So many people have posed the question to me, “How are you liking your new job?” referring to my recent transition to life as a full time mom. I never really know how to sum it up in a quick response, though I usually say “It’s great, I love it,” or something similar. What I’m thinking is “I am so glad the honeymoon is over.”
What I mean by that is I have finally gotten a clear picture of what it is I am doing, at least for now. The first few weeks without my old 9-5 I would sleep in until 7 or 8am, spend too much time driving here and there cramming in every activity I thought up, and trying to emulate what others were doing with their time. I cooked elaborate meals and stressed out about my surroundings not being up to par. Good grief that’s exhausting. Something had to give. Come to think of it, I have learned quite a bit in the last year of 24-hr shifts. This isn’t going to be a flat-out sales pitch to all my friends to commit one partner to stay home full time. I don’t get into the business of advising men or women to quit their day-job and be a mom/dad full time, because it’s like buying someone a puppy for Christmas. There are a lot of variables and it’s not for everyone. The purpose of this blog is to sum up my personal experience so far, for those who are interested to read on, and how this has benefitted us. This is not meant to fan the flames of mommy wars or plead my case – I have let go of any desire to justify. I am merely speaking to those who are considering the same path or want to know what is like for me, and for my family. I have drummed up a short list of the pros and cons of stay-at-home life, from my perspective. Again, this is not for everyone, do not try this at home without considering your particular situation, results may vary!
I’ll start with the drawbacks, because that’s newsworthy:
* it’s dirty work, the hours suck and the s**t-to-pay ratio is not in my favor. These are self-explanatory. However, I remember one day at my old job, my boss made me take down an entire wall of a/v equipment, shelf after shelf, and put it up on another wall. After I had finished the task he came over, looked at it, and made me put it all back. I’m pretty sure I was 10 weeks pregnant with my first kid. It was the most pointless, fruitless effort I had ever put forth, and I can’t say anything I have done in the domestic arena has felt more pointless than that. I will never get that time back, and that was hours of my life spent. However, at my job I received a paycheck, two raises, letters of recommendation and adoration which have all been printed out and will be treasured forever. Not to mention the countless tokens of appreciation (mostly from a lovely young woman named Adria, whom I adore) from generous professors and a department chair who showered his office staff with nice lunches out and the like. Black & white, clearly-expressed appreciation. While I know my kids appreciate me, my husband appreciates me, I do good things, blah blah – it’s not coming to me framed for display on the wall. I’m okay with this. I won’t make you want to gag yourself by itemizing my favorite displays of affection by these people, but I’ll give you an example of the fleeting ones that surprise me. As I was dashing out the double-doors of Central Market with my 2 impossible children the other day, one screaming, harnessed to the double-trouble cart, a sweet old lady stopped loading her two little bags into her trunk. Dax looked at her and smiled, and she put her hand to her mouth and looked as though she was holding back tears. True, this lady didn’t know if I was going to go home and drown my kids in a tub, but we had an unspoken moment, and I try to hold on to those moments.
* The “Mommy-Guilt” really doesn’t let up just because one devotes one’s entire life to being a mom. I read a Huffington Post article recently that spoke to this. In ending your career (I would hardly say my administrative associate/media grunt string of jobs count as a “career” but whatever) you are really just trading one set of tasks for another. Each set has it’s rewards and headaches, but it’s not like I feel like I’m doing right by my kids all the time. Being a mom means you will beat yourself up and agonize over almost everything. When you work you agonize because you dropped your sick kid off at daycare, and when you stay home you agonize that your kid isn’t socialized enough. When you work you think you should spend more time at home, and when you quit your job and resolve to stay home, you wonder if you are setting the right example of a good work ethic. I’m not a perfect mother and no one except the mom I had will ever be perfect. I’m over that. I get it. I feel guilty that Dax isn’t reading or writing sentences and he’s 4. I feel guilty that Jace has an underbite and I haven’t consulted a pediatric orthodontist to make sure there isn’t something I should be doing. I don’t teach them yoga poses. I quit forcing them to sit through Spanish lessons from the lady with the mean kid. We don’t volunteer at nursing homes. Yes, I know I should do all these things. Mommy guilt is there. It’s everywhere. Part of what I mean by “The Honeymoon’s Over” is that I have made peace with not being Superwoman. I can’t do all this. There are people who DO! Great, your kid is 3 and reading himself to sleep at night and composing sonatas. Well, my kids are bright enough and they will read. They won’t be sleeping in my bed when they are 14. I’m sure they will eventually learn not to open people’s refrigerators just to see what’s in there, or touch people’s faces without asking. They are two and four now. Now is just as important.
