Hard work, perseverance, and humility are hallmarks of a Thacher student. As alumni of Thacher, we carry these characteristics with us into college and the workforce which is why this community contributes so meaningfully to the world. While most of our jobs require these attributes to varying degrees, few demand them more than being a mother.
In this Toad to Toad, Elizabeth Carlitz Craver speaks with her classmate Kasiana Jean Palm McLenghan honestly and with great humor about leaving a high-powered job to be a full-time mother and the challenges and joys of making that choice.
: You said you always wanted to be a mom but hadn’t necessarily thought you would be a stay-at-home mom. How did you and Jared decide that you would stay home?
Liz: It was a hundred percent up to me. I was working at USC Medical Center —not just one of the hospitals, but the whole health system. I had a really good job. I had been promoted quickly. It was demanding and rewarding, but it wasn’t as rewarding as I thought it would be.
Jared was attending grad school at night and planning to be a consultant. He would be traveling four or five days a week. At the same time, my job demanded twelve hours a day in the hospital. I sat back and said, “there’s no balance here” ... but I was conflicted.
I had a hard time making that decision, and I truly didn’t make it until the day before I was supposed to go back to work. I was struggling and questioned, “what’s my self-worth?” I was so tied to my work. What does my life look like without my work and am I prepared to be with my child 24/7? You guys probably don’t want to put this in the magazine, but I can’t go to the bathroom by myself most of the time without a little kid running after me.
With the resurgence of feminism and “Lean In,” where do I fit into this? At the same time, I know I’m not going to get these years back. I want to spend this time with my daughter and then now with my son. I do not regret it at all.
Kasiana: Take me back to the day before you’re going back to work. How did you make that decision?
Liz: I remember sitting on the couch and Jared asked, “what are you going to do?” I said, “I know in my heart what I want to do, I just think my head is getting in the way and I need to just calm my mind, and it will come to me.” When I woke up in the morning, I realized, “No, I’m done. This is my time to spend with my daughter.”
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every day is different, especially as a first-time mom. Everything that gets thrown at you is overwhelming in the beginning. I know this may be the hardest thing I’ll do, but it’s going to be worth it.
It was a very hard phone call to make to my boss. I had even gone through the exercise of taking Ella to daycare the week before going to work so she would feel comfortable when I would leave—she was 4 months old. I knew the daycare workers were 100 percent equipped and probably better at this than I am. But in my heart, I just couldn’t.
Kasiana: Was it scary deciding not to go back to work?
Liz: It was very scary. My days were so structured at work and I felt so in control. At work, I know what to do. I’m trained for it and my projects were great.
As a mom, I didn’t know how I was going to fill my days and yet I’m so busy with a newborn. If someone asked me, “what did you do today?” an honest answer is, “I kept everyone alive and that took all of my abilities.”
Kasiana: I’m a little bit daunted when I think about entertaining a toddler or a newborn all day. How has that been?
Liz: I have to say the newborn phase was so hard the first time. I felt very isolated because I thrive on human interaction and I’m an extrovert. With a newborn it’s as if someone is constantly yelling at you to do everything faster. I felt as though “Okay, I’m sorry, I’m going as fast as I can, I’m hurrying! Oh my gosh. Why are you always yelling at me? I’m putting my underwear on. Give me a minute.”
The second time, I’ve enjoyed it so much more. I love getting down on the floor with Michael; with Ella I felt weird doing it. I created a village for myself with the second time. I have other parents to engage with and it helps fuel that part of me that needs social interaction.
Kasiana: I’m curious, and this is my ignorance because I don’t have kids… you’re a wife, you’re a mother. Those are these huge, important rolls. But what other things are you? What else is important to you?
Liz: That’s a very poignant question. I think a lot of people feel like if they become a stay-at-home mom, they lose their identity. I still have the same passions I had before I became a wife and mother. During my sophomore year at Thacher, I got into running. I’ve had times where I’ve been more into it or less into it, but it’s a constant in my life. And as soon as I got cleared to exercise from the doctor, I started running again. It’s important to my sense of self. I’m someone who enjoys physical activity, and I make sure to still have that in my life.
