Where mom-at-home meets working-mom

I didn’t write yesterday. That felt strange. But I didn’t have anything to say.

I’m not sure I have anything to say today, either. In truth, life feels a little wan this week, gloomy, rainy, pale, grey. Or is that the weather?

I am tired. I might have overdone it on the exercise front, though I don’t like to admit it. I didn’t rest after my trail race, but continued apace, training toward the marathon. And I didn’t rest after Sunday’s long run (the furthest I’ve ever run). By last night, my whole body ached in a way that was unfamiliar. It still aches this morning. I did not get up early to swim, though I dreamed it; even in the dream I didn’t make it to the pool, though in the dream, I got to lounge on a snowbank under a hot summer sun. Ah, dreams.

Before sleep, I am reading the poems of Mary Oliver for my poetry book club. I am searching my heart (it is impossible to read the poems of Mary Oliver without searching one’s heart). And I have some questions. The kind that can’t be answered by reading the horoscopes, though heaven help me, I keep reading those, too.

**Where am I heading, at my breakneck pace? **What am I failing to stop for? **What if I can’t squeeze every fascinating everything in? **What matters? **Will I always be so impatient? So goal-oriented? **Can I be both ambitious and content, or do those two states of mind cancel each other out? **Do I want to be at home, all day, every day?

That last question hangs around me this fall, dogging me. Look, there is the new porch, and at the end, there is the wall and the front window of my new office, which makes the house look unexpectedly much bigger than before. But is it big enough to contain me?

A friend from grad school wrote this heartfelt post about returning to work after spending the past year home with her son, who is now a year. I was riveted by the emotions her post raised in me. She’s a full-time working mother! She loves her job! It’s a whole new frontier! I want to know more in an almost clinical way: let’s dissect and analyze this. What do I feel, reading about her major life transition? I feel envy, longing. She is expressing her working self, participating in the larger world, working with others. But when she describes missing her son’s bedtime due to a late meeting, I am gripped by the same agony she expresses, a pit opening in my stomach: missing a whole day in his brand-new life!

It’s too late to wish I’d chosen otherwise: to wish that in the past decade I’d developed my working self. I didn’t want to at the time. Instead, I got to have all those bedtimes. So many that they blur together. They seem mundane. I didn’t/don’t appreciate them enough. All that time we’ve spent soaking into each other.

More questions.

**When I unpeel myself from them, who am I? **Who am I outside this home? And the question I’m most scared of, the one I really want to ask: **How do I begin to develop my working self, now, after a decade of being mom-at-home? (Some of you might be asking, too. If you are, or if you have ideas or encouragement or more questions, too, please respond.)

We are thankful for ...
Porch progress: front steps, baby, front steps

22 Comments

  1. You often write about things that I am thinking about.

    I will be heading back to work soon, too. Truthfully, I don’t want to go back. But what else will I do once all the kids are in school? I can’t do my work from a home office. I need to be out there, but the thought of facing a group of children and their parents is overwhelming. I was so gung-ho to be a teacher when I first started, but now the thought of teaching makes me feel really tired. But unless I go back to school, I am not really trained for anything else.

    The part you wrote about the bedtimes blurring together really struck me. I often feel like even though I am home with my kids and spend a lot of time with them, that it is not quality time. I am usually preoccupied with something else (like this computer) or cleaning or cooking and not spending enough time actually being with the kids. I have thought lots over the years that if I had gone back to work then the time that I DID spend with my kids might be of better quality since the time would be more limited.

    Who knows if that is really true. But that thought has bothered me over the years!

    Great post. I wonder what others might say…

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  2. Maybe we’re often thinking about the same things at the same time because our youngest are almost exactly the same age, Tricia. I feel sometimes like the stages of my life are dictated by the stages in my kids’ lives.

    Question for you: if you had the opportunity to retrain, can you think of some other work you’d rather be doing? If teaching isn’t it?

