Skip to content

stay at home mom

Mostly stay at home mom tries to carve out space for another job

I’m about to find out just how much work I do everyday. Next month, I’ll have 12 hours less every week to launder and nurse and clean and shop and cook and shuttle and coordinate.

I got a job.

The acquisition of this job was a complete miracle.

As I bounced Cal down for one of the first naps after AJ returned to work after his paternity leave, I thought one of those thoughts that feels three dimensional. It popped up like a glossy cartoon bubble with words dressed in a distinctive font above my head:

I think I want a job.

It’s time for a big caveat now because, as we all know, I already have a job. A big, fat raise-2-children-and-keep-a-house-going job. And since I had Jo, I’ve had many paying jobs—freelancing video production or taking doula clients. But the cartoon bubble thought was about an employee job, an I-do-what-you-tell-me-to-and-you-keep-the-work-coming-and-sign-the-checks job.

Literally (and I mean Literally!) half an hour later, I got a phone call from a woman I’d met at a 4-year-old birthday party the week before, and she said, “Hey, this is Ada from Lex’s birthday party. Do you want a job?”

Why yes, I do.

And so now I have one. Weird.

The day before I got the job, I was lamenting the oceans of time I had at home. I could go into existential fits about the next sink of dishes or diaper change—“Is this all there is?!”

I’d find myself fantasizing about this.

Photo by Tim Caynes
Photo by Tim Caynes

The day after I got the job, I started clinging to Cal, and feeling all nostalgic hanging the laundry up on the line. I would actually find myself enjoying, nay treasuring the idyllic fantasyland that is staying at home with your children.

IMG_1726

Grass is greener anyone?

I start mid-November, and I’m nervous about all the logistics—getting Jo to pre-school, then Cal to the nanny share, then me to work. And then, 6 hours later, do the whole thing in reverse, burst into the house and start sorting dinner out while I try to deeply re-connect with one kinetic 4 year old and one snuggly 5 monther.

The amount of energy and coordination it is taking to free my time for 12 regular hours of paid work is extraordinary.  It’s as though I have to build up enough speed to catapult myself into orbit or something. I have to coordinate childcare schedules for two different kids at three different locations, re-work my participation schedule at Jo’s pre-school, figure out the whole breast pumping palava and wonder how, after all is said and done, the groceries will find their way home and the clothes will get washed and the food get to our table.

At the risk of sounding like a privileged, ungrateful whiner, I’m resentful about the particular overwhelm I’m feeling during this transition into work.

I wanna get all 4-year-old trantrum-y and stomp my feet. It’s just not fair that I feel like I’ll still have all the same responsibilities AND 12 hours of paid work to do every week. If I don’t initiate some conversations with AJ about a significant re-organizing of responsibilities and maybe finding a house cleaner, I’m basically expecting it to look like a hell hole around here in a couple weeks. I want someone to step in and equitably re-arrange everything so that AJ and I both have equal and manageable responsibilities on the home front.

I think that person will have to be me.

Well, would you look at that—another new job.

Some relief, courtesy of big pharma

Well things are leveling out around here. Sort of.

I *might* be finding a new Zoloft dosage that works better for my new friend, Anxiety, who has decided to hop on the post-partum emotions bandwagon. It’s only been a few days at the new dosage, and it’ll take a few weeks for things to level out.

We’re still not out of the woods yet, but I actually experienced what it is like to live in the body of a normal, non-anxious person for two nights in a row, thanks to a bit of Lorazepam. I’m always nervous to take a new pharmaceutical, but my friend C nudged me to give it a try, after two horrible mornings of feeling what can only be described as hyper-hell-restless-everywhere syndrome. In the early morning, between 5 and 6 when AJ would bring Cal up for his early morning feed, my body would come online in a bunch of worried, jittery bursts that kept firing over and over and over. As if my whole self was trying to jump/stretch out of my body. And then I’d spend the next several hours reminding myself that I was not dying and that I and my family are all perfectly okay and even doing well.

So an hour after I took the first wee, white circle of Lorazepam, my entire self heaved a huge deep sigh. Relief. I didn’t realize how long my body had been feeling this way until I had my first real break. I’ve been walking around with this tight, fearful, panicked body every day for the last few weeks. And it has been draining as hell.

Last night, after I took my new favorite drug, I just laid on the couch and soaked in the feeling. No aching limbs. No tightness anywhere. Just a tired lady on the couch at 9 pm. Oh, the joy of feeling like a regular person.

Photo by Jorbasa
If I were a cat with a small, wicker ottoman, this is what I would look like after taking my Lorazepam.  Photo by Jorbasa

I feel somewhat guilty for being reliant on prescription medication for my basic sense of wellness these days, but that guilt can just shove it. There will be a time and place when I have more time and resources to try other things. Life is long. Maybe in a few months or a couple years, I’ll be feeling great with an occasional therapy session and the drops of some horrendous tasting tincture. For now, though, I need the big guns, and I’m gonna use them.

On empathy, and how it helps me and my oldest son

J’s most common response when baby C cries is to furl his brow, put his hands over his ears and start screaming himself.  I started by trying to explain to J how it would actually be in his best interest to stay quiet, since his screaming would probably only make C cry more. That explanation didn’t get much traction.

So I’ve been trying to connect with J about it.

I don’t like it when he cries either. It’s loud, huh?

Empathizing with him like this has been relieving some of my pent up anxiety, and I’ve realized how much J and I have in common here. I really don’t like it either. And if I weren’t commissioned as the caretaker in this scenario, I might be moved to go for the screaming option too.

I’ve also been taking the empathy a step further, thanks to some advice from my dreamy therapist. She recommended that I try and stretch J’s awareness, and point out that while he feels mad right now that C is crying, he also feels love for C sometimes too.

