What I’ve Learned During My Three-Year Career Break

Photo by Open Book Photography

Three years ago, I quit my job. I quit my career.

I left the paid “working world.” All for a good reason, of course. Three years of European living courtesy of the husband’s job was like a dream come true.

Before our move to Europe, like all military families, our lives were hectic. We were managing, but it wasn’t pretty. There were operational commitments, deployments and 18-hour days at the Pentagon for my husband, while I continued to work at least 40 hours per week and travel for my job. This meant we had two kids in daycare and employed a number of people who helped us survive – a babysitter (who I’m pretty sure we put through law school), a cleaning lady, and a yard guy, plus countless friends and our parents helping out when they could. All of these things made it easier to be a dual-working family.

But as our kids got older, I knew we couldn’t keep up the pace that was destined to get even more frantic. 

We pushed hard for an overseas assignment. Timing was perfect – our boys (then 5 and 3), were young enough to consider the experience an awesome adventure and would be old enough to remember most of it. Of course, this meant that I would quit my job and leave behind the career that I had spent over 20 years building.

But I was ready. Motherhood had changed me.

While I loved working, I was tired of constantly feeling torn between my job and my family. I also knew deep down that I would someday regret not having the chance to be home with my boys while they were young (and still wanted me around). 

Now with three years under my belt, I will tell you that this has been the hardest and most humbling job I’ve ever had.

There have been days when I’ve been downright miserable and felt that I was losing my mind. I’ve longed for an office (with a door that locks), adult conversations (that don’t involve discussing children) and the feeling of actually accomplishing something. But there also have been days when I’m grateful that my kids don’t have to go to the extended day program after school, or that I don’t have to hire a babysitter when one of them is sick. Looking back, I’m thankful that I’ve had this opportunity and don’t regret taking a break from my career to be a stay-at-home mom (which is not the right term, because I’m never home – but that’s another post for another day…).

So what have I learned about myself and this stay-at-home mom life?

I like working.

Aside from the obvious benefit of a salary, I like feeling a sense of accomplishment. I thrive in an environment where I can work with others toward a common goal and see a project through from beginning to end (and I don’t mean the laundry, because that business never ends … see below). 

The laundry and dirty dishes never end. 

Seriously. I wish I was the type to let that stuff pile up and do it all at once, but I’m one of those “stay on top of it” people. Which means I’m pretty much playing “whack-a-mole” with laundry and dishes all day long. Remember that video that went viral a few months ago where the mom works all day, but gets nothing done? It was a spoof, but as my good friend likes to say, “it’s funny because it’s true!”

I (still) don’t like cooking.

I’m fortunate that my husband loves to cook because I don’t. When I was working and he wasn’t deployed, he handled dinner prep because he was usually home before the kids and me. But now I’ve taken over that chore because, well … I’m home. I try to keep things interesting and healthy (thank you, Skinnytaste cookbook!), but the kids can be hard to please. All the effort that goes into meal planning, shopping and cooking is met with complaints and negotiations of “how many bites do I have to eat?” Not much job satisfaction there … although, I do have them eating zoodles and pumpkin chili, so maybe I’m doing OK?

I need to make myself a priority.

About a year into the SAHM gig, I found myself struggling. I felt like I was failing and drowning in the daily domestic chores and I carried a load of guilt because I wasn’t enjoying this new phase of my life. I was living in Europe and didn’t have a job … why wasn’t I loving it?? I started working with a life coach to help get me on track, and it really changed my approach to this new “job” (you can read more about my experience here). However, one of the biggest takeaways from my coaching sessions was the importance of scheduling time for myself at least once a month  – a day trip with friends, a massage, or even just a few hours to read my book in a quiet spot. I’ve learned that if I don’t make myself a priority, everyone suffers. Because we all know if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy …

My definition of a career has changed. 

As we prepare to move back to the U.S. this summer, I’m frequently asked if I will go back to work. Honestly, I’m not sure. But I’m fairly certain it won’t be the full-time corporate career I had previously. I’ve come to realize that having a flexible schedule and doing something that I truly love are more important to me than a big salary or a job title.

These days, it’s more about fulfillment rather than achievement.

The grass is always greener on the other side. 

Whether you’re a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, there are most certainly times when we envy each other.

There have been days over the past three years when I wished I was working, doing something “relevant” and bringing home a paycheck. But when I was working, there were days when I would have rather been home with my sick baby, chaperoning a field trip or getting caught up on the laundry (oh wait, that never happens!). I’ve learned that there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the question of working vs. staying home and I’m never going to be 100 percent confident that I’m doing the right thing. I can only embrace my current role and do the best job I can for my family and for myself. 

Photo by Open Book Photography

Have you taken a break from your career? If so, what have you learned?


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Jen currently resides in Pensacola, Florida with her Navy husband and two sons. Having spent the last three years in Belgium experiencing European life, she is adjusting the heat and humidity of living in the Florida Panhandle. When she’s not at the soccer field cheering on her boys or taking a Pure Barre class, you’ll find Jen curled up with a good book or planning her family’s next travel adventure. Born and raised in the Midwest, Florida has now become “home” – at least that’s what her driver’s license says!


  1. “…fulfillment rather than achievement.” oh my gosh yes!!! I’m almost 5 years into this SAHM gig and this is exactly what I’m looking for right now. That you for articulating it 🙂
    Loved your whole article it’s almost like I could have written it myself 🙂

  2. Going back to work after a few years off – baby and European duty station – I appreciate my job now more. I don’t have the career I would have had, but was lucky and am working again for my former employer, who allows me to be a remote worker. I work 25 hours a week minimum and it is what works best for us as a family. I am still the default parent, but I prefer that anyway. 🙂

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