    I wonder that too re quality time (my friend writes about the same thing): quality versus quantity. I wonder whether I’d have more patience for my kids or enjoy them more if I were with them for shorter but more intense amounts of time. I mean, bedtime is one of my least favourite times of the day (Deanna writes about it being her favourite) … all I want is to get these kids in bed so I can have a few minutes of quiet and maybe a snack! Pitiful! I’m pretty impatient by that time of day. I don’t want to read that one extra book, if you know what I mean …

    Anyway, I hope to get a few more responses. Because I really do wonder what others in similar situations are thinking and doing.

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  3. I will never be as careful about my carbon footprint as you are, Carrie, but your writing makes me think about it more often. I think and act differently because of your example. Your voice here makes a difference. It’s not paid work and it’s what you fit in in between all of the other wonderful things you do, but it does reach people and have an impact on them. It’s not an answer but a response and encouragement to keep this aspect of “process” going strong even as you reach for the concrete goals of “product.”

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  4. Thank you, Nathalie, for your encouragement. No, it’s not paid work, and some days I fantasize about how it could become paid work, but on the whole I think it’s best left unpaid, and therefore done out of a genuine desire and need and interest, rather than obligation. I do love processing on this blog, as you say, even if it doesn’t get me anywhere concrete. Thanks for reminding me of that.

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  5. Carrie – A friend of mine used to hold salons whenever she read a book or article that she wanted people to talk about. It was like an occasional book club. It strikes me that this topic would be fodder for such an occasion. I think you should organize it. 🙂

    I have many many more thoughts on this matter. The one thing I will say right now is that I have found that it takes a surprisingly long time to sort this out — and good work happens along the way. Also, I am really and truly hoping to be able to send good work your way. That’s one of my big hopes and plans. Oh, one more thing: I am thinking about getting dressed up even on the days I work from home — because I like to do that and if I make the rules, as a self-employed, home-based professional, that could definitely include some of the perks of an office — like being fancy. Must run!

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  6. I have so many thoughts on this and they speed by faster than my one hand can type. I’ll be back to contribute soon.

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  7. It’s so good to hear others voice things that bother you. Once bedtime is close, I can’t wait for the quiet time to myself. By the time I go to bed myself, I often wish I’d read that extra book or gone upstairs when they’d screamed the the 100th hug. But then when the next night comes, I don’t change anything, I still can’t wait for the quiet. I guess that’s normal. And I think by being home, all of us, we’re giving our kids more time than we think we are, at least I like to tell myself that. There’s some quality time, but then we do get to read that extra quick book while waiting for the blog pictures to load or for the granola to bake. But I know the worrying about doesn’t seem to ever go away. But I agree, thank Carrie for voicing these thoughts so we can talk about and hopefully figure things out.
    Sarah C

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  8. hi Carrie – I met your brother Cliff recently, and then found you through Fix it and Forget’s blog today.

    Your post makes me think. . .about things that I try to ignore sometimes.

    I was a teacher until my children were born, then I was at home until the stinky economy and a surprise job offer got me into editing. Editing is far less of a drain than teaching. I do love my job – I work 2 days a week. I still feel that the work I do at home is where my heart and passion is.

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  9. I’m a strange mix of working-outside-the-home (part-time music director at a church), working-at-home (photographer) and a stay-at-home mom (four year old Jack and one on the way).

    Your struggle for balance Carrie rings true with me. Unfortunately when I’m working at home, it is usually when my husband and son are there as well. This has been a greater adjustment for my husband than my son…for him to understand that when I’m working on the computer (photo editing) that I’m actually working. I’m actually making money. Well, hopefully. Luckily, my husband is amazing and enjoys cooking and is very domesticated in other ways, so he’s able to help out a lot around the house. Not only that, but recently he’s started to become my assistant at my photo shoots, which brings him into my work a little bit. This has made it more fun for both of us and has helped him to see what I do. I appreciate him, he appreciates me…we’ve become more of a team.

