Moms Make it Work: Kelley | Full-Time Working Mom, Stay-at-Home Dad

Today we have Kelley posting for the Moms Make it Work series, a blog reader who contacted me as a mom who works while her husband is at home with their son. Kelley's husband, Geronimo, also spends a lot of his time taking care of his mother who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and also cared for his father who passed away from cancer. Prior to this switch to dad staying at home with their son, both Kelley and her husband were working full time outside of the home, and they've also both worked from home. So they have experienced quite the range of situations and I'm glad they shared their story with us today.


Hi!  I'm Kelley!  I've been married to Geronimo for 11 years and we have a 6 year old son, Diego and 2 pugs, Luna & Rudy.  We recently moved to North County San Diego to the small coastal community of Solana Beach after living in Pasadena, CA and Orange County ("The OC") for 12 years.  I'm a full time, corporate world, working mom and my hubby is an IT professional turned Superman stay-at-home daddy.  I've really enjoyed following the Moms Make It Work series and am excited to add our story!  I occasionally blog at Mexichina Musings but I mostly spend my time reading organization, interior design & a few family/lifestyle blogs like Julia's.  Thanks for having me!

What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?
Geronimo and I met in 2000 through his sister, who was my co-worker at the time.  I was 20 and a junior in college.  Geronimo was 2 years older.  He had a cell phone, a credit card and a killer smile…3 things that led me to fall hard for this man.  He also happened to be one of the kindest people I had ever met.  We dated for 5 months before deciding that we were going to get married.  Yes, we were absolutely crazy and absolutely in love with each other.  Now, both of our parents were pretty strict about such things so we were engaged for 3 years and ended up getting married 2 years after graduation.  We had Diego in 2007 after being married for 5 years.

I graduated from the University of San Diego with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a Marketing Emphasis and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Media.  My dream was to work in marketing for a film company.  During my senior year of college, I interviewed with a big studio and ended up being one of two people up for an entry level marketing position in their Latin America Consumer Products division.  I wanted that gig soooo bad, but I didn't get it.  I was pretty bummed and decided to sign up for a bunch of on campus interviews just to polish my skills.  After about 5 interviews, I was so sick of hearing myself repeat cliche interview answers over and over again that I decided that at my next interview, I would just say the first thing that came to my mind and stop trying so hard to fit "the mold."  That next interview happened to be for an underwriting job at a big insurance company in LA.  Needless to say, the interview went very well and I had an offer within a few days.  Up to this point, I cannot tell you how many times I said these words: "I will never work for an insurance company."  12 years later, I'm thoroughly enjoying a career in commercial insurance as an earthquake insurance underwriter.  (Cliff Notes: I do math all day.)

Geronimo has a Bachelor degree in IT and we both worked full time in the corporate world until 3 months ago.  My father-in-law had been battling cancer for 10 years and fell very ill.  Geronimo decided to quit his job in order to take care of his father and to support his mother, who had been at her husband's side all day and all night up until this point.  This decision was very timely because about a month later, my father-in-law passed away and Geronimo was able to spend a lot of his final month by his side.  Aside from all this, the daily grind was really wearing on us and we decided something had to give.

What are the best parts of your situations? What are the challenges?
Hands down, the best part of our situation is the fact that Geronimo can pick Diego up from school each day when the bell rings at 2:45.  They can go play basketball at the park after school, walk the dogs, run errands, etc. They have a very special bond…so much so that Diego calls Geronimo his brother "because he plays with me." That melts my heart.  When we were both working outside the home, Diego would go to the after school program, which he loved, but we just hated picking him up at 6pm every night, shoving chicken nuggets in his mouth, throwing him in the shower and putting him to bed.  We missed that real connection with our own son and felt so strongly about rekindling that, so we gave up one income.  That's been the biggest challenge.  We lost a pretty big chunk of our income when Geronimo quit his job and it's been a tough adjustment.  We budget everything down to the penny as best we can, but it's just not fun having to reeeeally think twice about that pizza delivery order after a long day.  Another challenge, if you want to call it that, is that sometimes I feel like I'm missing out on all the fun stuff.  I get antsy when I know school is out and my boys are off playing while I'm at the office.  That being said, I do love my career and truly enjoy my time at work.

Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?
Heck no!  I was totally that girl who said "I will never do (fill in the blank) when I have kids" and who shared stories about my dogs during conversations about parenting.  I thought I knew what I was getting into.  I had read all the books!  Motherhood has been a huge lesson in humility for me.   Diego was a pretty difficult baby, to put it mildly.  He cried the entire day and the only thing that would calm him was if I bounced him on the exercise ball.

