Where mom-at-home meets working-mom, part two

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Hi there. For some reason this old blog post, titled “Where mom-at-home meets working-mom” has gotten a ton of hits this week, so I went back to re-read it, and found myself entirely drawn in to the conversation (if you go to read it, too, definitely read through the comments).

It was originally written in October, 2011: nearly two years ago.

I was asking myself some tough questions.

**When I unpeel myself from them [my kids], 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?

It’s funny how these questions have answered themselves. The good fortune of having The Juliet Stories recognized danced me outside of the house, and unpeeled me from them. And it turns out that the answer to those questions is: I’m pretty much exactly the same person, except in nicer clothes (maybe: ask my stylish daughter).

What about this question: How do I begin to develop my working self, now, after a decade of being mom-at home?

Now there’s a tougher one. Clearly, my career has developed in the past two years. I have publishing contracts for two new books, essays in three upcoming anthologies, and a new teaching job. I field regular invitations to do readings and host literary events. That said, it’s not a career that involves full-time hours and the corresponding full-time pay. It’s a pretty insecure career, built around a constant flow of push and energy that must be generated by me alone. Funny, kind of sounds like parenting. Turns out that my working self is not all that removed from my mom-at-home self. Both roles have developed and changed, but it’s not like one cancels out the other. Maybe my original question framed it wrong: it’s not either/or. How could it be?

What’s gotten cancelled out is other things I didn’t expect. I miss my playgroup, meeting up with other women once a week — the regular, routine warmth and connection that I have yet to replace. I rarely bake anymore, and haven’t canned a thing this summer; probably won’t. I don’t have the energy, even if I had the time. We now have a dishwasher and I drive much more than I’d like to, ferrying older children to extra-curriculars. I’m alone a lot, which I relish and appreciate (it is essential to my work), even while missing contact that can’t be replaced by social media. Oddly, the thing I thought I’d miss — full-on time with my children — I don’t, because, as it turns out, we still share a ton of activities, scheduled and unscheduled. You never stop being a parent, no matter what else you might be doing.

But here’s a confession: this past winter, I tried to find a traditional job. You know, a job-job. This is an insurance town, so most of the openings were inside insurance companies. We were going through a tough financial spell, and my writing career had never seemed more risky and indulgent. I sent out a dozen resumes. I received one reply. ONE. It was a no-thank-you, but I was grateful even for that. The worst thing about the experience was discovering that I wasn’t even qualified for jobs I didn’t want, let alone jobs I did. Thankfully, we got through the very bad month and the slightly-less-bad next month, and our fortunes steadily improved again. But the fear lingers: that if my family were to need me to find a job-job, to keep us afloat, I would be useless as tits on a bull, as my mother-in-law would say.

It’s been a decade since the famous (infamous?) “Opt-out revolution” article was published, interviewing women who’d given up promising careers to become stay-at-home moms. I’m not sure I gave up a promising career when I became a stay-at-home mom at the age of 26, but I had recently been promoted, and the opportunity to advance and develop within my chosen field of media / publishing / editing / journalism was there. I can’t remember whether I related to the women in the original article, but I remember thinking it was annoying, setting up this dichotomy between women, making it so either/or. Aren’t we all in this together, I thought?

I also thought, secretly, quietly, that there would be time for everything, and I didn’t appreciate being told that one choice might disadvantage me in another area of my life.

Recently, a follow-up article was published on those same “opt-out” women interviewed a decade ago: what had happened to them? (“The opt-out generation wants back in.”) Well, the economy had happened to them (all were American). Most had gone back to work, whether they wanted to or not; most had found it difficult to re-start their careers, and many had taken jobs that were below where they had been or could have been. Those whose marriages had ended were particularly disadvantaged and struggling. Few, however, expressed regret about their original choice. One woman struck me particularly — she had been in a traditional media job (like me), and found it virtually impossible to find work in a much-changed industry. The article ends with her landing an exciting job, after searching for several years, but at much less pay than she would have earned a decade before, only to have the project shut down six weeks later, and everyone let go. She was back to square one.

Let me tell you, I sure related to that article with a pang of recognition. Yet, I can’t feel regret, either. Because there are other interesting questions posed in my post, two years ago, questions that seem at least as significant, and more mysterious. I can’t answer them, especially the last one, but that’s why they’re so fascinating.

**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? 

Because it isn’t all about money, is it? If I look directly into my fear, and stare over the precipice of what would happen to my family were we thrown into financial crisis, and it were suddenly up to me alone to support us, I see many possibilities beyond disaster. I see family and friends. I see lifestyle changes and probably a lot of creative improvisation. I see a web of connections. We’re not without resources — I’m not without resources. That’s what I see, two years on, despite my recent experience of hunting for jobs I didn’t want and for which I was not qualified.

Because, I see, too, that I am already qualified for other jobs — ones I do want. This work might not offer the same security and stability, but maybe that just keeps me a step closer to reality. Stability is an illusion anyway, as we all secretly know.

It’s a gift to be doing what I love. I love being a mother. I love writing. I love thinking things through. My hope for myself, now and future, is that every time I doubt or question, I return to this: gratitude.

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9 Comments

  1. I have been thinking about this A LOT lately – I have, basically, a year to figure out what I want to do when I get back. And the truth is, I have no idea.

    I am glad that you are doing what you love, and that it’s getting you some well-deserved recognition!

    Reply
    • Does being on sabbatical make you feel more restless, do you think? Like things are on hold? Because you can’t, for practical reasons, jump into anything, career-wise, being abroad? But that could be really wonderful, too, with no pressure to make any decisions, and lots of time (hopefully! with kids in school) to explore your interests.

      I’m glad to be doing what I’m doing, but I know it won’t stay the same always, and I may need to change and adapt and move in other directions. But I’m grateful to be where I’m at right now.

      Reply
  2. I remember that post! The picture, especially. It doesn’t seem like two years ago.

    I skimmed the comments to see that I said “I have a lot to say, I’ll be back.” Well, I guess it took two years to get back to this! (Sheesh.) I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, partly because of that article which really struck a nerve with me, mostly from the not having any money of my own/if K died tomorrow we’d be screwed.

    I’ve also been thinking about this a lot lately as I’ve got a job for the first time in 7.5 years. (Teaching one course at UVic and being an artist in residence.) I’ve been a SAHM since my eldest was born, and now we’re searching for childcare for my youngest. It’s such a strange position to be in.

    It really is all about money. For all the leaning-in Sheryl Sandberg wants women to do, being able to lean-in comes from a place of privilege, a place of money.

    Reply
    • I don’t want it to be all about the money!

      But, yeah. Without it …

      Reply
  3. I don’t want it to be about the money either! I hate how much relies on it, how much easier life seems for those who have versus those who don’t. It’s hard.

    And it really isn’t *all* about the money. If it was, neither of us would be writers.

    Reply
  4. “**where am I heading at my breakneck pace?**”

    Wow- I just asked myself that yesterday. It’s so hard to take it easy though, to enjoy the moment. I know I will miss the years with my young kids, but I still find myself wishing for the days when they are older, and I am more free to do…I’m not sure what exactly- but I guess I’m just wishing that I won’t have to stop to take someone to the bathroom as soon as I start doing it.

    The chaos of parenting young kids is brutal, but I think ultimately it’s a gift to experience that fully. A gift that you really recognize later- when the potty training years fade from memory.

    Reply
  5. I’m at a similar stage, myself, so I really enjoyed (enjoyed? perhaps appreciated is a better word) reading this.

    Reply
  6. (Gah – interrupted by baby! Meant to add that I think the last para says it all).

    Reply

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