Editor’s Note: NEWS24/680 is very pleased to welcome Sydney Chaney Thomas to our pages today with a column focusing on Entrepreneurship, Women in Business and Work Life Balance.
Thomas is a Moraga-based writer and businesswoman with three books to her name, all currently available on Amazon. She is also co-founder of a sustainable sailing apparel company called Ocean SF, and operates a nonprofit that works to reduce plastic waste called the The Trident Project.
Sydney teaches entrepreneurial marketing at UC Berkeley in their International Diploma Program and, in addition to this column, she writes a popular lifestyle blog, which can be found at sydneychaneythomas.com.
Transition, Work And Motherhood
In a strange twist of fate, my children are entering adulthood and making major decisions that will define the trajectory of their lives for years to come as I do the same. Although, this is not the life I expected, I am embracing the changes that are inevitable and evaluating the choices I’ve made to arrive at this juncture.
When my second daughter was born I was the marketing director for a music software company. I had a generous salary, stock options, and countless benefits. Apart from the creative aspects that being a director of marketing afforded, this position married my two favorite things; technology and music.
I was also in the fortunate situation of having a husband who earned enough money that I could stay home and raise my own children if I wanted to; this is what I eventually did.
Did I love it? No, I did not. However, I was in the unforeseen predicament of having gotten exactly what I had wished for.
Early on, I realized that I had an opportunity to be, for better or worse, a role model. So, I tried to display fairness, kindness and compassion in my everyday interactions. I took up volunteer work and quit sneaking cigarettes behind the pool house. I stopped swearing, I exercised and took my vitamins. I tried very hard not to gossip, although this was difficult.
From the very beginning, I took being a stay-at-home mother fairly seriously. I made my own playdough, packed organic lunches, and kept my house as neat as a pin. I adored my children, but I missed the excitement and accolades of my career and professional accomplishments.
Now, I wonder if I made the right decisions? I treasured my time with my daughters now 17 and 18, but I wonder if all the sacrifices I made personally were really necessary? Where would I be now if I had not opted out of work in favor of being a full time wife and mother?
At the time, I remember thinking these were brutal choices. At that point in history, there was a very steep cliff in terms of work. My job was a 60 hour per week commitment. Marketing Directors did not work from home. My husband worked this many hours or more. We found it impossible to find a nanny who wanted to work 12 plus hours per day like we did. With a two year old and an infant our choices were limited.
Every situation is different of course, and with proper support women can raise successful and happy children while working demanding professional jobs. However, I wasn’t one of them. Although, I worked part time and did consulting work it was in no way at the same level as before. Because of this, I’ve had to scramble to earn back my place in the world and once again find the meaningful work I love. It’s slowly coming together, but it has not been easy.
I think about these choices, and their consequences as I help to prepare and educate my own daughters as they move into adulthood. These are important questions to raise as they consider careers, and hopefully motherhood and families of their own.
Clearly, I am now reaping what I have sown, but leaving work I loved to be a stay-at-home mother was not exactly a smooth transition for me. I’m not sure what components compromised this unease in my personal experience. It was definitely a combination of many factors I suppose.
Firstly, I didn’t want to be like my own mother who stayed home, but was largely absent. Secondly, I used my skills and talents at work and easily fell into flow as the hours flew by making me well suited for the work I did. Lastly, my husband worked long hours and I had no family support, so I was often simply depleted and sleep deprived.
Although, I dearly loved my children, I abhorred the house work and not getting the sleep I needed. I had one child who quietly fell asleep at 7 p.m. while her sister ran around the house all night. My husband was up and out before 7 a.m. so I got up at 5 a.m. to write in the necessary silence. Writing is something I have to do for my own sanity, and that was the only time I could do it.
Napping was something no one did, as we are a family with a deeply hereditary FOMO (fear of missing out). However, I made everyone lie down for an hour, including myself, but there was no sleeping. With envy, I knew of countless children who napped for hours, some would nap through dinner and into the next morning.
During the fog of sleep deprivation I remember thinking the other mothers were lying about loving their stay-at-home lives. I looked at my silk blouses and other work clothes hanging in my closet with despair. Later, I realized they really did love staying home with their kids. The only one pretending was me.
It wasn’t even the money I missed, it was the rhythm and sense of accomplishment that came from doing things well.
However, there is no experience that trumps motherhood and there is no work more important. Yet, motherhood extracts from us a heavy price for its blessings. It is often messy and chaotic, and I was a person uncomfortable with both, but that was also the gift of it. To this day, I dislike noise, screaming, dirt and unnecessary messes. I especially dislike buckets of sand being hauled up the stairs and poured into the made beds. Would I do it all over again? Yes, I would. Would I do it all differently? Yes, I certainly would.
Children are spontaneous and full of love and excitement. It was simultaneously magical and beautiful as well as emotionally and physically exhausting. Looking back, I see there was a lack of balance. I didn’t prioritize myself into the equation like I should have. I honestly didn’t know how.
My husband often called me a martyr mother and I think that was true. I didn’t know how not to be. Over the last few years, I’ve made it a point to make sure my kids know that I matter too, and I think we’ve all had to adjust to this idea. I’m still not great with messes and noise, but I’m better about these things, knowing that love and relationships far outweigh peace and quiet and everyday orderliness. Self care is no longer just a concept, but an ongoing practice.
My daughter was home from college for the weekend and it’s obvious I’m reaping the rewards of my hard work. She is a poised, polite, and caring human being. I’m proud of her on so many levels.
For my birthday, my children bought me a gift card for a day at the local spa. Impressively, they paid for it with money they had earned themselves. Sometime in the near future I will be found waiting poolside for my heated stone massage.
Sydney Chaney Thomas
Moraga, March 16, 2018