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. I don’t know where I got it from but I’m sure my mom had something to do with it. As a serial people-pleaser, it’s also in my blood to not disappoint or fall through on a promise. So a little nature-nurture created the work horse inside me. I showed up, only called in sick if it was serious, worked hard while I was clocked in, and was proud to earn my own money and use it for what I wanted. My parents financially supported me but starting at 15 it was a “If you want to buy that, you have to use your own money” mentality. Food, shelter, clothing was on them. “Going out” money or a concert that I wanted to go to was strictly on me.

This continued through my college years as I kept my job selling men’s shoes when I was home on break, and eventually got a job cocktail waitressing, then bartending, while I was at school. I also worked at a tanning salon at school for even extra money, along with some free tans. I remember my mom visiting me at school and from across my apartment living room she told me I looked “dirty” from the excess tanning I was doing. The super bleached teeth didn’t help. Both “Friends” episodes with Ross being spray tanned way too much, and then the other episode of his overly bleached teeth shining in his date’s black light, rang true to my heart when I watched them. When I wasn’t working, I played hard and definitely felt I earned it. Neither guilt nor shame was felt in the fun I had and how I spent my money. More like pride.

When I met my husband, he was doing very well financially and 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. I don’t know exactly what I said 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’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. 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 want to be the exact opposite. Why would he want to marry the same thing he just left? 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. My father was an alcoholic (an addict in many forms) and when I hit middle school, things became very unreliable with him and his jobs. He was a powerful attorney with such an amazing background and potential, but his addiction took over every single part of his life. Including his job security. I only know some details now as an adult, but when I was in middle school and high school I did know when he lost a job. That usually was followed by grocery store trips to Aldi where I remember inserting the quarter for the grocery cart, ashamed of all the “non-brand” items we were buying, having to pay in cash, and feeling so out of place with this simple errand. To this day, no matter how many moms tell me how amazing Aldi is (and I’m sure it is!), back then there was a certain stigma attached and there are too many memories for me to step back into.

When my parents split, my mom had to go back to work. My mom had been a paralegal and hadn’t finished college when she met my dad. 2 years later, she became pregnant and then a stay-at-home-mom with me and then 2 ½ years later with my twin brothers. Being out of the work force for 17 years had to have been terrifying for her. She had no choice, my father was jobless and there was no money left. I remember the jobs she had, some for a long time, and she’s recently told me how much she was making in the early years as well as the stress she had with my father, paired with raising 3 kids in high school on her own. I remember walking on eggshells a lot and at the time didn’t understand but as an adult hearing her 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 rough for my mother and I. There is a school photo I have of her coming straight from work and me in my cheerleading uniform. The smiles are real from the outside but only I remember the massive fight my mother and I had seconds before the photo and how forced those smiles were. 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 wanted to get the hell out of my town and off to college, I’m sure she felt that and even more added pressures on her plate. I counted the days until I left for college and even though the good-bye was 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 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 breaks to have money until I returned home again. When I got my on-campus jobs at a bar and the tanning salon, I kept on going to be able to pay my rent and other expenses. School loans loomed over me for when I graduated where I knew that would take me a couple decades to pay those off on my own. I never seemed to complain or have fear though, it was so refreshing to be in control of my finances and not have to worry that I’d be living off ramen noodles for a month. I didn’t have to ask my parents for money unless I was completely desperate, which of course happened a couple times. I learned 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. 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 started 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, don’t worry” but more like “you stepped in this shit, figure out how to get it off your shoe”. 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. Plus the job I was currently at didn’t have work-from-home opportunities or any flexible work schedule for moms. 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 and my boobs leaked.

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 is 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 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?” 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 about how you never see them. Like we all don’t have enough guilt on our plate, we don’t need it smothered by outside commentary.

It’s crazy because I have desired the time I spend with my daughter, but also need 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. I’ve never honored the season I am in with motherhood, and what fits with my life and what is already filling 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.

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