Here is a partial list of work I did while staying home with my kids:*
Auction catalog organizer/co-writer
Secretary of Parent Board
Member of Board of Trustees
Library volunteer (my favorite)
Organizer of a student film competition
Unofficial secretary of my 28 year old Book Club — writing correspondence, keeping records, creating and managing our website
Co-writer of the proposal for a how-to book about our Book Club. (We were too easily discouraged and gave up after three (only three!) agents passed on the project.)
Clearly I am a person who likes to be busy, prides herself on contributing, and has a multitude of interests. I didn’t have to do most of the things on the list; I chose them. With my husband frequently out of town or working long hours, I wanted to spend time with adults, so I volunteered at school. I wanted my Book Club to be successful, and took on its organization. I read books on the sidelines of all kinds of sports games, looking up to cheer when I heard other parents cheering. I wondered if my kids should be made to practice musical instruments if neither of their parents played, so after about a thirty year hiatus I took up piano again. I made (beautiful, if I do say so myself) embroidery samplers while watching Rug Rats with the kids. I learned Quicken so I could keep track of our finances…
Just making such a list makes me sound defensive, right? And I am. I’ve watched too many eyes glaze over when I told them what I was up to. Graduating from Yale garners expectations from employers, friends, and family along the lines of, “Designed any Mars Landers recently?” The daily work of being a mom is not the stuff of exciting narrative. It can be engaging and even fascinating from a “student of human nature” perspective, but that’s something you only know from the inside.
Other parents, who had to work outside the home ran the gamut in their appraisals. For each, “Thanks for everything you do, here’s your annual room parent gift,” I’d hear “It’s so unfair that you get to do all these things with and for your children.” The issue is fraught, from all perspectives.
But challenges abound. Think about being the Type A person who sits on a playground bench. Learning to be “in the moment” with my children instead of always busily accomplishing was the (highly unsung) personal triumph of that time in my life. Frankly, it’s the best thing I could have learned, though I can’t say I’ve quite got it yet.
I was challenged in so many ways, some quite similar to life in the “working” world. I had carpool schedules, snack schedules, hot lunch schedules and meeting schedules. Plus practice, game and rehearsal schedules. If one thing fell out of place, there were back up plans. In Los Angeles all these things require driving.** It’s a wonder no one gave me a gold watch when the last kid went to college.
Every parent has her (or his) own story. I can get judgmental with the best of them, but I try not to jump to conclusions about staying home vs. working. When I see young mothers, which occasionally I do, I like to hear their stories, their concerns — their realization that they’ve just talked to the casher for five minutes because she’s the first adult they’ve seen all day. Looking around during such conversations, I often note disapproval from eavesdroppers. The unasked question: why do you care about her day with her child? It’s not politics, it’s not art or business, so is it really worthy of discussion? My answer: without our mutual interest in how our children are raised — from the grand ethical questions to the minutia of daily rituals — childrearing will become even more devalued than it is already, and the women (and men) who stay home for whatever reason will continue to be marginalized. In some ways that’s why I think I decided to write this blog.
*I couldn’t have done any of it without part-time help, which I had until my youngest was about five.
**Yes, there’s a whole other conversation there about everything from public transport to helicopter parenting but we’ll leave that for the moment.