Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Bittersweet Choice of Quitting My Job

Another Guest Editorial - this is from Jayne Martin

The Bittersweet Choice of Quitting My Job

This week I decided after a grueling 6 months of regret, anger, frustration, guilt, and confusion to quit my job. I’ve worked in higher education for the past seven years, mostly administrative positions, but also teaching as well, which I really enjoyed. In August, I was offered a position in a brand new department on campus. Though I knew in my heart and gut that it was going to be demanding and the hours were more than I’d ever worked with my two small children, I took it. I look back on my decision, and I realize that it was one of those colossal moments of not trusting my instincts. I knew that I had doubts; I knew that I didn’t feel good about it, but what I really felt good about was that they wanted me. I know that I’m a good worker; I know that I’m capable. This kind of knowledge doesn’t come so easy in the world of parenting. Nobody says, “you really handled that meltdown situation with diplomacy,” or “what nice job you did coordinating that cupcake baking project.” And I am a person, for good or bad, who thrives on that kind of acknowledgement. So many needs are met for me through work: my need to interact with adults, make people laugh, teach people, create a project, think and respond quickly with ideas. And, of course, there is the money. For the first time in my working career, I was making more than my age, I had my own office, I asked people to do things, and they did.

But it came at a mighty high cost. I was up at 6AM to be showered, dressed, hustling my 6 year old into her school clothes, rushing her off to school. I barely saw my two year old. He became completely attached to my husband, asking for him for all things. I grew impatient with their behavior which was typical, kid behavior, but so unlike the adult interactions I had all day, that I could hardly focus on their needs. I was speeding twice a week to get to the bus stop before my daughter arrived. I was working late two other nights to make up the time. I was always running late for someone. I felt like a crappy worker and a crappy parent. I gave away my smiles and good energy all day long to people that I barely cared about and brought home grumpiness and exhaustion to my two little ones and my husband who was graciously doing more than his share to keep things afloat. It became increasingly hard for me to take off my “work” hat and put on my “mommy” hat.

It occurred to me that I have a choice; that all the hard work and demeaning jobs I took to put myself through college and graduate school really came down to this simplest of realizations: I can choose. For the past 6 years it’s as though I’ve been on autopilot; work hard, carve out a career, make some good impressions, be the person everyone thinks of to collaborate with, oh yeah, and crank out a couple of babies too. It never even dawned on me, that I have a choice. I know that not all women do, and I would never suggest that they are negligent parents because they are working full time to provide for their children. I certainly didn’t consider myself a negligent parent. I just recognized a shift in priorities that was happening in my family with two parents working full time. My husband and I were taking the easy way out of challenging childhood battles, we were not a united front on many issues, we were increasingly lazy when it came to meal planning, and encouraging our children to be active. We bought things we didn’t really need because we could. In short, we were consuming our lives, instead of living them.
What finally prompted my decision to leave is that I was just sick of rushing. I felt I was rushing away the best years of my life. The relationship that I build with my children now while they are young is the foundation for what we have during the early school years when they have homework they don’t understand, difficult friendships and they are faced with hard, ugly questions about racism, bombings, war, and death. This foundation will be shaken by the teenage years when they’re moody, argumentative and withdrawn. I’m building the structure for the relationship we will have when they are young adults, struggling with college choices, career decisions, love and loss. You get one time around on this merry-go-round, as they say; I want my time to mean something, and mostly I want this time to be remembered.

There will always be work because that’s the person I am. I know I need it; I know that a balance of having my needs met and meeting others’ needs makes me a better parent. I will continue to build my career, a few part time hours at a time. But I will also do the tremendously important and noble work of mothering, of being involved in my community, supporting my children’s’ school, of taking my kids to library story time. I will spend more time doing the work of planning healthy meals, looking for crawdads in the creek, teaching my kids to ride bikes. I will do the work of getting to know my neighbors, and taking care of what I have now, of loving what I have now.


Anonymous said...

Jayne, I admire your courage to have chosen to stay home. I too am preparing to make the adjustment of becomming a stay at home mom, leaving behind a similar career situation. Your sentiments were validating...almost to the point of tears.

Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

I love these guest editorials. Thanks to the blog hosts for the opportunity. It makes for such a rich, diverse blog. Yet with such strong, overlapping themes! And Jayne, I'm so glad that you took the time to write this piece. It opens a window on your life and your decision, which is really helpful and poignant. It sounds like you have already struck a chord with at least one person facing a similar choice. I applaud you for what you are doing.