Moms Make it Work: Stephanie | Full Time Working Mom

Today on the Moms Make it Work series, we have Stephanie who is a full-time high school teacher and free-lance writer. Stephanie emailed me and asked to be a part of the series and I'm glad she found it! I really enjoyed the post, and especially found it interesting to read her background story of how her mother's choices to start a family young while staying at home did affect Stephanie's own choices. Of course the way we were raised and the way our moms parented us has an impact on our own lives, but sometimes it's easy to forget that piece of the puzzle. Enjoy!


Hello friends of Julia! My name is Stephanie and I’m excited to talk about “making it work” as a full-time teacher and Mom. I’m a teacher at a public high school teaching AP U.S. History and Humanities. I also work as a free-lance opinion writer for Salt Lake City Weekly. But most importantly, I’m a wife to a handsome tech geek named Dan and a Mom to a wonderful two-year-old named Clara.
Hi, I'm Steph

And these are my favorite people.
What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?

      I discovered my passion for history and writing at 16. In high school I struggled to manage the ADD I inherited from my Dad, and the perfectionist tendencies learned from my Mom. During my sophomore year, I discovered a talent for understanding history, and a natural ability to write about what I learned. My AP U.S. History teacher inspired and encouraged me to pursue my interests, and by the end of my junior year, I knew I needed to be a history teacher.

      In 2006 I met my husband Dan at a fraternity/ sorority mixer. We married in 2007, the same year I graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in History and a minor in English Literature. (With those degrees, it’s a good thing I actually wanted to be a teacher, right?) 
Dan and I on our wedding day. Babies, both of us. 
College Graduation. Go Utes!
     I received my the Masters of Arts and Teaching degree from Westminster College in 2009, and I've been teaching ever since. It amazes me that I teach AP U.S. History, the same class that inspired me to pursue education, and I love helping my students discover their own talents and dreams.  Clara was born in 2012, allowing me to fulfill a dream I didn't recognize until I found Dan and we began our family together. I never realized how much I wanted to be a mother until I held Clara for the first time. Now I can’t imagine life without her, or the someday siblings we hope to bring to our family.  

Dan looking like he didn't just give birth
Me looking really... post-postpartum
What are the best parts of your situations? What are the challenges?

       I always hate it when people say teaching is a great “Mom job” because our hours are the same as our kids, or because we don’t work summers. I chose teaching because the job reflects my passions and goals. Plus, people tend to only classify low-pay/female-dominated jobs as good “Mom jobs” which sends a very negative message to girls growing up with the hope of balancing family and career. But soap-box aside, the schedule is really wonderful. I feel like I still get to do lots of fun things with Clara because I leave work at 3:00 pm, giving me enough time to go to the park or the library before dinner. In the summer, I like to do things with Clara I normally couldn't do. This summer we took a parent/child dance class Wednesday mornings, and it is fun to actually be home to go to community play-groups and friend meet-ups.
Clara wouldn't let me try pigtails until I did my own.
The very best part of my work situation is the in-house daycare at my school. This allows me to bring Clara to work with me, drop her off at the daycare center, and watch her play outside from my classroom window. Clara’s daycare is small and staffed by a group of women who love Clara and are highly trained in childcare, but the cost reflects my pay as a teacher. (About 1/3 the national average for full-time care.) Some of my students are interns at the daycare, and I love image of a family-friendly work-places this instills in my students. Many companies still function on the single-income family with a stay-at-home-parent model. This makes it incredibly difficult for two-income families to find suitable and affordable childcare. But my students see that working and raising a family can work when it becomes a community effort: I work hard to educate the teenagers in my classroom, and they work hard to educate my child at daycare. I know my access to quality childcare is a privilege, and it makes me very passionate about advocating for and writing about the need for sustainable work-places with sufficient parental leave, flex-time, and affordable child-care opportunities. I wish my situation were the norm, not the extraordinary exception.
Clara's Daycare Birthday Party. Those tables are amazing. 
As for challenges, the mythological “second-shift” for working moms still exists.  Even though Dan and I spend about the same amount of time working and actively parenting, my job is still exhausting, and sometimes the last thing I want to do after teaching from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm is play at the park, or read the same Dr. Seuss book over and over. Clara watches more cartoons than I feel comfortable with, my house is consistently messy, and I can’t quite figure out an exercise routine I can sustain. I will openly admit to the occasional break-down where I tell my husband I can’t do it anymore. Usually this happens after a failed dinner recipe, a toddler tantrum, and a long night where I stay up too late to make a writing deadline only to head back to school the next morning wearing a shirt with dried oatmeal on it. When this happens, Dan and I re-evaluate our roles as parents and professionals to re-establish balance. When I’m particularly busy at work, my self-employed husband will pass up a job opportunity to spend more time at home. Dan could probably earn more working for a big company, but the long hours would place more burdens on me. His work flexibility helps ease the challenges of working full-time. He’s the one that takes time off work to take Clara to the doctor, or to come home early and make dinner. Sometimes he works after Clara and I are both in bed in order to have a day off the same day I do. While I crave stability and a predictable routine, I am learning to sacrifice those things in order to maintain a work-life balance that feels authentic to our long-term goals as people and parents. Dan loves running his own business, and I love teaching, so we make it work.
This photo is too funny not to share.

Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?
No. My mother grew up with a large family in a very strict religious household. She was taught that her duty as a woman was to give up all “worldly” professional ambition to raise her children. She married very young and had the first of her five children at age 22. She was and is a wonderful and devoted mother, but she always told her daughters that we should choose the family plan that worked for us, and to choose personal happiness over dogma. She lives with a lot of regret, not because she stayed home to raise her children, but because she felt she never really experienced any other choice. I saw my mother struggle with her decision to have children, and it made me very afraid to start a family of my own. I also worried that working and raising a child wouldn't “work,” since I encountered very few real-life examples of professional mothers growing up.

Creating this family with my husband and Clara is the most unexpected joy of my life. I’m surprised how much I love motherhood, and yet I realize that my happiness comes from being empowered to make the right choice for me. Waiting for children until I felt established in a career and navigating work-life balance with a co-parent and equal partner is both a privilege and a result of a lot of hard work. I’m so proud of our family, and so grateful for the blessings and straight dumb-luck we've encountered throughout our lives. (I was hired at the only school in my district that provides child-care. I didn't realize at the time how monumental that was.)

Everyone looks a little crazy here. Except Clara, she's perfect. 

 Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

Well, I’d like to lose ten pounds, find a million dollars, and insist that the state of Utah lower the maximum number of students per classroom from 45 to 25. (Oh, Utah.) I also still get really bad zits. In all seriousness, I wish my profession came with a paycheck that reflected the amount of work and training I do to educate effectively. I don’t need to make sports-star figures, but seriously, a little respect here, please. Mostly, I wish this because I feel guilty that my husband bears more of the financial burden for our family. His business has grown a lot on the last few years, and while I am thrilled for his success, it also comes with longer hours and more stress. Sometimes I wish I earned more so he could enjoy more of a choice in how much he works. Ideally, our decision to co-parent and work equally would come with equal pay. J Also, I wouldn't have ADD anymore. Anyway.
My hair looks good here. That's all.
Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years? Or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?

                As I mentioned previously, the business Dan started in the living room of our first apartment is now significantly bigger. He’s much less flexible compared to the early years of our marriage. While I’m signed on to teach full-time this year, I may go part-time next year in order to add some flexibility to my own schedule, and pick up some of the responsibilities Dan can no longer manage.  Right now Dan and I share household chores and outside responsibilities fairly equally, but working part-time will put more housekeeping responsibilities back in my court. Working part-time will also allow me to expand on my free-lance writing, which I love. Hopefully Dan will reach a point where he can hire more help, and we will re-evaluate our work positions then. Dan and I find we are happiest when we take turns increasing or decreasing or work schedules as a team, and staying open-minded about what “balance” looks like for us.

