When my maternity leave ended, I returned to my job as an account manager for a Fortune 500 company in San Francisco, working at the office Monday through Thursday, and  telecommuting most Fridays.

I bought diapers online and shopped for groceries on my lunch hour — stuffing chicken breasts, heads of lettuce, and containers of Romano cheese into the employee refrigerator in an effort to stay on top of the demands of my career and the needs of my family.

After my second child was born 21 months later, I decided to resign from my job and be with the babies full-time, surely a relief to my co-workers who no longer had to search for their yogurts behind my bottles of soy sauce and trays of organic beef.

THE DECISION WAS SCARY

I was walking away from a salary I’d worked hard to grow, at a company that had a future. Would I be lonely, and would I go crazy being at home? What would I say when people asked me, “What do you do?” On top of my doubts, I was a stay-at-home-mom novice: my mother had cared for our daughter part of the workweek, we were in a nanny share the other days, and my husband and I were a weekend team.

I knew though that while I might be giving up a career, I’d seen my daughter go from a newborn to a toddler in what felt like a few months’ time. This was my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience motherhood uncensored, to know when the babies had last pooped, what they had eaten, if they had napped well. I was finally going to get really good at clipping their nails.

THE TRANSITION WAS MESSY

At first the kitchen was littered with shredded cheese, the living room riddled with toys, and it was unclear if the laundry was clean and needed to be folded, or dirty and ready to be loaded into the washer. When I bumbled through Trader Joe’s, wearing only one contact lens (no time to put both in), unintentionally winking at everyone, I kept forgetting one essential item (cheese, wine, or tortillas).

For the first month I heated up frozen pizzas for dinner or sent my husband an SOS text asking him to pick up anything edible he could find on his way home from work. We ate a lot of hot dogs.

THE LEAP WAS WORTH IT

What I didn’t know when I left my job was that a community of moms would appear to help me through the transition. They taught me how to overlap naps to carve out some time to respond to an email or read half a magazine article. They helped me set realistic (low) expectations for each day and to celebrate victories like bagels that fell cream cheese side up on a coffee shop floor.

And they showed me how motherhood and work could go together —  I met moms who had flexible jobs in education, the arts, and health care, often telecommuting or working part-time.

In the nearly five years since I resigned my 9-5 position, here are three things I’ve learned that I wished I’d known before deciding to leave my job:

  1. Motherhood is a time of reinvention and discovery. Between dropping naps, scheduling summer camps, and brushing your teeth lies the opportunity to seek out new avenues of enjoyment, including employment.
  2. The friendships I’ve made are invaluable. I have embraced trading child care with trusted mom friends with whom I’ve forged strong friendships and a community. We’ve seen each other through insomnia, anxiety, poop in the wrong places, nightmare play dates, awkward double dates, and the first and last days of summer.
  3. Working part time has allowed me to apply my skills in new directions. I’ve worked part-time telecommute for a software startup, partnered with city leadership to renovate our neighborhood park, and rediscovered my path to writing.

Finally, I’ve learned to embrace the unknown. A mom friend and neighbor recently asked me if I’d be interested in a part-time marketing job. I think I’ll check it out.

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Adrienne Robillard is a freelance writer in the East Bay. Follow her blog: http://foundtoys.blogspot.com/

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