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Mom Talk: Leaving My Job & Becoming A Stay At Home Mom

Written by Shalina Stillman

Photography by Photographed by Jimmy Stillman

Motherhood is a tough job, whether you’re working outside the home or not. In today’s Mom Talk essay, Portland-based mother of two Shalina Stillman shares her experience walking in both sets of shoes and the challenges that come along with both roles. -SL

Can we all agree that the “stay at home mom” title needs a refresh? Talk about antiquated and nondescript. For starters, we’re hardly at home. But, for lack of a better term, this has been my job title for the past five months. I embarked on this new adventure when I was an empowered (yet overworked) mother who never had enough time for anyone or anything. I entered into my new world giddy and totally clueless as to the transformation it would have on my relationship with my children and the new sentiment of solidarity that I would feel towards women.

As mothers, we have the propensity to be pulled in many directions and put a lot of pressure on ourselves. In order to survive in the Bay Area, my husband and I found ourselves working a lot. Don’t get me wrong, we both take a lot of pride in our work, so by nature, we enjoy working hard and strive to do a good job. But as a result, this ended up equating to a mere 1-2 hours a day with our kids. And the time we had together was always rushed. Today there is the desire to be everything to our children: instilling values, experiences, and teachings that will shape who they become as people. With our kids spending so many hours away at daycare, I found myself wondering how I could be a more significant influence in their lives, especially during those very impressionable years as small people. Of course, preschool is amazing. The children get exposure to new ways of thought and interaction. However, I often felt like a bystander watching my girls being raised by other people.

With the unbeatable opportunity to move to Portland, via to my husband’s job, I took a huge leap of faith and left my coveted tech role working for the world’s largest retailer. I had built a career over many years, but I took this opportunity to spend dedicated time raising our two little girls, just 2 and 4 years old. With this exciting decision came a flood of introspection and ultimately it came down to one thing—I had never known anything but working full-time. My identity for the last twelve years had been that of a full-time employee, and the last 4 years had been that of a working mom.

I had always taken a lot of pride in the “working mom” title; it is not easy to provide, grow an impressive career, and also raise little ones. So, with this big change, I had a lot of worries, including:

Would taking time off hurt my career?
Would I have a hard time finding another job when ready to go back?
How would it be perceived when I give people my “stay at home mom” job title?
What would it be like at home with the kids?
How will I entertain/teach them 24/7?!

Staying home to raise a family, whether permanently or temporarily, should be widely revered and respected. Even having these worries was frustrating, signaling that maybe we, as a society, need to do a better job at making moms feel enabled and fully supported to do what they feel is the right thing for their families. Until we have women in more leadership roles in the workplace, I fear that the societal norms won’t change in the drastic way that they need to. Moms need flexibility, and this flexibility shouldn’t have to come at the price of walking away from a career. And if moms do choose to walk away, they need to be able to return to work at any time without the stigma that there is a gap in their resume. I have had the pleasure of working with so many powerhouse leaders and I can honestly say the best bosses that I have had are women and moms. Busy as ever, sleepless, hardworking, visionary, moms. They have the rare empathy and people skills, but they don’t have time to waste, so they get shit done.

I could dedicate an entire essay to my own mother who set forth the most amazing example of working motherhood one could ever imagine. She climbed the ranks through the Nineties and 2000s as a woman of color when women were even less equal than they are to men today. She is now at the top of her career, with all of that hard work paying off. Seeing her experience such success has been extremely powerful and inspiring. I can only hope to set a similar example for my daughters. With this said, it is ever-so-important to mention she took five years off when she was around my age to look after us kids. Let me repeat that—FIVE YEARS. She now confirms this was the best life decision she ever made. It did not set her career back and if she could do it all over again, she says she would do it the same way. Our decision required us to make a physical move out of state to pursue a more family-focused lifestyle, as well as a complete overhaul in our spending habits, but the change has been well worth it.

From my experience thus far, staying home to raise the kids carries a learning curve sharper than any job I’ve had in the past. After the honeymoon phase, there were a lot of days full of tears and frustration, mainly because the kids and I didn’t yet understand each other. I got a crash course in some pretty impressive toddler manipulation tactics and started to piece together the underlying needs driving a lot of the emotion.

Portland summers are glorious. We are explorers by nature, so upon arriving in Portland, our list of things to do, see, and eat were growing by the minute. I’m a sucker for fancy donuts and fine beer, so we obviously picked the right city and I was anxious to eat and drink my weight in both. We never stay idle at home for long and have always been the “grab the kids and go” kind of people.

Upon touchdown in Portland, I immediately had the brilliant idea to begin potty-training our second child. Let’s be real here, I never potty-trained the first kid; the daycare did that for us and I just reinforced with the occasional M&M’s on the weekends. Feeling fully confident after googling a few articles, we started our journey into what I now know to be the most foolish “potty train in three days” plan. My 2-year-old put me in check real fast. She had completely different plans for me which resembled a boot camp for her seemingly out-of-touch mother. I was trying to force on her a method that quite frankly she was not ready for and didn’t suit her style. Two weeks of not leaving the house, letting my older daughter waste away in front of the television while she waited patiently, and taking turns throwing tantrums with my 2-year-old on the bathroom floor, I took a step back and did a complete reset. Instead of forcing the girls onto my timeline and my style, I started to really notice what made my daughters tick. And when I did this, the potty gods shined right down on us and into the toilet they went! By week three, we were trained and feeling really good about celebrating our accomplishment together.

We have grown immensely from our time together. The summer was filled with similar interactions requiring me to take a step back and really figure out the root cause of certain behaviors. No longer ushering my kids through a hurried state of life, I was able to realize that a lot of their undesired behaviors are driven from being tired, hungry, or just plain needing a hug—driving home for me how basic our children’s needs are. We are learning how to treat each interaction with respect and patience, remembering that some of the most challenging days become the most rewarding with the right attitude. I was surprised that I didn’t really know my kids. The connection and bond between us are much stronger now. I take comfort in knowing that this time with the girls has been priceless as they are growing so quickly and I have been able to soak up and enjoy some very precious moments of their childhood. Because that’s what it’s all about, right?

Emotions run high with this subject. seeing as the “working mom” and “stay at home mom” topic really touches on the livelihood of so many women. The darker side of this journey has highlighted the gender inequality that continues to exist in the workplace. The first half of a career is spent gaining valuable experience and proving oneself, gaining momentum on a path of upward trajectory while taking on leadership positions. Then, along comes in the clash of the biological clock. If the path to motherhood is desired and pursued, this additional role is introduced in a pivotal time in a woman’s career. There is no way to deny that the noble and warranted quest to “have it all and do it all well” is damn hard to achieve and I have yet to come across male counterparts at work going through a similar dilemma.

Now having walked in both shoes, I want to shout out in solidarity to any and every mom that I meet and give them a huge hug, whether working outside the home or not and say, “I completely understand! I know what you are going through and you got this!” Motherhood ain’t easy and we are all just doing the best that we can with what we have. It is so important to be kind to one another and have empathy for every situation. Each has a different story and every story has its own set of struggles and triumphs. Every family may have different priorities and values, but at the end of the day, I am convinced we are all more alike than different.


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