    I think finding rhythm for us has been the key to finding some balance. Finding patterns that work well for our family and sticking to them as much as we can. My husband is almost always in charge of Jack’s bath and I always read books and put him to bed. For example, my husband cooks our meals (he’s just so much better at it than I am) and I stay on top of the laundry. Maybe this example is too simple though. ? But I will say this, I pretty much will say “no” to something it disrupts our rhythm. This doesn’t mean I’m spontaneous, it just means I’m spontaneous within a certain time frame. Setting boundaries like this, for me, has worked well.

    Talking about our week also helps. For my husband to know, for example, that I have three photo shoots this weekend and a wedding to edit, says to him…my nights are going to be busy and I just might fall a part on the weekend. It gives him a chance to be involved with helping me plan things out well (finding someone to take care of Jack, planning meals and down time).

    I’m in a different phase of life than you. My son isn’t involved in any extra-curricular activities yet. I know this will change and to tell you the truth, I’m not looking forward to it! But I often wonder if I will say no to things just to keep it simple. But is it simple to keep it simple?

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  10. Hi Carrie,
    I work full-time, enjoy my job (woudn’t say I love it). But even though I’m not with my girls all day, I can sometimes get impatient at bedtime too (especially near the end of the week when my energy is waning). And that makes me feel like a horrible mother (because with my limited time with them I should cherish each moment I do have). But tired is tired. sigh.
    Tasneem

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  11. Wow, thanks for commenting everybody. Feels like a salon, indeed.

    Susan, I love the idea of dressing up for work at home. Though to do so, I would need to refresh my decade-old-pre-children wardrobe (most things still fit, but they look sadly out of date). Still, I think that dressing up, looking and feeling professional, would be a great way to start my at-home work day. Can’t wait to hear more from you on the work front.

    Sarah C, wishing you luck on your job hunt!!! That’s exciting, and I hope it leads you to interesting places and new discoveries. (Which I realize is in reference to a different comment you made on another post … but seems applicable here).

    Hi Margo! Thanks for introducing yourself and commenting. How lovely that the work you do at home is where your passion lies. And that you love your job outside the home, too. Hadn’t thought about it, but yes, it does make a difference what kind of work you do outside the home–I can’t imagine coming home from a draining job and attempting to be a good parent …

    Hi Sarah K, nice to meet you via Blogland! re extra-curricular madness … well, we kept it simple for many years, and I was a bit of an outspoken advocate for homemade, unstructured, out of the box activity versus, say, competitive soccer. And then the kids grew older and wanted different things for themselves. So I’ve gone with the flow (which is my over-arching parenting philosophy, probably, if you get right down to it). I do wonder whether they are doing too much (some of them, the older ones, I mean). Yet they still seem to have enough downtime to veg and read and fight and jump on the trampoline … This is a balance I will never get right, I am sure. And this fall feels very hectic.

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  12. Carrie, I hate working. Hate it. I’ve never had a full time job that I cared about at all, so I am unable to relate to women who are happy to be back at the office. I do love the creative work I do, however, and if I had a full time job, I would not have much time for that on top of my work as a mother. It would pain me to lose that work– and it is in this way that I understand what working mothers go through, because I too refuse to give up a certain part of myself. I admire those mothers that refusal, and for having found paid work that is fulfilling (there is often hard work required in building a career. I spent my twenties in a much more relaxed fashion). I have also found extraordinary fulfilment in the part time jobs I’ve been able to fit in with my life at home with Harriet. Those jobs are actually much more central to my identity that being at home with Harriet is. I don’t think of myself as a Stay-At-Home-Mom for example, though here I am. But I work solidly every night from 9-12, and through naps, and sometimes in the mornings while Harriet is awake as well. I have Skype conference calls with Charlie and Lola playing in the background. And it’s a good life– I love it. I get to spend most of my days doing things I enjoy, and regardless if that thing is mothering, or other work, that’s the definition of success for anybody.

    I also love Sarah’s question, “Is it simple to keep it simple?” Thinking about it in terms of domestic tasks, and cooking from scratch, and all the things I love so much. But it can be exhausting, can’t it. I actually arrived on your blog just now because I’m looking for a recipe for homemade granola bars. Committing to a life that involves such things once in a while occurs to me as absolutely overwhelming.

