The Importance of Finding a Rhythm

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve felt inspired to write for The Stay At Home Complex. My little sister came for a visit the week following the end of my subbing stint. We had a great time not doing much at all besides talking, playing with my son, and watching Once Upon A Time on Hulu.

Since that little break, my focus has been on finding my rhythm again as a SAH mom. It changed while I was substitute teaching and it now differs from before I taught, too. Anyone who has cared for an infant will tell you, things like napping and eating schedules can change a lot in 3 weeks. I finally feel that I’ve settled into a routine that works for both my son and myself. It sounds like that should be boring, but it isn’t. Since I was small, I’ve thrived on routine. As an adult, a routine sets the rhythm for my days and, like music for many people, makes me work more efficiently. Following this rhythm helps me feel productive, which fuels a self-fulfilling prophecy: When I feel more productive, I accomplish even more.

My routine gives me a few nap-times within which I can work. None of the naps lasts long, but it’s usually just enough. With my husband’s blessing as the breadwinner, I’ve temporarily stopped the job search that lead only to frustration. Instead, I’m focusing on housework during the morning nap, dinner during the afternoon nap, and writing, revising, & editing my manuscripts for children’s books during the mid-day nap. Because I can accomplish what I need to as a mom, wife, and especially a writer instead of failing to find a decently paid position that fits my qualifications and needs, it feels like I’m earning the part of my husband’s income that I use (yes, I still struggle to consider it “our” money… maybe the joint account we finally set up will help me with this. I’ll explore this particular problem in a later post.).

Finally, the fact that I can work on my writing a little each day provides a reason why working outside of the home didn’t work out right now. I am able to pursue my dream of publishing a children’s book. The rhythm of my days allows me to be more productive and takes away the need I had to put a positive spin on being a SAH mom. I actually have a more positive attitude about it now.

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The End of an Experiment

This is the third version of this week’s post. Every time I thought my post was ready, something changed and put me back at square one. This time, I lost the child-care that let me substitute teach a few days a week. My experiment in part-time work is over and I have mixed feelings about it.

Despite my misgivings about being a stay-at-home mom, I actually do enjoy my days with my son. I also take a lot of pride in keeping a clean house and preparing healthy meals for my husband. So my first thought was that I wouldn’t have to feel the tug-of-war in my heart every time I dropped off my son so I could go teach.

I am also thankful: I chose to become a substitute because I enjoy being in a classroom. It was not something I did because I needed a job. Only 36% of SAH moms surveyed by Pew Research Center said that not working at all is ideal, which is down from 40% in 2007. In other words, 60% of SAH moms want to work. In commentaries on the Pew Research Center’s 2014 report about the increase in the number of SAH moms, it was suggested that this is due in large part to the difficulty families have in finding jobs and child-care. In fact, The Economist suggested that fixing the salary gap between men and women would do little to advance women’s rights. The real challenge that women face is finding the services they need (like child-care) in order to continue to work after having children. Until I became a mom and tried to go back to work, I didn’t understand the reality of this argument. Our government could pass legislation so that men and women in the same positions are paid the same rates, but if those men and women can’t find child-care, the salary won’t matter. Without child care, parents don’t have a choice; they have to be a SAH mom or dad.

The fact that I am one again a full-time SAH mom leads me back to the crux of the Stay-at-home Complex: It stems from uncertainty in my identity now that I am taking on a new role. As a teacher, I thrived on the challenges students’ present & the accomplishments they achieve classroom. I liked the idea of being able to contribute financially to my family. I loved feeling useful and active in my community. Teaching was my way to do all of that. Who am I if I stop teaching? Who am I if I can’t contribute to my family and community like I used to? Possible answers include Mama or SAH mom, but I’m still figuring out what that means. Am I truly called to be a SAH mom? If I am, great! I’m exactly where I need to be. But what if I’m not? Today I realized that figuring out my new place in my family and in the world – or finding new ways to do what I used to – is the key to working through the Stay-at-home Complex.

