It’s back to school season—that bittersweet time of year that reminds parents just how much their kids have grown. With the world still in the grips of a pandemic, school once again looks a little different this year. For some, this year marks a return to the classroom and a return to normalcy. Or, at least something resembling normal. This year is the first year many families have been back to in-person school in almost two years.
In my home, it’s a particularly monumental year as it is the first year ever that all three of my kids will be in school. My oldest child is starting first grade, and my three-year-old twins are joining his elementary school for full-time preschool. However, it’s not just my kids who are starting school this year. I am, too.
Eight years after graduating from law school and becoming an attorney, I am returning to my alma mater part-time for my MBA. After several years of working from home with kids while navigating a career transition from law to business, I am officially coming back to myself. This year, it’s back to school and back to ME.
With my kids starting school, this is the first time since 2015 that I will be working from home without kids.
When my oldest child was born in March 2015, I knew I wanted to be as present as possible with him. I arranged a flexible schedule with my employer to work from home with my son every Wednesday following my maternity leave. Being a full-time litigator and new mom wasn’t easy. However, my enthusiasm for my career and motherhood meant that I eagerly blended the roles in a way that not many people were doing in my legal community at the time.
Over time, I began working from home more often.
By 2017, my schedule had flipped entirely. I was going into the office on Wednesdays and working from home the remainder of the week. Around that time, I decided to rework my role with my law firm, switching my status from a full-time associate to “of counsel.” I dropped my litigation caseload in favor of working solely on writing appellate briefs from home.
In the summer of 2017, I became pregnant with twins. At the same time, I dove deeper into my side gig of blogging and freelance writing, and I began my gradual transition to a career outside the full-time practice of law.
Working from home with three kids under the age of four proved incredibly challenging.
Not everyone understood my decision to work from home with my kids—even I didn’t understand my choice sometimes. I would reflect back on my earliest days as a career mom with an office in a historic building downtown with an accommodating employer.
On my most frazzled days as a work from home mom, I’d think back to what it was like to be able to close the door, work on a task for hours at a time, drink a hot beverage, eat lunch with both hands, and I’d wonder what the heck I thought when I decided to stay home and work with my kids.
Unlike my work-from-home life with my firstborn, which included plenty of outside activities, life with twin babies required much more rigidity and time at home. Instead of daily outings, our schedule was more survival-based the second time around.
Still, my initial reasons for opting to stay home during the preschool years remained.
Being there during those early, impressionable years was essential to me, and I had the workplace structure and flexibility. Plus, even when I was feeling burned out, as anyone who has ever had to arrange full-time childcare knows, finding good help or a quality daycare opening does not happen in the snap of a finger. Waitlists can last for years, and finding a trusted in-home provider can take even longer.
Life was complicated, but I knew I didn’t want to make it even more complex. Working from home with my kids was my choice, and I was in it for the long haul.
I missed being able to work in solitude and enjoy a hot lunch. I missed adult conversation and having a commute to decompress. However, with every cost-benefit analysis I undertook, I knew my time at home was worth it.
Being home with my kids and creating my schedule also meant that I could pursue creative career options that I would not have been able to do otherwise.
I also had an endgame.
Long before I worked from home and throughout my time at home with my kids, my husband and I worked together to cultivate a strategy and endgame for my role balancing work and childcare at home. In addition to my husband seeking a flexible schedule when possible, we arranged for occasional help from family and enrolled our oldest child in a full-time school we chose when he was four. Since our school starts at age three, we planned to do the same with our twins when they became old enough.
Now, at long last, back to school season is finally here, and, in many ways, it’s hard to believe.
After six years working from home with kids, I can barely remember what it was like to focus on a task without also fetching snacks and being on potty duty. During my time at home, I’ve built two companies and several thriving online platforms. I’ve created a professional legacy that I am further cultivating in business school. Still, my time at home required me to scale back and refine my focus in ways I never previously had to.
I love my kids, and I have loved being home with them. However, after almost seven years of motherhood, three busy children, and several years home with them, I don’t feel the need to preface my excitement over this next chapter with an assertion of that love.
I went over 2000 days knowing that every day would look the same. Nights and weekends did not differ from my weekdays. Unlike my former life working outside the home, there was no morning or afternoon commute to collect myself. No reprieve from the constant blend of duties. No off switch.
Managing the constant needs and demands of three small children while keeping up with my own has been hard. I know the challenges of motherhood won’t go away when my kids walk into their classrooms, but I also know how important having daily time to myself again will be.
I look forward to this next chapter just as I looked forward to the previous chapter.
When my kids go back to school this month, I won’t have much time to sit and reflect on my experiences of the last several years. Instead, I will do what I’ve always done: get to work. Only this time, I’ll have a few moments to decompress and collect myself—and hopefully, enjoy a hot cup of coffee.
Are your kids going back to school this year? What do your plans look like?