Saturday, January 28, 2012

The decision to be a SAHM

Inspired by this post and link up party over at I Pick Pretty, where Mrs. Pretty discussed her decision to quit her job as an attorney and stay home with her son, I will tell you how I made (or didn't make) the decision to stay home with my kids.

After law school, I worked in a personal injury law firm for about 8 months.  I knew about halfway through law school I was going to hate being an attorney.  And I was right.  Working at that firm was not the worst work experience of my life (close, but not the actual worst), but I knew that I was never going to be happy doing that sort of work.  I dreamed of getting pregnant so I could quit and stay home with my kid.

Then one day, a gift from the gods fell into my lap.  My mentor from law school called me and said "there's a one-semester opening for a legal writing professor at a school in Georgia. You should apply."

I applied, never thinking that I would get the job.  Unbelievably, I did.  And I LOVED it.  I loved teaching. Grading, not so much. But teaching? Teaching is the awesomest job in the world. All of a sudden, I KNEW what I wanted to do with my life.

And then at the end of that first semester of teaching, I got pregnant. (On purpose. Dude, I was thirty, the world was ending if I didn't get pregnant rightthissecond.)

My old firm had extended an offer for me to come back in the spring when I was finished teaching.  When I came home, however, they decided that no, they didn't have room for me after all. So, there I was, pregnant and unemployed.  And then my alma mater law school called, asking if I would be be interested in teaching one class as an adjunct.  Why, yes, indeed I would! It was a pittance of paycheck, but it was experience on my resume, finished before the baby was due, and that was fine.

After that I finagled my way into a 2 year contract at my alma mater.  I got pregnant again in the first year of my contract and had Peter.  As the second year of my contract was starting, the Mister was offered a job in NYC.  We were living in South Jersey at the time, outside of any reasonable commuting distance, and thus we would have to move to northern NJ.

At that time, every single penny of my take-home pay went to pay for childcare. If you took into account gas getting back and forth to work and dry cleaning my suits, it was actually costing me money to go to work.  However, it was a job with really flexible hours for the most part, which allowed me to spend more time with the kids, and although I was making no money at the end of the day, it had excellent, cheap health insurance.  The Mister's law firm had the world's most expensive, crappiest insurance, so by insuring myself and the kids on my insurance, that put an extra thousand dollars in the Mister's paycheck every month. (Yes, the Mister's super-crappy insurance cost us over $1000 a month. The NYC job had much better and much cheaper health insurance, thank goodness.)

Also, I will admit that I was very much feeling pulled in two directions.  I loved my job, but I loved my kids more.  I wanted to spend more time with them.  I also sometimes felt like I was working so that someone else could take care of my kids, since my entire salary went to a nanny.  I would have really liked to work part time, but it wasn't financially feasible: either I taught full time for a reasonable salary, or I took a half load as an adjunct for less than 10% of my regular salary.

Since law school hiring generally takes place a year in advance, I needed to let my school know whether or not I wanted to participate in the permanent position search (I had been hired as a temporary visitor).  Had we been staying in the south Jersey area, I probably would have stayed with teaching, because I loved it.  However, since we planned on leaving the area, my decision was essentially made for me.  I told my school that I would not be returning when the school year was up.  I was not unhappy about it. I looked forward to spending some time with the kids.

To be honest, in my head, I wasn't quitting to be a SAHM permamently.  My plan was to sell our house, move to the NYC area, and find a job in NYC for the following school year.  So I looked at it as more of a yearlong sabbatical, rather than a conscious decision to stay home for years.

And then it took us two years to sell our house (hello, financial crash of 2008 and our house being worth much less than what we had just paid for it!), so the Mister commuted 5+ hours a day for two years, and then I found out I was pregnant with our third child...and so my grand plans to keep working didn't quite work out as planned.  We finally sold our house and moved to northern NJ in the summer of 2009.  I could have entered the fall hiring season for the NYC law schools but...Princess was one month old, and since I had 3 kids under the age 4, I was feeling a little overwhelmed.

