She’s Highly Educated. Entrepreneurial. And Staying Home Felt Right.
Elizabeth Jacox had a prestigious academic career, attending a small liberal arts college for her undergraduate degree before completing a PhD in genetics at Yale. During her graduate study, she met her husband and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a move that catalyzed an internal shift toward prioritizing family life. At the beginning of her postdoc, Elizabeth had her first daughter. While she had a meaningful maternity leave, a part-time schedule, and affordable child care, Elizabeth still found herself distracted and missing time with her baby. When she became pregnant the second time, Elizabeth evaluated her priorities and realized that she “didn’t love science” enough to stay. Since leaving academia, Elizabeth has had two more children and has another on the way. Elizabeth remains frustrated at the lack of social support for care work and winnowing options for scientists like her who would like to re-enter the working world after time caring for young children. Still, Elizabeth is making her own sunshine by connecting with adults through mom groups and church, and by building her own small business making clay jewelry.
Please introduce yourself and your journey balancing motherhood and work.
My name is Elizabeth Jacox, and I am currently a stay-at-home mom. I have four children; they are seven, six, four, and almost three. We are expecting our fifth child at the end of the year. We have three girls, and our youngest is a boy. We live in New Haven, Connecticut. My husband and I met while we were doing our graduate work at Yale. I have a PhD in genetics. I then did a short postdoc for a year and a half and then decided that, for our family, I was going to stay home. At that point, I was pregnant with our second. I’ve been home for about six years and out of academia for that long as well.
I used to sell SeneGence on the side, and then, most recently, I’ve started a business making clay jewelry [Clayssic Designs], which has been super fun and rewarding. In terms of work-life balance, I got involved in making my clay during Covid because I was home a lot and I was going crazy; I just needed a “me” outlet. So I started playing with clay mainly during nap time. . . . It was kind of a way for me to do something fun with my [daughters] and also something for me at the same time. . . . And the other good thing about both of [my jobs] is that I was mainly promoting them on social media, which is something that you can do kind of sneakily [around the kids], when you’re like, “Mama needs a five minute break.” [laughs]
What made you want to have children?
I’m the oldest of two girls, and my husband is one of six. And I just thought that I was gonna have two kids! I just thought, “This is what every human being does; we just grow up, we find someone to live life with, we have kids.” And [I did] not know the purpose behind it. Fast forward, and I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I have this wonderful eternal perspective on life, and I get married to my husband and we’re kind of like, “Let’s wait for kids a little bit.”
At this point in my life, I just got married, and kids to me were snotty-nosed little brats. . . . And I can just remember so distinctly, we’re coming home from our honeymoon, we’re driving in New Haven, and I just got this feeling in my chest. And it’s like, “Kids aren’t snotty-nosed brats anymore,” and I turned to my husband and I said, “I think it’s time for us to have a baby.” . . . There was just something inside of me that had totally changed. And I can’t chalk it up to anything except to Heavenly Father and this realization of the purpose of families. . . . Somehow my thought of having two kids and having no idea why I was going to have children morphed into, “I love my children and let’s start our family.” . . . But yeah, it definitely comes down to faith, and a completely different perspective on life than I ever had growing up that has led us to have four (going on five) children. And my husband leaves the decision completely up to me too. Never once has he ever pressured me. . . . It’s more of “the burden of childbearing and birth is on you, so when you are ready, we can do this.” And I’ve always appreciated his support in that way.
What are some of the things you love about being a mom? What is hard about being a mom?
Everything and everything. What do I love about being a mom? I love being with my children and seeing their small moments that are big moments to them—the excitement over the tiniest little thing. [I love] being able to experience all the boo boos and making everything right and being their world, being needed and loved to that degree and being able to reciprocate that love. But then, at the same time, it is so difficult to be their world and to be the only one that is their world and to have them be so dependent upon me. I also struggle with anxiety. It’s definitely been triggered because of childbirth and postpartum depression, but it’s kind of morphed into low-grade anxiety that just doesn’t go away anymore and definitely because of my kids. I mean, I really do love being with them, and the reason why I decided to stay home was because I didn’t want somebody else raising my children. . . . But again, it’s really hard. The days are long, but the years are short.
