In June of 1995, just after graduating from college, I signed up with a temp agency, to work a bit while searching for a full-time job in my field (mathematics). For the next couple of months, I worked odd temp jobs, which involved entering a tremendous amount of data into various databases and answering countless phone calls. Not the most enjoyable or exciting work, but it helped pay off some of my student loans.
Very little stands out from those two months, other than meeting one particular temp, whose first and last name I still remember. She was a mother of three girls who was getting back to work after a decade spent raising her kids. She dressed in a business suit every day. One day, I asked her why she dressed up so much for a temp job (the rest of us wore business-casual clothes). She told me that it was hard to get back into business—and be taken seriously—after a decade out.
By late August, I had a job offer at a well-respected consulting firm, crunching numbers and making a decent starting salary. My temp friend sent me a sweet, handwritten note wishing me luck and success in my new career.
My consulting job was soon off to a good start, until one evening, early on, when I was working late with my supervisor. She made a phone call—a call that was not meant to be private, as her office door was open. My supervisor asked her husband to put her baby on the phone, so she could say goodnight to her. The child was not yet old enough to speak. So, mom cooed into the phone and told her daughter that she loved her. It was a brief conversation that saddened me to my core. I tucked my emotions away in my 22-year-old brain and returned to my work.
The consulting job continued for the next couple of years, until I met a wonderful man whom I followed to another city, and later married. I began working in the field of publishing, which seemed to have more reasonable, family-friendly hours. I was even able to continue freelancing part-time in publishing after the birth of our first child.
Suddenly, after about two years, our toddler decided that napping was over. Suddenly, I had no time at all to fit in my freelance work. I had, rather quickly and unexpectedly, become a full-time stay-at-home mother. And quite surprisingly, I didn’t mind.
In our middle-class community, there was quite a range of parenting styles. Some moms worked full-time, others worked part-time, and still others were home with their kids. There were even a few stay-at-home dads in the mix. No parenting arrangement seemed unusual.
In the coming years, as our family grew, I met and befriended many other moms who were at home (either full-time or part-time), just as I was. What amazed me most about these women was, in addition to their commitment to their families, their intelligence and their absolute dedication to volunteering in their kids’ schools and in their religious communities. Yes, these women spent many hours chasing after children, wiping bottoms, doing laundry, and cooking. But they were also making meaningful contributions to their community, just as their working counterparts were.
For a full decade, I embraced my life as a stay-at-home mom, feeling lucky that my supportive husband had a career that enabled me to do so. I loved watching our kids grow. I loved being fully involved in each new developmental phase. And I loved being a part of my community of stay-at-home moms.
Then last school year, as our third and youngest son entered kindergarten, I found myself in the very same shoes as my temp friend, two decades prior. I was feeling ready to go back to work—at least part-time—and I wondered if I’d be taken seriously, after being out of the workforce for so long.
Lucky for me, there are many part-time jobs in my kids’ school district. The professionals with whom I volunteered over the years served as my references. And now I am on my way, with two part-time jobs—just enough work (outside the home) for me right now. Catching up on the technology that I missed in the past decade has been both fun and challenging. And I am learning a great deal about the inner workings of our local public schools.
Yet, I can’t help but think of my temp friend—and wonder if she had the same good fortune to find work that meshed with her family life.
Right now, I don’t know what will come next, as I crave further challenges beyond my current part-time jobs. I am working on it. In the meantime, I still have time to volunteer in both my Jewish and secular communities. I still have the time I need for my family. And almost every night, I am home to say good night to my children in person.