Moms Who Hustle
Written by Alexi Strong Gonzalez
A few years ago, I overheard a conversation between my boss and a coworker. Both women were mothers, and both had a couple decades of experience on me. They were talking about different organizations and corporate cultures. My boss reminisced about one of her former employers and the great experience to be gained there before ending her sentence with, “but you can’t be a mom there.”
My coworker, without missing a beat, replied, “Well, I’d rather be a mom.”
I think about that conversation every day.
I read posts or articles constantly about women who “took charge of their lives” and made some major plunge into business ownership, or a drastic change in career path, or started selling products through a multi-level marketing business—something, anything to afford them the opportunity to be home with their kids.
But the reality for me and many of the young working moms I know is that we don’t have the luxury of making those drastic changes. We work full-time jobs in offices that require our constant presence. Our stable salaries contribute greatly to the income of the home, and funds in savings accounts tend to be earmarked for things like car and mortgage payments, not seed money for a new business venture.
Someday I might be able to turn raising my kids into a profession, but for now I need to work to help support my family. Even though I go to an office for eight hours every weekday and run corporate communications for a company that does hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales, still—I’d rather be a mom.
When I first heard that phrase, my son Alex was about four months old. I was working in marketing at a state university for a boss who was overjoyed for me when I told her I was pregnant. She was accommodating and helpful in the months that followed, and even let me work from home for the last four weeks of “maternity leave” so I didn’t have to take it unpaid. Though I missed Alex terribly each day once I went back to work, it didn’t quite feel like I was choosing between working and being a mom.
Unfortunately, after a few months of working motherhood, my relationship with that boss soured. By then, an often-promised promotion seemed like a fairytale, and I was working lots of weekends at events and answering emails from my phone at 9 p.m. for fear I’d be fired if I didn’t. I was miserable.
My husband knew and kept encouraging me to apply for other jobs at places where I’d be treated and compensated fairly, and where I’d have the opportunity to do work that was more challenging and rewarding. I didn’t listen. I stayed because that job was 15 minutes from my house, meaning there was plenty of time for an afternoon nursing session, followed by play time and family dinner I could make myself. I stayed because I paid next to nothing for health insurance. I stayed because the university took a week-long winter break each year when I could take Alex on walks in the afternoon or travel to visit family without having to take vacation time. I stayed because even though the job was killing me, it was letting me be a mom.
Eventually, that elusive promotion came to fruition. With it, I was making just enough for money to continue to convince myself to stay. But my boss became so awful that it was like she was doing a caricature of a bad boss, and after many stressful months and tearful car rides home, I knew it was time to find something new. I’d stayed longer than any sane person (or non-working-mom) ever would have, and I found another, better gig after only a month of searching.
I thought my new job in communications for a child welfare agency would fulfill me professionally in ways my former job never would have. I accepted it so quickly I didn’t factor in that the commute would triple, or the insurance would be more expensive, or that as professionally fulfilled as it might make me, I’d still rather be a mom.
I feel awful for not giving that job more of a chance. The boss was sweet, the coworkers were friendly, and my work was making a difference. But I’d spent enough time in a bad position to know when I wasn’t going to be happy, so, after four months, I accepted another position with a shorter commute, better pay and more flexible hours. I made the decision to leave one job for me. I made the decision to leave the next job for my family. I won’t regret it. (Maybe I won’t regret it. I definitely, probably won’t regret it.)
Sure, I think about what would have happened if I stayed at the university and got my master’s degree on their dime. I left that job with seven weeks accrued leave, so if I ever had another baby there, maternity leave would be a cinch. And the child welfare agency? The networking opportunities were phenomenal, and my communications job could have turned into a PR/governmental affairs/lobbying/really-cool-thing. I’ll never know.
I do know without a doubt that sharing a plate of scrambled eggs with my son every morning before dropping him off at preschool makes me happier than any press release or email campaign I’ve ever written. My job gives me a lot of new and diverse experience and is a 10-minute drive from my house. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change the decisions I’ve made. And I wouldn’t regret it, either.
Alexi is a journalism grad from the University of Florida who recently traded years in non-profit communications for a corporate marketing management gig she totally loves. She and her husband are raising the world’s most adorable baby boy while updating their beach house and catching movies when they can leave the kid at Grandma’s. You’ll find her bike-riding and watching football games at kid-friendly breweries on weekends. For alarmingly liberal political opinions and TMI motherhood musings, follow her on Twitter at @alexigonzo.