I found my best life by making the decision to lean out.
When I had my first baby, I was told leaving him at childcare would get easier, but dropping him off for almost 10 hours per day, 5 days per week, never got easy.
It didn’t help that we lived in a town I wanted to leave. It didn’t help that I wasn’t that into my job. Although I appreciated supporting my family as my husband finished grad school, I hated feeling like I only saw my baby in time to feed him dinner and then put him to bed. Most of his awake hours were spent with someone else, and it hurt.
When I was able to make the switch to part-time work, my life leaned toward more of a balance. I had time for me, my family and work with reasonable compromises. I didn’t know how I’d ever handle working full-time after that. Little things — like making it home before dark in winter — was a game-changer. What I lost in salary, I made up for in freedom, although I was still paying for full-time childcare and still making it to the office by 8 a.m. five days per week.
Then we moved to Louisiana. Now I work from home; my kids stay home; and, finally, my day doesn’t start off with regret. I’ve heard people say they found staying home boring or lonely, but honestly that hasn’t been my experience. I think so much of that is because of where we live.
Here, I’ve found community. It waited for me at the splash pads, playgrounds and libraries. I’m never short of adult conversation. Everywhere I go, there’s someone who wants to talk. We find some way to connect.
Here, I’ve found culture. Museums, festivals, concerts and parades have delighted our senses. Whether we’re walking through a new exhibition, reaching out for throws or looking up at a big Blue Dog, we’re learning.
Here, I’ve found diversity. I can count on hearing different accents and languages at the park or store. Multiethnic families like mine are all over. My kids get the benefit of meeting new friends who look like them all the time.
Here, I’ve found rekindled love. This year marks the 15th year my husband and I have been together, yet I’ve never been more in love. Maybe it’s the sight of him helping our son climb picturesque live oaks. Maybe it’s dancing to our song live under fading sunlight in City Park. Or maybe it’s the go cups of daiquiris and local craft beer, but I’ve never been happier in my marriage.
Each day, I know there’s an adventure out there waiting. The hard part is choosing which one to pursue. Since I work a flexible part-time schedule from home, I have the energy and the time to make it happen. Since it’s New Orleans, so much is free or inexpensive that, even without a full salary, we can afford it. Turns out, I don’t need much more decadence in my life than sharing king cake with my loved ones.
I’m so glad I had the experience of working both full-time and part-time outside the home. Without it, I wouldn’t have found the financial freedom or the confidence to lean out. I would wonder if the additional income would mean as much to me as being able to go to two story times per week. Because I tried for years to make it work, I know without any shame that I chose the sacrifice that works best for me and my family.
One day when my kids are older, I’ll probably re-enter the traditional workforce. I’ll be years behind my peers — likely with a salary less than what I left with — and perhaps doing a job not reflective of my education or experience. Yet, I have a feeling that I’ll be at that desk, daydreaming about these days when my children were so little and I was so very happy.