I am so fascinated by how people make their lives work. I really am. I am fascinated by what people choose to do for a living and how they came to do that job.
I am curious to know how various families share household duties, earn money and make sure their children are cared for while they work.
I probably sound like a crazy stalker woman when I meet people, but I love asking people how they make life work.
Before I share my story, let me tell you that we have tried it all.
- we both worked full-time with no kids
- we both worked full-time with kids
- Mom at home with kids while Dad works full-time
- Dad at home with kids while Mom works full-time
- Mom work at home/with kids while Dad works full-time
- Dad work at home/with kids while Mom works full-time
- one or both of us self-employed
So, please believe me when I tell you I do not have an opinion at all about what you should be doing in your life. I think every situation is different. Circumstances really change with how many kids you have, personality of the kids, any special or specific needs of the kids, what kind of job you have (or leave to be home), and any other number of outside factors. Every situation has its own struggle, its own benefit and its own season.
This is our story, one that is still being written.
My life was pretty predictable in high school and college. I went to a Catholic high school and a Catholic college, the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul. I originally planned on being an engineer but quickly learned that I much prefered accounting and algebra to calculus and physics, so I changed my major to Accounting with a minor in Communications.
I graduated in four years and got married the next November to Steve. We had dated for 5 years and were 22 (me) and 24 (Steve) at the time. It was the double-digit growth boom of the early/mid-1990s (I graduated in 1993) and I lucked out by graduating at the right time. The (then Big 6, now Big 4) big international accounting firms were recruiting their new starts a full year in advance, so I already had a job lined up nearly 12 months before I graduated.
I worked as an auditor in an environment where people compared overtime during busy season like it was a badge of honor. I never had the most; I was lucky that I was able to be efficient right from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I did have plenty of overtime, just not the most. I learned early on that I liked my time more than money or boasting and I was not willing to sit around and look busy just to log another hour of overtime to show my buddies.
I really enjoyed working in Public Accounting. It was very interesting, fast paced and I learned an amazing amount. It was crazy hectic, though, and most people in the industry did not have kids until they reached Manager or higher (about 5 years with the firm).
I never imagined myself the type to be a stay at home mom, and it just never entered our minds that it was something we would strive towards. Funny how life can be. It was not until we had two children that I started to want to be home with the kids in search of a more peaceful and less hectic life.
Our son, Chandler was born in 1996 and I took a part-time position with the firm for about 6 months. I loved the time with Chandler, but it was an odd schedule of no work at all for about 20 days and then 10 days of 14-20 hour days to get a product audited before SEC offering. It was not a great fit for me and I returned to work full-time as an internal auditor in the private sector. Our son was in day care with a family member who did daycare for about 10 kids and he was happy there.
Steve and I both working full-time worked well enough for us during this time. During this time, we also sold our house, built a new house and found out that we were expecting baby #2.
Our daughter, Alexandra was born in 1998 and I took (and passed) the CPA two weeks after I gave birth to her. In order to pass the test, I took a class and put in about 400 hours of study time during the four months leading up to the test. Upon my return to work, I was promoted to Audit Manager at another international public accounting firm, where I had moved during my pregnancy.
We had two kids, two professional careers and I remember at one point saying to Steve, “I think that when I look back on this time, I will regret that I worked so much and missed this time with the kids.” Once I said it, it was out there. I left my job (and nearly 2/3 of our income) in December 1998 to stay home with the kids and hopefully have less chaos in our family life.
I did a few consulting jobs here and there, but was largely home full-time with the kids for nearly 10 years. Once I was home and Steve no longer had to miss work when the kids were sick or needed to go to an appointment, he really thrived at work and his working was able to support us (with some budget cuts at home) for this time. Of course, living on one income takes planning, but we were willing to make it work for us. We all enjoyed our roles and despite my concerns, I loved being a stay at home mom.
During this time, I joined a mom’s group, had play dates, made lifelong friends with other moms, made our house a home, took the kids to the park, cooked from scratch and took care of just about everything other than making the money. Steve focused on his job and when he came home, he was able to play with the kids while I finished household chores or yard work or hung out and enjoyed family time together.
The kids got older, started school and we added two more kids to the mix. Max was born in 2003 and Will was born in 2006. We were getting busier with kids activities and there was more to manage at home, with our family of 4 growing to 6.
