Back

What I’ve learned from trying to forge my own career path as a Mom of 4Featured

Faced with the reality that I couldn’t afford to have a job, I have spent the last 16 years trying to find meaningful work that allowed me to take care of my family without destroying myself. I still haven’t found it, but at 42 with 4 kids, here is what I have learned.

Technology and the online world have consistently lured me in with the promise of finding a magical place they call "work-life balance". A place where I can use my talents and skills, and get paid for my value while working within a flexible schedule. I have started my own wellness company, had a full-time job, was a contractor/consultant, and at times was just a SAHM making things like zucchini hummus and listening to Laurie Berkner on repeat. I had some great experiences, but often I ended up feeling like the joke was on me. The reality of these options still leaves women choosing between themselves and their families. Plus, we are often financially penalized for trying to do both.

After trying several different avenues, I experienced the pros and cons of each. If you are thinking about getting a remote job, going freelance or starting your own business or going from freelance to a full-time job I hope you find some of these insights helpful!

A full-time Job (in the office)

I was so excited to land my first real job after grad school. It took me so long to be in a place to be able to do it in a way that made financial sense. Previously, putting two children in daycare full-time ($2400/mo) plus other expenses related to working (tolls, taxes, clothes, gas, etc.) on an entry-level salary left me with around $10,000 a year. The amount I would save by not working exceeded what I would earn, so it wasn't worth it for me to work at that point. However, this time I had more education and experience so I was able to get a higher-paying role. Also, I only had one child that needed full-time daycare.

Pros: A steady source of income that provides benefits like a 401k and insurance. You are on a career track. Ideally, if you stay the course there will be promotions and opportunities to grow. Getting out of the house and working closely with a team on projects and being a part of the day-to-day culture have their plus points.

Cons: The commute and routine will wear you down. I had to put my mental and physical health last to make it work. I gained 10-15 pounds, aged 3 years in 1 due to stress, was constantly burned out, and was depressed. Also, if any kid was sick, I still had to be the one to stay home or go pick them up because my husband’s job paid significantly more and was more demanding. I also still was handling all medical appointments, school activities, and homework. Not fair, but it was a reality for me. I got to a point where it was just no longer working. Maybe it was the day I picked everyone up and they all just cried and screamed at me the entire way home because we were all utterly exhausted. There is a reason why so many parents are resistant to going back to the office post-pandemic.

Consulting / Contract Work (remote)

I remember sitting at home on my first day of remote work after having been in the office for almost a year. This was 2017 and the remote revolution hadn’t started yet. I felt a little defeated. How could I realize my CMO dreams from this weird computer set up in my kitchen? Someone had already taken over my desk at work. I was back in the house and back in my mom clothes. The full sink of dishes was staring at me. Then once my new routine started I realized that working from home in general works better for parenting as long as you don’t sacrifice pay for flexibility and create personal boundaries between work and home life.

Pros: Flexibility. Less time commuting means more time in the morning and afternoon to be there for kids going and coming back from school. It also means more time to prepare healthier meals for yourself and your family and squeeze in some exercise and mental health practices. I was able to cut back on after-school care costs for my older children and cut down 3 hours from my toddler's daycare schedule. I was also able to work with a 1099 which has its benefits in the sense that it is more like having your own business, but it is complicated. I highly recommend getting an accountant to help you figure out the best way to strategize and save with 1099.

Cons: No insurance or 401k benefits. You pay your payroll taxes, internet, and other tools or subscriptions you may need. Which is why you need to charge more! Hourly rates for contract work are different than if you were an employee. Do the research and do the math and find out what contractors at your skill level and experience are charging. I didn’t do this at first and I ended up with less than I would have to work full-time as an employee my first year. I short-changed myself because I was afraid to ask for what I was worth.

Remote work can feel isolating. I missed the small talk with co-workers and seeing the impact of my work in real life. I slowly became disassociated from the team and was seen as an outsider. Since I was working from home I was constantly doing housework. Have a few minutes in between meetings? Let’s unload the dishwasher… do some laundry…and take out the trash. Creating dedicated time spread out over the week for household work helps you not feel like you need to be doing everything all the time. It’s all about boundaries!

