The dilemma of sacrifice: Mothers discuss their decisions to stay at home or continue working

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Wendy Wang walks her younger son to school in the morning.

Vivian Chiang

Wendy Wang walks down the sidewalk, arm linked with her younger son’s while he jabbers on about school. She listens to his excited narrations, grateful that she has the opportunity to focus on what he is saying, rather than just distractedly nodding. She remembers the rushed mornings when she would be backing out of the driveway in a frenzy, calling for her sons to hurry up. She remembers handing them five-dollar bills rather than home-packed lunches.

These mornings, Wang packs her sons’ homemade lunches and walks her younger son to school, something she never used to have the time for. In the back of her mind, she feels a twinge of regret, remembering all she had to sacrifice for these moments with her sons. And yet, she looks forward to the future because sacrificing her career gave her what she had always wanted: quality time with her sons. As a mother, she’s happy to have made that decision.

Wendy Wang walks her younger son to school in the morning.
Wendy Wang walks her younger son to school in the morning.

Wang quit her job in the technology field one and a half years ago in order to spend time with her sons, junior Eric Wang and eighth grader at Kennedy Middle School Nathan Wang. Wang’s job involved collaborating with co-workers in Asia, and so her responsibilities included taking many conference calls at odd hours. She realized that her job was limiting her time with her family and that pushed her to make the difficult decision to stop working.

“In the past, it was always busy doing housework and then going back to work,” Wang said. “In the past, I would rush them to school, then rush to work. I really have a lot of time with them.”

Sophomore Lakshanyaa Ganesh’s mom made the same decision as Wang — to quit her job in order to ensure that her children were equipped with the tools for success.

She wanted to provide them with support throughout their childhood so they could go into the world and fend for themselves.

“She put our needs before her own,” Ganesh said. “A lot of her personality is reflected in my personality. A lot of what she believes, I believe too. If she hadn’t payed as much attention to us, I don’t even think I would be who I am today.”

Similar to Ganesh’s mom, English teacher Vanessa Otto has noticed that her job cuts into her time with her children. Otto has twin seven-year-old daughters who attend Lincoln Elementary School, next door to MVHS. She continued her job after the birth of her daughters, and has sacrificed countless hours of her personal time to ensure that her daughters are given attention and care.

“The main thing [I sacrifice] is probably time,” Otto said. “Time from myself, time that could be devoted to work-related tasks that need to be accomplished, chores. [My kids are] the first priority. So depending on what their needs are on any given day, that can take a while.”

When Otto returned to work after her maternity leave, she contemplated quitting her job in order to care for he daughters full time. Ultimately, Otto’s passion for her career won out. Since then, Otto has practiced effectively balancing her job and her children, which is the only way she can fulfill both the roles of teacher and mother. Also, Otto continued working in to show her daughters that a woman can do anything she puts her mind to, including juggling a job and raising children.

“I love my job, there is no other profession that I can see myself doing. It’s definitely part of who I am,” Otto said. “I want to serve as an example to my kids as somebody that can be a parent and be in the work force. Particularly having daughters, I think it’s important to show them an example.”

Meanwhile, many factors contributed to Wang’s decision to quit her job for her family. As a child, Wang grew up in a household with two hectic, working parents who placed a lot of importance on their careers. Wang’s childhood experiences with hectic parents prompted her to formulate a dream: to be there for her own kids through every step.

“Ever since Eric was born, I wanted to quit my job to be at home,” Wang said. “When you’re young, you need that double income. When the time came that we felt comfortable with living on a single income, I decided to quit my job to be with [the boys].”

Rapidly transitioning from a working mom to a stay-at-home mom was difficult for Wang to adjust to, and she often feels bored during the daytime hours.

“I struggled for a long time before I made the decision,” Wang said. “It’s hard giving up your job, knowing that there’s a chance that you might not be able to go back. But I made a wish when I was young [that I would be able to stay at home with my kids].”

While Wang gave up her job due to the demanding hours, Otto has more flexibility with her job. She was able to take some time off work on her daughters’ first day of kindergarten, so she could be present for that milestone. Otto squeezes in volunteer hours in her daughters’ classrooms during her own lunch break and prep periods. Despite these adjustments, Otto has missed small moments of her daughters’ childhood.

“In general, it’s kind of sad when you’re not there for those little moments that are big moments to them in their childhood,” Otto said.

Ganesh’s mom was internally conflicted when deciding whether or not to quit her job. Ganesh believes  there was no “right” decision. She thinks her mom can never be perfectly content with having left her entire career, despite the positive effect it had on her family.

“It was an extremely hard decision for her to make because she spent so many years in school and she worked so hard, then she had to sacrifice everything for her kids,” Ganesh said. “You have to find that balance between ‘I want to live my own life,’ or ‘I want to help my kids be successful.’ I think she struggled with that a lot but at the end of the day, I don’t think she regrets the decision she made.”

Similarly, Wang found it difficult to relinquish the career she had worked so hard in her lifetime to attain. However, she believes that from the family perspective, her sacrifice was worth it.

“In the past, taking care of [the boys] became a chore, or a duty — Just a list of things that I had to finish,” Wang said. “Now, it’s time that I enjoy with them. We play board games together and we have time as a family to do it together.”

The Wang family plays a board game together. Ever since Wang has quit her job, the family has been able to spend more time together as a family. Photo used with permission of Eric Wang.
The Wang family plays a board game together. Ever since Wang has quit her job, the family has been able to spend more time together as a family. Photo used with permission of Eric Wang.

Ganesh’s mom had to relinquish her own hobbies and passions during Ganesh’s childhood years. Ganesh vividly recalls that her mom devoted every waking moment to her children.

“When I was younger, I thought my mom’s favorite thing to do was cook and clean because it was all I ever saw her doing,” Ganesh said. “She definitely sacrificed a lot of her sleep and her mental well-being.”

Wang explains that quitting her job was difficult, as it reduced her family’s income. However, she is grateful that she had the choice, as not all families are financially able to made that decision.

“My husband I agreed that it’s the family time that is more important,” Wang said. “So we both collectively made the decision for me to stay at home. It’s a blessing for me to be able to make that decision. There would be working families that must have two incomes. Then, they wouldn’t have that choice. Having the choice, the option, it’s already a blessing.”