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  • I always thought being a “workhorse” was the best way to be of value to my family.
  • But when my health started to suffer, I stepped back from work and became a full-time mom.
  • It wasn’t easy to lose my income, but I’ve never felt better and my kids are thriving.

This essay is part of “Home Ec: The Economics of Stay-at-home Parenting,” a series from Personal Finance Insider about the financial reality of staying home with your kids.

Growing up, my dad always called himself a “workhorse.” That was his way of saying that he was a workaholic and that making money was his duty. Through his hard work, my dad put three siblings through college and helped support his parents’ household while starting his own family. 

As someone who idolized my dad, I saw that dedicated work ethic and wanted to be just as driven. Though it was never his intention for me to feel this way, his example inadvertently taught me that the more money I made, the more merit I had. This is how I could be of value.

I started working when I was 16 with the intention of being a breadwinner for my family. In college, the promise of bigger paychecks caused me to shift my priorities and dedicate more time to work than school. While my grades suffered, I excelled at work by landing raises and promotions. Once I started earning significant money, I didn’t want to stop. 

A health scare forced me to take a step back

Before I knew it, I had dedicated 10 years to the grocery retailer where I worked. The year leading up to this was full of added stress in the name of professional growth. I had just come back from maternity leave with the birth of my third child and was feeling pressured to take on a more challenging role. I eventually gave in and allowed myself to be transferred from my convenient location to one that was an hour away from my home.

I was spending at least two hours a day just on my long commute. I had to give up breastfeeding because my new schedule proved to be so hectic. This sacrifice felt like a personal failure and caused me so much guilt. I was burnt out but there was no time to slow down. I relocated again soon after to help open a new store location. Though I was now 10 minutes from home, I was more overwhelmed than ever. 

I was also way more tired than usual. Work left me fatigued and in pain every day. After each shift, I’d come home and be unable to move while my body recuperated. My arms felt like they were too heavy for my muscles to lift and I had foot pain that felt like I was walking on marbles.

It was around this time that the malaise I had labeled “baby blues” seemed to get worse. I went from depressed and anxious to apathetic and lost. I found no joy in the things I loved and there was no value in my hard work. I felt like I was dragging my family down with me. Things had to change.

I finally confided in my husband, who had already been trying his best to lessen the burdens I felt. Talking to my husband led to visiting a psychologist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. Then, after seeing a rheumatologist, I left with a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Both doctors had the same recommendation — my health would be dramatically improved with less work. For the first time, I considered the possibility of being a stay-at-home mom.

There was nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom in general. It just didn’t mesh with my need to make money, so the decision to quit my job wasn’t an easy one. At the time, I made more money than my husband, so we’d be losing that income. My personal value had always been tied to how much money I brought home. Losing the ability to make money felt like sacrificing the last bit of my usefulness. 

Leaving full-time work helped me heal and pursue my interests

Working out the details was tough at first, but within a few months, my family figured it out by cutting our extraneous expenses. Those months also proved that my quitting had been the best decision I could have made. As a stay-at-home mom, I had time to visit my psychiatrist and start weekly therapy while also spending time with my kids. Getting to be there for little moments I missed out on before was a bittersweet reward that made it worthwhile.

Having time to heal and nurture also freed me to explore who I was outside of a workhorse. I picked up hobbies from my youth — gardening, painting, and writing — and was surprised by how much they enriched my family’s life. I grew and canned veggies, I raised chickens for their eggs, and crafted with my kids. On a whim, I began a career as a freelance writer; that career has allowed me to meet incredible people, try new things, and support my family for the past seven years. 

My life is so much different than I expected it would be. Being a stay-at-home mom has allowed me to be closer to my kids, take care of my health, pursue my interests, and provide for my family beyond a paycheck. The value I gained as a stay-at-home mom is so much greater than what I found when I limited myself to being a workhorse. 

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