From CEO to Stay-at-Home Mom: Navigating Life’s Biggest Roles

By Jennifer Rawley

by Celia Cooksey

In today’s world, women often find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to balancing their careers and family lives. They face the choice of going all-in on their careers, becoming stay-at-home moms, or juggling both roles simultaneously.

An entire industry exists to flood us with advice on how to manage this “work-life balance” – a term that has been overused to the point it often carries negative connotations. It has transformed into an unrealistic expectation because if you can’t achieve it, either you lack enough willpower to set and keep boundaries or your job isn’t good enough. However, for most of us, achieving what we imagine the ideal balance to be often requires several work-focused years.

For many years, I navigated motherhood while climbing the corporate ladder as a healthcare executive. My journey led me to the pinnacle role in a hospital — CEO. I poured my heart and soul into my job, my team, and my patients. My family graciously took a back seat to my career numerous times, and I will forever be grateful for their unwavering support. My mentors and family played pivotal roles in my journey, and I can never express my gratitude enough.

Then, in 2019, everything changed when I learned I was expecting our third child. I made a conscious decision to pivot and step away from my career to focus on my family. The unexpected outpouring of support, especially from other working women, was heartwarming. Many admired my courage to prioritize my family over my career, even going so far as to commend me for “giving up so much.” I didn’t see it as “giving up” anything; I carried my experience and knowledge with me, gaining more in the process.

I remained at home until 2022. I focused on my three children, homeschooling, and supporting my husband as he pursued his own career goals after years of supporting mine. I was quietly relieved by my timely departure from healthcare before the pandemic, something that has placed immense strain on my fellow healthcare professionals. I honestly don’t know if I could have withstood the pressures they went through.

People often ask me, “What was harder: Being a CEO or a stay-at-home mom?” Hospital CEOs bear immense responsibility and make complex decisions under intense scrutiny. They work long, unpredictable hours in a lonely role that requires considerable support at home. The rewards include a lucrative salary and the ability to positively impact healthcare, patients, and professionals.

Stay-at-home moms face a different yet equally significant responsibility. They manage an unending workload without financial compensation, and their work can be thankless and socially isolating. It does offer personal fulfillment and the convenience of working from home on one’s own schedule. While there is no direct salary, there are cost-savings and avoidances they can take advantage of that full-time working women may not have the time to access.

For me, being a CEO was ultimately more challenging. No matter what happened at work, or how much my husband helped, the mental and physical demands of home life were ever-present and waiting for me. As a stay-at-home mom, I certainly worked more hours, and it was indeed as exhausting as the internet memes warned. However, it granted me flexibility and control over my schedule, which I came to value more than any salary or prestige.

If given the choice, I would choose this path again, despite the significant changes to our lifestyle that made it all possible. We sold our beloved mountain getaway near Asheville,North Carolina, a loss that still hurts my heart. I traded in my new candy-apple-red Cadillac for a well-used SUV. We downsized from our Cary, North Carolina, townhome into an even smaller single-family-fixer-upper with the bluest carpet I’ve ever seen. Budget constraints meant we kept most of that carpet.

With the move from two homes to one, we gave away superfluous furnishings and décor I had collected or inherited over the years. We went from eating out almost daily to about once a week. We eliminated all non-essential services, including our housekeeper, lawn maintenance, and other luxuries.

For us, they were all worth it. We also grew closer as a family, embraced homeschool during the pandemic, and I’ve been to countless performances and games my kids participated in. At one point, I only saw these through video recordings.

Everyone gauges these roles differently based on their values and inclinations. For me, I’ve now found the best of both worlds, and I could not be happier with my career today. In early 2022, I stumbled into my “unicorn job.” Not only is it professionally rewarding, it allows me to maintain flexibility. I may no longer hold the CEO title, but I’m thrilled to be in a position that aligns perfectly with my priorities – all while supporting another remarkable CEO at an incredible organization.

If I could change anything about my story, I would have stayed working a bit longer before leaving my CEO role. That would have allowed me to plan the transition and our finances differently, but unfortunately morning-sickness hit me hard, so I stepped down quickly.

I do know that every choice has brought me to where I am today, and I’m grateful to have these experiences I now reflect upon. Although my story continues to unfold, I find such joy in the present chapter. I’m determined to immerse myself in it for some time to come.

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