As an ambitious 21 year old, I was driven by dreams of being the high-powered Artistic Director of my own theatre. I wanted to make inventive decisions and wear power suits. With a Bachelor’s degree and a couple of internships under my belt, I couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t get there by 30.
As I reached my mid twenties, I began to understand what the life of an Artistic Director was really like… long hours, few weekends and endless pressure. I was beginning to be more honest with myself about my personality and scaled my grand plans down from running the whole place, to managing a theatrical Literary department. A Master’s degree and a few more internships later, I got the dream job. On a rare occasion, I even wore a suit.
I liked the work, yet it was not the life-fulfilling experience I’d imagined it would be. As I approached 30, I had to get honest with myself about who I truly was and what I valued. I wanted time to spend with my loved ones. I didn’t want to bring the office home with me. Yet, I still wanted to feel like my contribution to a team made a difference.
After moving to Australia at 32, I was a professional nomad, trying hard but never getting very far at freelancing in theatre and working part-time jobs. I left an interesting job when my daughter was born, but told everyone that I’d certainly be looking for work again in three months.
Ha! Three bleary months into motherhood, returning to work was the last thing on my hazy, sleep-deprived mind. When I was finally able to lift my head out of the sand, my husband and I started having conversations about whether or not I would return to work. What did I value about work? What kind of a budget could we live on? What was my dream scenario? We both saw the value of me staying home with our daughter, and with a few sacrifices, we could make it work financially, but I was not immediately convinced that stay at home motherhood was for me.
If I’m honest with myself, my biggest hang up was not about the work of being a stay at home mum, but about what I feared others would think of me. I’d worked hard for my education and in my work life. Would my friends and colleagues think I was giving up or settling? Moreover, would my daughter, who I hope will be bright and independent, grow up without a strong example of a woman who can ‘have it all’?
Deep down, full-time motherhood was something that I did want for myself and my family. It may be old-fashioned, it may not be what I prepared myself to do, and I may never rock that power suit again, but staying home with my daughter aligns perfectly with the priorities I set for myself years ago. I have endless time for my loved ones. There is no office to take home with me. And the team to which I am contributing is my little family. No one else can do this job the way that I can.
My stay at home journey is really just beginning, as my daughter is nine months old. I love our days together. She is constantly fascinating to me, and I find a quiet bliss in spending my days making a beautiful and happy home for us. She’s not always the best communicator or tactful critic, but she’s the best office mate I’ve had.
There are moments when I still have niggling questions about the value of my choice. Struggling for the millionth time with the snaps on the wretched footie pajamas, a voice in my head screams, ‘What is happening here?! I studied dramatic theory in graduate school!’. As the women I know with babies my daughter’s age are beginning to return to work, I sometimes think that it would be dreamy to have whole days where I talked to adults who read newspapers and have a vocabulary that extends beyond ‘mamababa-aaaah’.
These moments of doubt can be weighty for me, who was raised on the idea that with hard work and a good education, the world is my oyster. When I question my decision to opt out of paid work, I tell myself what I now believe to be true: I can’t have it all. No one can. Having it all would crush you. Every single person makes sacrifices, and if we are lucky, we get to choose our own compromises. I have a lot, and what I don’t have matters very little. What I do have is an extraordinary gift.