When I had twins 14 years ago, my plan was to go back to work in four months.

I would start off by returning three days a week. My mother was going to care for my daughters during the day, and I found another woman to fill in the gaps. I had it all planned out.

But then those two creatures came out and rocked my world, and I’ve been trying to figure out the right time to go back to work ever since.

My husband was transferred in the middle of my maternity leave, so the decision for me to stay home was easier. We moved to a more affordable area—a larger house with a smaller mortgage—so our financial situation changed. It would be tight, but my babies would only be little for a short while, so I felt I should take advantage of the situation and stay home with them.

I kept my foot in the door of my career, however. I freelanced for a few former clients and found a great nanny who would watch my kids for a few hours a week with the support of my mom. I would go back to work full-time when the timing was right.
Then I had a third daughter just 16 months later and my mother retired 500 miles away. My husband started traveling more for work. We moved again. I found my groove as a stay-at-home mom with a part-time gig, but I still thought I would return to work full-time when the kids were no longer little.

And in a blink of an eye, my kids were in school full day, and I thought I would have all this time on my hands. I was thrilled to no longer need a babysitter and couldn’t wait to delve back into my career. But 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. goes by in a flash, and there didn’t seem like enough time to add any additional work.

There were events at school and dentist appointments and dance lessons and soccer practices. There were school projects and bouts of the stomach flu and play dates and birthday parties. I would drop them off at school and pick up time would come before I knew what happened.

But my kids were still little, and there would be plenty of time to return to work full-time when they were older, when the timing was right.

The next thing I knew, my kids were in middle school and (mostly) self-sufficient. They made their own lunches and kept track of their school assignments. They were fairly responsible and could stay home independently. It seemed like a good time to go back to work full-time.

In a serendipitous moment, a great job opportunity landed at my feet. It would be 20 hours a week, bringing my work hours to 40. It seemed like the stars aligned. I could still work from home and the pay was great—and with trying to save for three kids in college at the same time, it seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

My kids were independent, but that does not mean teenagers still don’t need you. In fact, sometimes I think they need YOU more. When your kids are small, no one can replace their mother, but other people can care for them. As your kids grow into teens, they need—I mean really need—their parents.

They need them for guidance about school and dating and alcohol and safety. Teens need their parents to drive them to all the places and support them at all the events. They need us to be available for those rare moments they want to talk and be a source of support when the world pushes them down.

They may not need me to kiss their boo boos, but I still need to be there to grow and heal their hearts.

I lost more than I gained when I went back to work full-time. My stress level increased exponentially, and my daughters felt it, which put the whole house on edge. I spent more time on my laptop and phone, and less face-to-face with my kids. While my husband supported me following my passions and doing something for myself, my marriage became strained. There were more tears by us all and less moments that mattered. It became more of just getting through each day then enjoying our successes.

After nine months, I spoke to my boss and resigned my position, a job I loved with people I adored. The timing was not right for our family.

I know I have the luxury of not having to work full-time, and other mothers would kill for the opportunity I let go. I also understand that so many moms have found a way to work full-time and care for their families.

But for me, even as teenagers, my kids are still little. I’ll go back to work full-time one day. When the timing is right.

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is the mom to three tween daughters, a communications consultant and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays http://playdatesonfridays.com/