September 14, 2013

Jenna Solorio on Returning to Work

Jenna Solorio is an African-American mother of three children, currently residing in California, USA. After 16 years of being at a stay-at-home wife and mother, she recently decided that it was time to return to working outside the home.

Share with us your experience as a housewife/stay-at-home mom.
I spent 16 years of my life as a housewife and honestly those were probably the hardest times of my life.

Not only did I stay home but I also homeschooled most of those years as well. I found it very challenging to have my children perpetually there as they would often fight, especially as they got older. I gave so much of myself to my children trying to be the "perfect" mom, mostly by homeschooling and then adding cooking, cleaning, play dates. In those years I had not done any self-care or self-growth because almost every waking moment was spent with the kids or with other moms talking about the challenges we faced on a daily basis.

Even though I set a strict bedtime for the kids, my husband was home by then so even then my time was being spent with him. And when the next day came, the cycle just repeated itself.

Don't get me wrong, I love my children but my being home and around them all the time made it challenging. I missed having some alone time as even the personal time I would try to take in the bathroom was interrupted constantly by my children. My husband would watch the kids while I went out with my friends but it became apparent that it was not enough time or space to realize who I was and also not enough time to deflate from the kids.

Once they went to school, I found myself at home with no sense of identity and would wander around aimlessly trying to figure out what to do with myself. Then whenever my kids were home, I found myself really angry and almost bitter because I felt like it was a burden instead of the joy that I watched other mothers have. It made me feel like I was a bad mom.

How did you feel about yourself as a Muslim mother when you stayed at home?
I felt inferior and horrible, like something was wrong with me and I could not understand why I was not normal. I would see other moms thrive on being at home and being the great housewives, cooking, cleaning, etc. I saw myself slowly sinking into a deep depression.

I tried my best to volunteer but it was not enough because most of my work was at home. It was a hard time. I became resentful and I felt guilty because it was not my kids fault. I even thought about running away and not coming back for real. I could not take it, because every day it was the same thing, the same problems, the same kid issues.

Yes, I was a mom but there were other parts of me that were stifled and I wanted to express those sides as well. I had this idea from other moms that you are supposed to sacrifice everything for your children but subhanAllah I saw more and more that I did not agree with having to be a martyr for my children. It was better for them to have a happy mom vs. a miserable mom.

So I became "selfish" but I soon realized that by doing so my children would greatly benefit.

What thoughts, feelings and considerations did you have when you initially began to think about returning to work and how long did it take for you to come to a final decision?
One day I came across an article written about a woman and how she felt about working and not being a stay at home mom. She said that she was a much better mom being at work and then coming home and spending time with her kids versus being with them all day and ending up angry and bitter all the time. She said that she gets home and gives her son a bath, dinner, and reads him a story and that ends up being the best time she ever spent.

I connected with that article and realized that maybe that could work for me too. It took me a few years to finally get up the nerve to take action.

In the end, what were some of the reasons that you decided returning to work would be best for you and your family?
I realized I needed a break and was at my wits end and was desperate to try something. I decided that quality vs. quantity was best for my family. The more time I spent with my kids the worse parent I was. The less time I spent with them, the better time we had.

I want the memories my kids have of me to be happy memories of me laughing and being positive with them. By working, I believe that they will have a lot more of that with me.

Now that you’re back in the workforce, how do you feel about yourself as a Muslim mother?
I feel like I have finally been honest with myself that I am not like other women and have finally accepted that this is who I am. I finally stopped fighting who I was and I finally feel like a weight has been lifted. I finally feel happy. I no longer care about the criticism that I get.

What do you feel are some of the benefits (if any) and drawbacks (if any) of returning to work?
I feel happy. My heart feels light. I have interaction with adults and I get the space I need to re-energize before I get home.

How do your husband and children feel about you returning to work?
My husband had in his head the idea of me being a housewife but as time went on he finally understood that a "traditional" style of parenting is not a one size fits all. My husband and the kids have all seen the difference in me and are very supportive. 

My teenage son gave me a letter just yesterday saying that I am a good mom and that he notices that I am getting better.

How do you balance your roles as wife and mother with now being an employee outside the home? What specific tools or strategies do you use to help with this effort?
I have a very supportive family and I feel that is the number one thing.

Not only do I work but I also study sign language. So this takes some of my time as well but I make sure to schedule my work and studying/learning time around my family.

For work, I requested an afternoon schedule so that when I get up in the morning my husband and kids are already gone to school and work and I have that time to myself. I needed this time with no major responsibility, just time for me to be. I journal, make tea, read a book, and when one o'clock rolls around I get up and go to work before the whole family gets home. I am back at home by 6:30 (I chose four hour shifts) which allows me time to skype with my teacher and study in the evening while the kids are in bed and my husband has his downtime.

My husband even worked it out with his job where he is able to leave work and pick up the kids so he can work from home for the rest of the day. Though, I would have figured out a way to work even if he was unable to come home.

What advice do you have for Muslim mothers considering returning to work?
Sit down with your family and have an honest discussion about the new arrangement for the household and come to a compromise that fits you and your family. Also do not care what people think of you for making this decision. Do what is best for you and your family.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Accept who you are and do not try to be something that you are not. Find a way to embrace it into you and your family's life. Do not apologize for your decision because that would suggest something is wrong with you and that is not the case.

Again one size does not fit all. I have seen many families where both parents work and the children are happy healthy children. You owe no one an explanation as to the reasons why you do what you do; that is between you, Allah and your family.


  1. I think you can appreciate your children more when you have some space. Being around them 24/7 without a break is challenging. It does not mean you do not love your kids, you need time to yourself before you do lose your identity and fall into a depression

  2. gotta love jenna! masha'Allah an amazing sister!

  3. SubhanAllah so beautiful! I am so proud of you Jennah and anyone would be lucky to have you as a mom. May Allah open even more doors of opportunities for you and make it easy on your family through this transition. May Allah pave the path for your success and for all your dreams to come true. I believe in you :)