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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Working

Those who know me well, or even just those who have followed this blog for a few years, know that I have a very conflicted relationship with the balance between work and home. Before I had kids, and even when I was pregnant with Bryn, my students used to ask me if I would keep teaching after I had kids, and I would always respond with some degree of, "Of course!" I just could not see myself staying at home. I figured that I'd just be so bored.

Then Bryn was born, and my world turned upside down. I couldn't imagine leaving her, but I couldn't imagine leaving work either. I loved both with intense ferocity. By that point I was managing the Performing Arts Center and was the Director of Student Activities, and the up side of that job was that the far-from-traditional hours it entailed allowed me to keep Bryn with me much of the time. The down side of these hours was that I was basically living at my job, often logging 80 hours a week while still attempting to take care of a newborn. (A newborn, I might add, who nursed every 3 hours like clockwork and slept a grand total of 6 hours a day.) I was also making significantly less than I had been as a first-year teacher. I was willing to put up with all of this because I really did love that job, more than any other "grown up" job I've had before or since, and because my principal assured me that once we got past that first year (which was the first year that the position existed and was a bit of a "test run" for us all), that my hours would drop significantly and my pay would raise significantly. But at the end of that year, instead of these promises actually materializing, he told me that 1) my pay would not increase at all, 2) my responsibilities and hours would actually increase intead of decrease, and 3) I would no longer be permitted to take Bryn to work with me. Since my salary was not enough to pay for daycare for even one child for the hours I was working, I basically had no choice but to quit, in spite of the fact that I loved my job.

And thus I became a stay-at-home mom.

When I left that job, I didn't intend to stay at home permanently. I didn't want to get back into teaching at that point, so I started looking around for a job in another industry. And what I learned was that while all of my college advisors had told that that "you can do anything with a degree in English," I was actually qualifed to do nothing except teach. Of course, by the time I realized this, the school year had already started, and I was out of luck for finding a teaching job for that year, thus my stay-at-home status. I was not happy about this.

At that point, all of my friends were still working. We were in the process to a new community. I couldn't find a job, so I felt like a failure in the working world. We wanted to have a second child, but I had two miscarriages that year, and I felt like an utter failure as a mother. I dealt with a nasty case of depression. I didn't feel like I fit in anywhere. It was at that time that I started this blog as sort of an outlet--thus the title: "Neither Here Nor There." Not part of the working world, not really part of the stay-at-home world either. Random thoughts not really on one topic or another. (As a side note, also the title of one of the essays in Mommy Wars, which I had just finished reading at the time and perhaps provided some subconscious inspiration.)

In the spring of 2007, I took two college courses to renew my teaching license. I thought that re-entering the teaching world would help me to find a sense of belonging again. But just as I began to look for jobs, I was assailed by morning sickness, and little Shay made herself known. After much soul-searching, I decided to stay home for another year to have this baby and give it a good start. And I felt an overwhelming sense of peace at that decision. And I realized that, somehow, without me even realizing it, I had started to find my way in the stay-at-home mommy world.

Since then, I've danced back and forth between staying at home and working. I have been fortunate enough to have three teaching positions (two short-term and one long-term) fall in my lap, and while it has been hard to be away from my kids during those times, the financial boons that these jobs have provided my family have been absoutely invaluable in getting us through these years of economic uncertainty. These days, I look at our jam-packed calendar and can't imagine how I ever thought I'd be bored as a stay-at-home mom.... or, for that matter, why they call it "stay-at-home" when I'm constantly on the go.

But as this fall approaches, I feel a little funny. For the past three years, I have intended to stay at home with my kids, but in the past three falls, I have received phonecalls offering me teaching jobs out of the blue. I have been incredibly blessed with amazing friends and childcare providers who have helped make these jobs work for our family. But this year, it will be different. Recent college graduates can't find teaching jobs, so I seriously don't think that one is just going to fall into my lap. I think this lands me squarely on the "stay-at-home" side of things for now.

Obviously, I still have some ambivalence, or at the very least, some unresolved feelings, on this subject. Recently, my girls have made a couple of comments that make me wonder if maybe my own confusion about work has rubbed off a bit on them.

Situation #1:
While playing house, Shay announced that she wanted to be a boy. When I asked her why, she said, "I want be the daddy. I want go to work and make the monies." I explained to her that mommies can also go to work and make money and that, in fact, her own mommy has worked at several points during her life. Then Bryn chimed in and asked, "Oh, but if Mommy works, then does Daddy stay home with us?" I explained that this was true in some cases, like that of their friend Mary, but that in our family, when I have worked, Daddy worked too, and this was when Miss Lauren used to watch them. Shay had lost interest in explanations by this point and was happily "playing Daddy," but I could see that Bryn was really struggling to understand. She apparently didn't get it though, because....

Situation #2:
Lately, both girls have been talking about how they want to be teachers when they grow up, and they love hearing about how Mommy is? used to be? a teacher too. We've also spent a hefty portion of our summer at libraries, and as we drove home from our most recent trip, Bryn was talking about how much she loved the library. I thought this was a good opening, and I told her that yes, Mommy loves the library too, so much that Mommy is going to take classes to learn to be a librarian. Bryn's jaw dropped. At first I thought she was excited, but then she got all teary, and she asked, "But if you do that, then who will be our mommy?" I explained that I could do both, but she said, "No, if you work at a library, who will take care of us?" I tried to explain that my classes would take a long time to finish, and that at least she will be in school full-time long before I get my degree, but all of that went right over her head.

So really, even after four and a half years of trying to strike a balance between work and home, it seems that I'm still no good at it. I know this is a battle that all mommies--really, all parents--fight, and that there are really no easy solutions, especially because that ever-elusive balance is constantly growing and changing. I have been both blessed and cursed by getting to spend so much time on both sides of things and thus being able to understand both sides of the work/stay-at-home debate. At the end of the day, though, I guess that each family can only do what's best for them at that time, and recognize that what's best for them is not necessarily what's best for anyone else. For us, right now, what's best is me taking care of the kids while working to get a second degree that will make me more marketable when the time comes for me to re-enter the job market in a job that will actually pay for childcare. I wish you all the best of luck in your journeys toward striking that balance as well.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post Amy, thanks for sharing.

Elizabeth said...

The work/parenting balance/dilemma is something each of us struggles with. You do such a good job of getting your feelings and your situation down on paper. (Ok...I just re-read that, and I know that this medium isn't really paper, but you get what I mean. See, you are so much more eloquent than I am.)

Andrea said...

Interesting perspective. I have always had the intention of staying home while my kids were young, so it's much more black and white for me; when I started working at home, it made me feel a little out of sorts at first, so I get the "neither here nor there" feeling. Women in today's society have a great advantage because we are not forced into a specific role, but as a result of not having a defined societal role, working moms feel guilty about not staying home with their kids and stay at home moms feel guilty about not contributing to the family finances. Being a mom really is tough on levels I never even considered before having kids.

Kathy said...

Interesting. Certainly, I don't think there's one good answer. My solution is to do what feels right at the time. Previously, that was working part time. Now, given that I'm going to be at home soon, I think the right thing is to be at home.

I'm not trying to predict or plan the future, but just trying to do what the family needs right now. I always have to remind myself that no decision is a permanent one! :)

You've done a good job of that, I think!