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The rise of the stay-at-home working mom

Is it possible to do it all … and do it well? Here’s how four women quit their jobs and turned their side passions into lucrative work.
Nikki Elledge Brown started the "Naptime Empires" podcast about the realities of parenthood and entrepreneurship.
Nikki Elledge Brown started the "Naptime Empires" podcast about the realities of parenthood and entrepreneurship.Monica True

If you return to a full-time job after maternity leave, chances are you have a frantic morning that includes many of the following tasks: preparing bottles and meals, packing backpacks, communicating with your caretaker, handling daycare or school drop-offs and commuting to work … all while wondering if you’ll get the dreaded call that you need to come back immediately because your kid has a fever. On a good day, you rush home from work and get an hour or two feeding, bathing and cherishing your kids before bedtime.

On the flip side, if you decide to stay at home after becoming a mom, you spend the day changing diapers, shuffling kids between activities, putting them in front of a screen to give yourself a minute to shower or eat, and hope you have at least one conversation with another adult who won’t notice (or at least care) about the random yogurt stain on your shirt. You have a 24/7 workweek with an extremely demanding boss: your child.

These have historically been the two options offered to women after children enter the picture. But since remote work has been on the rise over the last decade, there has also been an increase in the number of stay-at-home moms who work from home.

In fact, 43 percent of women quit their jobs when they have children, according to Brie Weiler Reynolds, a senior career specialist at FlexJobs, a job searching website. Of those women, 70 percent eventually return to work — but only 40 percent come back full time.

In their annual Super Survey of more than 3,000 respondents, FlexJobs discovered that 65 percent of stay-at-home moms both need and want to work.

"While women and men are starting to more equally share the care-giving responsibilities of raising children, women still bear the lion's share of those responsibilities, but they also want to be professionally active,” Reynolds told Know Your Value. “… In some cases, these moms are still working 40 hours per week — or maybe even more — but the work is spread out in ways that allow them to spend time with their family in ways a traditional office job would not.

Know Your Value recently spoke to a handful of moms who decided to say goodbye to office life and have carved out space for themselves to do the work they love while spending more time at home.

The corporate connector

“I was traveling every week, getting on a plane constantly. Last year, I was home just two weeks out of the whole first quarter and my older daughter started crying and asking why I was leaving,” said Mary Clavieres, who has two daughters, ages 5 and 2.

Clavieres, who lives in Hoboken, NJ, had been thriving as senior manager in animal health pharmaceutical manufacturing, but her family life had taken a hit. When a snowstorm at the tail end of a European business trip sidelined her plans to see her family, she thought, “Enough is enough. If I want to change something, it’s up to me to make it happen.”

Mary Clavieres started the company "Brief Transitions" after quitting her job as a senior manager for an animal health pharmaceutical manufacturing company.
Mary Clavieres started the company "Brief Transitions" after quitting her job as a senior manager for an animal health pharmaceutical manufacturing company.Kim Lorraine Photgraphy

Fortunately, she had started laying the tracks for her corporate exit plan a few years earlier. After the birth of her first daughter, she realized the importance of the postpartum mesh underwear all of her girlfriends told her to steal from the hospital. “I got mad that women can’t just go into the store to purchase essential supplies they need during such a pivotal, sensitive time. It wasn’t quite a lightbulb moment, but since I knew about production and manufacturing, I thought I’d try doing something on the side.”

After building her company, Brief Transitions, for several years during spare moments and after bedtimes, Clavieres did some meticulous planning and finally made the leap from the corporate world in 2018.

Her days are still busy, but she can spend significantly more meaningful time with her family. “I wake up every morning loving what I’m doing. And I’m much more connected to my girls. When my younger daughter had trouble adjusting to school, I could be present to create a more personal connection with her to help her get through that.”

Her advice? “The notion of work-life balance is an impossible standard to live up to. Sometimes you’re going to focus on your work. Sometimes you’re going to focus on your family. Adapt your life according to the season that you’re in,” said Clavieres.

The content creator

Nancylynn Sicilia Lapp, mother of Mia, 9, and Max, 5, also decided to leave her full-time job to support her family in a whole new capacity. She had been teaching middle school language arts for 13 years at the same school in Horsham, Pennsylvania, commuting an hour each way.

While teaching, Lapp had started a food blog, something she initially viewed as a hobby. She always loved cooking and thought a website would be a great way for her friends to access the recipes they were always requesting from her. In the very first week, her blog had 5,000 page views. “I couldn’t believe it,” Lapp laughed, “Who were all these people reading my recipes?”