In 2005 I seized an opportunity to do a home party business. It was new to our area and growing like mad. Even though going into people’s homes to host a party is the LAST thing I ever thought I would do, I jumped right in and made Director in 9 months. Steve and I enjoyed a few trips on the company and even started out own complimentary business for consultants in the same line of work.
I LOVED the professional aspect of it and I realized I was missing that part of my life.
It was tricky to manage things during this time, but we managed by Steve coming home in time for me to leave for parties and me working on my business stuff while Max napped and the older kids were in school. We packed up orders for our business after the kids went to bed and basically were pretty busy. But, the success was rewarding and we were young and it worked for us.
The success of it all was short-lived and we started to feel the market getting saturated in early 2006. We sold our business and I stopped the home parties the summer of 2006 and our youngest, Will, was born in November 2006. Although I really grew from stepping out of my comfort zone, it was time for that chapter to end. I enjoyed “just” being home again and focusing on our (even bigger) family.
After a couple of years of me being home (and not working), Steve started to get concerned with how hard it was getting to win bids at work. We did not know it then, but as a Project Manager for a concrete and masonry company, Steve was seeing the beginnings of the 2008 recession. Bidding was very competitive and union companies in particular were struggling, laying people off and even shutting down completely.
Concerned about Steve being our only source of income, in spring of 2008 I took a part-time job as an Office Manager for a research (cyber security, AI, systems engineering) company with some people I had worked with during an internship in college. That position quickly became a Controller position and I struggled to do all of my work in my 2, then 3 days a week. During the summer we had a family friend’s daughter nanny on the days I worked and during the school year I worked around Max’s preschool schedule (the older kids were in school full-time).
I have to admit, the daily grind of being at home for nearly a decade had worn on me. I missed being part of the professional world. I missed adult lunches and quiet work time.
Just as my company was asking me to come on full-time, Steve was nearing the end of the line with his company. We were close to the owners (they are even Will’s godparents) and Steve was aware of how difficult it was becoming for them to survive as a company. We knew it would only be a matter of time until he was laid off. To their credit, they held out as long as they could before letting him go.
Sure enough, Steve was laid off in May of 2009 and that same week I went full-time with my company. Steve was exhausted from the long decent and stayed home for 2 years with our youngest, while the other 3 were in school. He took over the laundry, shopping, cooking and cleaning. He did a good job and so did I, but we both felt lost in our new roles.
My company grew and grew, was bought by some employees, went through a merger and I eventually became the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Depending on how things were at work, I would either work full-time plus, just full-time or sometimes I would work 4 days a week for small periods of time. It was pretty flexible and I worked with the best people.
As much as I LOVED my job, I really missed being at home. I loved my job, but I also loved being mom and I loved having things at home run a certain way. I began to recall why I left work back in 1998. When I was home I felt like I was leaving something at work undone and when I was at work, I felt like I was leaving something at home undone. I just could not be everywhere at once and I could not let certain things go, either. I wanted to be back at home to manage things there.
At the same time, Steve missed working. He was not happy focusing on managing the house and he missed having me do that part of things. In 2011 he started his own concrete and masonry company as the market began to recover. He did well and in 2012, we decided to focus on that, while I came back home. I gave my employer 10 months notice (they are cool like that) and we were able to implement a new accounting system, train up a replacement and hire new staff so the transition went smoothly. I left my position as CFO in April of 2013 to come back home and run a small (read flexible) consulting practice.
Steve worked his business full-time for about 8 months and realized it was not making him happy. He was miserable trying to do everything himself and I did not have as much time as I thought I would to help him as I was managing all the household stuff and the kids’ schedules and consulting as a CPA on the side. The kids attended school during the school year, but other than that, they were home with me.
Fall of 2013, he took a job in sales while I am keeping my clients/CPA business going. In January I decided to start blogging again and created Counting Willows. I love being home with the kids, but I also really enjoy working and contributing to our family income. Now that all four kids are in school, I have decided to work in a way that is flexible enough for me to work around sick days, vacation days and summers off.
As with any stage in our lives, we are finding our way as we go. Every season has a different need, but it is nice when you can feel like you have at least figured out a solution for this current season you are in.