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  13. Hi Tasneem, We could have talked about this subject today (or maybe we did, in a round-about way). “Tired is tired.” Yes, I might be romanticizing how patient I’d be at bedtime if only I hadn’t spent the day with the kids already. Guilt seems to be a theme when talking about mothering and work …

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  14. I enjoyed this post a lot too… hopefully my thoughts that follow provide something in return! Despite the fact that I’ve had part time paid work (1/3 load lately but it stretches larger some weeks) through the past 10 years, similar thoughts have spun through my brain many times. I wonder if they ever stop for anyone, regardless as to whether a new path is picked or not? I think of it as one aspect of the richness of our lives – if we have the ability and freedom to choose a path that fits our nature and our skills. Until this winter, when my youngest has settled into JK, I’ve told myself that this year I don’t have the flexibility to even think about a change. Every minute seems accounted for – where would I find the time (or energy! or focus!) to decide about what I really want next? Sticking to a career in environmental consulting with people I like and a purpose I believe in seems obvious, but the career can be too stressful, many aspects don’t fit my nature, and juggling it and family doesn’t leave a lot of time for all the other Leahs I have/might have been. What about Leah artist? – I certainly didn’t mean to give her up, but contemplative art with chaos of family doesn’t seem to work for me. (I envy you Carrie that you have found a way to make your writing work!) And there are many other paths I’ve considered…landscaper, teacher, student, researcher, baker, poet? In some ways day to day life provides avenues to all of these but it’s hard to appreciate it while feeling like I’m sprinting through this stage of life to meet my commitments, and also trying to make this stage last as long as I can. And I sometimes wonder, especially now that that hump year (40) has caught up with me, when is it too late to change my mind and pursue one of these other paths and be ‘successful’ at it? I wonder it, but I also don’t believe in it – I really think that anyone with energy and drive can pivot their life and find a new path that can be successful.
    Like you and Tricia I feel like all of those nighttime stories and special moments with my young children are a blur, except for a few highlights. I hold tight to the highlights so they stick in my mind! I find that the minutes or days when I am least patient with my kids is when I have stress from work – and I often feel that the stress from my career robs me of fully enjoying my hours and days when I am in mom mode. So my career time doesn’t necessarily make for sweeter time with my children, unfortunately.
    One aspect that I struggle hard with is the dual juggle for our family of choosing to mostly care for our children (no formalized daycare) and trying to keep our environmental footprint small. It’s hard to know how to express these choices to people I work with when it intrudes on my paid work with without appearing truly strange, or just plain difficult. And the more I do my paid work, the less time that I have to work to minimize our environmental footprint. So far, the fact that I work limited hours mostly from home controls this, but I worry how to keep it under control if or when this changes.
    And, as another work-from-home mom I love Susan’s suggestion of dressing up for home-days. I often wear my ‘life is good’ shirt as a reminder to self… but being dressy would be lovely too!
    I look forward to any more responses from your readers to hear their experiences, thoughts and wisdom!

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  15. Kerry, I have to say that it doesn’t sound like you hate working–not at all! That’s a huge commitment you have, staying up late (my brain is fried by 9pm, so I’m hugely admiring that yours is not), working through naps, skyping with kids. And you’ve obviously found work that feeds you (and hopefully pays you, too).

    Yes, the creative side of myself would be something that could potentially be sacrificed if I were to work outside the home at a more traditional job. I haven’t given that enough consideration, probably. I take it rather for granted.

    Thanks for making me think about it.

    And yay! I love all this conversation on a rainy Friday afternoon. I should really go pour myself a cup of tea …

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  16. Hi Leah,
    Thanks for your comment. Lots to respond to here! What jumps out first is that feeling of so many possiblities, so many “Leahs” or “Carries” potentially to be developed, and feeling on the cusp of making a choice (or perhaps just being swept along in one direction wondering why/how it happened). I’m definitely imagining myself into a variety of “jobs” or selves. And writer-Carrie is just one of those. But I need to keep imagining myself into her, because … what would I do without her?

