Simi Sapir immigrated to New York City from Israel when she was 10 years old and grew up watching her parents hustle, taking on multiple jobs to provide for their four children. Her mother worked in a day care and a supermarket, and her father, who had a master’s degree in engineering, took to driving a taxi at one point in order to bring in income.
By the time she was a teen, Sapir was spending her summers working as a camp counselor. Over the years, she worked at the same supermarket as her mother, a store and a pizza shop.
“I think immigrant mentality, especially growing up in Queens, New York, it was like, you work — and not only do you work, but it’s in your blood to work. And I think that was, from a very early age, instilled in me,” Sapir told HuffPost.
She carried this commitment to paid work and financial independence through college, at one point taking a semester off to work in order to be able to pay for school. After graduation, she headed at full speed into a career in business, and by the time she turned 30, she’d already overseen the acquisitions of two companies. Hers was “the perfect VP of sales resume,” she said, and she didn’t slow her pace when she became pregnant — even hopping on an airplane when she was eight months along in order to close a deal.
Simi Sapir left a successful, demanding career in business to care for her daughter full-time.
As planned, Sapir returned to her position 12 weeks after her daughter’s birth. The pandemic had hit, so she was working from home while a nanny cared for the baby. But working her usual long hours no longer felt manageable.
Every day, she said, felt like “a crazy grind.”
“I just felt like, ‘Why is my kid with somebody from 9 to 5, and I can’t go to my kitchen because if she sees me, she starts screaming [and] then I feel bad.’”
Early morning calls from her CEO, she found, now felt like “a sacrifice” and “intruding into my personal time.”
The tipping point came when her boss offered her a new job title that would come with more responsibilities and a salary increase — the sort of offer that Sapir would’ve jumped at earlier in her career. This time, however, she looked at the offer and said, “This is just not worth it.”
After 16 months of what she describes as the push and pull of this situation, Sapir quit. Yes, she was exhausted — but she didn’t leave because she felt incapable of continuing. Rather, she left because she felt confident that full-time mothering was the right move.
The company offered more flexibility, part-time work and increased compensation to try to convince Sapir to change her mind. But she was resolute.
What they didn’t understand, she said, was that “it’s not the money.”
“The idea that I want to jump into this new chapter in my life, which, by the way, is not — as I tried to explain to them — is not less important or more important; it’s equally a different chapter. Just like you focus on your career, you can focus on your family.”
About one month back into work, I knew it was not going to work out.Lisa Ziemba
Lisa Ziemba, a Colorado mom who is expecting her second child next month, had a similar experience after her daughter was born two years ago. When her maternity leave ended, she returned to her position as the manager of HR for a group of construction companies.
Ziemba was working from 8 in the morning until 5 or 6 at night, with a 40-minute commute each way. She was putting in additional hours after getting her daughter to bed as well. “I was getting like maybe an hour a day with her — which just did not feel right.”
Of her decision to leave her job, Ziemba told HuffPost, “I didn’t see it coming, going into my maternity leave. But about one month back into work, I knew it was not going to work out.”
As with Sapir, Ziemba’s superiors tried to dissuade her with offers of flex time and increased compensation.
“We kind of went back and forth where they were like, ‘What can we give you?’ And I was like, ‘I need time.’ They were like, ‘That’s the one thing we can’t give you.’”
Who are today’s stay-at-home mothers?
The decision to spend time with their young children at home is one that mothers like Ziemba and Sapir have made consciously. Having experienced life in both worlds, they decided to extend their time in the role of what we typically refer to as a stay-at-home mother.
It’s a bit of a misnomer, Sapir notes, “Because I’m literally never home.”
It’s also a far cry from the old June Cleaver image of a mom who never pursues a career or acquires any of her own income and dedicates any time she’s not with her children to cooking and housekeeping.
“I don’t even own an apron,” Sapir noted.
A recent report from Mother Untitled, a digital community for mothers “choosing to pause or shift [their] career to make room for family life,” reveals that, while they’re up against some of the same stereotypes, the lives of today’s full-time mothers and their expectations for the future are markedly different than those of their predecessors.
The report details a survey of 1,200 mothers who had left or were considering leaving their jobs for full or part-time stay-at-home motherhood. The mothers were between the ages of 25-54 and had bachelor’s degrees, children under age 18 at home and a minimum annual income of $25,000 (ages 35-34) or $35,000 (ages 35 and up).
In some cases, these mothers worked part-time or occasional hours, often remotely. They likely worked up until their transition to parenthood and anticipated returning to the workforce in some capacity in the coming years.
A majority of the mothers surveyed, 7 in 10, said that they “chose to pause their careers for parenthood.” In comparison, 1 in 10 felt forced out of their jobs, while 2 in 10 felt both that they chose and were forced.
Elizabeth Burdett didn't plan to become a stay-at-home mom. She said the opportunity "fell into my lap."
If you’re wondering what that last category could possibly look like, Elizabeth Burdett’s story illustrates the way that an economy shifting toward gig work can push parents away from full-time employment. And some, like Burdett, find that they prefer the place where they’ve landed.
Burdett worked full-time from home writing content for a website and returned to this position (with the support of a nanny) once her maternity leave was up. Then, around the time she found out she was pregnant with her second child, the company was sold, and Burdett was laid off.
As she was both expecting a baby and preparing for a move, Burdett decided not to pursue another full-time position. She did freelance work before her second son was born and again between his birth and the arrival of a third child.
