Thursday, June 5, 2008

Working Mom?

“Women in your generation can do it all! Be wonderful wives and mothers and top-notch career women at the same time!”

Is this line as familiar to you as it is to me? And what do you all think? I think it’s a little more complicated than that.

Here’s our situation. I’m a lawyer, blessed with an ideal, flexible arrangement that allows me to work very part time and stay home full time. I work 10-15 hours each week, all in the evenings from home after my kids are in bed, except we hire a former kindergarten teacher one morning a week to do “preschool” with the kids while I get in about 3 hours of work.

Because my husband is in a half-decade stage where his income is much, much lower than it will be later, we need the extra income from my work to make ends meet, even when we live as frugally as we possibly can.

But I also love working. The content of the work is fascinating, my associates are a pleasure to work with, and it’s satisfying to help people solve their problems. I like sharpening my research abilities and legal writing skills, and I like the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done in something outside my family and homemaking vocations.

For better or worse, I also enjoy the credibility it gives me with others who tend to make assumptions about moms with lots of little children. At our Princeton reunions this past weekend, it felt good to say that I work, as it does out and about in our community. I’ll freely admit that a part of me is still overcoming the “working mom” brainwashing that we can… and MUST… do it all.

I think the key is to hold loosely to working. I continue to prayerfully evaluate how it affects my primary vocation. For now, my being slightly more sleep-deprived and slightly less relaxed don’t seem to outweigh the goods of working very part time, especially since my husband has to work on research and writing at his computer in the evenings also. We hack away side by side many evenings. However, if there comes a time when I’m formally teaching several children at home, or if I’m unable to accomplish household responsibilities in the nights I’m not working, or if we really don’t need the extra income, or if many other contingencies arise, work can be put on hold.

It's a disservice to tell women that they should do both motherhood and full-throttle career pursuit perfectly. Rosie the Riveter sporting a Baby Bjorn is a recipe for disaster in both spheres. Something has to give... and it's the career.

26 comments:

anne said...

Thank you for this great reflection. I just started doing the same as you -- working part time from home to stay at home with my two girls. It's nice to know other mothers out there in the world doing the same thing and have it working for them.

Sarahndipity said...

You're very lucky to be able to work part-time from home! I've worked full-time outside of the home since my daughter was born, and it's very stressful. I would love to be able to work part-time, or, better yet, not at all.

I think my ideal situation would be to stay home full-time until my youngest child was in kindergarten, and then work part-time while my kids are in school, and then go back full-time once they're grown up. (We’re not planning on homeschooling. I respect those who do it, but it’s definitely not for me). I'm all about part-time, flex-time, working from home, and other family-friendly arrangements. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to afford to have me work less than full-time yet. Once I have this next baby, though, I should be able to go part-time, which will be great.

Sarahndipity said...

Oh, and I completely agree with you about the working mom brainwashing. The overwhelming message I got growing up was that not only that I can have it all, but that I MUST have it all, and that a career is one of the greatest sources of fulfillment in life. In college, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I decided that I would stay home once we had kids, and although my mom had stayed home and I felt it was the right thing to do, I remember feeling ambivalent about it. I worried I would be bored and unfulfilled. Of course, this was when I was in college, before I had kids and before I had worked a day in my life. Once I got out of college I realized very quickly that a) working is waaaay overrated and b) the mother-baby bond is very, very strong, and being away from a young baby all day is torture. I did a complete 180 from my college days and now find myself in a situation where I would love to stay home but we can’t afford it.

Anonymous said...

I am very thankful to have been able to keep working full time from home in the two years since our first was born. With a second now on the way, I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to keep it up, but our health insurance currently depends on it. Has anyone out there been in this situation and do you have any suggestions for getting by for a year or two with neither parent in a position where they earn benefits? My husband is finishing grad school, and it will likely be two more years until he is done and (finally!) employed.

JesusThroughMary said...