    Definitely living lightly on the earth takes a lot of time and care and planning and effort. I’m not sure how many (more) corners I’d start cutting if I were working longer hours or full-time or outside the home.

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  17. I want to post this comment from a friend on Facebook. It may be too long for one comment space (another friend said she had the same trouble), but I’m going to try to paste it in, perhaps in chunks.

    Laura’s comment gives me lots to think about. Laura invested a ton of time into her career, which I really respect. Like Kerry said earlier, it takes time to build a career. I was spending that same time having babies. And now I kind of long for a career.

    Here’s Laura’s comment, which has made me more appreciative of what I’ve got …

    Carrie,

    Thank you so much for writing about this. Trying to find a balance as a full time (40 hours/week, plus commute) working mom has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I absolutely hate it. Going back to work after 3 months of maternity leave was harder than my hours of labor and delivery. That first week I kept wishing there were a god that I could bargain with to go through that pain again if it would mean that I could just work part-time.

    I’ve been working full-time since my daughter was 3 months of age and I absolutely feel like I’m missing out on things. I definitely feel like I CHERISH every moment I have with her, and I try very hard to make it quality time, but the reality is that I still have a list a mile long of things to do that can’t all be done during her naps on the weekends. A few things that have made my situation somewhat more doable for me are:

    1. Having a partner who has been able to stay home with her up to this point (she is 2 now), although we are scraping by financially as a result of this. However, this has been great because he is a wonderful father and has enjoyed the time with her, and he is able to get some other domestic “stuff” done while he’s home with her so it’s not quite as overwhelming as it would be if we both worked full-time. However, he never planned on being a stay-at-home dad and is ready to go back to work now. We are at a very difficult crossroads because we can’t afford for me to stop working so we’re going to have to find childcare of some sort. AND we’re going to have deal with squeezing in more of the domestic duties in the tiny, precious crevices of time that up until now I’ve attempted to fill with QT with my daughter.

    2. I’ve worked it out to work 4 long days, so I have 3 days at home with her instead of only 2 each week. The downside is that my days are LONG. With my husband home with her, however, we could push her bedtime back a bit so I could have a bit more time with her in the evenings and then she could sleep in every morning. This is one of the downsides we see of putting her in a daycare situation because she’d have to start going to bed earlier if we had to drag her out of bed earlier in the morning.

    (continued …)

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  18. Laura’s comment continued …

    3. I used up all of my vacation time on maternity leave, so my solution to this was to submit papers/presentations to every work conference in a desirable location I could find during my daughter’s first year of life so that we could make the trips into less-expensive family vacations – and more time with her for me! I honestly have lost track of how many flights she has been on in her 2 short years of life because of this!

    4. I am passionate about my career and it does fill a very important part of me that I’m sure I would miss tremendously if I were home full-time. We recently moved across the country for a change of scenery and lifestyle, and while all of that has been great, I don’t like my job as much as my previous job. I’ve been going through a bit of a new “working mother crisis” recently as a result of this because it was one thing to be doing the “working mom gig” when I loved what I was doing, but it’s much harder when the job feels mediocre and is really just the means for paying the bills.

    My husband and my struggle is that I am the one who pursued an advanced degree and have been very driven regarding my career path from the early days of our relationship. As a result, I am capable of making more money at the present time, and the only way we can survive with only one of us working is for me to work. However, I would LOVE to be home more and my husband would LOVE to be working full-time, so now we’re just trying to figure out how we can make that happen. I also don’t want to be completely removed from my career because I do worry about re-entry down the road and how difficult that might be.

    So my hope is to get to a place where I can work part-time (I think 20-25 hours/week would be ideal), with my husband working a bit more – even full-time. If we can make this work financially, I think I would be a very happy working woman and mother. I guess I just have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t going to happen overnight, but I’m grateful that my husband and I are on the same page and putting our energy toward the same goal. I’ll keep you posted on how the journey progresses!