“Since having all three of them, I have dabbled a little bit in some freelance writing and copyediting work, but for the most part, I am home with my boys,” Burdett told HuffPost. “I do a little copyediting work, but 80-85% of the time, I’m a stay-at-home mom.”
“I didn’t at first intentionally say, ‘I am quitting my job, I want to stay at home,’ but it fell into my lap,” she said.
Still, she sees the arrangement as a choice her family made to suit its current needs. “We are making the decision to have me be at home and experience those early years. I want to,” she said.
“I’m well aware that I have the privilege to make that decision if I want to work or not,” she added.
Of course, there are also still mothers who have always wanted to stay at home with young children and simply follow through with that plan. Emily Holewczynski is a mother of five in the Chicago area who left her job as a marketing manager for a law firm when her first child was born.
Emily Holewczynski, a mother of five, always planned to be a full-time mother to her children.
“It sounds anti-feminist, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Holewczynski told HuffPost. “My mom stayed home with me, and I’m actually the oldest of five kids as well. It’s what I knew, and I was blessed and fortunate enough to have a wonderful childhood. And in my mind, a large part of that was because my mom was there every day with us.”
“I just knew that if I was lucky enough to be in a financial position where I could do that for my kids, that I wanted to be able to,” she added.
Holewczynski appreciates that staying home gives her control over the handling of her children’s needs.
“It gives me peace of mind in knowing that some of those more delicate moments are being handled by me — the person who loves [my daughter] the most,” she said.
Most mothers in the survey said their reasons for staying home included wanting to spend time with their child (83%) and not missing their child’s learning/developmental milestones (77%). In comparison, 62% cited the cost of child care as a reason for staying home.
Seventy-two percent said the loss of household income was worth the advantages of having a parent at home. However, their financial lives were not free from stress. They worried about having to rely on their partners for income (56%), not having enough money for leisure activities (52%) and not having enough money for emergencies (41%). The longer women had been in the workforce before deciding to stay home, the more likely they were to have financial worries.
The full-time mothers of today still face old stereotypes.
While today’s stay-at-home mothers are choosing to leave the workforce and see the benefits of their decision, they face a lot of the same challenges as women of generations past. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed, for example, reported that they felt underappreciated.
The idea that mothers should put their children first and themselves last is also alive and well. When asked to select the different ways they measured their success from a list of options, 54% of the full-time mothers selected their children’s mental health. Thirty-one percent selected their kids’ physical health. Yet only 19% selected their own mental health — the same percentage that chose “If my home is clean and organized” — and a scant 4% selected their own physical health.
Full-time mothers understand that the work they’re doing is important and has a huge impact on their families. At the same time, they know that their unpaid labor is dismissed by society at large — and, as the report suggests, they often dismiss it themselves by neglecting their own needs.
When you’re a full-time, unpaid child care provider, for example, it can feel strange to pay someone else for a few hours of child care.
Ziemba says she is able to meet her child care needs by turning to local family members. She also belongs to a child care co-op, and this grants her a few hours a week to do work for a foundation she is involved in.
The survey found that grandparents were the child care providers that full-time mothers most often turned to, with 39% using this option. But for those without family nearby, there seemed to be few alternatives.
“I have a very hard time wrapping my head around asking for help, considering I am [a] full-time, stay-at-home [mom],” Burdett said. At the same time, she has seen how taking a little time away for herself has “rejuvenated” her and has value.
“Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you don’t need support — but it’s something I struggle with,” she said.
What will be the next chapter?
Most of the mothers in the survey and all of the mothers HuffPost spoke to plan to do paid work again at some point. Few, however, have their sights set on a typical 9-to-5 office job.
Mothers in the survey reported that the top things they would look for in their next job were: flexibility (85%), stress level (74%) and salary (71%). Those jobs probably won’t look like the full-time-plus corporate positions that Sapir and Ziemba once had — and they aren’t longing for that kind of work again anytime soon.
Motherhood has shifted their priorities and their perspective, they say, and their needs and desires have changed.
Ziemba doesn’t have plans to return to work until her youngest child is in preschool — and she and her husband still haven’t decided how many children they’d like to have. So work is years away, but she imagines perhaps working more for the foundation she’s involved in or setting up her own home organizing business.
No matter which avenue she pursues, she’s not currently feeling any rush to get there.
“I’m no longer driven by the fear of, ‘How long am I going to be out and is it going to ruin my career?’” she said.
“I was really fearful when I left that I was ending my career. And since then, I’ve met so many women who have also left to care for their young kids and have gotten back into the workforce and have found roles that are actually more interesting and engaging than the ones that they had before. And it’s shifted my mindset a lot,” Ziemba said.
Several of the mothers interviewed are interested in writing-related work, which can frequently be done on a freelance basis with flexible hours.
“The notions of stay-at-home and working mother are no longer black and white,” Neha Ruch, CEO of Mother Untitled, told HuffPost. “There’s a gray area.”
In contrast to what many people assume, full-time mothering no longer looks like it did in the 1970s. Today’s mothers, Ruch explained, are more educated, have more equal relationships with their partners, and are more digitally connected than any previous generation.
These mothers, she continued, want “to basically take a lot of the consciousness they brought to their career and bring it to the home for a period of time.”
In a post she made on LinkedIn to announce her decision to step back from her career, Sapir wrote: “Ultimately, if you are doing something you love with people you love in a place you love, you’re going to create something of great value to the world.”