I’ve often second-guessed myself: Did I make a mistake raising my family in the city instead of the suburbs? Should I have tried to have a third child?
Yet one shoulda-coulda-woulda in which I’ve never indulged is parsing whether I made the right decision to work after having kids. I have only to spend time with my sons to realize I made the best choice for our family.
Jed and Rory are kind, loving, witty and industrious young adults. My boys are able to handle all manner of tasks, from putting up pickles to brewing beer — and that’s just in the kitchen. Their competence, I’m convinced, is at least partially fueled by the fact that I encouraged them to take a do-it-yourself approach to decisions and tasks. I simply wasn’t around to micromanage their lives.
I started building my career as a magazine editor when my boys were babies. My work brought me great joy, but there was never any question about what came first: my children. Like the other working moms at the boys’ school who became my dearest friends — because we occasionally spelled each other — I never missed a play, a concert or the chance to be a class mother. Throwing birthday parties, going to doctor appointments, sewing 200 labels into clothes and serving family dinner every night — for more than 20 years, until my youngest son went off to college, I lived out my own mother’s favorite aphorism: If you want something done, ask a busy person.
As my children grew, so did my job. By the time the kids reached the heavy-duty homework stage, I had a demanding job as an editor-in-chief of a large national magazine. Once the dishes were cleared, Jed and Rory decamped to study. Though I doubt they noticed what Mom was doing, I turned to the piles of manuscripts that had followed me home.
I’d be lying if I claimed that the balancing act was easy. Sometimes our child care flatlined and I had to jury-rig alternatives, such as splitting the day with my husband — one of us taking the morning shift, the other, the afternoon. My husband was the puzzle piece that made Team Koslow function more or less smoothly. He was a true, 50-50 partner. Yet even with his help, there were moments when I felt exhausted or frantic, worrying about or simply missing my boys when I was at work. I particularly remember one Halloween when I had to attend a conference in Bermuda. While my childless colleagues saw this as a juicy perk, I’d have traded every grain of pink sand for one glimpse of Rory dressed as Monopoly Man.
I got it all done, though the doing came out of my end. For almost two decades I had scant me-time. I made a lot of cookies with my boys and now have chops as a baker, but I never became a quilter, a gardener or the mom who was elected head of the PTA. In fact, none of the working moms could attend PTA meetings, which — to our chagrin — were always scheduled during the heart of the workday. I never learned to play tennis or golf. For exercise, I got up at 6 a.m. and ran in the park. Vacations were always served up family style. A romantic trip alone with my husband? Uh-uh. I would have missed my kids — and sweated guilt bullets leaving them behind.
But guilt and regret are not the same. Unquestionably, I felt I was a better mother than I would have been if I stayed home. I thought a lot about my own mom, who I sensed would have been a lot happier had she not given up her job as a social worker. I read a subliminal warning in the depression she faced at middle age. I see it reflected today in friends who quit their jobs when they had kids and, especially in this economy, have seen their hopes of re-entering the work force sidelined.
For me, working has felt beshert, the Yiddish word for destined. I liked everything about my career, including the fact that it allowed me to become as much a breadwinner as my husband. I took pride in knowing that I was an equal partner in taking care of my family, providing for their excellent educations, the summer camps the boys adored and the sneakers they outgrew quicker than you can say “MasterCard.”
Regarding work, I fiercely believe that each mother should make the right decision for herself and her family. I’m not keeping score — though I can’t help but wonder why some moms who choose not to work outside of the home claim the moral high ground. I couldn’t love Jed and Rory with any more fierceness had I met every school bus, every day, snack in hand. I’m proud of them, as they say they are of me. Do I have regrets? Not yet.
Sally Koslow is the author of the novels With Friends Like These; The Late, Lamented Molly Marx; and Little Pink Slips.
"I Was an At-Home Mom." Read the reflections of a mother who gave up a promising career to stay home with her young children.