. The pay was terrible; the benefits pretty good. It was a pleasant way to fill the time between 8 to 5, Monday through Friday.
Then I had my second child. As if that wasn’t enough of a life-changing event, he was diagnosed with various special needs — cerebral palsy, craniosynostosis, speech delays, visual impairment. In the beginning, I balanced it all. I had a meticulously kept schedule synced with my boss’ so she knew when I’d be in late because of occupational therapy or when we were flying out of town to see his neurosurgeon. I’d check my daily iPhone rundown first thing every morning. I never missed an appointment. I heard “I don’t know how you do it,” at least twice a week and wasn’t sure how to respond.
Months passed. We kept running. We picked up specialists, therapies, and diagnoses like they were going out of style. I scheduled harder. I guarded my paid time off like a madwoman. To their credit, my office was great. They never said a word about me coming in late, leaving early, running out of meetings to talk to a nurse on the phone about my son’s poop.
No matter how great they were, the mental work never ended. If I was running late, I found myself wracked with guilt and mumbling, “sorry, sorry, sorry” as I hustled in the door. There were always doctors to call, therapies to research, prescriptions to fill. He was admitted to the hospital three times in the span of six weeks. I felt like my employer deserved better than I could give. I felt like my sons deserved better than I could give. And, I knew that I deserved better than I’d been giving myself–sleepless nights, coffee by the gallon, and ignoring my own mental and physical health.
And with that, the decision was made: I would lean out. I would become a stay-at-home mom. My kids would continue to attend their amazing therapeutic preschool during the day, but I would have the flexibility to deal with the particular challenges unique to being a special needs mom. We got tremendously lucky that the finances worked out.
I cried when I gave notice: part relief, part sadness for the side of myself I’d soon be losing.
I am now just a few days out from my final work day, and, emotionally, I’m not sure if I’m ready. Will I feel lonely and isolated? Will I miss my old routine? There’s no question that this is what I need to do, but the fact remains that this will shatter the lens I’ve always viewed myself through: working mom.
About this series: Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy focuses on the challenges women face in trying to get ahead by taking charge of their own careers. This week on KCMB, our “Lean In/Lean Out” series will look at a number of the challenges associated with deciding to transition out of the workplace. View all posts in this series.