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Making the Transition: So You're Home -- Now What?
by Darcie Sanders and Martha M. Bullen
Excerpt from Staying Home: From Full-time Professional to Full-time Parent

Everyone tells you that as a new mother, you'll be sleep deprived, moody, overwhelmed, exhilarated, and depressed, in turn. As a professional woman turned at-home mother, you'll face more adjustments than just learning how to care for a new baby. If you've been in the work force for several years, you may face a difficult transition in giving up your title, salary, and business accomplishments in favor of family life.

You may feel delighted with your decision to stay home, but the first several months after leaving your job still may be hard as you work at creating a new life for yourself as an at-home mother.

Whether you decide to stay home right after the birth of your first child or when your children are older, motherhood requires trade-offs that are more significant than simple schedule adjustments. New mothers face a lack of sleep, uncertainty about how to care for a baby, and the "baby blues." Professional women, at whatever point they opt to stay home, also struggle over whether they've made the right choice, frustration with their loss of freedom, and mourning for their old selves and buried careers.

"The transition from professional work to home life was surprisingly difficult," said Ursula Smith, one of the mothers who participated in our survey. "It was total culture shock, and I was in foreign territory." We heard the phrase culture shock again and again when mothers explained how they felt about being home for the first few months.

All the rules and structures you're used to at work have changed, and it takes time to get adjusted. At-home mothers often find that their new career includes chaotic, disorganized schedules, irregular work hours (with plenty of overtime), no clear job assignments, no performance evaluations, mundane chores, few coworkers, and obviously, no salary. For women who have been used to being in control of their time and of themselves, this can be extremely frustrating.

Susan Wynn, formerly a legal secretary, described the transition from working woman to at-home mother this way: "Suddenly a once productive individual is reduced to a state of total disorder by an adorable bundle of joy weighing in at less than ten pounds but requiring ten times the attention of the toughest two-hundred-pound boss. Your work hours, which you thought were long before, have now stretched to twenty-four a day (with a few hours' sleep grabbed whenever you can), and the five-day workweek has become seven. There's no feedback, no compliments, no paycheck, and none of the satisfaction that comes from completing anything!"

Life at home can also be a shock because so many professional women never thought they'd end up there. They put all of their efforts into advancing in a career and never even considered staying at home until a baby came along and changed their priorities. For that reason, they may feel very unsure when it comes to running a house and raising a child. It can take a year or two of on-the-job training before you feel confident that you are doing a good job as a mother.

Great Expectations

Expecting is not limited to pregnancy. Both first-time mothers and experienced mothers who have recently left the workforce expect the most unreasonable things of themselves as at-home mothers. They assume that taking care of a baby will not be very difficult and will leave them with lots of free time to explore their own projects. They imagine that the house will be sparkling, they'll have cookies in the oven, and they'll still have time to read to their children and work on their dissertations. In addition, women who have chosen to stay home when their second or third child comes along often have the unrealistic idea that they'll make up for everything they missed with their older children. Unfortunately, things aren't that simple.

Children are notoriously indifferent to their parents' hopes for a structured life. They stay up all night teething, get double-ear infections at the drop of a hat, won't nap when you're begging them to, fall asleep when you're longing to get out of the house, and get a strong dose of stranger anxiety the very week all your relatives descend for a visit.

Unrealistic expectations are especially common among women who are used to running a department, managing a sales force, or doing other challenging professional work. You used to be able to accomplish all your goals. Why, you wonder, is one little baby making it almost impossible to do anything?

Don't lose heart. It is possible to make time for yourself. But remember to be flexible in setting goals for yourself. Any business manager should know that one of the best ways to keep employees' morale high is to set realistic, achievable goals. Heidi L. Brennan said that she and the other leaders of Mothers at Home have found that "whatever you think will take you two weeks to do without kids will take you six weeks as a mother. As long as you have realistic expectations, you won't disappoint yourself."

If you accept that you'll have good and bad days as a mother (just as you had your ups and downs at work), you'll stand a much better chance of making a smooth adjustment to home life.

Click here to enjoy our informative discussion with both authors.

2001 by Darcie Sanders and Martha M. Bullen. Reprinted with permission from Staying Home: From Full-time Professional to Full-time Parent. Staying Home is available from bookstores, amazon.com and bn.com. It can be ordered from Spencer & Waters at 1-800-711-3627 or http://www.spencerandwaters.com.

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