I Didn’t Go Back to Work

by Andrea Cooley

momandboyI didn’t go back to work.

Take a minute to let that sink in.

I willingly gave up a job I loved, writing and editing home design stories at a major publishing company to stay home with my baby boy.

Some women think staying home with your baby is the only option, some can’t imagine staying home, and some wish they could but have to work. To be honest, most days I feel a little bit of each.

When the article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” came out in the Atlantic Monthly last summer, I was 6 months pregnant and read it knowing soon I would have to make a choice. Up until now, I did have it all: a challenging career, a loving husband, a beautiful home, and close family and friends. I knew adding a baby to the equation would change everything. I assumed I would be going back to work after my maternity leave, but I knew it would be hard. If I went back to work I would be sacrificing time with the baby and if I stayed home I would be sacrificing my career.

I loved my job. I was blessed with an amazing boss and work I loved. Not many people can say that. Even when I wasn’t “on the clock”, I thought about story ideas. Not because I had to, but because it was what I loved to do. Writing and decorating. Decorating and writing. It was the perfect combination. Then I had a baby. And I knew I couldn’t be a full-time editor and a full-time mom. Something had to give.

It’s hard for me to admit that I couldn’t do it all. I look at women (including many of my friends) who are able to balance having a career and being a mom beautifully and I can’t help but wonder if I should have tried to make it work. I’m sure I could have survived, but at the end of the day would I be happy with either job? Or would I be barely getting by?

Even before Emerson was born, Adam and I were praying about my decision to go back to work. Leaving my job would be a step of faith, it would mean leaving my comfort zone, and trusting God with this next chapter of our lives. He knows my heart’s desire, and I have confidence that he will bless my decision.

My mom stayed home with me and my brother and sister. Maybe part of the reason it was so hard for me to imagine taking Emerson to daycare was that I never went. I talked to her about me going back to work or staying home and I appreciated that she didn’t force her opinion on our decision. I knew she would support whatever I chose. Now more than ever, I appreciate the sacrifice she made to stay home with us. Looking back, I now realize how blessed we were to be home with her!

Staying home has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I wonder if the decision would have been easier if I’d know I wasn’t going back from the beginning. Many times I thought how it would have been easier if I knew financially I had to go back or if I knew I didn’t want to go back. Instead it was a choice that was in the back of my mind for the first 12 weeks I was home. I went through stages of feeling like I would for sure go back, finding daycare, and counting down the weeks ‘til I went back, to wondering if I could go back part time, to the final decision of staying home and working on freelance projects.

Yes, I’m going to keep writing. Whether I’m getting paid for it or not, I will always be a writer. I can’t stop the words from forming in my mind and spilling out! We have someone coming to the house to watch Emerson for 10 hours a week, but taking care of baby boy will be my main priority. I know it will take a while to find a good balance of working on projects and being a mom, but I have time to figure it out.

The label “stay-at-home mom” is still a hard one for me to swallow. I don’t know why. It’s not like I look at women who stay home exclusively and think any less of them, so why should it be any different when the person is me? Maybe because deep down I never thought I’d be in this position. Maybe it’s because without realizing it, when I heard the label in the past, I assumed that it meant that person wasn’t “working”. Now I know more than ever that being a mom is a job.

I always knew I wanted to be a mom, but I had no idea how it would turn my world upside down until I held Emerson in my arms. As soon as I saw his scrunched up face, kissed his little fingers and toes, and smelled that sweet baby smell, my identity changed. Before I was a wife, a friend, a daughter, and a writer/editor. Now I was a mom.

Each of those labels were part of my identity. And when you take one of those things away it’s only natural to mourn the loss. I lost my job a few years ago, when the economy was tanking and home magazines were barely gasping along and it was a huge, unexpected blow. I didn’t realize how much a part of my identity my job was until I suddenly didn’t have it. This time it’s different. I chose to walk away from my job, but that doesn’t make it any easier. 

To make this work, I have to embrace my new identity of being a mom. That sounds like a given, but when I’m in the trenches of changing diapers, doing laundry, and fighting naps, it’s hard to be happy about my choice to stay home.

I’ll be honest, some days I let myself wallow in the fact that I had a job I loved, with creative, inspiring people who were a lot of fun to work with, and it’s not pretty. It’s one thing to mourn a loss, but it’s another to let it consume you. I let it consume me for a week and it wasn’t fun for anyone! So now I choose to have a good attitude about being home with my baby. So many women would love to be able to do this! Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like picking up a giggling baby and knowing that he loves me unconditionally, but it’s a different kind of satisfaction. One I’m still growing into.

On the days I wish I were back in cubicle land, I remind myself that I don’t have to stay home forever. Work will always be here, but Emerson won’t always be 3 months old. There will always be another decorating story to write about, but he won’t always be learning to roll over or babbling with excitement about his chew toys.

When I told my co-workers and friends my decision, I was surprised that everyone was so happy for me. I expected them to question me or be sad that I wasn’t coming back. But they understood and were generally more supportive of my decision than I was! I guess it goes to show that I’m not irreplaceable and that’s a good thing, even though it’s hard to accept sometimes.

