Sunday, August 2, 2015

Is this working?

I've often wondered, over the last four years, whether I'm doing the right thing for my family by staying home with the kids. I have friends who work full-time and I have friends who stay home, and each of my friends seems to be doing the right thing for his or her family unit. But am I doing the right thing for mine?

I look at my husband, who is the most loving, stable, fiscally responsible, intelligent person I know. Rather than continuing to sound like I'm an Amish wife, let me mention, he's also one of the most annoying. He can't be THE most annoying because that title belongs to yours truly. My husband was raised by awesome working parents. His mom stayed home with him for the first six months, and then went back to work as a teacher. Both parents were always either working full-time, attending graduate school, or both. Warren traveled different places all over the country with his parents, when school was out and his parents took PTO. He got fantastic grades all through school, never gave his parents any problems, and was involved in positive extracurricular activities. He was offered scholarships and went to college immediately after high school, graduated in exactly four years with a degree in software engineering, and had a successful career the day after he graduated. And by "successful career" I mean he's still working for the same company, seven years later. He also still has the long hair that was his only rebellion!

Then I look at myself. My mom, who I love dearly, stayed at home with me for the first three years of my life. Lots of tumultuous things happened in the years after that, but those first years are absolutely the most important in lifetime brain development, rivaled only by adolescence. And I had the benefit of a stay-at-home parent during those crucial years. So how did I fare? I slept my way through school, starting in middle school. I drove my teachers crazy with my angst and my constant "failure to live up to [my] potential" (something they told us lazy kids to try to motivate us to get going). I have work ethic, but I've never stayed with the same job for much beyond one year. I went to college and have three different degrees - a BA, an MA, and an MSW - and, since my contract at the university was not renewed, I use none of them. 

Please do not misunderstand me - I am not blaming my mother staying home with me for my own poor choices. I'm just stating the facts. Kid W had working parents, while Kid J had a stay-at-home parent. And this is how Kid W and Kid J turned out.

I've started an editing business in the past six months, and seem to be making some headway with that; it's a natural talent that I've used for extra money throughout the years. However, right now that amounts to relatively little. I'm able to contribute some to groceries, but without the generosity of my in-laws, we would never be able to keep James in three-day-weekly Montessori school. The reason we were able to take the kids on a four-day vacation to a cabin on a pond last month is because I paid for it back when I was still teaching for the university.

I look at what's happening now with our financial lives and wonder if I'm doing the right thing for my kids. Violet's not yet two years old and not quite potty-trained, so childcare would certainly be expensive. But if I used my MSW, I could pay for childcare and have extra money to contribute to the household. I wouldn't get to spend as much time with either kid, but I have to question my motivations behind that. Is me staying home really best for them, in our particular family, or would they benefit more from seeing the work ethic, ambition, responsibility and intelligence that might be available with two working parents? Am I being selfish, possibly with negative long-term repercussions (as well as the obviously short-term financial negatives)? Would their time with me actually be of higher quality if I worked a full-time job? Would the ability to take more interesting vacations be superior to spending so much time with grumpy, frazzled, annoying me?

I've thought about this in so much depth lately that, when the friendly bank employee saw me emptying coins into the machine and mentioned that they were looking for part-time tellers, I seriously considered it.

And then I thought, if the kids were in school and daycare on a regular basis, who could I blame for my messy house?! 


  1. I struggle with the same thing, almost verbatim. I have a 6yo and a 16yo, both of which were/are very different children. With the first, I was ready to get back to work at 6mos. Now, this very well could have been contributed to by many factors. First, the fact that my first husband and I were living with my in-laws, he couldn't hold a job longer than three months, at the time, and I have been a hard working enabler of less than supportive men since I was sixteen.

    Insert ugly divorce and witch hunt of a custody battle in the middle of the Bible belt and I ended up missing a great deal of my eldest son's growing up, until now.

    Now, I too am with a crazy reliable, super tolerant sweet man (I upgraded well.) In addition, my youngest is not only very hyper, but super clever and a bit of a challenge. I can't imagine turning him over to someone else after school. I believe in my heart that he needs me here and this is where I need to be. This knowledge does nothing to alleviate the stresses tied to living paycheck to paycheck and doubting my personal self worth based on my familial contributions. Until now, I have worked full time, sometimes multiple jobs since I was 16 years old, aside from the 6 mos I took off with my eldest.

    I guess I'm trying to say, every single child and situation is totally different. My eldest, amazingly enough, is a very well balanced, intelligent and sweet guy, even though he had all of the statistical odds against him. I think this time (a bit over 6 yrs now) has been critical in that, too. The guilt I lived with while I worked and balanced a split custody schedule was astronomical compared to what I deal with now.

    I'm rambling, sorry. I hope some of this makes sense. Just like your faith, trust your gut and your heart. Life is too short to get caught up into feelings that will take away from these few years you will have with your little one. Trust me, while we have made up on a wee bit of lost time since he's been here full time (since March) you can't relive these years with them...and there is NOTHING as precious.

    1. It is so comforting to hear your experiences. Thank you so much for sharing!