Starting a business

I woke up at 4 am one morning and made a rough draft of a logo and Noble Therapies was born. I read a ton of books on natural healing, Ayurveda, and Tibetan sleep rituals. I pulled all-nighters pouring hot wax and essential oils into little containers, putting on labels with make-shift templates, and stamping cardboard mailers because we couldn’t afford professional printing. I learned all about digital marketing, attended local events, and had pop-up shops. When my youngest was asleep in the car I would run into random stores and introduce myself and leave samples. I got invited to be a guest vendor at the Daytime Emmy’s, had one product featured in Yoga Journal, and collaborated with a bunch of amazing leaders in the space on my blog and newsletter. I loved that the brand reflected my values, that I was helping women rethink what it meant to take care of themselves, and that I was building something I was proud of. Noble felt like my fourth baby and I was determined to be the next Jessica Alba. Until we did the math. Whomp, whomp, whomp.

After almost two years my sales were modest- okay they sucked. I needed money to add more products and change my packaging. It was the digital landscape of 2015 and I had no idea how to scale or what a pitch deck was. There are so many more resources for women business owners now!

Pros: Creating something unique that aligns with your values. Greater income potential if you are successful. You can build on it over time and possibly leave it for future generations. Some flexibility, but too much can lead to a hobby dressed up like a business.

Cons: Starting a business is a long game and no matter how much you make you have to pay quarterly taxes and other fees. You might not make any money for years and you have to be willing to deal with that. Also, you can’t even think about doing that with kids unless your spouse is paying for things like the mortgage and health insurance. Unless you already had money from a successful acting career like Jessica Alba (btw she paid someone else to do a lot of her start-up work like writing her business plan).

To start a successful business you need more than just a great idea and brand. You need to understand your industry and create a profitable model. You need access to capital. You need A LOT of time. Maybe that means you work on it for 10 years while you focus on your kids or maybe you hustle like crazy for 10 months and get there a little faster. Either way, if you are looking to make fast consistent money a business is not it! I know a lot of ads and socials are pushing the get-rich-quick vibe, but any valid business takes time to grow. Even scaling a freelancing gig takes time and the reality is the average freelancer makes less than $100k and that is before taxes and expenses.

I still don’t have the answer as I am currently starting a brand marketing agency. I thought a consulting business was going to be a bit like optimized freelancing. Even though there is no physical product, it still takes time to develop a brand and audience for yourself as well as the business, in addition to doing the actual work for clients! However, I know now that whatever I choose to do needs to be worth sacrificing the energy I could be spending on my family or my personal growth and health. It needs to align with my values and be something that I can build on over time. I often feel that I am playing too small and staying safe to prioritize the well-being of my family.

I strongly feel that a key to women being able to achieve financial independence (and creating wealth) while raising a family lies in community and collaboration. Many of us no longer live close to our families and are missing a huge amount of support that comes with having consistent help that doesn’t break the bank. I think I can safely say that if Elon Musk was a woman with those 10 kids, SpaceX might not exist. I would love to see a mom founding the next Tesla-scale enterprise or becoming the next Jeff Bezos. We need the time, space, and support to be able to think bigger and work on more meaningful, longer-term projects.

What do you think? What have you learned while trying to navigate a career and family? If you have an idea or a business that is helping working women I would love to hear about it.