References

Pew Research Center. (2014, April 8). After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2014/04/Moms-At-Home_04-08-2014.pdf

(2014, April 19). The return of the stay-at-home mother. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21600998-after-falling-years-proportion-mums-who-stay-home-rising-returnhttp://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/08/rising-cost-of-child-care-may-help-explain-increase-in-stay-at-home-moms/

Introduction to The Stay-at-Home Complex

When I found out that my husband and I were expecting our first child, I quickly came to realize that I wouldn’t be able to continue in the job that I held at the time. As the director of an English language school that primarily served university-bound international students, I knew the demands on my time (and the hours at which those demands would occur) just weren’t compatible with an infant’s schedule. As I began to research child-care options, I also quickly came to realize just how expensive child-care can be. According to the Pew Research Center, the average weekly cost of child-care has increased by more than 70% in my lifetime (For reference, I just turned 30). When I factored in the limited number of jobs (in my field of teaching) in my geographical area and the price of gas, I began to realize that I probably wasn’t going to be working outside of my home after the arrival of my son. Luckily, my husband is in the military, which means he has a well-paying, secure job that provides excellent benefits. I am materially secure. My husband loves and supports me – but I have never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.

Like many women in my generation, it never entered my head to choose to stay at home once I had children. However, between 1999 and 2012, the number of stay-at-home moms increased by 6%. Nearly one-third of mothers now stay at home – including some of the women who are my most respected friends, family, and former colleagues. I am in good company, yet I am also highly resistant to the idea of being a stay-at-home mom. I find that the idea of spending all of my time not-working is anxiety-inducing in spite of the support I receive from everyone I know. On top of that anxiety, it irritates me that I continue to feel like I am somehow not-working when I see other stay-at-home moms as most definitely working.

For months, I’ve been reflecting on why not-working is so hard for me and I’ve been driving my poor husband nuts with my frustration and anxiety. I’ve gotten nowhere. Luckily, two things have recently helped me to feel better:
(1) I started substitute teaching a few days a week; though for now, it feels more like an experiment in which I see if the money I’ll make after the cost of a sitter, the cost of gas to get to the schools, and the time I spend away from my son is worth the financial contribution I’ll be able to make to our household during a few months each year.
(2) I decided to explore the different facets of my feelings about and experiences as a stay-at-home mother through writing – hence this blog.

One of the first things I’ve noticed is that I don’t fit nicely into any of the categories that researchers use to group stay-at-home moms. Pew Research Center defines stay-at-home mothers as “women ages 18-69 living with their own children … younger than 18” who are “not employed for pay outside the home at all in the calendar year.” Because I’m subbing a few days a week, that’s no longer me. The report also talks about “opt-out” mothers, who are highly educated, married, and whose household income is $75,000 or more annually. I fit the first two-thirds of the definition of an opt-out, but certainly don’t meet income requirements. In a 2014 article entitled “The return of the stay-at-home mother,” The Economist nuanced the concept of an opt-out mother saying: “others are poorer but calculate that, after paying for childcare, the money they make sweeping floors or serving burgers does not justify time away from their little ones.” The kinds of jobs alluded to here do not fit my education level, even if my calculations sound a lot like those in the quotation. Where does that leave me?

At this moment, I feel that it leaves me with a stay-at-home complex. As I launch this blog, I’d like to begin with a working definition of this idea of the stay-at-home complex. It applies to those parents who are staying at home with their children by choice (or as the least problematic option), and who are having a hard time accepting the title of “stay-at-home” mom (or dad) because of their vision of themselves or their vision of what it means to be a stay-at-home parent. I for my own ease of typing, I will abbreviate stay-at-home as SAH. Also, I will more frequently refer to stay-at-home moms. While I do believe that SAH dads face the same issues, my own experience is that of a mother. Some of the ideas I plan to examine each week include the guilt of the SAH mom, the relationship SAH moms have to their career, the affect of a parent’s upbringing in choosing (or not) to be a SAH parent, living far from family, and following the example of moms we know.

If anyone has any suggestions for changes to the definition of the stay-at-home complex or for topics to write about, I’d love to hear them. This project is meant to be an exploration and my definition is fluid. However, by then end of the blog, I hope to have a more solid definition of the stay-at-home complex and a better understanding of my role as a stay-at-home mom.

References

DeSilver, D. (2014, April 8). Rising cost of child care may help explain recent increase in stay-at-home moms. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/08/rising-cost-of-child-care-may-help-explain-increase-in-stay-at-home-moms/

Pew Research Center. (2014, April 8). After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2014/04/Moms-At-Home_04-08-2014.pdf

(2014, April 19). The return of the stay-at-home mother. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21600998-after-falling-years-proportion-mums-who-stay-home-rising-returnhttp://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/08/rising-cost-of-child-care-may-help-explain-increase-in-stay-at-home-moms/