By Guest Blogger Lisa Levin Reichmann, a former big firm attorney who left her career behind for at-home motherhood.
Major magazines and newspapers devote lots of ink to work/life balance, and they often analyze why women have diverted their careers onto “the mommy track.” As much as I am a former perfectionist, high-achieving, driven professional, I can’t really relate to those discussions because I did something unimaginable to many of my former colleagues: I jumped the track altogether.
Despite a degree from a top-10 law school, high-paying positions at top international law firms, and sizable law school debt, I chose to leave the legal profession to raise our three children full time. And in what may come as a surprise to some, I do not miss my profession; I have no desire to go back to doing what I was doing before we started our family.
Even prior to having children I made the decision to move from practicing law to law firm recruiting. That decision in and of itself was questioned by a lot of people who didn’t understand how I could do something other than practice law after working so hard to get a law degree — especially because an attorney position is considered to be much more prestigious than a staff position within a law firm.
But I loved the human interaction involved in my recruiting position, especially the mentoring and friendships that came with being the “mother hen” to the law students coming into my firm for their new positions. In fact, I loved my job so much that I used to tell my husband that he could be the stay-at-home parent once we had kids, as there was no way I could ever imagine leaving my job and being a full-time at-home mother.
But then we went through two years of infertility treatments and six rounds of in vitro fertilization. One doctor told us we’d never have biological children; we took an out-of-state trip for the last “Hail-Mary attempt” that resulted in a pregnancy and the eventual birth of our now almost 4-year old twins. After going through all of that emotional turmoil, there was just no way I could see myself returning to work and leaving our children.
All of the sudden, the work that had seemed so important to me seemed inconsequential when compared to the job of raising my children. Luckily, by making some significant financial cuts and budgeting to live within an income half of its former size, we were able to make the decision to have one parent stay at home with our children. And fortunately, an understanding husband let me go back on my previous promise and we decided that I would get to be that parent.
So many people seem surprised that I left everything behind to focus on raising our children, and even more so to find out that I have no desire to go back. I do not miss the “intellectual stimulation” or “adult interaction” so many of the mothers I know claim as the reasons they need to return to work. I am not “bored” nor am I “unchallenged.” I have found raising three children under the age of four (yes, three kids — 11 months after having our twins I found out I was spontaneously pregnant with our third child) keep me more challenged than even my most challenging for-pay job. I am also am very active in volunteer activities and a competitive marathon runner and triathlete. I definitely don’t feel bored or lacking for intellectual stimulation or adult interaction.
The decision to jump off my career path to raise our children full-time has not been without drawbacks. Primarily, it has required significant financial sacrifices. While I know we’re lucky to be able to afford to live on one salary, it has required cutbacks and decisions to live with fewer and less expensive material goods than we would have if both of us had an income.
And the guilt that comes with not bringing in any income has, at times, consumed me. Even though my husband is entirely supportive of my role as an at-home mother (and has never once said anything to make me feel guilty about not contributing to our household finances), it is hard to avoid feeling useless after contributing to half of our family income for so long. I pick up small odd jobs from time to time, either for my father’s company or other opportunities that have cropped up, but while that helps with some spending money, I know we could be so much more comfortable financially if I made a more regular, sizable salary.
Another consequence is that I now have no idea what I am going to do when our children are in school and I can actually go back to making money (which I will have to do at some point if our children ever plan to go to college). Whereas my job criteria before kids focused on prestige, title and responsibilities, now I’ll be focused most on a flexible schedule, the distance from the kids’ school and pay. I am nervous about finding something that will fit around my job as a mother but hope that when the time comes, things will fall into place.
In the meantime, though, I feel totally unfocused and lacking direction while I watch my former law school classmates make partner, become tenured professors, and publish books and treatises. For a Type-A, driven person who always thought I knew what I wanted to do in life and had a concrete plan to follow, the lack of direction is quite unsettling.
In the larger picture, though, the consequences for us are really minor when compared to the benefit of having one of us with our children full-time. I can deal with saving money on clothes and giving up expensive vacations and restaurant meals, and although I am proud of my classmates who have gone on to great achievements in the legal field, I have no desire to do what they have done.
After spending the last four years parenting, any other job just seems inconsequential. I know some people don’t understand how someone in my position could just jump off the track, but it has been the right decision for us and I feel content — and fortunate — to sit on the side of the track and watch the other trains pass by.
Lisa Levin Reichmann is a full-time mother of 3 ½ year old boy/girl twins and a 2-year old daughter living in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
Originally posted on Becky and Hollee, a wonderful website for women looking for insight into how to enjoy a balanced life.