Bottom line: the kids come first Few aspects of motherhood are as complicated as the career vs. kid balance. I’m convinced that every mother, regardless of age, income, marital status, or years as a mom struggles at some point with how much time should be spent at home with her children, and how much time should be spent contributing financially. 

For the entirety of my parenting journey, now going on 10 years, I’ve considered myself a stay-at-home-mom. As I tell myself this I laugh, because the term “stay-at-home” is open to a great deal of interpretation, at least in my case. For me, stay-at-home has meant managing to avoid daycare costs by keeping the kids at home with me during the day. At one point that meant an exhausting routine of running out the door the moment my husband got home from work to my part-time evening job waiting tables. At another time, being a stay-at-home mom meant taking a full course load of online college classes, cramming in study sessions while the kids napped. And almost always, being a stay-at-home mom has meant pursuing my writing career in the background, often barricaded in my office with a pint of ice cream and my laptop, more often than not writing about those very battles that seem to come along with motherhood.

Still, despite my husband’s assurances that I’m doing more than enough to provide for my family, just by being there for them, cleaning, folding laundry, cooking meals, and doing all those other stay-at-home mom deeds, there’s always that nagging thought in the back of my head that I should, or at least could, be doing more. 

In my experience, few conversations between moms of little ones don’t at some point roll around to finding a part-time job, and the difficulties that come with it—finding childcare that doesn’t cost more than what that potential job pays, and the guilt involved in sacrificing time with quickly growing children to pursue a career.

One friend of mine, who also considers herself a stay-at-home, found a part-time job at her kids’ school last year. While she enjoys it, she often finds herself begging her husband for help with the kids on weekends while she plays catch up on grocery shopping, bill paying, and her role on the school’s PTA. 

Another friend began her own nonprofit last year, reasoning that despite her full-time job homeschooling her three children, she had more to give. I’ve seen her determination mix with her struggles in balancing these two high priorities in her life. 

Recently the career opportunity I’ve waited for since I was 5 years old all but fell into my lap. My initial reaction was to scream “Yes, I’ll do it!” from the rooftops.  I convinced myself that I could master the balancing act: homeschool my kids, keep the house in order, be a supportive wife, and take on a real career. For two days I refused to tell myself anything other than what I wanted to believe. 

Then, on the third day, things started to slip. A doctor’s visit revealed a medical issue with one of my kids that needed my full attention, the grocery shopping didn’t get done, and before we knew it we were a week behind on school. I begrudgingly admitted to myself that, no matter how badly I wanted everything at once, sometimes wanting something to work wasn’t enough. Timing is everything, and the timing just wasn’t right. 

It took a long night lying awake to come to peace with my realization. I simply couldn’t take anything else on. I’d made a commitment to myself long ago to put my children first, I’d made a commitment to them when I pulled them out of school to homeschool, and I couldn’t turn our lives upside down, not with so little of their childhoods left to get right. I had to choose selflessness for just a little bit longer. 

I won’t say that I didn’t mourn my decision, but I have learned to accept it without regrets, as I’ve had to with so many other sacrifices I’ve made for my kids and our family over the years. Like those other missed opportunities of the past, I tell myself that this one won’t be the last. When the timing is right, and someday it will be, my career will have its chance. In the grand scheme of things we parents only have a short time with our babies. This mom is going to enjoy it while it lasts.