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  19. Thanks for sharing these questions! As a new mum, this topic is something I think about a lot. I wasn’t working when I got pregnant, and I’ve chosen to postpone my job hunt for a variety of reasons (crappy job market, illness in the family, the opportunity to spend a year abroad for my husband’s work). We’ll return to Canada next summer when my daughter is 18 months old, and I have *no idea* what I’m going to do at that point: look for work? Maybe not? While I’m very appreciative that I can be home right now, I feel increasingly unemployable in my chosen field, and wonder: How much does it matter to me if I don’t go to work? If I let it go, what is the sacrifice? How will my choices affect my daughter’s view of her own potential as she grows? I never expected to consider staying at home as a serious option for myself, and I feel a little blindsided – underprepared – to have stumbled into this position without having chosen it deliberately, even as I enjoy it a lot. I find it awkward to identify myself as a stay-at-home parent, even though this awkwardness comes entirely from within (especially here in Germany, where mothers enjoy a much-vaunted status).

    I also feel the long shadow cast by my own rather formidable mother, who worked in a challenging field until she had her kids in her late 30s, and who scaled back to a part-time career while my sister and I were small. She was a vocal proponent of women’s financial independence, and cultivated many solo pursuits alongside motherhood. I can’t help but feel that I’ve failed to meet her expectations of me by not having a professional life outside my home yet. I wither perpetually under that internal scrutiny, and it’s awfully tiresome.

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  20. Hi Kate T.,

    Thanks for commenting! And all the way from Germany, too.

    Interesting that your mom casts a big shadow. Is she inspiring to you, too? My mom is also a proponent of women’s financial independence, and I’ve failed miserably at achieving that … but she felt that way because she was a stay-at-home mom in an unhappy marriage who felt trapped by her financial dependence. I’ve had a horror of repeating that in my own life, yet have done little (other than having a happier marriage, thank heavens) to protect myself financially. If that’s the right way to put it. My job skills are so out of date. That’s definitely something I’m hearing from the other moms commenting here–wondering how long it is “safe” to stay out of the work force and still hope to continue with a chosen career.

    I used to think that there was time for everything: time to be mom, then time to develop a career. I might just do a little blog about that. I’m wondering whether my theory applies in reality.

    Thanks again for your comment. Carrie

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  21. I’m coming late to this, and maybe I don’t have a lot to add, but feel compelled to join in anyway. Sorry I don’t have some kind of ID to use, my name is Susan.

    I have worked hard to get to a place where I go to work out of the home 2-4 days/week and am at home with the kids the rest of the week. And, I love both kinds of days. When I’m at work, I am completely there, I am busy and love what I do. When I’m home, I am totally domestic, hanging out with the kids, doing little outings, seeing friends with kids, baking, cooking, housework, crafting.

    I am here to tell you that there is no need to worry about which type of day is magically “better”. I can go on and on about the pros and cons of each day, but I can’t honestly say one is superior in the long run. I have magic kid moments on both days, and moments when I yell at them on both days. I really don’t believe that it’s all solved by either staying at home, or working out of the home.

    I do love that my kids see me both fully engaged with them as a woman who loves absorbing herself in her home and family, and sometimes see me leaving the house to go love being a professional who could support herself if need be.

    I have watched a lot of women do all variations on these themes over the years. There is no one right answer. BUT — the most important thing, if I can be so bold, is to be content with what you are doing, and change it if if you’re not as soon as possible! We are far and away the most important role models to our kids and it is so important that they see us as self-confident and content. And, that they see how much potential there is to switch things up if things aren’t going well. I do love that they will remember both me at home, fully the “mom”, and at work, fully the independent professional.

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  22. Never too late, Susan! Thanks for commenting.

    And thanks for your thoughts and perspective. Flexibility and being willing and able to make changes when necessary: truly valuable lessons to teach our kids, and to live out ourselves.

    I also agree: there is no right answer, no one-size-fits-all. In fact, it’s the variety of these responses that is so fascinating to me.

    Thanks again. Carrie

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