From the ripe ol’ age of 15 I was slapped with a worker’s permit, along with a uniform and union wage at the end of a check out line at our local grocery store bagging groceries. The moment I could work, I was put to work. This actually started earlier than 15 with the chores and creative punishments that never involved grounding but instead, any type of housework or outdoor work my parents didn’t want to do. Like filling up an entire bucket full of crab apples or a garbage bag full of weeds. To this day I loathe pulling weeds.

My work ethic was the cream of the crop, which I’m sure most employers these days would pray to anything sacred to meet at least ONE applicant with the same values. You can’t find it nowadays and I am damn proud of it. Honestly I don’t know where I got it from but I’m sure my mom had something to do with it as her work ethic has always been above the norm. And as a serial people-pleaser, I have to honor that it’s also in my blood to not disappoint or fall through on a promise or performance. So a little bit of nature and a dash of nurture created the work horse inside me. I showed up, only called in sick if I was vomiting, worked hard while I was clocked in, and was proud to earn my own money and use it for what I wanted. My parents obviously financially supported me but starting at age 15 the luxuries of life were addressed with a, “If you want to buy that, you have to use your own money” mentality. Basically, food, shelter, and clothing were on them. “Going out” money or a concert that I wanted to attend was strictly on me.

This continued through my college years as I continued my job selling men’s shoes when I was home on break, and eventually getting a job cocktail waitressing on campus, then moving up to bartending. I also worked at a tanning salon on campus for even more money in the bank, along with some free tans, which went a long way. I remember my mom visiting me at school and as she entered my apartment, from the doorway to me standing in my living room she told me I looked “dirty” from the excess tanning I was doing. The overuse of Crest White Strips didn’t help my case. Do you remember 2 tanning and teeth whitening episodes of “Friends”, both involving Ross? One had Ross being spray tanned way too much and in all the wrong ways, and then the other episode had his overly bleached teeth glowing due to his date’s black light.

When I met my husband, he was doing very well financially and before we were even engaged, I remember sitting on his bed as he told me, “You’ll never have to worry about working again.” Immediately I became defensive and protective, as if I was being threatened in some way. First of all, who said working made me “worry”? Second, who said I needed to be taken care of or rescued from something that I actually enjoyed and felt great pride in? Don’t take that away from me as if it’s nothing. I don’t know exactly how I responded, but I know it was along the lines of,

“What do you mean ‘You’ll never have to worry about working again’? You don’t expect me to STAY HOME do you? What the hell would I do all day? What about the career I’ve built? I don’t need ANYONE taking care of me!”

I’m sure I barked at him and got out my guns and started blazing. There was a lot going on in my head when he said this and those feelings had me shrinking back down to the level of a helpless child. For one, his ex-wife was a stay-at-home-mom and for anyone early in a relationship with an ex-wife, the last thing you want to be is what his ex-wife is. You actually want to be the exact opposite. Why would he want to marry the same thing he just left and how could I allow myself to be anything like her? Wouldn’t he want something completely different?

I then had feelings of dependency come over, which terrified me. My mother was a stay-at-home mom up until my parents got divorced when I was a junior in high school. During that time, and in looking back, I am so proud of her for choosing what was right for her and her family. I never felt an energy that she wasn’t happy with being at home with us and leaving the work force. However, my father was an alcoholic (and an addict in many forms and since has passed away) and when I hit middle school, things became very unreliable with him and his career. He was a very successful attorney in Chicago with such an amazing background, education, and potential, but his addiction took over every single part of his life. Eventually including his job security. I only know some details now as an adult, but when I was in middle school and high school, most of the time I knew when he lost a job. I stress “most of the time” as my mother recently told me of a time span of a few YEARS where he didn’t have a job and took the train to the city every day with a suit on to “interview” or pretend he found work. These breaks from his firms were usually followed by grocery store trips to Aldi where we reminded ourselves to bring the quarter to insert into the grocery cart, felt ashamed of all the “non-brand” items we were about to buy, forced to pay in cash, and feeling so out of place with this simple errand to get food in our home. To this day, no matter how many moms tell me how amazing Aldi is (and I’m sure it is!), back then the stores had a different target market and there was a certain stigma attached to shopping there along with too many memories of shame for me to step back into.