* Remember the last time you sat for hours at a coffee shop reading lengthy articles on your laptop, enriching your own journey of personal interests? I don’t. Wait, yes I do. I occasionally go get a ‘pedicure deluxe’ from the nail place nearby. In that span of time it’s all about me. Meanwhile, whatever poor soul is saddled with the responsibility of keeping my kids alive is suffering the tantrums, laboring to feed, clean up after, play with, read to, wipe the tush or nose of, or otherwise tend to my busybody kids. This realization will creep into my mind as the nice lady points out my unkempt eyebrows, again. These personal enrichment experiences, from showering to wasting time on Facebook or going to a movie once in a blue moon or a date; these are all tainted with a newfound realization as to what it means to “pawn the kids off” on someone else. I don’t want to say that it’s impossible to enjoy any alone time, or time away from my kids, because that sounds so horrid. However, I am keenly aware of how much work they are, and how dependent they are on me. I know how to circumvent bad behavior situations, I know what words to use in the particular order to get Jace to brush his teeth, Dax is happier falling asleep with my elbow than anyone else’s. It’s simply my job, and it doesn’t let up. Spending time with family and friends is completely different than leaving the kids in someone’s care. Truly, that sticks with me everywhere I go. See, “mommy-guilt” in previous paragraph. There’s no structured drop-off routine to aid in distracting them. No status-quo of handing them over. I am their primary caregiver, and that’s my job. There’s no budget for a babysitter, and calling in favors from family gets old, at least for me. “Just get a sitter” isn’t the cure-all pill it seems. I’m sure it will be different when they are older; it’s just not that kind of smooth sailing at this age.
* i will go ahead and state the obvious: Time with my kids. Spending quantity time with my kids has afforded me the chance to notice and appreciate the subtle changes in them, and not just the big steps. I am noticing the gradual curve of complexity in Dax’s imagination and story-telling, and I am sitting right there watching Jace have epiphanies about words and sentences and body language. I meet imaginary friends, and help the kids find real ones. Little things as quiet and small as the sound of a butterfly or major improvements in their fine motor skills and word pronunciation; I notice these things in my kids. I am realizing why people have always said “Oh just wait until you have kids, you’ll understand.” I have changed my mind, changed my rules and given more thought to obscure and borderline-radical approaches to things like parenting and education for my kids, now that I see first-hand how amazing and fragile they really are. They are so affected by people, relationships, words both harsh and kind, and I am there to help guide them through the process of digesting these experiences. If David were to lose his job and if all technology just suddenly disappeared from the earth, and be it that I were the one capable of holding down the more lucrative job then it would be David home with the kids, and we agree on this. It’s a priceless gift for me to be the one to watch this unfold. As it unfolds I am there to document their story with photographs and words written in cute little books about them. Hopefully they will be interested in the details, like I was as a child. I love my kids, and I want to be with them. I want to give them what they need, and it’s obvious that what they need right now is me. I know this time is finite, and as they grow I will be needed less and less. They will have many teachers, mentors, coaches, friends and trusted adults to share ideas with. However, right now they are ‘little’, and I’m not entrusting this precious time with anyone else. I’m unapologetic about this observation.
* Just like my favorite quote used often by one of my favorite women, “There are so many ways to be crazy,” There are also many ways to make money. I don’t earn a paycheck, but I consider what I do to be saving money that we would otherwise be spending. Although, I don’t like the idea of tallying up all the things into a dollar figure because that just further devalues the work that I do, by only giving power to work that generates money. Look, it costs a lot of money to work full time. I enjoy finding ways to cut our household expenditures by putting time rather than money into basic things, and producing items or services we typically have to shell out money for. While this may seem counter-productive to the progress made in times since the industrial revolution, I have made it my view that the more people participate in the race to success, the more stress they will have and the more distant they will be from those they love. Some people thrive on stress, some have to be a dual income family just to survive (our society is so screwed up!), some people are comfortable putting walls up, and some people need a career to feel fulfilled in life – I understand it’s not a black & white issue. I am bringing this up because I have had some very uncomfortable conversations with feminist friends of mine who expressed their concern about me falling into some kind of dreaded category or desperate housewife. My favorite comment from a Ph.D. graduate student was, “How long are you going to make it before you go insane?” Ironic, because I was just wondering the same thing about her. We all pick our poison I guess. There’s a lot to be said about rejecting an ideology that places value only in material wealth and money earned outside the home. I could have a job and pay someone lower on the social totem to do the domestic drudgery, but really what are the implications of this attitude? Those who are so obsessed with wanting to prove that working moms can have it all don’t even realize that by trying to keep both parents on the 9-5 hamster wheel, we are perpetuating a “care” deficit in society. In order to have more and more we outsource care the way we pay someone to mow our lawn – and the cheaper the better! A blogger I like, Katrina Alcorn cited a book passage from “The Second Shift” by Arlie Hochschild:
Hochschild says the women’s movement did a bang-up job empowering women to “stand equal to men”. But it failed to value the caring of others.
“Without our noticing, American capitalism over time embraced empowerment and sidetracked care. So in the absence of a countermovement, care has often become a hand-me-down job. Men hand it down to women. High-income women hand it to low-income women. Migrant workers who care for American children and elderly, hand the care of their own children and elderly to paid caregivers as well as grandmothers and aunts back in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Mexico…[and those] at the end of the care chain pass child-care duties to oldest daughters. The big challenge in the years ahead–the challenge at the heart of this book–is to value and share the duties of caring for loved ones.”
What would it look like to value and share the caring of others?
Today, for most professionals–women and men–a full-time job means more than 40 hours per week. Many low-wage workers have to work more than one job just to get by–and studies show Americans work some of the longest hours in the developed world. You can have a perfectly equal marriage at home, but if you’re both working 40-plus hours, there simply isn’t enough time for the second shift.
I am not writing any political propositions to address the economic disparities of the US or he world. I’m addressing my own circumstance, which was a choice I had in continuing to work a rewarding and enjoyable job with good pay and great benefits, or choose to stay home with my kids and halt my professional development. I’m glad I made the choice I did; I just wish society saw the value in it.