The biggest thing I learned trying to balance a career and motherhood is that the perfect working mom doesn’t exist and it’s futile to hold yourself to those expectations (from others or yourself).I am lucky that I have a full-time remote job at a company I love and the overall compensation is great. But it also means that often I’m on calls until 6 or 7pm or I had to go back for a couple of hours at night after I put my daughter down for bed.But when I’m with my daughter, I’m with her fully. I don’t look at my phone or do anything else but focus on playing with her. I can’t do it all at once so I’m choosing to be present 100% for whatever I’m doing.Do I still feel guilty some days (actually most days)? Yes. But I’m also proud of myself for working hard so I can provide for our family too. I don’t have a business suggestion or idea but maybe we should brainstorm here! Community is so important and maybe we can collectively help our fellow working moms out!
Yes @rachelpeng the perfect working mom doesn’t exist and it’s such a relief when you stop striving towards some unattainable perfect balance. Love how you instead work towards being present at whatever is front of you - whether it be your daughter or a computer screen. It definitely takes some work to get there but is ideally the way it should be right? Thank you for taking the time to read my story and I am HERE for brainstorming on how to help working moms find more support!
The minute I read 16years I was hooked. While I have never had a chance to navigate towards a career YET, I can say juggling the two is a sacrifice very few men have probably had to experience. I have been a SAHM for the past 12 years; similar to you I tried keeping the same momentum when my children came along. I was finishing up my degree in Pre-med. but quickly realized we could not afford childcare and my last two years were all labs. I made a choice to hold off returning to school until my first child was ready for kindergarten. I even transferred schools (we were in the military and had moved) and had just finished my first year back only to have baby#2 make his appearance. So I put off schooling again; two kids under two was too much to juggle and when we found out baby#2 had ASD. I chose to pick family over myself. Over the past 12 years I thought of what jobs could I do, how could I balance both. At one point I tried to change my degree into Tech but the CS department mentor basically told me its not a place for women. I took it as another sign, to not be so selfish; to focus on providing and being the nurturer. I also started sewing baby bibs, opened an Etsy store but it never took off. Now that my children are older and have become more independent I am tipping the scales towards me. I've returned to the goal of becoming a software engineer that I had 7 years ago; enrolled in a coding program. 12 years is a long time to be "out of touch" with my younger ambitious self. The world has changed a lot over the years. I agree feeling and knowing you have a place that is supportive and understanding is important; a place that really lets you set aside your family role and thrive. I believe each and everyone of your endeavors you've poured yourself into was worth sacrificing for. It may not have come to fruition that way you had hoped but I believe it is a piece of you that keeps fighting for you.
Thank you @kqblacka for taking the time to read my post. Affordable childcare is definitely an obstacle for working women in this country. Especially, when trying to finish school, where there is no income coming in to cover it. It must have been hard letting that go! With kids they also don’t come out of the box perfect and each one brings their own challenges. I know first hand that sometimes you have no choice but to choose your family over your career. It’s not an easy decision, but one thing I’ve been working on is realizing that I have value no matter what I do. Whether I’m a SAHM or a working mom - I am valuable and worthy and don’t need to prove myself to anyone. Not to mention the things we do as a primary caregiver are extremely valuable we just don’t get paid for it so society takes it for granted. I believe that change starts with us first changing the way we view ourselves. So love yourself for where you are and continue to fight for your dreams because you deserve it Mama!
As a fellow mom of four (all boys), your journey is relatable in many ways. We were ex-pats on my husband's work visa for several years, so I couldn't even get a part-time job where we lived. I had ambitions out the wazoo but was extremely limited in how I could exercise them. Fortunately, I happened to be connected to a blogger who was quickly rising in fame (now a world-famous Food Network star), and I started working remotely (freelance) for her for a few years during that time, which (fast-forwarding several years) eventually led to me starting my own business as a wedding & portrait photographer. I am no longer in that business (by choice), and I'm currently looking for roles in Product as I was impacted by layoffs only about 9 months after joining a tech dream team. But, the journey here has been filled with many ups and downs, zigs and zags, and sheer cliffs. My main piece of advice is to prioritize doing what you love whenever you can. And if you can't do what you love all the time, make sure you're doing what you're doing for the people you love, more specifically your kids, because even if things aren't unfolding the way you planned or imagined, you want to look back and be able to say, "It was hard, but on the whole, I have no regrets because I did this for my family." If that makes sense. I don't think there is an easy button, and everyone's situation is different. And I don't think "no regrets" means we wouldn't change a single thing. Hindsight is 20/20. But we can't move forward if we focus on regrets.
