I cut my maternity leave short for a better paying job

I cherished the time with my baby, but this is why I decided to put my career first.

Photo: courtesy of Sophie Nicholls Jones

I was done with nine to five. It was taxing. It was tiring. The morning rush. The evening apathy. Living for weekends—only to chore it out—was just no way to live. I wanted more quality time with my kids. I wanted flex hours. Once my mat leave was up, I was going out on my own.

I said it. I meant it. I even pursued it for six weeks with a business coach. I defined my target client. I had a business name. And then that job post popped up in my news feed. The role read like it was tailored just for me, plus I’d be reunited with a former colleague I loved.

stay-at-home mom debate Stay-at-home vs. working moms: Can't we share without being attacked? I took the plunge, reached out to her and applied. After all, I could always turn it down. Couldn’t I?

Turns out, I couldn’t, and I didn’t. I got the job. It all happened so fast. Application, interview and job offer, all within a few days. When I got the call, I stood phone in hand, cooing baby in arms, still sporting my interview blazer and slacks. I was stunned. What started out as a simple inquiry turned into an offer with a salary, bonus and benefits that seemed too good to turn down. It blew my current position that I was on leave from out of the water.

Should I take it and give up on my entrepreneurial aspirations and mat leave, only halfway through? I agonized over the decision. It, not my six-month-old baby boy, kept me up at night. My first thoughts: this is happening way too fast. I’m not ready to give up time with my baby, freedom from the workforce (I loved being on mat leave, this time as well as my first) nor the chance to work for myself.

I had 24 hours to decide. And I squirmed over it for 48. This is what ran through my head:

Denial. Wait a second, was I even serious about applying for this job? This can’t be happening. I never want to work again!

Fear. How could I leave my baby? We’ve barely been apart. I’m still breastfeeding and we co-sleep. What about child care? Who’s even capable of chasing my five-year-old home from school?

Guilt. Was I a bad mom if I chose a job over taking care of my child? What about the fun summer, just me and my boys? Would I regret this decision? They grow up so fast!

Sadness. I burst into tears on a dime because, regardless of the money made and career ambitions achieved, I would never get this time back with my baby. (My last baby, I might add.) And was I selling out on my aspirations to launch my own business?

After looking at the situation from every angle, I took a step back to think about what I truly wanted, rehashing the heart-to-hearts with my husband that ended with him saying, “I want you to do what makes you happy.” As women, and mothers, we have a tough time doing this. Our wants are connected to how they will affect those around us—be they our children, partners, even extended family. I just could not make this decision without thinking about how it would impact the most important people around me.

“We don’t make decisions outside of what our children need from us, what our spouses need from us,” says MiMi Dabo, of Life Coach for Women, whom I reached out to for advice. “We put our own dreams aside to make other people’s dreams come true.”

While going out on my own, with the flexibility that entailed, was certainly something I’d dreamed of doing, this opportunity was also a big move forward for me—professionally and financially. Ultimately, the good job and good pay equalled the best decision for my family. An opportunity like this wouldn’t be waiting in the wings after my mat leave was over, now would it?

“When we become mothers, something changes for us where we become increasingly concerned for the safety and security of our little ones,” says Lisa Kember, who runs the CEO peer network the Alternative Board. “And our financial well-being is part of that.”

With that in mind, I also reminded myself that taking this job now did not equal forever. Forks in the road come and go in life, and we can always switch direction down the line. And I certainly wasn’t the only woman to go back to work early while on mat leave. If I were a man, would I even be contemplating this?

Essentially, I pep-talked myself into it. I can do this and still be the loving mom of two boys I strive to be. My baby will be OK without me. He won’t forget who I am or bond with the nanny more than me. And my little boy, who pled for me to keep picking him up from school, will not resent me for finding other ways to spend time with him. I fear missing those fleeting moments, but I’ll catch and make the most of them when I am with my children.

The decision was by no means easy—it took one full month to accept that the job was right for me. But when life throws things your way, you must make an abrupt move—sometimes with trepidation leading the way. You work through all your feelings and come out the other side. Yes, there was guilt and sadness, but now there is pride and a sense of purpose in a new role. It’s a new beginning, of sorts.

mom sitting and posing with two sons

Photo: courtesy of Sophie Nicholls Jones

A few months into the job, I’m feeling good. After all that waffling—and that awkward transition of getting up to speed in a role—there’s finally a flow. Back to writing—after being in an editor’s role for four years—I feel challenged in new but familiar ways. I’ve realized how much I missed the creative process of building a story out of topics that are inspiring to me.

That colleague I mentioned is, once again, fantastic to work with. As a manager, she’s supportive, encouraging and on the ball. And as a mother of two herself, she’s understanding, flexible and someone to share and commiserate with. The best of both worlds, and a rare find in workplaces today.

As in any new job, there are bumps and grinds as I find my groove. Not to mention getting my head out of baby valley and into employment land again.

The best thing about my day is still not the nine to five. It’s the moment I walk through my front door and hear my eldest’s feet scurrying down the hallway to greet me with a “Mommy, you’re home!” while my baby stretches out his legs, curls up his toes and gives a one-toothed smile and a loud squeal at the sight of me.

Now that’s the stuff worth working for.

Read more:
A working mom’s tips for surviving summer vacation
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