 During maternity leave, I sat on that ball the entire day until Geronimo came home from work…9 hours straight with a carefully timed potty break somewhere in there.  After many doctors appointments where I was brushed off as an overly-anxious first time parent, we finally learned that Diego was allergic to SO many foods.  SO SO SO many foods.  This was causing him tons of pain & his face looked like one big scab from all the scratching he was doing.  He also had bald patches all over his head because he would pull his hair out from the discomfort.  Once we figured this out and adjusted his diet accordingly, things got a whole lot better.

I always expected that Geronimo & I would work full time.  I always expected I'd be a working mom.  I come from a long line of very ambitious career driven women and there was a big emphasis put on my future career during my childhood.  I never really thought I'd be the sole bread winner, but I also didn't expect the crazy stress of both of us working full time without much flexibility.  

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

Hmmm…yes and no.  I absolutely love that one of us can be home with Diego every day.  That part is more than ideal as it's something I never thought would be possible.  Ideally, I'd love to work from home a couple days a week.  I've worked from home full time before and I just wasn't cut out for it. So yes, I like the routine of going into the office and being in a social environment.  I just think some work-from-home days would release the pressure valve a bit.

As for my husband, I think he is enjoying the time off from a traditional 9 to 5 but is anxious to get back into the work force part-time.  A typical day for him is getting Diego ready for school while I get ready for work, feeding him breakfast, making sure he brushes his teeth etc (this is usually the longest part!) and they are out the door by 8:15.  He drops him off at school and usually goes straight to his mom's house.  My mother-in-law has a heart of gold and recently, that heart was completely shattered at the loss of my father-in-law.  It was so hard on the whole family as he was the patriarch of the family.  He courageously fought cancer for 10 years before passing leaving behind his beautiful wife, 7 children and 12 grandchildren.  Since his death, those 7 kids (including my husband, who is the youngest) have taken care of their mother in the most unselfish way I have ever witnessed.  Shortly after my father-in-law's death, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Thankfully, after a successful mastectomy, she's on the road to finding treatment and fully recovering.  My mother-in-law is a strong woman, but it's understandably so hard for her to be alone, so Geronimo spends the day with her.  They run errands, go grocery shopping, hit up Target or Ikea, go to doctor appointments, go to lunch…they just HANG.  I know this time is such a blessing for my husband.  He typically leaves my mother-in-law's house around 2:30 in order to pick up Diego from school.  Around 5pm, another sibling arrives to take the "night shift" with their mom.  In the afternoons, Geronimo & Diego hang out at home, play basketball or handball, run errands, etc until I get home around 6.  We eat dinner (admittedly, not usually together as a family which I would love to change) then it's time for bed.

Also, we talk about having another baby and it's something that has been on my mind A LOT lately.  Mostly because I'm not getting any younger and there would already be a 7 year spread between kids if we do it soon. I'm just not sure I want to re-juggle everything, re-learn how to change a diaper and re-learn how to survive on very little sleep.  We'll see.

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?

No.  I absolutely love what I do and plan on being in for the long haul.  The only thing I would change is I would add more of a marketing role to my current position.  It's a very high pressure, deadline driven job with lots of stress every day.  I don't really enjoy sales much but I love my clients so that helps.  If I could somehow transition into more of a marketing role instead of a production role, that would be my ideal position.  But I'm not complaining.  The company I work for is fantastic and they truly value their employees.  I'm so grateful to be a part of their team.  I've worked for some doozies in the past so it's nice to finally have found a home.

Tips on how you make your situation work for you:

2 words: The Village.  I do not think I could juggle so much without my village.  This includes my mom, my brother, my in-laws, and my neighbors.  My mom is instrumental in making our daily life happen and is always there on short notice.  For example, Diego had the flu last month and Geronimo didn't want to take him to the store to buy ingredients for chicken soup.  So, I called my mom and asked her to pick up some groceries for us.  She did it without hesitation.

We've been very lucky to live in awesome neighborhoods since Diego was born.  Our last neighborhood in Pasadena was straight out of the 50s.  The kids would run from house to house and you just followed the noise if you had to collect your child.  If the kids were in your house, you fed them snacks and kept an eye on them until they ran to the next house.  They did this all day long.  It was fantastic.  We recently moved to a new home and we are so blessed to have found another family in our neighborhood with a little boy Diego's age.  The two of them play outside most days until the sun goes down.  It's perfect.

Another tip: You absolutely need to take time to do the things you love.  Call me selfish but I've never been one to give up all the things I love in the name of motherhood.  On the contrary, I've continued to go out with friends for dinner, attend work happy hours, get a pedicure on the weekend, take a barre class, run a 5K (or a muddy Spartan race), go on weekend trips with my hubby or with girlfriends…the list goes on and on.  It sounds cliche but when I'm taking care of myself, I'm a much better mother.