I think everyone knows this, but it bears repeating - our culture hates traditional Christian values. And that hatred is more intense and deeper in academia than in the culture at large. Once we choose to follow Christ, these two things, among others, should happen: (1) people around us will begin to mock us and belittle us for our "antiquated" or "dangerous" or "backwards" life choices, and (2) we will stop being swayed by the opinions and choices of others. It makes no sense for women who have chosen to live their lives in accordance with the will of God and the mind of the Church to seek approval from or to compete with those who have chosen to live their lives in accordance with the mind of Antichrist. No matter what you do, you won't win. Once you've chosen Christ, you've already "lost" in their minds. If God gave you the gifts and talents to be a lawyer and He wants you to use them to help your family, then do it. Whether you gain or lose status points with the cultural elite, or even with the Catholic "elite", is irrelevant. Don't work because the culture tells you need to work to be fulfilled - it's a lie. Don't refuse to work because some crazy traddie moms say you're violating God's law - that's also a lie. Do what you need to do to prosper in your vocations as a wife and mother. I do think that, more often than not, that means staying home, but if you need to work to help your husband, or if you can make money at home, then it's between you, your husband, and God.

Juris Mater said...

Sarahndipity, you're a trooper for putting in so many hours on both the work and home fronts. This is a topic for another day maybe, but it's too bad that not all jobs in this country pay enough to support a family. Many families do need two breadwinners to stay afloat.

Also, I'd love to hear more from some of you about working being way overrated, as Sarahndipity mentioned. On my darker days at home, I fantasize about Starbucks in the morning, a fulfilling full-time job during the day, lunches out, gym in the evenings, the whole working way of life. But ALL the moms I run into in town who formerly worked and now stay home say that working was way overrated. Since I've never worked full-time, I can't imagine exactly what it's like.

Anne, congrats on landing a wonderful stay-home part-time arrangement. Hopefully this will become increasingly available to women in our generation.

Kat said...

JM, I think that you really have the ideal arrangement, what a blessing for your family! Unfortunately I think that your situation is rare, as there are not many jobs that can be done from home and that are lucrative enough for families who really need the extra income. I have considered babysitting for another family, since this is something that I could do in my own home and with my children, but the inflexibility that it would add to our daytime routine has kept me from doing it so far. We'll see :)

I do think that many women would very much enjoy the intellectual stimulation of a little "work on the side," while making a little extra income at the same time! After finishing grad school, I decided to subscribe to a psychology journal just so that I could stay updated on what's going on in the field. I also enjoy using "that part of my brain" once in a while!

Kat said...

JM, I also meant to add that I'm sure you don't see your situation as "ideal" right now, as I'm sure it's still VERY difficult to squeeze in the 10-15 hours a week with a newborn, toddler, and preschooler in the home! Bedtimes aren't as early for newborns, so I don't know how you're keeping it up right now! Just wanted you to know that I don't think your situation is easy by any stretch of the imagination, just that it's a great situation!

Sarahndipity said...

Also, I'd love to hear more from some of you about working being way overrated, as Sarahndipity mentioned.

Well, I can only speak for myself, and a lot of this may be just a function of my personality and experience, but I’ve just found that working is quite tedious. I was always a good student and always enjoyed school, but I’ve found that work is actually much less fulfilling than school, at least for me. When you’re in school, you have different classes each semester, and long breaks in the summer and at Christmas. With work, you’re doing to same thing day after day after day, 40 hours a week, with often just a two-week break a year. I often feel burned out, especially being a mom at the same time.

I’m also very introverted, not very competitive, and don’t fit in well in the corporate environment. I’m a poet and an arts-and-literature type, and I’ve found that the things that I’m passionate about don’t easily translate into a corporate job. So a lot of this is just the fact that my personality and the corporate world don’t mix well.

Also, I admit I’m in a bit of an unusual situation since the thing I’m most passionate about – writing poetry – is something that I can do any time, anywhere, even while nursing a baby or while my daughter is napping. It’s not that I have no goals or dreams other than being a mother. I very much would like to become a successful poet. But if I were passionate about something else that can’t be done from home or doesn’t mix with motherhood as easily, I might feel more ambivalent about staying home.