Tips on how you make your situation work for you:

                I lower my standards of household cleanliness and what I actually consider a “weed” in my yard.  Dan likes to remind me that someday our children will be grown and we will be retired, giving us lots of time to garden and maintain a perfect home. But right now, we lower certain standards in order to raise a happy child. We want to work at jobs we love, and we want to spend time together as much as possible and have fun. So we do that in a messy house and with less money. I always remind myself to focus on the things that are most important (my family and my students,) and forgive myself for the things I cannot do right now.  I don’t feel qualified to give advice, but I do believe this: whatever you decide to do, be stay at home or work full-time or part-time, you make a sacrifice. There are challenges to all types of mothering. Make the decision that works very best for your family, and don’t compare your sacrifice to someone else’s. All work is valuable, and all sacrifice is important. Lastly, if your situation stops working, be flexible and open to new ideas. Maybe that means going back to work while your spouse goes back to school, or taking a few years off work to be home with your kids. You don’t know me, but I support you in whatever you do.
Sometimes work/life balance is fun! 

Sometimes it is not. 

                   For Moms in transition, going back to work or staying home after leaving the work-force, I will quote my personal hero, Edna Mode from the movie The Incredibles: “Life favors the prepared.” Dan and I certainly got lucky with our careers. But one of our first serious conversations as a couple involved me telling him I wanted to work, even when we had kids. So we planned our education and careers around those goals. Work-life balance doesn't happen over-night. So if you leave work, keep your resume updated with volunteer opportunities or free-lance work, and keep in touch with contacts in your industry so you can be prepared to go back if you need to. If you are coming back to work, reach out and find mentors in your field to help guide you, and talk to your partner about how your new work situation is going to impact the division of labor at home. Maybe you need your spouse to start making dinner a few nights a week, or budget for a house-keeper if neither of you can remember to clean to toilet.
Clara has a leather jacket. I do not. 

How do you handle mommy guilt?
 I cried when I realized the parent/child dance class I loved this summer was only offered in the mornings. I felt like a bad mom because Clara didn't get to do something fun because of my job. I think it is okay to recognize and honor the sacrifices you make to maintain the lifestyle that works for you. It’s okay to feel sad or stressed sometimes, as long as you recognize it doesn't reflect your entire worth as a parent. Thus, sometimes I deal with mommy guilt in healthy ways: remembering all the things Clara does get to do, like play with her friends every day at daycare. I also remember that the stability of my job allowed Dan the freedom to experiment with his business practice and take financial risks he otherwise wouldn't feel comfortable doing. I also deal with it in unhealthy ways: buying Clara the toy she sees at the store even though she doesn't need it, and eating my feelings. So, uh, choose the approach that works for you.Also, while I am not particularly religious at this point in my life, I do take great comfort in this scripture from Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Whenever I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities, I ask myself if I am doing my best to be just, merciful, and humble in my walk with God. I remember that God doesn't require me to be perfect just yet, and that loving mercy means showing mercy to myself for the days I fall short. (End of sermon.)
Happy baby, messy house.
Household stuff

 Dan and I split cooking and cleaning pretty equally. I do tend to cook more, since I’m home earlier, but Dan is great at cleaning up dinner, as well as cleaning up after me and Clara leave for work in the morning. We do have a chore-chart with jobs for each day, and when we accomplish everything on our list, we get rewards. Mostly candy, because we are adults. Adults with chore charts. Honestly though, our house is often clean enough to be sort-of healthy, but messy enough to be happy. Once every few weeks we do a massive Saturday deep-clean, and then we pretend we never have to do it again. Dan usually does the big grocery shopping trip once every two weeks before work, and I usually pick up the in-between ingredients once a week on the way home from work. Sometimes one of us goes to the 24/7 grocery store at  11:00 pm, but that represents a low point and a degree of desperation I wouldn't necessary recommend.

Almost the end of this post! 
     If you read this whole thing, congratulations! You get an A in blog reading. I want to end by emphasizing that I know everyone makes different parenting choices based on their own needs, and that no choice is the universal best fit. Sometimes my stay-at-home-mom friends make comments that make me feel judged for working, until I realize they are just talking about what works for them. I hope I've made it clear that I believe my choices are the best for me and my family alone, please don’t read them as a “mandate” for anyone else.  I also know that many of my decisions come from a place of privilege. Many moms and dads would love to work, but can’t due to a myriad of circumstances. Other parents long to stay home but need to work to support their kids. The only thing I believe in 100% is happy families, and doing whatever it takes to make sure everyone feels loved and cared for.  Thanks again for reading about how I “make it work.”

{Thanks, Stephanie! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}

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