Why I Can’t Lean Out

Lean out? I’d do it in a heartbeat. 

No, seriously. I’d say goodbye to co-workers, adult conversations in the break room, projects and emails and a steady paycheck if it meant I could be a stay-at-home mom. It’s all I ever really wanted to do – be a mom and stay home and raise the kids. Maybe it’s old fashioned but I’m not a career-driven woman with lofty goals of becoming a CEO; maybe it’s because at 31 years old, I’m not quite sure what I want to be when I grow up. I haven’t found my passion, if you will, outside of my family and my kids. 

So yeah, “see ya” 9-5 desk job. I’ll be over here managing the household and planning play-dates, crafting with my kids, breaking up fights, changing diapers, wiping runny noses and trying my best to make sure they turn into decent human beings while we wait for Daddy to get home and save us all.

Except that I can’t. I can’t “lean out” even though I very much want to ditch the corporate world. In addition to my dream of being able to stay home with the kids, my husband and I have other dreams, too. Dreams that include moving into our desired neighborhood so our family had room to expand, the kids could grow up with other kids their age and attend great schools. Dreams that include taking family vacations, contributing to both of our retirement accounts, putting money away for our children’s college education and saving up an emergency fund. Dreams that require us to be a dual-income family. 

When we were discussing our plan for our family and future, my husband and I discussed the different scenarios. We could’ve downsized, cut out a few expenses like cable and trips to Starbucks and stick to the list (and ONLY the list!) when shopping at Target. Maybe we only have two kids and call it good. Maybe then we could make it work and I could stay home with the babies. 

But, remember all those other dreams listed above? I decided to put one dream on the back burner to hopefully turn those other dreams into realities.

Now, I should mention that my work situation has changed since I became a mom. I think a lot of moms go through this when they start having kids by weighing all of the options. The pros and cons of working outside the home or cutting back or changing careers. I work for a small company and after my second child was born, they allowed me to transition to working from home on a full-time basis. 

Some might say I get to be that “stay at home mom” of my dreams. And to an extent, I suppose I do. The nature of my job allows me to keep the girls home with me while I work during the day. With the exception of sending my oldest to preschool two mornings a week, the kids are home with me 100% of the time.

But I still have to work. I still feel the ever-present mom guilt. I still have to manage my time. I still have to keep all of the balls in the air. My family and my job depend on it but this is the best situation for our family at this point in the game. And I’m lucky – I know I’m lucky and in no way complaining – but I still wish I could be just a mom. Especially when they’re still so young.

mom life meets work life…

The kids will be in school soon enough and maybe then I’ll need (or want?) to return to office life. But then again, maybe not. Could you imagine the amount of work I could get done in a quiet house?! I love my kids, but they’re loud sometimes. Like, really loud. 

In the meantime, I’ll continue answering emails while bouncing a toddler on my lap, scheduling calls around nap time and apologizing to my boss when someone screams in the background at the most inopportune time in hopes that one day we’ll be able to take the Disney World vacation. The kids will be all right whether I’m home with them or not. 

No, I can’t “lean out” but I’d “lean in” for them any day of the week.

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.

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