When my parents split when I was in high school, my mom had to go back to work. My mom hadn’t finished college, and had been a paralegal when she met my dad. 2 years later, she became pregnant and then a stay-at-home-mom with me and then 2 ½ later with my twin brothers. Being out of the work force for 17 years, with 3 kids, and unpredictable financial support from my dad had to have been terrifying for her. She had no choice, my father was jobless and there was no money left due to the years of him “interviewing” and wiping out their savings and his IRA. I remember the jobs my mom had after the divorce, a couple were for a short time but she eventually ended up at a wonderful company for a very long time where she only left because of her battle with cancer. She recently told me how much she was making when she initially started working, then top it off with the stress she had with my father, plus raising 3 kids in high school entirely on her own. It makes my own fears of finances seem so minuscule compared to what she had to work with. During this time, I remember constantly walking on eggshells and not knowing what I was walking home to or what mood she’d be in. At the time, I clearly had zero clue what she was going through nor was she comfortable being 100% honest with how shitty her life was, what was really going on with my dad, and how every day was a gamble. As an adult and hearing her tell me some stories, I cannot imagine how I would act and react as a mother with all that stress and pressure.

My senior year of high school was a rough one for my mother and I. There is a school photo I still have of us where she came straight from work to meet me in my cheerleading uniform for parent photos. The smiles are not real and only I can tell as I remember the massive fight my mother and I had seconds before the photo. I don’t remember what the fight was about; it was never about anything super important and usually just induced by stress on both our ends. I knew that night that I wanted to get the hell out of my house, and my town and off to college. I will bet my life savings that she felt the same way along with the added pressures on her plate to raise 2 other boys and deal with my dad’s continued chaos. She needed a breather and some type of release that came in the form of me going away for college. I counted the days until I left and even though the good-bye was really hard, I also was thankful for space and breathing room that we both needed.

Walking onto campus, I knew I was 90% on my own both emotionally and financially. Many friends I had met in college didn’t have to work at all; their parents just wanted them to focus on studying. For me, not so much. I worked endless hours in the summer and on breaks to simply survive and have money in the bank until I returned home for the next break. My sophomore year I got an on-campus job at a bar and a tanning salon, which helped me on my track to pay my rent, other expenses and to actually have a social life. School loans loomed over me for when I graduated where I knew that would take me a couple decades to pay off on my own. I never seemed to complain though, it was so refreshing to be in control of my finances and not have to live in fear that I’d be living off ramen noodles for a month. Which, happened from time to time. I didn’t have to ask my parents for money unless I was completely desperate. Which of course happened from time to time. I learned the hard way that if I needed more money, I asked for more shifts. When everyone was going to Cancun for Spring Break and their parents paid for it, I was working extra shifts at the bar to save for the down payment and then for the trip itself. When I wanted to study abroad in Spain, it seemed like all I did was work and save for the time I was there. Did I bust open a credit card at times and get into debt? Sure, but I eventually paid it off with my own money. My deal, my game, my rules and most importantly: my control.

So back to my husband and the “You never have to work again” reassurance. In no way was I feeling like he was there to control me or hold anything over me. When he said that to me, the feelings I had worked hard to push under the rug felt comfortable to sneak out and take over. My mind went straight to my mother and how after 20 years of marriage, and 3 children, she was now alone and had to figure out how to survive. She didn’t have parents that said, “We’ll take you in honey, don’t worry” but more like “You stepped in this shit, figure out how to get it off your shoe and don’t expect to come crying home”. She couldn’t rely on child support or alimony; my father could barely hold a job. Insurance, car payments, food, mortgage, clothes, sports, bills and school expenses were all on her. She wasn’t making 6-figures, barely in the 5’s. It was all about survival. Being terrified and alone. Not being able to trust what the next day would bring. All of this terrifies me as well. I constantly think, “What if my husband has a heart attack at work and dies?” “What if he finds someone else and tells me he’s leaving me?” and I imagine what my life would be like with my daughter. Where I would live, what job I would go back to that I would hate, how much I would have to figure out and react to. I’m constantly trying to prepare myself for the “what ifs” if something happens where I’m alone and stranded just like my mother was.

