I Stay Home…Get Over It

I have the best job ever.
This is my career. How could it be worthless?

Ever since I made the choice to leave my career and stay home with my sons, I’ve been overwhelmed by my choice. There have been periods of time when I felt like I was nothing more than a butt wiper or a housekeeper or, in darkest times, a slave. Some days it is hard to find the silver lining in my current career. But, no fail, right about the time that I am feeling 100% certain about my decision, some working woman or man asks me what I do. The standard response I get when I tell a career person that I am a stay-at-home mom is a simple, one syllable, “Oh.” Conversation over. Clearly, I have no longer have anything current or intelligent to talk about, and no one wants to hear about kids, so they leave. I am a serial conversation killer. I’m not exactly sure when the decision to expend my energy solely as mother and homemaker vaporized my IQ and decimated my inherent worth as a human being, but it happened. Working people get to ask me ridiculous questions about my personal choice without feeling an iota of impropriety. I wonder how they would feel about it if I questioned the validity of their career choice? Really? You’re a programmer? I’ve heard they’ve taught monkeys to do that.

I was fortunate enough to have a choice to make when I was 32: 1) have a career and no kids, 2) have a career and kids, or 3) have kids and no career. I chose what was behind Door Number Three. When Joe was born, I knew that what I really wanted was as low-stress of a life as I could have. To me, that meant not trying to juggle too many things. Steve worked. We could afford for me not to work. We came to an agreement. He puts money in our bank account. I run the house. We share duties with our sons. Our weekends are free to enjoy because I take care of the busy work during the week. As with any choice, it has both good and bad points. The choice I made means I clean toilets and mop floors like Cinderella because we can’t afford a maid. It also means, however, I can go to yoga during the day when my kids are in school because I am my own boss. Like anyone else’s life, my life is a balancing act to keep things working. But, make no mistake about it, I work. Every day. Seven days a week. I get no paid vacation. No bonuses. No salary. But it’s worth it to me because our four lives are more peaceful because of what I do.

To be fair, I know that the work I do is invisible to those on the outside (unless they catch me at Starbucks having coffee with a friend while they’re on their way to work and suddenly I’m no longer invisible). And this is why people feel free to interpret something they know nothing about. Still, I get tired of answering condescending questions. To that end, today I invented some succinct responses to lessen the agony of being asked them repeatedly:

“When do you think you’ll go back to work?” Never. Work sucks.

“What did you do when you worked?” I was an adult film star.

“What do you do with all your free time when the kids are in school?” Day drink.

“Don’t you get bored?” Oh…when I get bored watching Oprah, I take a nap. Crisis averted.

Really, people. I am doing the right thing for me. I only get one shot with my boys. I have to do my best the first time around because it’s the only time I have. Ask any adult child about their relationship with their parents and you will know this is true. Time with our children goes by fast. I have six years left with my beautiful, deep-thinking, first-born son. It will be over in the blink of an eye. I know I have been fortunate to have a choice, and I know that what is right for me is not necessarily right for others. I don’t begrudge anyone their choice. I simply wish others would believe that there’s more to me than my lack of a paycheck. Right now, I’m somebody’s most important person, and that won’t always be the case. Someday they will no longer need me. I bet I will not be on my death-bed regretting the inordinate amount of time I spent with my sons in their youth. I will only regret acknowledging stupid questions about the smartest choice I ever made.

You Can’t Have It All…Enjoli Lied

Hard to believe, but this is not how I spend my days as a stay-at-home mom with nothing but free time. 😉

The other day a friend and fellow “stay-at-home mom” had a moment of frustration and ranted a bit on her Facebook status. Her post listed all the things she does on a daily basis and then noted that someone close to her remarked that she doesn’t really do anything. I read her post and felt complete empathy. Many of my blogs have been tyrades about how frustrating and thankless the job of Mom can be.

Then, today, I came across a Facebook post from a working mom friend of mine. She’s currently in-between jobs for a short period of time, so she was at the park listening to the birds, sipping a latte while her house was being cleaned, and thinking that she would like to be a “house frau,” presumably so she could enjoy more moments like that one. Now, I know my friend meant no disrespect to stay-at-home moms. As long as I’ve known her (over sixteen years), she has worked outside the home full-time while raising two children. I know how long and difficult her days are, and I know how devoted she is and always has been to her children. I can understand how she would be enjoying a brief reprieve between career positions today and thinking that it would be nice not to have to work at all.

Still, I had to reply to her post to remind her that, as a certified “house frau,” I can attest that I can’t afford someone to clean my house because that’s what I agreed to do when I gave up my income to stay home with my boys. I told her that I have to clean my own house, which (let’s face it) sucks and cuts into my time to sit, worry-free, in the park in the morning sipping my latte. There have been many times when I’ve looked at Barb’s career, her housecleaning service, her professional wardrobe, and her European vacations, and felt something akin to a twinge (or perhaps a seizure-full) of jealousy. I know, though, that her life, while seemingly more glamorous than mine, is a lot of frigging work too.

I’m in something of a transitional period in my life right now. While still technically an unemployed, stay-at-home mom, I’ve made the decision to work on my writing. Between this blog and my book, I’ve been spending between 4-6 hours a day writing, researching, and trying to grow my platform. While this has been a boon for my sense of self and my creative mind, I’ve found myself becoming overwhelmed, cranky, and increasingly depressed. Why? Because I’ve discovered that I can’t do it all. I can’t keep a clean house, cook for my family, run the errands, be homework coach and chauffeur, wash and iron clothes, and develop my writing into something that might perhaps segue into a paying career.

Remember that commercial for Enjoli perfume? That stupid commercial vexes me. Ever since I was 12, I was sold the idea that a woman should be able to do it all without struggle. I should absolutely be able to have a career, cook for my family, keep a clean house, care for my children, and have the energy to seduce my husband nightly, right? I’d like to bitch slap the men who came up with that ad. Oh, come on. It had to be men who envisioned the Enjoli woman. That ad is a fantasy. There isn’t a woman in her right mind who would tell you that at the end of a long day, during which she had spent at least eight hours in an office, then cooked dinner, cared for her children and put them to bed, what she really thought about was making her husband feel like a man. More than likely, what she actually thought about was a glass of wine, a locked door, a long and solitary soak in a tub, followed by a collapse into a bed where her husband would let her get some sleep.

The other night I had a Come-To-Jesus meeting with my husband and our sons. I told them that as much as I would love to be able to continue writing, I cannot do it if I do not get some assistance from them. Because our financial situation has not changed, I can’t afford a housecleaning service. I need them to pitch in if I want to be able to devote myself to writing. This was not an easy conversation for me because, the entire time I was asking for help, I was feeling I had failed my inner-Enjoli woman. What I was really doing, however, was not admitting defeat but instead recognizing that I had been trying to do the impossible and be the unattainable.

No one can do it all or have it all. We all sacrifice. The grass isn’t greener anywhere else. It’s not easier one way or the other. We make choices and then we live with them. On a good day, I get to yoga, manage to knock a couple things off my to-do list, and find time for a shower. On a good day, my working friends knock something off their to-do-lists, maybe get a kudo from their boss, and perhaps get to enjoy an uninterrupted lunch for an hour. But, most of the time, we all just settle for the best we can get, which is most certainly nowhere near having it all.