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Motherhood vs. Career: Have I Wasted My Potential?

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Just the other day, my daughter looked at me from across the kitchen table and said, matter of factly, “Mommy, you never leave the house for work.”

I answered as best as I could.

“No, no I don’t. Not anymore. But I did, before you were born. And I still work, but from home now, so I can stay home with you and brother too.”

She met my response with a blank stare and then went on her merry way, as if the conversation never happened.

Many moons ago, I was going places. A’s in high school…check. Honors at a top university…check. Graduate school…check. I spent five years working as an attorney, writing motions and appeals. I had “made it.”

But when I got pregnant, I felt in my gut that I wanted to stay home. Luckily, my job afforded me the flexibility to work from home permanently. With two busy kids and a chaotic schedule, I often don’t work as much as I’d like to, which is disappointing, but I’m happy to be home (well, on most days).

Over the past five years, I have watched my high school, college, and graduate school companions achieve levels of success that I have been unable to.

Even my husband, who I will always remember as the 22-year-old slacker who borrowed my outlines in graduate school, is out in the work world kicking butt, while I’m at home wiping butts. I don’t regret my decision, but I would be lying if I said I don’t feel jealous at times.

On my best days, I feel like Super Mom, doing crafts and hitting the playground in the morning and writing winning legal arguments in the afternoon while my kids play quietly in the next room.

But on my worst days, when my kids don’t cooperate and my mom brain feels like extra-thick cottage cheese, I feel like a shell of the person I used to be. It’s as if I am wearing a neon sign on my forehead that says “wasted potential.”

I had chosen to work from home as a clever way to bridge the gap and find the balance between career and family. While I haven’t had to sacrifice one or the other, I have sacrificed my ability to commit myself fully to either. While I might be “doing it all,” I don’t often feel as if I am doing anything well. Maybe one day, when my kids are older, I will find that magical balance. But as of today, I have not, and I’m not in a rush for them to grow up any faster than they already are.

I don’t for a minute regret my decision. No mother should ever regret her decision to stay at home with her children or to work outside of the home. There is no right or wrong decision – only the decision that feels most fitting to you. My career might not stack up against some of my successful counterparts, and on some days thoughts of who I could have been creep in and start to sting. I am learning to embrace my decisions and not compare myself to anyone other than the person I want to be. I chose a life that is challenging, fulfilling, and joyful for me.

And that is enough.

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