I’m also very passionate about public health. Currently, I’m interested in issues tied to motherhood—vaccination rates and things like that. I still nurture those parts of my life.
Some of the other things that I’m passionate about require a little more logistical freedom. I don’t have that freedom right now, but I know that I will again. Right now, I’m in the thick of it… I have very young kids.
Kasiana: Did what you took from Thacher influence your choices to become a mom or to decide to stay at home?
Liz: I would say that Thacher has shaped the kind of mother I am.
I like that idea of self-sufficiency, being accountable for your actions. The other day, another mom said, “Oh, you have your daughter feed the dog?” My response was, “Hello, we took care of horses… She just has to scoop a cup.”
I think the moral compass and sense of self that I got at Thacher was a gift for me and I want that for my children. I want Ella to respect the environment and other people. I want her to find her passions and understand her emotions. I think Thacher gives you tools to be better citizens of the world. And I’m trying to do that with Ella and Michael too.
Kasiana: What or how do you think about success? What does that word mean to you?
Liz: To be honest, it’s really hard. How do you define your success and how does the world define you as successful? It’s hard to reconcile those two things. That was holding me back on my decision to become a stay-at-home mom. I have a master’s degree. I’m successful in my job. By others’ standards, I’ve done well. Does giving that up make me unsuccessful?
Today, I feel successful in the fact that my Ella and Michael are happy and healthy. I’m giving my all and I feel like that’s the best I can do.
Kasiana: Did Thacher make it easier or more challenging to tap into this understanding?
Liz: Thacher produces very high achieving, amazing people who are doing wonderful things across the globe. They’re newsworthy and notable. As a stay-at-home mom you are working in the background. Thacher helps you find your best self and define your goals. I think that helped me when I was able to quiet my mind and take away external expectations.
Kasiana: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about being a stay-at-home mom?
Liz: People have asked me, “What do you do all day? Do you get anything done?” On paper, it might not look like I’ve done a lot, but my house is still standing. My kids are alive. The dog is okay.
Another one is that I “must be bored.” There are times when I’m bored, but there were times when I was bored working in an office. And, truth be told, it can be challenging to explain some really big concepts to a three-year-old!
Kasiana: What’s one of those moments that sticks in your mind?
Liz: We were waiting in the pediatrician’s office and a little boy was there with his two dads. Ella turned to me and asked loudly, "Why does he have two dads?" And they turned and looked at me. I just laughed because three-year-olds say whatever pops into their brain. I explained to her, "every family can look different. Sometimes there are two moms. Sometimes there are two dads, sometimes there’s only one mom, sometimes there’s only one dad. But all the matters is that there’s the love.” You could just see like the wheels turning. Then ten minutes later, she said, "But why does he have two dads?" And I went back and explained it again. Then she came home and told Jared about it for several days in a row. But at the end she always says, "and that’s okay.”
She has so many questions about the world around her. It’s hard to give a simple answer because life is not simple. But it’s a good exercise in how you can break things down and it makes you stop and think sometimes.
Kasiana: Who were your children named for?
Liz: When I was eight months pregnant, my car was hit by a drunk driver and totaled. I had to be in the hospital for a couple days to make sure everything was okay. So, I said, “I think we have to name her Ella Grace because it’s by the grace of God that we’re all okay.” Grace was my mother’s aunt who was a pilot and still holds some records in flying. My Ella Grace was born a month after the accident.
And then Michael was Jared’s grandfather’s name. He was a Holocaust survivor and he was close to Jared until he passed away a few years ago.
Kasiana: I’ve heard people talk about feeling vulnerable when they have kids, but it’s different to talk about children with your contemporaries. It’s more visceral somehow than talking with your parents.
Liz: Totally. I remember when I was pregnant with Ella, I was talking to my mom asking, “What am I getting into?” and she said, “You cannot plan for this. You will not understand any of it until you are actually living it.” And she was right in the sense of that feeling in your heart, how everything is just so intense. That was a big shock for me.