Sorry I didn’t have a chance to post yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend a press conference hosted by Highlights Magazine where they announced their annual State of the Kid survey (more on that next week because the results are fascinating and somewhat upsetting). So today, let’s get back onto our discussion of work-life choices and talk about stay-at-home moms. Earlier this week I threw out there that I really believe this label of “Stay-At-Home Mom” is extinct. Who is this person? I don’t know this person, do you know her?
I’m making the case that I think all of us are digital moms, whether we go to an office full-time or we don’t, we are bound to technology. It bleeds into our day, we work in spaces that seem unorthodox and counter-productive to work – like our cars waiting to pick kids up from school. Women who have quit their full-time job to “stay home” are doing so much work, some paid, some unpaid. Yet the label “SAHM” implies she is a dud, she doesn’t “do anything” and she probably wears mommy jeans.
First, let’s talk about why women stop working full-time. I can speak for myself here. I wasn’t given any flexibility, I spent much of my time wondering why I was leaving my kids all day for that job, I wasn’t saving the world or curing infectious diseases, and I couldn’t reconcile how it was worth it. I was willing to risk “stepping out” and the financial security net that came with my job, to try something else. Prior to making this decision, however, I fell into a camp that said I couldn’t afford it. Ultimately what I realized was that was an excuse, not necessarily the entire truth. For several years, I wasn’t willing to give up a lifestyle, I was afraid of how I would fill my time, I was worried about my identity if I didn’t have the job. And until I was ready, I wasn’t sure I WANTED to be home. But it’s much easier to hide behind a financial reason than to tick off the list of what worries you. I wish more people would state the real reasons instead of using “I can’t really afford it” because many of us can afford it if we’re willing to make those tough decisions and I find it’s more helpful and constructive when I’m exploring my options when I’m honest with myself and my friends about my reasons.
So, now that the decision to stay home has been made, I’ve come to realize that the reasons why women stop working are never quite as simple as she wants to be home with her kids. I suspect the same is true for dads who stay home. The reasons are oversimplified in the media and in our quick labeling. But really, I think it’s a complicated and fascinating and important mix of factors: expense of childcare especially when you have more than one kid, career ennui (sweet scrabble word, right?), workplace that isn’t accommodating to the time demands that come with raising young children or seeking a different path in life. I think it would benefit all of us if we spent more time exploring the reasons WHY instead of just the sweeping generalization that career-focused and educated women are “opting out.” The WHY is the story and understanding the WHY might actually help impact some change in the workplace.
Which brings me to point number two – the digital mom – a woman who is likely seeking a different path in life. I was not surprised at all when I stumbled upon this Parenting article on today’s
“SAHM” digital mom. Turns out many of these women are a growing mass in our country, a small army of 10.1 million women-owned businesses. Our preschool parking lot is crowded with these entrepreneurs. They are starting their own catering companies, their own party planning businesses, their own PR freelancing shops, their own at-home daycares, their own blogs that generate some income. These women are working and many of them are doing it without hiring babysitters and nannies. These woman are also volunteering for school boards and working in classrooms helping teachers and planning school functions. All of this might be a far cry from steady paychecks, healthcare benefits and 401k contributions, but these women inspire me. They are starting new careers, they are forging new paths and the message they are sending their children is not one of opting out and forgoing their education and experience to make brownies. They are teaching their children that there are many ways to earn money, to gain experience and to work. Just like the leap of faith we take in getting married or having kids, opting out of a secure career and paycheck, is nothing if not a leap of faith.
And I believe it’s technology, smart phones, the internet, social media and the blogosphere that is helping these women forge new paths in life.
Forging the new path isn’t necessarily easy or obvious when you stop working, however. Personally I have slowly stumbled upon my new path. I certainly didn’t leave my job with a plan. Earlier this week Samantha Ettus from Forbes sent me a link to her recent post on this subject and I think she hit on one fundamental challenge facing many women: keeping in touch with your contacts when you do quit work. The reality is when you have very young children, it’s difficult to find time to do anything but care for them. But suddenly the months blend together into years and the baby is off to preschool and kindergarten and we have more…TIME. The very thing that was so scarce for so many years is suddenly accessible. So keeping our relationships going through those foggy baby years really is critical to the “NOW WHAT” dilemma so many women face when the kids are suddenly in school and there’s time to be part of that 10.1 million women who are small-business owners and entrepreneurs. For me, it’s been as simple as keeping up with people on Facebook, occasional emails, holiday cards, coffee or happy hour mixed in – the trick has been just not going dark.
In the end, I think no matter what decision we make – whether it’s to remain working full-time, to cut back on our hours, or to walk away and figure out the “now what” later – I will at least keep telling myself that nothing is final, my needs and my kids needs continue to change with time, and if you believe in your decision and the consequences of your decision, then you will enjoy parenthood and your days so much more. The grass is really only ever greener when you’re not confident in what you’re doing.