Leaning Out: The Transition From Working Mom to Stay-At-Home Mom

Being a SAHM mom is the shittiest job I have ever had…and as cliche as it sounds, also the most rewarding.

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“I’m retiring!”

That was what I told everyone back in New York when they asked me what I would be doing after relocating to Hong Kong. There would be no more waking up at 6:00 AM, three hour commutes, ten hour workdays, or chore-filled weekends. Most importantly, no more feeling guilty about spending more time in the office than I did with my own daughter. I had grand visions of us watching the sunrise from our oceanfront flat, brunching by the beach, and making Pinterest-worthy artwork together.

Watching the sunrise from our flat…check!

Like many trailing spouses that arrive in this city, I opted not to work so that jigg can focus on his job while I settle our family down. I never intended to become a stay-at-home mom: my goal was to spend more time with the Dumpling, not all of my time. It turned out that way, however, because there are no daycares in Hong Kong…something I didn’t know until I arrived. Anyone who has cared for young children would know that my plans for a perpetual vacation went out the window the moment I found that out.

This full-time mom gig is turning out to be the crappiest, and as cliche as it sounds, also the most rewarding job I ever had. On one hand, the Dumpling dictates when I wake up (which is now 6:30 AM instead of 6:00 AM), what we watch on TV, and basically what we do on most days. I often found myself counting down the minutes to her nap and bed times when she behaves like…well, like a two year old. Like the time she found a piece of dog poop in the sandbox. Or the time she insisted on taking the stairs up the hill to our apartment, changed her mind midway, and made me carry her the rest of the way. Or the time she made me look like a kidnapper because I had to drag her home from the playground.

The Dumpling is turning into a beach bum!

Then there were sweet moments—moments that I would have missed if I weren’t home, scattered in between that made me forget all the physical, emotional, and mental abuse that she put me through. During the last three months, I got to eavesdrop on her nonsensical conversations with herself, listen to her off-key rendition of “ABCs” on repeat, and do countless potty dances with her. It’s simultaneously annoying and heartwarming that she wants to play with me all the time (except when jigg is home, then I’m just chopped liver). I know these days won’t last; sooner or later, it would be me who wants to spend more time with her.

While I fulfilled one aspect of my life that was missing, it created a void in another. Walking away from my career felt like I threw away everything I have worked for in the last 32 years. In a time where “leaning in” is celebrated as the modern woman’s goal, “leaning out” seemed to be the antithesis of what I was taught. What was the point of my mother’s sacrifices so I can concentrate on school? Of me working so hard? Of my family, friends, and mentors investing so much time and effort in me?

For the first time since I was 14 years old, I no longer brought home a paycheck, which had served as a self-esteem booster and a measurement of success. It was also a social equalizer in our household because when I worked roughly as many hours and brought home just as much as my husband, it was hard for anyone to impose gender-based responsibilities on me (not that jigg ever did). I used to tell people what I did for a living with pride; now I’m just unemployed.

I miss working…not the hours, stress, or commute, but the opportunity to interact with smart people, be challenged, and thrive. There are ideas buzzing in my head that I wish I had more than just the Dumpling’s nap time to work on. For someone like me, I realized that I can never truly lean out. Currently, I’m trying to find fulfillment as an aspiring mommy blogger by combining motherhood, crafting, and skills from my former life.

My new boss (the Dumpling) is a hard-to-please dictator, my hours are longer, and I’m pretty much a one-woman team…so much for retirement!

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