Welcome to Conscientiously Conscious. My name is Shyanne Totoraitis and I am a married mother of three who is riding the career-building struggle bus, surrounded by 20-somethings, after taking a ten-year hiatus from the job market. This decade of stay-at-home parenting that I have tucked under my belt, like any other journey through parenthood, has been rewarding but it hasn’t always been a picnic. I had actually always pictured myself as a working mom but when my husband and I got pregnant with our oldest child in 2008, I was not where I wanted to be, professionally speaking; I had a job but not yet a career.
I was an office employee for a single organization for ten years and 6 months, to the day (man, these decades pile up out of nowhere). I had gotten that job at the end of a six-year stretch as a lifeguard. So, although this past decade is classified as a large gap in my employment history, when combined with my actual job history it shows decisiveness on my part. I didn’t bounce around indecisively from job to job, not that I see anything wrong with that either, I don’t, we all need to explore who we are in very complex and sometimes-messy ways.
I didn’t hate that job, as an office employee. Sure, there were sticking points but, overall, I really felt like I was part of the rat race. I was someone who could be depended on, by my employers and creditors alike. My husband and I got engaged and moved in together shortly after I started that job, when I was 20 years old. Being out on our own and having full-time jobs to support ourselves meant that we were only able to devote part of our time to attending college.
I graduated with an associate degree in accounting 11 days before I gave birth to my oldest child, which was 26 days before my 29th birthday, in March of 2009. The next two years were a blur as we raised our child as dual income parents while my husband trudged through graduate school at the same time. I had a few job interviews over the course of that timeframe in an attempt to slide into the accounting field but nothing stuck, except for me in my low-wage office job.
Then the time came to make a definitive choice to either have another child or hang it up at just the one. What made that conversation so necessary was the cost of child care in comparison to my salary. The cost of child care for two children would have eaten my salary and then some. The Center for American Progress reports an average cost of $1,230 each month for one infant in center-based child care. Essentially, I would have been working solely to pay for child care while I worked. As it stood, if we were not in a situation where my husband’s salary was able to support our household on a pinched budget, our choice of whether to even have another child would have been made for us by our economic situation. The thought of what this all means for single parents or women who don’t have enough access to birth control makes my head hurt.
Thus, I left my job in 2011 with a plan of having one more child and then once that child had begun kindergarten I was going to hit the books for my bachelor’s in accounting. I got pregnant five months later and that child turned out to be two children; we had twins in 2012. The possibility of having wound up with three children, two of them infants, in need of child care just seems financially impossible to me. My work became the full-time physical care of our three kids and management of the household, the logistics of which should prove provisional for many future informative posts, but I digress.
Fast forward to September 2017, as the twins were preparing for kindergarten, I was excitedly preparing for my own education. However, I guess this is where it would seem that indecisiveness does come in to play as I jumped from an associate in accounting to a bachelor’s in English, but that’s not true at all. When I had chosen the field of accounting, I thought the only recipe was work hard/play hard, in two very distinctly separate categories. At some point in my journey as a stay-at-home mom though, I realized that I needed more out of my career; I wanted to work hard at something that would make me feel fulfilled as well.
Let me tell you, I was not wrong at least from an educational standpoint. I rocked the three years at Oakland University that it took to complete my English degree and thoroughly enjoyed them. I can’t even say that I thoroughly enjoyed any one class in the curriculum toward my associate in accounting. The COVID pandemic did put a disappointing damper on how I experienced my last year, beginning in the early part of 2020, but I still finished as academically strong as possible, regardless. I graduated summa cum laude with department honors December 2020.
Still, I knew that finding a career with a ten-year career gap in tow was going to be tough but it seems nearly impossible to get prospective employers to see beyond it. The quickening pace of advancements in technology is a big issue that makes these circumstantial career gaps that so many parents face potentially crippling to their career opportunities.
You know, now that I think about it, this lacking ability to afford center-based child care may be the most realistic clue as to my economic social standing. I had always thought of this family of mine, as well as the families of my close friends, as kind of a mid-middle-class family but as I think about it now in conjunction with this topic, that doesn’t seem true at all. I don’t know anybody close to me that was able to afford center-based child care. We had all limped along with a combination of different family members pitching in to provide free child care. Personally, when I worked during the first two years with our oldest child, we had my younger sister and my mother-in-law helping to provide child care. We were grateful for their support but felt that it would be wrong to make family choices that were based on any long-term expectations of them. If my little family truly is “middle-class,” and my social circle is as well, that would mean that the ability to be an independent family while retaining the choice of both parents to take career-advancing risks is relegated to the wealthy upper class only. It may seem like I am digressing again but this is an epiphany I’m having that is directly related to this topic.
Regardless of the circumstances that led to this point in my life, I do feel like I carved out small victories for myself and I’m determined that this career direction I’ve chosen is going to be one of them. It will be interesting to see just how wide this career gap is ultimately going to be. One thing is for sure, when it does finally come to an end, I’m going to toast to all the parents who feel like circumstances like these are too tall to overcome.
Remember to always make a conscientious effort.