So I have learned to be prepared as much as I can but all these feelings have led to the fears and insecurities I have as a stay-at-home-mother. From the day I found out I was pregnant, I realized I couldn’t go back to the career I had. I was up at 4:30am, off to the train by 5:50am, and back at home by 7:30pm unless I had a client dinner or event where I’d be home by 10 or 11pm. So, basically I’d never see my daughter other than weekends. Plus the job I was currently at didn’t have work-from-home opportunities or any flexible work schedule for moms. I couldn’t even access my email remotely and it was 2013, what planet were they on? So it was either go back and never see her until the weekend- or quit. I didn’t find any middle-ground nor wanted to start job searching and interviewing as my vagina was still on fire, I barely had the energy to wash my armpits with a baby wipe, and my boobs were on duty 24-7.

I decided to stay at home and go back to school to become a Health Coach. I started my education online while I commuted and finished after she was born. I became passionate about health after hiring my own Health Coach when I was trying to conceive, so why not make it a career and have the flexibility that everyone was talking about? Be your own boss! Set your own hours! Make 6-figures! Sounds fabulous and effortless to me! But you see, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it were that easy, then everyone would be doing it. Through these 6 ½ years of entrepreneurship, I now know that creating and running your own business is ANYTHING but easy, luxurious, or quick. If anything, it’s MORE time consuming and connected to your heart. You’re constantly ON and in order to be successful, it’s not a 9-2pm, Monday through Friday kind of job. I found myself exhausted mentally, frustrated I wasn’t this glamorous and successful Health Coach I’d see on social media, along with that fashionable mom on Instagram who makes her own hours and still finds time to be an amazing mother.

Why do we feel we need one side or the other? You’re either a stay-at-home-mom or working full-time? And both are exhausting both physically and mentally in their own unique ways. There is guilt attached to both and we can’t seem to “win” with our audience when it comes to our choice. You stay home, it’s “Oh but you went to school for X career, don’t you feel you should go back to it?” Then when you go back to work, it’s usually too soon by someone else’s standards and you receive comments like “Don’t you think you should be home more with the kids?” or under-the-breath comments wondering if you miss them and all they doing. Like we all don’t have enough guilt on our plate, we don’t need it smothered by outside commentary. We put enough pressure on ourselves with our OWN voices and pressures.

It’s crazy because I have desired the time I spend with my daughter, but also needed something special for myself. 6 ½ years later, I’m literally just starting to be honest about what I want for this perfect “career” I’m searching for. One huge problem I’ve overcome is I had never honored the season I was in with motherhood, and what fit with my life and what was already fueling it. There are so many “influencers” around me that I’ve unfortunately paid way too much attention to, versus creating my own story that works for my family and me. I may not be making 6-figures, climbing the corporate ladder, and I may regret leaving the industry I worked so hard to be successful in. Eh, it won’t be my only regret in life so what’s one more added to the list? I’m starting to truly pay attention to what fills me up and what ignites the passions inside of me, along with the time I spend with my family. I vow to always be prepared for the “what ifs” that hopefully will never happen and am thankful to the career and experiences I’ve had that will allow me to be secure and provide for myself and my daughter. I want to be real, true, and honest to what makes me happy and fuels the mother and woman I am meant to be. Not what I feel I should be.

What is your experience with going back to work, not, or the in-between you found?  I’d love to hear how you worked through it all and if there are still any challenges you may have on your plate.


Michelle Mansfield Blog

Want in on a secret? You can have the feelings you're having and still love your baby at the same time. Don't believe me? Get my Momspirational Cards today!

Almost done! Please check your inbox for a confirmation email!