Ironically, I fantasize about all I could do if I stayed home. I could get all the housework and errands done during the week, freeing us up for more family time on weekends. I would no longer feel constantly behind on housework. The house would always be clean. I would feel much more relaxed and less stressed out. I could go to the mother’s group at my church, which meets during the day, and make some friends there. I could get together with other stay-at-home moms during the day. I could finally make friends with people who have kids, since few of our friends have kids.

In fact, although I truly believe that me staying home would be best for our kids, some of the reasons I want to stay home are actually rather selfish. If I stayed home, I have thought, I would have more time to do the things I love that I never seem to have enough time for, like writing poetry, reading the huge list of books I want to read, and re-starting my all-but-abandoned blog. I fantasize about dropping my daughter at preschool and then going to the coffee shop to get some writing done instead of hurrying off to work. Some moms say they need to work “for their sanity.” This has always been a head-scratcher for me, since I often feel like I need to stay home for my sanity and fulfillment. Then again, I do speak as someone whose main passions are more easily fulfilled by being at home.

I am not under any illusions that being an SAHM is easy – I know my 4-year-old can get quite irritating after I’ve been around her for a long time. I do think that overall, though, being an SAHM would be easier than working.

AR's & J's mama said...

I don't know if "easier" is the right word...maybe different if better. I said the same things to my husband when we were deciding whether I could stay home...the house will be clean, the laundry will be done, dinner will be cooked every night...I've found that to NOT be the case. When I wake up each morning, I have every intention of doing those things, however in the blink of an eye the day is gone and I didn't get to one thing on my list. Maybe I'm just not organized, but my day is filled with feeding my children, getting them dressed and bathed, playing with them, nap times (this is the only time I have to sit down and relax and have 5 minutes to myself), so I usually try not to fill their nap time with housework). I'm lucky to get a shower in. :) I am amazed at how quickly the day goes by and the housework gets put on the backburner. Any other SAHM's feel this way?? I do work on the weekends...I am blessed to be in an occupation that allows me to work on an as needed basis. And I cherish my time at work. It's a break for me, I have adult conversations, and I feel like I am contributing something beyond my family. As far as work being overrated...I also think that it does get boring and with the lack of time off, burnout can happen so quickly. Plus I was never good at leaving the pressures and added stress at work. I brought that home and it really affected my relationship with my husband. I love staying at home. I feel truly blessed, however I do see myself returning to work someday when the kids are in school (probably part time though.) :)

Right Said Red said...

I think JesusthroughMary summed things up perfectly. Working or not working, our number one goal should be to serve our family. In some cases, this means mom has to work, and I think the challenges that come with that are at times really difficult. Juris Mater, God has clearly provided you with a wonderful job to serve your family. God Bless you for all your hard work, and God Bless all you working mamas, I know it isn't easy.

Juris Mater, you made an interesting comment regarding Princeton reunions. I have had a somewhat different experience from you. When I go back and see old classmates, they ask, "Where are you working?" I say, "I'm home being a full-time mother to my children." Sometimes in a respectful manner and sometimes totally shocked, they respond, "what do you do all day?"

At first I was rather taken aback by this comment. But now I simply say, "I am very busy raising the next generation." But their question is always a sharp reminder to me that our values are not those values of the world. I am Building Cathedrals, and doing work that many times only He will see.

Kat said...

AR and J's Mama ~
I know what you mean about not getting everything done that you planned on doing in a day! I was thinking about how it happens that a whole day goes by and I just don't get a chance to make a grocery run, or organize the playroom, or whatever other project I thought I would tackle. I think what happens is that most days, my time is just taken up by the essentials - getting the kids dressed and fed, cleaning up small messes throughout the day, returning phone calls, and mostly just spending time with the kids! Is this your experience as well? What I've found really helpful is to give myself permission once in a while to turn on a longer video during the baby's naptime, so that I can have some "extra time" to do the things that I want to tackle for the day...Or, just to have a rest if I need it!! :)

Katherine said...