Nancylynn Sicilia Lapp quit her full-time job and started the successful Confessions of a Fit Foodie blog.
Nancylynn Sicilia Lapp quit her full-time job and started the successful Confessions of a Fit Foodie blog.Kristen Burrell Photography

She continued working on the blog in her spare time with no intention of leaving her job, but in the next year, her son was diagnosed with autism. “I didn’t know how I was going to manage work as a teacher as well as being a mom, being a wife, and being Max’s advocate and giving him everything he needed,” she said. “In the back of my head, I knew I had this blog, this outlet. I knew I could maybe turn this into something, but I didn’t know how it would turn out. I mostly just wanted to be there for my kids.”

She resigned from her teaching position in the fall of 2015. By staying up late, waking up early and using every minute of downtime in between, Lapp has been able to grow and monetize her Confessions of a Fit Foodie blog. “I get to be around for the little moments as well as the big ones. I used to leave for work before my kids were even awake. Now I can braid my daughter’s hair and be homeroom mom,” said Lapp.

Her advice?

“It’s easy to put everyone else’s needs before your own,” said Lapp. “When you’re working from home, the flexibility makes you seem more available than you are. Most people don’t understand the amount of work that goes into things. Be firm on time that’s supposed to be yours—stick to the time you’ve blocked off for work.”

The counselor

Sarah Harmon worked as a mental health counselor at Boston’s Wentworth Institute of Technology for more than seven years before she said goodbye to a steady paycheck and hello to her own business.

Though Harmon enjoyed the community at her university position, she was less than thrilled about the long commute and rigid hours. After her first daughter, Libby, now 2, was born, she transitioned to four days of work at the college and one day in private practice. After the birth of her second child, Sage, now 8 months, Harmon knew she needed step back and work for herself: “Flexible hours and setting my own schedule was a huge draw. When working for myself, I can be really intentional with my work and get better value for the time spent.”

Sarah Harmon with her daughters Libby, 2, and Sage, 8 months.
Sarah Harmon with her daughters Libby, 2, and Sage, 8 months.Seth Harmon

In 2018, she created Sarah Harmon Wellness, a Boston-based business that offers holistic therapy, yoga classes and corporate programming. Harmon said, “I didn’t get into this field because of the flexibility, but now I’m realizing how amazing it is—I can work two hours or 72 hours. It’s up to me.”

Her advice?

“There’s enough work to go around in this world—if you’re passionate about something, there are people who are going to need your help. One of the best things we can do is lean on other moms to help support us and get our businesses off the ground,” she said.

The communicator

Nikki Elledge Brown, mother of two boys, ages 7 and 3, had “the dream job I never dreamed of having.” While her husband was deployed on active military duty, she began volunteering with the National Park Service at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. She soon turned that volunteer position into a full-time job as a park guide.

After the birth of her first son, however, keeping up with full-time hours—and solo parenting while her husband was living in a submarine—was too much to handle. She blazed her own trail by submitting a proposal to work for the NPS remotely, a position that didn’t really exist at the time. She updated the park website, wrote grant applications, coordinated special tours and co-created a Junior Rangers program--and she did it all from home while caring for her son and teaching online classes in communication studies.

Nikki Elledge Brown lives in Houston, Texas and has two sons, ages 7 and 3.
Nikki Elledge Brown lives in Houston, Texas and has two sons, ages 7 and 3.Monica True

Brown had started writing a blog as a hobby, and though she hadn’t intended to launch a business, she encountered what she called “divine breadcrumbs” that led her to offer communication services for entrepreneurs. After she began working with clients, she realized that business owners specifically needed help with written communication. She narrowed her focus and ended up making $21,000 in her first six weeks of business.

Since that time, Brown, who now lives in Houston, created the hugely successful “A Course About Copy” to help entrepreneurs create authentic copy that attracts their dream clients. She started the “Naptime Empires” podcast in order to share refreshingly honest conversations about the realities of parenthood and entrepreneurship. She also had another son and is now writing a book that will detail how she and other entrepreneurs started their businesses—one nap at a time.

Her advice?

“Lower the freaking bar. We need to practice self-compassion and give ourselves some grace. We don’t need to be, do and have it all—all at one time, all on our own. Give yourself permission to take baby steps,” said Brown.