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How an Opt-Out Mom Opted Back In
By Wendy Walker

I remember the day I began the journey back to work with perfect clarity. Sitting in my office, there was a cup of coffee on the desk, a laptop open to a blank screen. From the window I could see my son with the sitter walking to the swing. Even now, I can feel the all-consuming guilt that held me captive as I watched him toddle hand-in-hand with someone else. A mother's guilt is a powerful thing. What was wrong with me that after only a year on the job as a stay-home-mom I was trying to forge a new one as a writer?

The truth is, I had jumped at the chance to "opt-out" of my career as a lawyer and raise my kids. I did this in spite of four years at Brown, two years working on Wall Street, and three years of law school. The decision was surprisingly simple. I could use whatever talents I had helping corporate clients, or I could use them to nurture my own offspring. What did not occur to me was the fact that by leaving the life I had worked years to create, I was also leaving a piece of myself behind.

As it turned out, I had joined masses of former-professional-women-turned-moms whose talents were now being directed at their children. My job was my child, my child was my life. The piece of me I had left behind became fully embedded in this new job of mothering, and the drive for perfection began to overshadow the small moments of joy that all of this was for. I knew that it had to stop, that I needed an outlet that transcended fabric samples and lunch dates. I had never thought of being a writer. But this was the dream I discovered when I reached inside myself for something to save me from the trap of perfecting motherhood, and when I finally turned away from the window that day, I pursued it every chance I got.

It was years later when I devised the plot for Four Wives. Sitting in the dark one night while I nursed my third baby, I began to think about the raging debate over women "opting out." I thought about the very different life I believed I would have through college and law school. And I wondered how much longer I could survive the physical exhaustion and mental starvation that filled my every day life.

The baby stopped feeding and I draped him over my shoulder. I felt his breath on my neck, his body against mine. It seemed impossible to me that I could love my children so deeply and still be unfulfilled. That night, I knew I had to keep writing, and that this dilemma was what I needed to write about.

As I await publication this coming February, I am frequently asked how I forged a new career in the midst of stay-home mothering. This is how. First, I said no to my house. No redecorating, no antiquing, no gardening. I kept things clean and tidy, but not a curtain has changed in over eight years. Second, I micro-managed my time and resources. Every hour my kids spent at school, with their dad or the sitter, I spent working. I brought my kids to the grocery store, dry cleaner "I jogged with them in the baby jogger. Third, I worked from my car. With multiple batteries for my laptop, I made my car my office, dropping the kids at school and working from the parking lot while I waited. Fourth, I said no to daytime socializing that did not include my kids. No lunches, coffees or shopping sprees. I saw my friends alone for mom's night out. And last, I always said yes to my kids" school plays, field trips, baseball games, reading a book. I never worked after the kids got home. 

Building this dream of opting back in was not easy. Through guilt and doubt, it was built around everything that was in its way. It was built because beneath it was sheer need - the need to be seen, and heard, and valued in the world beyond my front door that so many stay-home mothers come to feel. I am no longer the perfect mommy. I never was. But I am a better mother because I have found a path back to myself. It can be done.