Sitting on the Fence

jumpA lawyer friend of mine was in the middle of a trial when she had her first child. (That sounds pretty dramatic – she didn’t actually give birth in the courtroom!) She knew this was likely to happen, so she had a colleague second-chairing and ready to take over the next day when court resumed. She had her baby, was released from the hospital – and got back into court as soon as she could. Even though she was only there as an observer at this point, she needed to be there, needed to see her work through. The minute her maternity leave ended, she was back at her desk, happily drafting briefs.

Another lawyer friend also loved her job as a litigator. She thrived in the high-intensity environment and was very successful. However, when she had her first child, she took her maternity leave – and then quit her job as soon as her leave was up. She had always planned to be a stay at home mom, and the time away from work with her newborn confirmed this choice for her.

I admire the women who can be this certain –”I have to be at work” or “I have to be at home.” I am not those women. I am a fence-sitter, not ambivalent, but strongly pulled in both directions. I love what I do and have a feeling I’ll always need something to work on, but I also love being with my son and the routine of toddler-caring that I get to engage in with him on sick days or snow days.

Lately, I’ve been having a pretty difficult time at work. New boss, new expectations, some objectively unreasonable situations arising (for real — reasonable people who I know would be perfectly honest with me no matter what agree.) All of this is making me question my fence-sitting position. As we anticipate the increased daycare costs that a second child will bring, I wonder – is it time to jump off the fence into SAHM-ville? What is the formula for work effort, work stress, work costs (wardrobe, meals since I suck at brown-bagging, commuting, daycare) balanced by work fulfillment balanced by staying-at-home costs (activities, loss of income) balanced by stay at home fulfillment?

At what point do I say “f this” and jump into some combination of staying at home and working part time in a field I love or launching a venture of my own? Certainly, there is some empirical decision-making that can (must) enter the picture – our minimum household budget, my husband’s income and income potential, etc. But there are so many intangibles that I have no idea how to address.

If you’ve been on this fence, how do you know what the right path is for you and your family? What decision-making strategies have led you to the choices you’ve made?


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