09 Nov 2011

The Author

I am an essayist, poet and photographer. I try to be a voice against injustice, as I perceive it. I am forgiven & grateful. I am an alcoholic, sober since July 2008 by the grace of God. I am a mother of four. I write about my own faith & (dis)belief, for voiceless people, against injustice and abuse of power, and sometimes politics. And threaded through my experiences is the fact that I am a mother and a woman. I am always mindful of Abraham Lincoln's words: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

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The Accidental Stay-at-Home Mom
me and emma

Recently I had coffee with a young, new mom.  She told me that she quit her full-time job to be with her baby.  I listened to her talk glowingly about the bonding they were doing and how “right” this decision felt to her.  She said she would go back to work “one day” but “for now” she was doing exactly what she should.  Then, in the same breath, she admitted that she was not without some doubt, whispering sheepishly that she couldn’t think of one woman that she admired as a role model, who was a stay-at-home mother.  (Ouch, I tried not to take it personally because this was her story and not about me.)

As I listened, I was happy for her because there is nothing like that first year of a parent and child’s life together, spent connecting and bonding.  The yeasty baby smells on your clothes and being present for the first belly laughs.  As they grow a little older, hearing their first word.  Eventually seeing their first steps.

I know how meaningful they are because I missed many of those firsts.

I was working fifty to sixty hour weeks, through three pregnancies in four years, when each of my kids were born.  And, other than the six weeks allotted I was right back to work again, by choice.  Yes, I electric-pumped in the bathroom at work, between meetings.  I double padded for the crazy moments a baby cries and I might leak or nearly exploded, because a meeting went over and I needed to pump!  I did all that and I don’t regret one minute of it, even though I cannot remember my daughter’s first word or whether I saw her first steps.  If I didn’t write it down, I cannot remember much about those years but I don’t mind because I loved working!

When I quit my job I didn’t know an S.A.H.M. from an M.O.P.S. and certainly didn’t understand why anyone with an interesting career would quit for kids.  In fact I did not quit for any of the reasons many stay-at-home moms do and I never aspired to be one.  I was just fed up with certain aspects of my job and what I perceived as a glass ceiling.  And I was plumb exhausted – so exhausted that I had become irritable and dissatisfied with much of life.  My faith was suffering.  When I walked away from my career I just wanted to take a long, uninterrupted nap!

You know what I wanted to say to my young friend at coffee?  Don’t do it!!!! 

Yes, the secret is out.

I became a reluctant SAHM to get away from my job and to rest.  Additionally, as we looked at the idea of one of us being with our kids, or a Nanny doing it, my husband and I did the math and it just made sense.  Though I was making 40K+, by the time we paid our Nanny a living wage, paid the taxes, I purchased a wardrobe of work clothing and dry cleaned those clothes, ate the inevitable lattes and lunches out, and then ordering take out because both of us were too tired to cook, it added up close to zero dollars left over.   The other thing we considered was the fact that my husband’s job was more lucrative long-term than mine was at a non-profit.

But when I was thinking and praying about making a change, I should have thought through other career options perhaps even a shared job. I grew up in the organization that I worked for and though I had been quickly promoted up through the organization I was there my entire thirteen year career.  I lacked the confidence to go out a find another job.  I thought quitting was my only option at the time.

And now that my kids are older and I’m oh so ready to work outside the home, I’m running into the prejudice of having spent all this time, it’s been more than ten years, at home with kids.   Katie Read, a writer at Salon.com, wrote:

“Research shows that mothers earn 4 to 15 percent less than non-mothers with comparable jobs and qualifications, that as job candidates, mothers are perceived as less competent and committed than non-mothers (fathers, in contrast, rate higher than men without kids).  Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, told me last year that the outlook for an at-home mother returning to work in this economy “kind of makes my stomach drop a little bit.” I know the feeling.”

I know the feeling too.  Unlike Read, who is a single divorced mother of two, I don’t need to work I just want to work.

I recently interviewed for an entry-level job, very part-time, that honestly I could have done in my sleep.  I was hoping to ease myself into an organization that I liked and would like to work for long-term.  But I knew that I was doomed when I was asked to describe one specific project that I had managed beginning to end.  I honestly tried to but my job was managing multiple people, programs, ideas, and nearly half a million dollar budget.  When I was told I was “overqualified” I suppose I was just shocked that they had the gall to say so even thought they said it differently.  ”This job wasn’t in my sweet spot of gifting.”  Huh, I started my working life as an entry-level office person.

An insider later told me, “You are a stallion.  What we needed in that job is a pony.” Implication, you don’t want this job.  Horse metaphors aside, I applied for the job so I’m sure I wanted it and I was surprised to be rejected.  I had led and managed people, multiple departments, and had tons of responsibility.  Why would anyone NOT want me?

The fact is that I have joined the ranks of other stay-at-home moms who are marginalize and looked down upon, just as I did when I was working outside of home.  I can remember asking my boss who was a woman with incredulity and some derision, “Why would anyone want to be a stay-at-home Mom?” Why indeed?

What God did in me.

What remains true now is the knowledge of what I have learned by quitting my job and being at home.  It actually has little to do with my children and all to do with what God wanted to do inside me.

My identity had been too wrapped up in my work and when I left, everything fell apart.  It took more than a year, but eventually I dropped into a deep depression.  (I tell that story in Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression and in various places on my blog.)  I needed to go through the experiences that I did.  Why?  Because I never knew I was a beloved child of God, no matter what I could do for God, until I fell down into that pit.

Being a stay-at-home mom it is an incredibly complicated personal decision. 

We must respect the difficult place women (so much more than men) are in. No one can make this choice for a woman or explain away her doubts and fears, the dreams and aspirations, the personal goals, or our need and desire for “accomplishments.”   And no one can understand, after making a choice to go back to work, why a woman may regret or is torn by her decision.  And I cannot choose for my young friend.  She will have to walk that path and sort it out herself.

At times I look back over the last decade of my life with huge regrets, but also with gratitude because I am still learning!  My experiences have opened me up to a new life.  Christ’s broken body for me is meaningful in a way that I never understood until my experience with depression and addiction.  And gratefully I can say, all of this drove me to my knees.

I went from someone who felt competent, powerful, and knowledgeable — quite puffed up with my own importance, to a broken and bruised reed, hardly knowing up from down.   I am humbled by my husband’s love and the fact that my children adore me and I do them.  And gratefully, I know what a gift this time at home has been to me.  Yes, I rested (not physically as anyone with babies, small children or middle school kids knows.)  But I rested in Yahweh and became more human.  As I consider what the future holds for me, admittedly I still want a productive and vigorous career.  However as I look back at the last decade of being at home, I am glad for what I have learned.  And I would not trade it in for a more lucrative career.  (Okay some days I would, I honestly would!)  But the investment in my children is an honorable one and a privilege at this point.

Yes, I was an accidental (and in some ways very unhappy) SAHM.  By the power of the cross I am being constantly renewed and I continue to hope in it!  I know that even beyond being the mother of four beautiful children, which is gratifying in and of itself, I have a contribution to make!

My advice, finally, to my young friend?  There is no perfect plan. You must trust while serving, not knowing the future.  Believe that you have a contribution to make in your children’s lives, in your own career and in all the people God brings into your life. 

I hope and pray that I will continue to be grateful that I am a child of God.  That this simple truth is enough.

(Most days.)

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