One more tip: Keep the kids busy.  Diego is constantly doing something.  He currently is playing basketball on the weekends at the Y, takes piano lessons and spanish lessons, and also takes a Lego enrichment class after school on Thursdays.  His activities are constantly changing, but he's always engaged.  I probably sound like a tiger mom right now but he truly enjoys all his activities.  If he decides that he doesn't like something, we take him out.  Simple as that.  He hated swimming lessons last year so we just called it quits.  He eventually learned to swim on his own.  :)  We balance all this with plenty of free play every day.

How do you handle mommy guilt?

Somedays are better than others.  I think most of my guilt stems from Pinterest.  Come on, I can't be the only one.  I see all these awesome crafts & fun meals & creative Valentine's & homemade laundry detergent and and and and…there is always something that someone else can do better and I'm human…sometimes that makes me feel inadequate.  But it doesn't last long.  I snap out of it quickly and realize that I can only do what I can do, and my child is happy & healthy.  And his parents are happy & healthy.  That's all I can ask for.

Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying at home is the right choice?

I think the most important thing to realize is that whatever decision you make is not final.  If you decide to go back to work and hate it, you can always stay home.  And if you decide to stay home and realize that's not for you, you can re-enter the workforce.  Do what feels right for 6 months then reevaluate.  When it comes time to make that important decision, do the math then go with your gut.  As I mentioned earlier, I never expected that my husband would stay home but right before we decided to go that route, we knew in our heart of hearts that that was the right decision.  It was scary but we did the math, it worked and we dove in.  It's been the best decision we've made in a while.

How do meals work in your family? Meal planning? How often do you grocery shop? Who is in charge of this task in your family??

Typically, I meal plan on Saturdays.  I look at the calendar and figure out how many nights we have at home without other activities planned.  Then I subtract one night to account for the ever-present lazy take-out night.  Usually, we plan for 3 dinners.  And out of those 3, I allow ourselves 1 Pinterest meal (see, there is the P word again.)  We hit up the Farmer's Market on Sundays as a family then on Monday, Geronimo finishes off the shopping at the local grocery store.  He normally is in charge of cooking during the week, but he enjoys it.  He actually went to culinary school so he can whip up some amazing meals.  I'm a blessed girl.  :)

How do you keep your house clean? Power cleaning after bedtime? Staying out of the house as much as possible? Cleaning while kids are awake? Purging often? Cleaning schedule?

We have a cleaning lady who comes once a week.  That was a line item on the budget that I refused to give up. During the week, we try to pick up the kitchen & living room before bed but we don't kill myself over it.  My friends tease me because I always say that if it stresses you out, throw money at it.  This is one category I throw money at.  I am still guilty of the occasional weekend purge session, but that usually only happens when I feel completely disorganized and frantic to control my environment. Heh  ;) 

From Geronimo's point of view:

I'd like to hear the guys' view on 'mommy guilt'—is there any ‘daddy guilt’?  There is a little daddy guilt in terms of not contributing to the household income, but I know Diego won't be this little forever so that makes me confident in our decision.

What do you like about being home with the kids? What is the hardest part?  I like the fact that every week isn't a constant juggle of our schedules to figure out who's going to pick up/drop off. Now it's more consistent and steady.  Life is so much easier this way.

How other people (moms) react to you as SAHDs?  I think they are understanding of our situation. I have not really had any negative reactions to it.

Advice they would give to families who are struggling with their current set up (mom at work, dad at home, or vice versa)?  Just know that your situation can be a temporary thing if you want it to be, but be grateful for the opportunity to stay home and consider it a blessing. 

Thanks so much for allowing us to share our story!  I've really enjoyed reading all the entries and love that we can all share a virtual kumbaya no matter what path we've chosen for our families.

{Thank you, Kelley! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}


  1. I think this is one of my favorite 'mom's make it work' contributions. Something about it just warmed my soul.

  2. Loved this. What an adorable little boy! And what a kind and unselfish husband to quit his job to take care of his parents. Good for you guys. I can imagine it must to hard to be at work knowing your boys are having fun without you! Been there. But so worth it to know he's with dad, and it helps to love your job! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I also spent the first few months of my daughter's life bouncing on the exercise ball and can still feel the impact on my back 4 years later. I will never look at an exercise ball the same way again! Glad you were able to find a solution and that your son felt better once working that out. So glad you shared your story as you hit on so many things parents/families are dealing with right now... and I'm glad you mentioned the role of having to care for parents along with your own children.


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