I’ve always been a career driven woman. That is until recently when I made the very difficult decision to leave my professional management position at a large national corporation to stay home with my children. Not only were many friends and colleagues taken aback by the news, but I also surprised myself with this decision.
When my first son was born I took three-quarters of the eligible maternity leave, choosing to return to work at what I saw as an opportune time in the business cycle. With my second son, I took the full maternity leave, realizing then that extra time with my children was far more important and heeding the advice of other working moms who told me “work will always be there, but children grow so quickly”. Even then I never considered not returning to work.
It helped that we were so fortunate to have my amazing sister as our nanny. She did so much more than care for our children; she helped manage our household and helped make it possible to juggle all of the demands of work, community involvement, home and family. So when our nanny of close to six years indicated she was ready to move on, we knew life would change dramatically.
As so many have experienced, it was a challenge to find new childcare that would fit our needs and that we felt we could trust. The conversation with my husband shifted with the thought that ‘maybe one of us should stay home’. At this point I don’t recall whether it was my husband or me that first brought up the idea, but I’m happy that the starting point was consideration that either of us could make that move. Only after much deliberation over complicating factors did we both agree the best path forward for our family was for me to be at home for our children.
I recognize I am truly privileged to have this choice. Many families have two working parents or are single parent families where stepping away from the workforce is not an option. We need to continue to push governments to support access to affordable, flexible, quality childcare.
Young families today face different circumstances than older generations before us. Generation Squeeze is a non-profit organization that brings Canadians together to advocate for the interests of younger Canadians. Through an evidence-based approach, they show how “Generations raising young kids are squeezed for time at home. They are squeezed for income… And they are squeezed for services like childcare”. That squeeze for time was certainly a factor in our decision as we sought to address our childcare needs.
With the decision made to leave my job, I’m now reflecting on what that means for my identity and value. I’ve always enjoyed working and now as I’m stepping away I realize how much of my identity has been tied to work. For me, meeting someone new generally means a warm handshake with mention of my employer. My professional role is by no means the only thing that defines me, but it seems to be the one fact I typically share first. How will I feel next time I’m asked what I do? I need to be as proud of my work in the home as I have been of my professional work.
I’m left contemplating if society suitably values care-giving and homemaking roles. I recently spoke with a mother who left her paid work to be home with young children and she’s now returning to the workforce; she indicated that move is in part to feel valued by her husband and family. In a society that functions on monetary transactions, sometimes the contributions of unpaid work go undervalued.
You may recall media coverage from this summer that spoke to a gender gap study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives placing Alberta cities among the worst places to be a woman in Canada (CBC article). The rankings are based on five indicators commonly used in international rankings: economic security, education, health, leadership and security. Within economic security, the percentage in full-time work and the employment rate (both represented as female to male ratios) are two of the statistics considered. By choosing not to have paid employment at this time, I am negatively impacting female representation in the workforce and thereby contributing to statistics that reflect negatively on my city.
What about the women who choose to be home or in part-time work to better affect work-life balance? Unfortunately these indicators don’t reflect economic circumstances by choice. Income is not the only motivator when choosing employment. At this point I’m planning to stay home until both of my children are in full-time elementary school, but when I do return to the workforce I expect I may be looking to part-time consulting or greater flexibility from an employer.
Time is a truly valuable resource. As I look to where I can get the greatest returns for my investment of time, I’m choosing to invest more with my family. And I know this is time I’m going to cherish.