I will admit that when I first stayed home with the kids, it was challenging.  After years of working on mental puzzles every day at work, my day was now defined by other people's bowel movements.  I also discovered that while I love babies (nom, nom, looooove babies).....babies turn into one year olds.  And I find the 1 yr + crowd to be much more work than babies.  Interact with me! LOOK AT ME!! Play with me! Attend to my every whim!  With babies (my babies, anyways) I could just say here, have a boob and a snuggle while I read the internets.

I guess the upshot here is not that I decided to be a SAHM, but that it just sort of happened.

Since my original decision to stay home was supposed to be a short, temporary one, precipitated by the easily explained "my husband's job took us to a new city", I didn't worry that much about finding a new job. But now, after years at home during a recession, I have thought quite a bit about how and when I will re-enter the job market.

Here is where this post breaks down--my thoughts about me going back to work are a post in themselves.  I don't think that there is a clear winner in the stay-at-home or go-to-work arena.  What works for me may not work for you, and what works for me today may not work for me tomorrow.  Neither is better than the other.  I could end with a rant about our patriarchal society that talks about how being a mom is the greatest job in the world, but acts as if a job without a paycheck is worthless....but that's also a post in itself.

At the end of the day, what I am at the moment is a SAHM.  And for now, I love it.


  1. My hubs would love to stay home with the baby, I make more $ but I'll be damned if I let him spend all that time with my baby when I don't! It's selfish, but I'd rather my kid be in daycare with other kids than me resent all the time he gets with our baby. I don't know how the money would work out, anyway. I know, I'm awful.

  2. Tiffany beat me to it....tons of blogger lawyers! My BFF is a former NYC lawyer and now takes care of her 4 kids. I must say, it is fantastic to have a BFF like that. She gives me endless legal advice...once I gave her 5 dollars. You can explain that one to your readers. I have never seen the acronym SAHM. I find being a SAHM is the most thankless job there is! My husband's favorite saying..."I already know I could never do this (Stay at home all day) job. So, why do I have to try?" Having said all kids are getting older 11 & 13. It is getting much easier.

  3. I find this so interesting. I love reading people's stories about how they decided to stay at home or go back to work.

  4. "I don't think that there is a clear winner in the stay-at-home or go-to-work arena. What works for me may not work for you, and what works for me today may not work for me tomorrow. Neither is better than the other."

    AMEN! It is so refreshing to read your post because you so clearly GET IT. It is not about judging other people's decisions. There is no One True Way. Yay you!

  5. I'm horrified that it has taken me so long to get over here & thank you for doing this - er, thank you! Very much.

    Loved hearing about this from another lawyer blogger (had no idea we were taking over the internets, but I'm on board!) with your own take on this. That must have been so difficult, having finally found a job you loved but knowing you wanted to stay home more.

    Though I obviously didn't love what I was doing, unlike you, I can relate to making the choice between most of my paycheck going to a nanny - only in order for me to continue commuting 2 hours each day - and staying home. I just couldn't justify that, even if I'd liked what I was doing more.

    (Speaking of commutes, your husband did 5 HOURS for 2 years? Golf claps to both of you for surviving that.)

    Also, I'm totally on board anytime you want to post rants about the state of maternity leave in the US and/or lack of help transitioning back into the workplace after taking leave.

    Also also, what Hush said above - 3 cheers for us all making the decision that is right for our respective families, which isn't going to be the same for everyone.

  6. This is definitely interesting to read -- especially as a lawyer at a big firm who hopes to have a family some day. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. Good for you!! I love the SAHM acronym!! The best job ever and I applaud you for your decision!! I had to work early on, then had the opportunity to be a SAHM, and now with my design business I am becoming more of a working mom. The beauty is that I can mostly do it while they are in school. I will never and hope you will never regret this beautiful time!!

  8. It is the toughest job in the world and yet the most rewarding. Time flies and before you know it your kids will be out of the house. You are fortunate to be able to afford to be home and sounds like you are enjoying your time with them and some day they will appreciate having had you at home. Great post!

  9. This post is so beautiful! I've been on both sides with five kids ranging from 18 to 6mos, as a mostly SAHM and now within the last three years as THE working/breadwinner mom with a 6 month old who nurses while I internets.

    There is no right answer.

    If you do get back to's a tip someone told me. It's been the best advice for taking care of family first. My shop door says..."By appointment or by chance" Bold faced on the "by chance".

    BEst to you!



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