In the last couple of years, I’ve learned to own the change, to own the fact that I’m a stay-at-home mom and to be okay with it. And it’s made me happier, since I’ve stopped trying to fight those internal battles
I really think part of the reason why I have a side hustle is that it was a big struggle for me when I decided to stay home, and I felt like I wanted something that generates a little bit of monetary value. . . . I mean, I am still in the red in my business, and it is still in the baby stages, but it’s fun for me to feel like I’m producing something that is contributing to society. Now, I know that raising my children is also contributing to society, but it’s tough. In today’s day and age, that isn’t valued in that way.
I think [another] one of my big difficulties is that I live here by myself, essentially. My parents are not around, so I don’t have any reliable babysitters that I don’t have to pay for. [That means] I’m at the mercy of mom swaps. . . . But before that, it was hard to [even] go out on a date with my husband. It’s hard to just go to the dentist; it’s always so unfair to me that my husband gets to just leave work, go to the dentist, do his thing, go back to work, come home. He didn’t have to worry about finding someone to watch the kids. He didn’t have to cancel his appointment because one of the kids was sick and so he couldn’t leave the babies with a babysitter. It feels like all that responsibility is put on me constantly.
What shaped your decision to stay at home with your children? Was it a hard decision?
I’d been in school for what seems like a bazillion years. I just worked for five years to get this PhD at a pretty prestigious institution. . . . About 50 percent of [my friends] were married at that point. The others were not, and they were all going on to do postdocs and use their scientific careers in significant ways. And I felt like I needed to [as well]. I felt like there was the social pressure from my friends that they were doing things and I needed to do things [as well]. I had spent a ton of time getting this education, and I wanted to use it.
I also felt like I owed my parents in a way; my parents paid for . . . grammar school [and] high school. Grammar school was a private Catholic school, and high school was a private school. They put so much money into my education, and I felt I needed to make an impact somehow. [But] I was about to have my second, and I wanted to make sure that I had some special bonding time with my oldest because I really hadn’t. She was born, I took maternity leave for a couple months, but then I started working full time again, and then she was being watched by someone.
I’m just fighting these demons of what to do, and it’s just society against what is pulling at my heart. And what’s pulling at my heart is I don’t love science enough to keep doing this. I would rather be playing with my kids than at the workbench.
And child care was so expensive! I didn’t love science enough to [cope with the fact that] the income that I was getting was just going to pay for child care. Then I was like, “It’s just not worth it. I don’t love science enough. I’d rather be home. The money isn’t worth it at this point.” So I decide I’m going to take this leap and stay home—and it was so hard. . . . It just felt like I was useless. I felt insignificant, because I was no longer doing what I had been trained to do for so long, no longer using my brain in the same way. . . . [So after my second was born] I started SeneGence, because I wanted something that I could call my own, other than my children.
In the last couple of years, I’ve learned to own the change, to own the fact that I’m a stay-at-home mom and to be okay with it. And it’s made me happier, since I’ve stopped trying to fight those internal battles.
What do you think is telling women that the act of raising children is not contributing to society?
Is it the feminist movement? Women have just fought so hard. We fought for the vote, we fought to break the glass ceiling, we fought to work, we fought to do all of these things. . . . I wonder if it’s just that women have had so many barriers, and we want to break them, and we’re doing it, and you want to be part of that. But staying home is [almost seen as] a regression. . . . If we’re pushing forward as a gender, then staying at home is not helping that fight. And [a shift in those ideas] takes time, and we have to own the change [or the choice to be at home], like I mentioned before, and that can also be really difficult for some people to do.
Are there any policies that would have kept you in the workplace longer?
It was probably my time to [leave the workplace]; it was a very internal pull. I don’t think anything would have changed [my decision]. However, child care was so difficult. [My husband] and I were fellows at Yale, and we actually advocated for reduced child care costs. And by the time we were gone, they were offering some child care stipends to grad students in an effort to reduce child care costs, which is great. But it was like $2,000, and that was barely enough to cover anything.
I couldn’t find an actual day care that was within our reasonable budget that had an open spot [and] that was close enough to us that would have made [it] easy with our commute. There was a lovely lady [at church], and she had multiple children, and she offered to watch [our daughter]. . . . I think I paid her $50 a week. You normally pay people $50 a day, right? So she was just a huge blessing, because otherwise it really wouldn’t have worked out.
