Embracing the Mommy Track
Two weeks after starting a new job that promised to be exactly what I wanted for my career -- team lead of a software project, with potential to quickly become a software manager -- I finally got pregnant after 2.5 difficult years of trying. I talked with the director of software, and he was unwilling to find a way for me to be a part-time team lead. The only choices available seemed to be: work 50 hour weeks in my current role while caring for a newborn, quit and stay home, or lobby for a part-time position as an individual programmer. To me they all seemed to have huge downsides. To work such long hours and leave my baby in daycare was more stress than I wanted. To give up my career and stay home just at the moment I was coming into my own was painful. To step back into a part-time programming position would likely mean I'd get the least interesting assignments, and frankly I was sick of coding. Due to good planning, finances were not an issue, so I had a real choice in what to do. In the end I decided to quit.
I enjoyed the first year at home thoroughly, but around the 18 month mark I started to get restless. Toddlers make it difficult to concentrate on anything for more than 5-10 minutes at a stretch. I felt I needed to add something intellectually stimulating to my life -- a class, a discussion group, something. I also knew I didn't play to stay home permanently. I didn't have an actual reentry plan, mind you, just the conviction that I was smart enough to find a way to restart my career somewhere down the track. I decided I might as well tackle both goals at once -- perhaps taking a software class or joining a volunteer open-source project would be smart to patch the gap in my resume. Then it occurred to me that someone might actually pay me to do part-time contract work on a small project.
Bingo! Luck was with me, and a former collegue with two small children had just started a part-time job with a contracting firm that was looking for more people. We both had thought this type of job was impossible to find, but here it was, an honest-to-goodness set your own hours and work from home job in my profession.
So now I am embracing the Mommy Track. Yes, it does have the disadvantages that I foresaw when first considering part-time work -- the assignments aren't exactly the latest and greatest technology, and I am not advancing in a leadership role. Ultimately I'd still rather be leading than coding, but I find I don't mind coding and debugging so much when I'm doing it 20 hr/wk instead of 50. It keeps my resume fresh, gives me a much needed break from being the primary caregiver, and puts enough money in my pocket to fund retirement savings, vacations, and date nights that we otherwise would not have had. Most importantly, I feel I have plenty of time to enjoy these years while my child is small.