@Nan 4 boys, that’s awesome! I had 3 girls first and was convinced there was no difference between raising boys and girls until my son came along 😅 Sounds your journey has had these incredible dreamy moments that made the struggle worthwhile. Thank you for sharing and am with you on doing what you love when you can. Learning to be flexible with my time has taken awhile to get used to but its the only way to keep space for what’s important outside out of my role as a mom. I know the right thing will come to you at the right time!
Thanks for the nice post! Confused by what you mean by "Faced with the reality that I couldn’t afford to have a job"... does this mean in terms of childcare costs or time or both? I wish remote jobs existed when my kids were small, it wasn't an option back then and I now have a career gap that's very hard to overcome.
@elisaolenik yes, both. I think there are so many layers to factor in when looking at what makes sense when returning to work after having children. It’s not just financial and its different for every family. There were so many parts of my situation I couldn’t go into in a post, but at that moment when I was trying to go back to work full time with 2 kids on entry level pay with East coast daycare prices - it just didn’t add up financially. The amount of money I would be saving was minuscule in addition to the effort and sacrifices that would have to be made for me to commit to that. If that makes sense. And YES I think remote works for working parents and wish that was an option at that time as well! Thank you for taking the time to read my post 💖
I get it. It's an easier decision if one or both of the parents command a high salary that allows them to afford childcare or some form of help. Or, have family or grandparents near by. That said, while I had the privilege of staying home with my kids, I've found re-entering the work force after a career gap extremely difficult and often very demotivating. I'm re-starting at a depressingly low pay level at a much older age and still hardly bringing in enough to contribute to the household. This is something Moms often don't think about when stepping out of the workforce for extended periods of time. A lot of people think that as children get older, there is less childcare. While this is true in some respects (they're more independent etc..) there is still a huge time commitment and responsibility with the teenage years - it just comes in an different form and you cannot outsource it to babysitters or nannies! Driving to and from activities, emotional support, homework that you don't understand, extended summer breaks etc.. etc... and they eat at lot more too :) !! Anyway, thanks for the interesting article that brings up a lot of thoughtful points. I still think there is not enough societal and corporate support to get mothers back to work.
@elisaolenik completely agree there is not enough support for working mom's on every level. Which leaves us to having to create our own paths that are never in a straight line. I totally feel where you are trying to jump back in and it just doesn't seem worthwhile. I am not sure what industry you are in, but I found taking a course where you could get a certification and finding a way to do that and have some experience to show. For example, I took a ton of marketing and social media management classes and used what I learned in my own business for a couple of years then used both as experience on my resume. It allowed me get a higher paying role when I did start applying. You have to level yourself up sometimes! You might also want to check out themomproject.com and apresgroup.com. They are both platforms dedicated to helping mom's return to work and the companies they work with are already ok with resume gaps. You can also try Upwork. They often have smaller contract projects and you can use those to add to your resume as well. Happy to help if you want to talk about this more. As for the teenagers - omg. I have 2 of them and this phase of life is a lot of work. You are not alone in feeling that! It is hard. Keep fighting for yourself though. I realized that the struggle to try feels much better than the regret of ignoring what you wanted. You might have to claw your way back in, but in the end it will be worth it.
Very much feel this, but I wonder why your partner/husband doesn't figure more prominently in this account. Just because they make more money doesn't make it a given that they have rights to be the primary earner and no domestic responsibilities. Childcare costs should always be accounted for taking BOTH salaries into account, not just the lower earner's.
@oliviaralston thank you for taking the time to read my post. Appreciate your comment. Yes, ideally that is the way it should be and I agree that being a higher earner doesn’t waive your responsibilities. However, I was looking just at the math for returning to work at that point based on our situation at the time. Even looking at it from a joint financial view it didn’t make sense. There was also a time much later when I had a full time job and that additional income put us into a higher tax bracket and we also lost the ability to claim other deductions. That was a theme that kept coming up for me throughout my career was when I did the math based on the options available and it’s always more complicated and never in our favor. There isn’t real support for working moms or families, especially if you are in the middle class.