I'm a bit different. I have no problem not working. I've never been work - force oriented. I have never enjoyed it and think if I ever do go back to work, I will simply need to be my own boss to enjoy it at all. My difficulty is in dealing with others who have the "moms should work" mentality and look at me like I'm Peggy Bundy and do nothing but watch Oprah and eat BonBons all day when I say that I stay at home and have no outside career. They often assume I am missing out on something fulfilling or worthwhile and end up pitying me which, personally, I find unbelievably annoying, condescending and even sometimes insulting. I respect other mom's choices to work outside the home or from home. I just wish they could respect my choice without pity and negativity.

AWOL Mommy said...

I just want to know how it is that the Builder with the 6-wk old baby has written two of the last three posts? You are a mother-lawyer-blogger! How do you say that in Latin. You builders amaze me.

B-Mama said...

Probably my biggest issue with being a SAHM is that I'm so extroverted that I really do ENERGIZE around people. My hubby has cited this as our family's major CON against homeschooling... That is, if we can't find a great co-op and other families with which to commune. We'll see!!

In the meantime, I find the most difficult part is balancing it all--keeping myself socially oriented and providing unique experiences for the kids because I CAN do it while at home, but balancing that with the excessive outpouring of ENERGY necessary to make it all happen. Not to mention the cooking, cleaning, and general organization it takes in addition to the day-to-day tasks. Tough stuff!

Like JM, I also find myself occasionally lapsing into work-filled daydreams--teaching a class of students exciting new material, captivating them, cajoling colleagues over lunchtime... It is very tempting, but a daydream that must pass. Dr. James Dobson in his book "Bringing Up Boys" challenges SAHMs to stay put even while their kids are in school due to the need to BE THERE for them at all times of the day, especially after-school hours. I think a part-time option during schooltime might be the best bet in that scenario if need be...

k said...

Well, I am about to venture back into the work force. I had been very part-time at a job that I could bring my infant to and going to school during his first year and then finally gave up on the work part of it because it became all a bit overwhelming.

So now my infant is a toddler and I have finished graduate school and truthfully I am looking forward to work. I love what I do and I have worked hard studying to hopefully put all those skills to some use.

Fortunately I also have some flexibility in my job and it won't keep me away from my son too much. We aren't homeschooling so he will be doing a bit of pre-school, a bit of daddy time on evenings and some weekends and probably a bit of grandparent time.

I think depending on the work you do it can be very boring and dull and routine, my first job certainly was, but now I really love the time away from home to use my brain in other ways and help people, I like to think I come back a better person and therefore a better mother and wife.

Juris Mater said...

AWOL--You're giving me undue credit. Here's how you say mother-lawyer-blogger in Latin: "very easy newborn + maternity leave from work + PBSKids".

Kat, ARs and Js Mama--I think if we find some housework undone at the end of the day, it means we're doing something right. I always hear from older moms that we won't look back and long for cleaner bathtubs or fresher laundry but for more time with the kids. For me, it takes an effort to slow down and savor time with them when I know there are many "to-dos". Until I had kids, I don't think I found much worth slowing down for... I was always living for the next minute, something unknown. It's SUCH an immeasurable blessing now to have such worthwhile and satisfying reasons (named Bella, Bean, and Angelina) to live in the moment.

Kat said...

I appreciate all of the reminders about how un-glamorous work can actually be, even though we SAHM's might idealize it on a rough day with the kiddos! I do remember that I missed C terribly when I was doing a year-long internship during graduate school - I couldn't wait to pick him up at the end of the day! I also remember that it was so tough to drop him off on days when he just didn't feel like it, whether it was because he was sick or just not up for being with anyone other than mom and dad. It felt awful! While I did enjoy having some time to myself, more often than not I just felt like I was rushing everywhere - out of the house in the morning, out of daycare so that I could be at work on time, out of work so that I could be at the daycare on time. It wasn't glamorous at all!

