Just weeks after giving birth, I started to think about what returning or not returning would mean. I’d never entertained the idea of not returning to work after birth, but suddenly it was heavily on my mind and it was.
When I graduated from college, I set out to build a career as a journalist. I’d worked my way up from a tiny, underfunded newspaper to a much larger, more respected (but still underfunded) newspaper. I’d won awards, told some great stories and developed a network of contacts that helped me consistently report good stories every day. And though I’d had a baby, I didn’t want to walk away from my dream career — the one I was still building. I had more goals to accomplish and more work to do.
But what I didn’t account for were the feelings that came with motherhood. As much as I loved my career and wanted to achieve those goals, I also wanted to be a good mother — one who put her child first. My infant son, my Will, was so small, so fragile, so gentle. I wanted to stay home with him.
Torn, I agonized over the decision, delayed looking for daycare (which I should have done months earlier) and spent a lot of time wrestling with leaving my son in the care of a stranger. I evaluated what I’d done in my career and thought about what might be next. It felt like walking away from my career would be the death knell for its future. I’d never be able to go back, and I’d never achieve those many unrealized goals.
I was standing at a vast crossroads choosing between my child and the career I’d worked so hard for.
In the end, I quit my job, took a few weeks to figure things out and then began freelancing as a journalist. I went back to work when my son was about a year old, this time for a publisher as an assistant editor. And I kept freelancing, tackling a variety of subjects, stories and story telling methods. I learned about web coding, pagination, photo editing and social media, and I built a strong career that eventually led me back to the newspaper journalism that I’d started with.
When I was hired as a senior editor of a Maine newspaper a few years ago, one of those long ago unrealized goals was realized. Moreover, the rest of those goals appeared before me again.
That crossroads all those years ago wasn’t really a crossroads. It was merely a different path, and with it I built a stronger career where I have done more, achieved more and dreamed up more goals.
When I was recently asked to read the new book Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career by Lisen Stromberg, I said yes because it sounded like a career book I’d like. I imagined that Lisen Stromberg, an award-winning journalist, sought-after speaker, and CEO and founder of PrismWork, would have some interesting insights into our work and family culture. What I wasn’t prepared for was the ways in which I would connect with it and recall those days so long ago when it felt like I was really choosing between my child and the career I’d built.
This is the book I wish I’d read then. It’s the tome that I wish existed to tell me that, as the tagline suggests, I wouldn’t be killing my career by choosing motherhood. And, in some ways, it’s the book I wish I had to show those who celebrated my career’s demise — because they didn’t really support it — that it wasn’t over, just taking a different road to the destination. And, mostly, it’s the book I wish I could have had so many others read too as they wondered what happened to the career-driven woman who’d talked her way into a newsroom and thrived.
Work Pause Thrive shows it’s not about giving up one or the other, but rather disrupting the career patterns we’ve been sold to create our own.
This book speaks directly to women like me — those who value their careers and their families and want both. It speaks to those of us — again, like me — who have (though we may not have defined it that way) hit pause on our career to focus on family for a time, as I did after my son was born.
Back then, soon after I quit, when I saw the job I’d wanted open up and then be awarded to someone else, I wondered if I’d managed to completely derail my career in one single, hormone-laced letter to my boss. Now I know, I hadn’t. And in retrospect, I know that leaving newspaper journalism and then developing my skills in other areas was essential to my eventual success.
What I love about this book is its data-driven approach. According to research by the author, 41 percent of women with children interviewed had taken a pause in their career for motherhood. This isn’t just stories of women who’ve managed to both succeed in career and parenting, but a useful look at how businesses can change for the better. It tackles maternity leave (she suggests that 20 weeks should be standard, plus 20 weeks of more flexible time to ease the transition), paternity leave (it should be encouraged and used) and so much more.
This is a must-read for moms, moms-to-be and anyone struggling with the intersection of parenthood and career.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. Her latest cookbook is The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook, published by Rockridge Press, which focuses on quick, easy, from-scratch cooking for busy people. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.