Everyone asks if I love being home with the baby. Honestly? There are moments I second-guess my decision. When I’m trying to put Emerson down for the third nap of the day and know he’ll probably only sleep for 45 minutes, there is a part of me that wishes I was at work (not that this isn’t work!) and someone else was putting him down. There are even moments, especially at the end of a long week, when I don’t even really like my baby. There I said it. Please don’t judge me! I LOVE my baby, but there are moments when I know he’s so tired and needs to take a nap but can’t seem to fall asleep unless I’m holding him that I get frustrated. But doesn’t every mom feel this way? Whether she’s home with her baby all day or not, we all reach our limits. Being a mom is not for the faint of heart! These little people will test every ounce of your patience and frustrate you to no end, but then they smile, or grab your finger while you’re feeding them and your heart melts and all is right with the world and you don’t care that you have spit up in your hair and haven’t brushed your hair in 2 days and have been trying to drink a cup of coffee for the last 3 hours.

I’m not saying every woman should stay home with her kids. Far from it! I know we are blessed that it is possible for me to stay home. Some things will change and our budget will be a little tighter but it also means I get to be here with Emerson during these precious first months and years.

I have a whole new respect for women who stay home with their kids. It’s hard work! I didn’t really understand women who would say that going to work was a break, or gave them “me” time, but I totally get it now. Sure there are times during the day, if you’re lucky, that your baby is sleeping and you have a little break, but it’s not a 9-5 job! It’s never done! I’m so thankful that baby boy goes to bed around 7, so I at least have a little time to relax before the next time he’s up, which these days is usually around midnight.

So that is the long version of my decision to stay home. Some days are easier than others, but I’m finally starting to let myself enjoy being home. Writing this and sending it out into the world for others to read helps me process my decision. My hope is that it will help someone else with her decision.

I’m still figuring out what my “life’s mission” or “story” is, but aside from being a mom I know it involves writing and encouraging women. (Has anyone been to Donald Miller’s Storyline conference? I read his blog and love thinking about what I want my story to be. Maybe I’ll make it to a conference some day.) I am passionate about building relationships and creating a home that fosters community. That is the heart of this blog and by staying home I have more time to invest in it and hopefully grow it. I believe that by choosing to stay home with Emerson, I am starting a new chapter in my life. I hope you’ll join me!

Photograph by Carrie Krupke

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Andrea Cooley

  1. I loved reading this post, Andrea. It's so heartfelt and honest and I appreciate that. I've never thought I would stay home with our kids when we decide to start a family, but like you said, you never know where God will lead or what he will do in your life. I guess I'm learning that I can make a lot of plans, but ultimately God leads us where we need to be. Here's to hoping you start to feel you find a happy balance soon. :)

  2. I love your honesty and understand the 'identity issues' that come with being a mom. It changes every part of your life and your being – for better or worse! I sure hope I didn't make you feel like you wouldn't be missed at work! I'm sad you won't be here but so excited for you and your family and have the deepest respect for your decision. I am open in saying I couldn't be at stay at home mom. I'm not patient enough. not strong enough, and I struggle with the guilt every day, knowing I would be a horrible teacher and mom if I didn't get up and go to an office everyday. All of our paths our different – I'm happy you found yours!

  3. What a gorgeous post, my friend. I so appreciate your honesty and the way you wrestled it out. You're right–God will bless what you and Adam have prayerfully chosen. And you're also right about this: Work will always be here! :)

  4. Huge hug for writing this post! It takes a lot of bravery to be honest about the different shades of living in a decision and I commend you for it. I hope we get to write together again soon!

  5. Thank you for sharing, and for being so honest and open. My husband and I recently made the same choice for our family, and it was very difficult. I really loved my job, and the people I worked with, and I hate chores, but I love my little boy and know this is the best thing for our family.

  6. i love this post andrea! your process and emotions are so true to what moms really feel and go through. God bless you and your family during this season of life. there is a humbleness and faith to your decision that is beautiful beyond words! i have no doubt that you will indeed build relationships and create a home that helps build and encourage others. you have encouraged me! i will be following along (the blog) and cheering you on each step of the way.

  7. Great post! I struggled with my decision to stay home with Hudson too. It's so hard to decide! For the first few months when people asked what I did I always hedged with "I use to plan events before…" I felt like people would think I was just a mom. Now I feel more confident in being a stay at home mom {and know it's actually a full time job!} but agree, sometimes I can't wait for that 7 pm bedtime. :)

  8. This is beautiful, Andrea. I so admire your honesty. Although I'm not a mom yet, I can relate to the worry and second-guessing that goes along with choosing to leave a successful job, and I cringe to admit how many times over the past five years I've questioned my decision or wallowed in the loss of "outside affirmation" from a distinguished job title. Every mom wrestles with this weighty decision, and you've put your experience into such beautiful words here. Praying for God's blessings on you and your family as you start the next chapter in your life as wife, mother, and writer!

  9. andrea, i'm so glad we visited on sunday!!!  trust me, it is a much harder decision to have to go back to work and be separated from your little guy if you have any desire at all to stay home.  it was the hardest thing i've ever had to do– and i'll never regret the decision to stay home. 

    it is so true– these moments as moms are fleeting.  you can have a career later- it can wait.  little ones will  not.  they grow, change, and learn in the blink of an eye.  yes, we all have days when we think it'd be easier to be at a job right at the moment, rather than at home dealing with whatever is going on with the little ones, but i am convinced that my meaningful work as a mom trumps the meaningful work i was doing as a teacher. 


    my dad has always told me that no one else will ever love your baby on the same level as you do, and no one can care for them the way you do.  it's true  i do childcare out of my home part time, and while i love the kids who are with us monday through wednesday, it's surely not the same type of love that i feel for my own child. 


    i love that you're staying home with emerson to soak up motherhood!  all of it– the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything inbetween. :)

  10. Beautifully and bravely said. So grateful for you!

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