[In terms of other policies that might have impacted my decision,] I feel like I had plenty of maternity leave and bonding time; that was not a problem for me. I will also say that I had an amazing boss. [In] scientific work, your postdoc is not a part-time position at all, but he allowed me to work part time . . . which was a huge blessing for our family, because that was just unheard of. And my boss was very supportive of my needing to leave to go pick up the kids. . . . Then after doing part-time [work] for a while, it just felt like, “This isn’t right. It’s my time to move on.”
What policies do you feel would support you in your current work as a stay-at-home mom?
I’m in favor of [the child tax credits]. Can we keep that going? That would be very helpful. And it would make me feel good as a stay-at-home mom, because it would feel like I’m getting paid. . . . That feeling of getting paid for some reason is important to me, and not because I want to go spend all the money, but that feels important and I miss that. . . . [Caregiving work is] not valued. People just don’t value it. You need good mothers at home to teach and reprimand and instruct, in love. . . . It just really feels to me that if there were some kind of monetary support for stay-at-home moms that it would be a significant indicator of the recognition and support that mothering deserves. . . . We just have to break that stigma of “just” a stay at home mom. I hate the word “just.” Somehow we have to help society understand that it is a big job and they’re not “just” being home.
Do you feel supported by your communities for the choice that you’ve made to be home with your kids?
Now that I’ve made the decision, I don’t feel unsupported. I don’t feel as if there’s anybody that’s openly opposed to my decision, not that there ever really was, except for those internal voices. I’m very supported in my church community. There is also a pretty good community of local moms who I’ve met online that support me. I’m really grateful for social media in that way, because I feel like it helps connect stay-at-home moms with each other.
I’ve [also] run into my old boss a couple of times, and every time I meet her she always asks me what I’m doing and what my plans are. I always kind of feel guilty that I don’t have any immediate plans to go back into science. But she always extends the invitation, “If you need anything from me, please let me know.” So in that way, I still really feel supported by her. . . . I feel like she is still an amazing mentor and would be someone that I could turn to if I wanted to switch gears again. . . . [And] my parents have always been supportive of anything I choose. They were supportive of me staying home; they were supportive of me working. They’ve never said anything negative like, “Oh, you wasted your education,” or anything like that. They love their grandkids.
What barriers do you feel prevent you from returning to work?
I didn’t finish my postdoc. A postdoc is normally three or four [years or] something like that. I only did a year and a half, and I just left. I didn’t finish the project. I didn’t publish anything from it. That postdoc is basically useless. If I were to try to apply for a research position, I would essentially have to do a postdoc all over again. Also, the field that I was in is one that’s so fast paced that as soon as you leave it, it’s going to blow by you. And I don’t have access to scientific papers anymore like I did, so I can’t really keep up in the field if I wanted to. So for me to go back into science—to the degree that I was in it—would be very challenging.
What would help you find the right balance of work and family in the future?
I don’t know if I want to go back to the bench. Maybe I want to do medical writing. But how am I supposed to get into medical writing right now? I know of it; I did some of it during grad school but not enough to land me a job after grad school. So [to get into medical writing], I [would] probably need to teach myself. There are plenty of courses online, but I don’t want to pay $300 or $400 or $1,000 for something that I’m still learning about. And I don’t know if it’s really something that I want to invest in, but it could be a new career for me. Having some type of monetary support, like transition support [for moms going back into the workforce], would actually be great because then I could take a class! I could learn something new. I could try to further myself for re-entry into some type of career.
[For now,] I left the workforce, and that’s it. I’m not known to anybody anymore. . . . I do have a LinkedIn, but it is outdated at this point. It’s like I’ve just fallen off the map of the workforce. That’s it. Every once in a while, my husband gets some mail that [offers], “Here’s where you should apply for your job. Here are the benefits that come with it.” Now why can’t I get mail that says, “Why don’t you start your career here?” or “This is great for you, given your past history.” Not that I really want to get junk mail, but it’s like I just don’t exist. I’m just not in the workforce and nobody’s going to try to recruit me, but they’re trying to recruit my husband because he’s active in it.
What would your advice be for young moms who are trying to figure out work-life balance?
Go with your gut. If you want to stay and work, go with it. If you can stay home and raise your children, go with it. Just follow your gut, because that is God’s way of steering you in some direction. And there will probably always be some type of social expectations that you feel like you’re not reaching, but you just have to own your change. And when you own it and you are okay with what you’re doing and you have a positive outlook about your choices, you’ll be so much happier.