I’ve been saying stuff like this:

I see you’re feeling really angry that C is crying. I don’t like it when he cries either. Remember this morning when you were playing with C and laughing? Isn’t it crazy that you feel angry at him right now and that you also felt all that love this morning?

Lo and behold, when I’m saying this stuff to him, it reminds me of the same thing–to see things in terms of both/and rather than either/or.

Hey there, self, I see that you’re feeling scared that you’ve been up for 2 hours in the middle of the night trying to get C to go to sleep. And now you’re wondering if the decision to have him was a huge mistake. Remember when you were taking a shower the other day and you thought that having C might be the best thing you’ve ever done? Well, both things are true.

Both things are true.

And if I can just take a breath and stick with my life for another 5 minutes or 10 hours or week, the feeling I’m having will change into another and another and another. And they’ll all be true.

Yesterday, J stopped me in my tracks as we were talking again about C’s crying. He said (in that wonderfully casual and earnest way that only he can), “I love him when he’s crying too.”

Well, knock me over and call me Nancy. He gets it. The bigger we make the space, the more feelings can fit in.

1242955160_6f57cf2313_b
Photo by BugMan50

We are expansive enough to feel upset and loving at the same time. Or frustrated and hopeful. Or scared and excited.

Hopefully I can remember the same thing the next time I’m awake and exhausted in the wee hours.

Confessions of a mostly stay at home mom

I’m primarily a stay at home mom. And sometimes people pay me to work as a doula and as a freelance video producer and editor. When I have a project or a client or both, I trade time I normally spend cleaning and cooking for the opportunity to dive into a creative project and relationship. I make money. And I feel like I’m doing something.

It’s a strange distinction, since when I’m not working for money, I’m still doing something. A lot of things, in fact. Managing our house, its cleanliness, food stores, our finances, and attending to the myriad of needs and whims of our 3 and a half year old, J. Also, for the last 7-ish months, I’ve been gestating another human.

When I write it all down like that, it sounds pretty impressive.

My lived experience: not so much.

Last week, I caught myself saying, “Work? Well, I delivered my last video project, and my last doula client give birth last week, so I’m done working until I pick things up after this baby is born.”

Totally.

By “done working” I mean this:

I wake up every other morning when J does, at or before 7am (thank you A, for taking every other morning so I can sleep till after 8:30), we cuddle in bed, then make breakfast. I read J books, get him dressed (we’re down to one of 2 outfits these days that he wants to wear—both are pajamas), tote him along for whatever projects I need to get done that day (gardening—easy to accommodate his boisterous, physical self; grocery shopping—less so), go to a park or meet up with a friend of his at some point, dole out snacks, make and eat lunch. We pay for childcare 3 mornings a week, so on those mornings I get time to wash dishes, clean and cook uninterrupted. Or pay bills, or sleep or blog or get my hair cut or go to therapy. In the afternoons, I shepherd J through an hour of “quiet time” which often results in numerous trips upstairs to help him poop, make sure he’s not pilfering the Tums he discovered on my bedside table or coloring his walls with crayon. Sometimes I manage to sneak in a nap. Then it’s more errands, maybe playing trains or orange jellyfish or poisonous space triceratops. Then onwards to interrupted dishwashing and dinner preparation. A usually gets home at 6:15, we eat, then the bedtime ritual begins and A usually takes him up to his room to play songs sometime after 7.

“I’m done working.”

How is it that I fall for this: the chronic and devastating under-valuation of managing a home and raising children?!

Yet I do. At first glance, I only consider or talk about paid work as work. When I lay on the couch while J is at childcare or during “quiet time,” I often feel guilty for watching Project Runway.

It’s hard for me to admit this because I know how I would like to feel. I’d like to be highly aware of the kick ass work that I’m doing.  I’d like to feel the weightiness of the contribution I’m making to the world every day. I’m nourishing people’s bodies, I’m helping 2 new people to emerge into the world. I’m tending the soil out of which my family grows.

My lived experience, though, is that many moments of every day, I feel somehow diminished by the work that I do at home.

Since becoming a mother, I feel like my value in the world has decreased.

So why the disconnect? Why do these judgments lurk in the dusty, dark corners of my mind, even while I “know” that the work I’m doing is extremely important?

I’m sure the repetition of things said and not said during my childhood has something to do with it. There was the recognition I got, even as a kindergartener for being “gifted and talented,” and I was regularly told that I could do or be anything under the sun—a scientist, a lawyer, a doctor, or president. I believed it. I wanted to be an archaeologist, a geologist, a dancer and an artist. But I can’t remember one time as a child that I imagined, or was encouraged to think about how motherhood or contributing to a family was a pursuit worth aiming towards. That is not to say that anyone ever looked at me and said “Being a mother is worthless work.” But somehow, here I am, washing dishes and loving my son and feeling less relevant somehow.

I’ve thought many times that I always have the choice to go out and get a full-time job. And I don’t want that. What I want is, to some degree, what I have—flexibility to spend time with my children and regular opportunities to make money in ways that I find engaging.

The other thing I want is to consistently feel that the mothering work I do is a valuable contribution. Dare I say just as valuable as the work that my partner does at his office everyday.

Here’s a novel idea–my sister mentioned recently that she knows a couple who organized their budget to pay the stay at home parent for the time she spends with their child. At first, I hated how reductive this sounded. This whole problem isn’t just about money.

But it’s definitely a factor.

What if our monthly budget spreadsheet actually listed the monetary value of the work I’m doing every month?  We have a line item for childcare—but that’s just when we pay other people to do it.

What if we found some way to account for the fact that every hour I spend with J is an hour that A can spend making money at his office job?

What if we started talking about the parenting I’m doing everyday as my work or stopped referring to A’s time he spends doing city planning as his?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m off to do some more work.