I did like Sarahndipity's point about how personality factors in...I will say that, after two years of being at home full-time, ET has actually pushed pretty hard for me to do something that doesn't have to do with our family. It could be volunteering, taking piano lessons, exercising, whatever, but he feels pretty strongly that I do this, not only for my fulfillment but for the good of our entire family. This ties in with personality because my tendency is to fill my life with family-oriented activities - even my volunteer activities usually center around leading playgroups, etc. - so I think that ET has a very good point, and I appreciate his mentioning it to me!

Kat said...

JM, I love it! After a day of way-too-much PBS Kids, I am glad to know that I'm not the only one :)

AWOL Mommy said...

I am going to lay it on the line and say that _Super Why_ is an excellent supplement to any reading homeschool curriculum... :)

B-Mama said...

Oh my goodness, M is in LOVE with SuperWhy! What is it about that masked boy reader?? :) lol.

Melanie B said...

"I am amazed at how quickly the day goes by and the housework gets put on the backburner. Any other SAHM's feel this way??"

Yes, absolutely. I used to think I could get so much done being home all day. Nothing gets done. My husband comes home and the house is a mess, the laundry undone, dinner not started. I wonder what happened to the day, why we didn't even leave the house.

But hey, my kids are happy and cared for and that's what's really important.

Donna said...

Some of the folks who look oddly at SAHM's may simply be worried about them. A lot of them are probably thinking "If her husband dumps her for his secretary, she's really screwed. " And it doesn't matter if you have the greatest marriage in the world, and assure them that will not happen. The response would likely be a snort and a comment such as this, "Yeah, that's what my cousin / mother / aunt/etc. thought... before that S.O.B. she married ran off with that bimbo....."
They may also have seen examples where a woman found being a SAHM frustrating and lashed out in destructive ways. I'm thinking of an elderly relative of mine, (R.I.P.) who was a SAHM with the temperment of a corporate raider. Since she couldn't do hostile takeovers of companies, she ended up trying to do hostile takeovers ...of her kids' marriages. Let's just say the results were not pretty....

Joanne said...

I am a SAHM to two children and it's hard, but I know lots of WOHMs and it's hard for them too. I think it's just hard to have kids in this society! You're kind of screwed either way - if you stay home like I do, people think that you don't need as much intellectual stimulation as they do, or that you're rich, or that if your husband leaves you or dies you are in big trouble. BUT if you work, you are somehow less of a mother, you are still expected to be a full time mother and a full time employee of someone else. It's just hard, I figure.

I feel like it is a sacrifice for me to stay home because I am a very talkative person, and I have no one to talk to now! My son, who is three, is autistic and has limited speech. My daughter is five months old, so I am crossing my fingers that in a year or so, I will be having some conversations. I have to really, really focus on my SAHMotherhood being my vocation, and remember that God is with me through all of this. Some days it is harder than others, though!

Anonymous said...

To agree with Joanne: I believe that even harder criticism goes to those mothers who need to work or even just choose to work. I know very few people these that are genuinely critical of a woman's decision to stay home to raise a family. Those who are typically don't have children. I know many who are critical of the choice to continue working full-time simply because it's fulfilling and interesting to the mother. Obviously everyone has difficult choices to make about their lives and thankfully many people are tolerant of whatever their choices may be. But we should pray for those who aren't, that they may feel God's grace and learn not to judge.

Anonymous said...

jesusthroughmary said,
"Don't work because the culture tells you need to work to be fulfilled - it's a lie. Don't refuse to work because some crazy traddie moms say you're violating God's law - that's also a lie. Do what you need to do to prosper in your vocations as a wife and mother."

I so agree with this! I don't think ANYONE has an ideal situation. I think every mom "has it hard" in our society. One of the things I have enjoyed the most in my friendships that have formed since having kids is that I have found a group of women who respect the choices and vocations of one another. Being a mother is hard work no matter how you do it.