I Was a Stay-at-Home Parent and Then Went Back to Work

I Was a Stay-at-Home Parent and Then Went Back to Work

When I was 41, my youngest kid started kindergarten and I was bereft. I had spent more than a decade raising small children and now it was over. It felt like getting fired from the only job I’d ever been good at.

It was 2014, and I’d been writing for a few years. In 2010, I created a blog called “Days Like This” — as in “Mama said there’d be days like this” — about funny things my kids did. It was the heyday of blogging, and I was convinced this was my ticket to fame and fortune. It wasn’t: my posts attracted a dozen or so readers, most of whom I was related to. After about a year, I shuttered “Days Like This” and published a new blog, “Half a Cow,” about my attempt to cook — you guessed it — half a cow, or 187 pounds of grass-fed beef. For several months, I documented the meals I made using the meat which I kept stored in a deep freezer in my garage. It was awful. When Hurricane Sandy knocked out power on the East Coast six months into the experiment, I was ecstatic.

So, I guess you could say I was writing but doing so in a way that was extremely marginal, by which I mean exactly that: it fit into the margins of my life, nestled around pickups and pep talks and episodes of “Paw Patrol,” which were the requirements of my real job. I liked it that way. Since writing wasn’t my real job, I didn’t have to be that serious. I didn’t have to be that good or admit how badly I wanted it. But now with all three kids out of the house all day, I needed to decide if I wanted to move it closer to the center.

Parenting is full of separations, big and small, and the transition to full-day school, which often coincides with the start of kindergarten, is one of the big ones. That’s not to say the work of raising kids is over once they start full-time school — not by a long shot — but it does represent a juncture. For stay-at-home parents like me, the shift can trigger feelings of loss or a sense of “What now?”

That’s how Kate, an English teacher and mother of three, felt when her youngest started elementary school: “It felt like I was staring down the rest of my life.” The following year, she began teaching, picking up the career she’d left eight years earlier.

For Suzanne, a mom of two teens in Connecticut, returning to her previous career — working in and managing restaurants – wasn’t an option. “Restaurant work did not work with kids,” she said. So, when her youngest started full-time school, she enrolled in jewelry making classes, and today runs a jewelry business.

Carol, an artist and mother of three, was also relieved when her youngest started Kindergarten but for different reasons. “I felt like some air was let in and I was able to tap into more of the original me,” she said. Unlike Kate who missed the collegiality of the workplace, Carol welcomed the chance to have the space to continue her work as an artist and community volunteer. “By nature I’m an introvert and recharge with the quiet.”

For parents who continue working while their children are small, the transition to full-day school can be less jarring. Aimee, a lawyer living in Westchester, said the shift to kindergarten was pretty smooth because as a working parent she had always balanced her home and work life. But ask how she feels about her oldest heading to college in the fall? “That’s a different story.”

For me, any relief I might have felt having everyone in school was coupled with a sense of dread. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the work I was doing before I became a parent but worried about the long, uncertain road a writing career entails. And so I considered having another baby, something Carol said she did, too: “There was a window.” Aimee said she knows women who admitted to having another baby to push off this very question.

I wrote about wanting another baby in an essay I published in 2014 called “Last Call.” (Last call was a metaphor for my body which I believed was closing soon. One more baby for the road?) Reading that essay now, I can see I was grappling with both a fear of growing older and losing the currency that accompanies fertility and a fear of what came next. Choosing to commit to writing was scary and unknown. Choosing to have another baby, for me at that time, felt like safe, well-trodden territory.

My husband, bless his heart, understood this. “This isn’t about another baby,” he said. “It’s about fear.” And, deep down, I knew he was right.

TL/DR: I didn’t have another baby. I did keep writing. When “Last Call” was reprinted on a different website in 2017, my bio said I was working on a novel. “Write that novel,” wrote one commenter, herself a mother of four. So, I did. It came out this year, a few months before I turned 50.

People sometimes call their books their babies. I don’t. Only a baby is a baby. The fact is I chose not to have a baby and chose to write a book — and I very likely would not have the one if I’d had the other.

The end of those tender years before our children go to school is the beginning of a process of separation that spans years, and nothing about it is easy. Even now, having sent one kid to college and preparing to send another (oh, and that long ago kindergartener is now a high-school freshman), catching a whiff of Goldfish crackers or hearing the Blue’s Clues theme song can trigger a tsunami of nostalgia. But if you’re lucky, and lord knows I am, the relationship with your children deepens and grows with each leaving — as does your relationship with yourself. Because first days are called first days for a reason: they signify the start of something new.

Daisy Alpert Florin is a writer who lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children. She is the author of My Last Innocent Year, which is now in paperback. To hear more from Daisy, you can follow her Substack, Girls With Feelings.

P.S. A stay-at-home mom’s week of outfits, and three women share their midlife accomplishments. Plus, the ache of choosing not to try for another baby.

(Photo by Alexandrena Parker/Stocksy.)