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The grass isn’t always greener

I’m cheating again. Posting something previously published. But I’ve been inspired by a post from a mom defending her choice to stay home -“I Was a Stay-at-Home Mom – and My Marriage Survived” by Empty-Nest, Full Mind blogger Sharon Greenthal.real-food-survival-guide-for-working-moms

It was a terrific piece, and even though I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom for most of my momming years, who am I to argue? Your experience is your experience and that’s all anyone has to go on. So I thought I’d publish this rebuttal…though it’s not really a rebuttal.

After my essay was published in Metro Parent magazine last year, the editor published a letter the following month from a reader who thought I was making fun of moms who stayed home. I really wasn’t. I was just reporting on my experience. 

Essay starts here…as if you couldn’t figure that out. Well, maybe you couldn’t. Heh-heh. Heh. I’m joking, I’m jok…eh, forget it.

For most of my parenting years, I was a mom who worked away from home, with co-workers, performance reviews and my very own cubicle. As working moms often do, however, I wondered what it would be like to stay home, especially when I ran errands on my lunch hour and watched other moms push strollers carrying infants, toddlers and diaper bags.

Like a sorority for stay-at-home mothers, they were chatty, relaxed and presumably in no hurry to get back to the office for a meeting or voicemails. It looked like a pleasant thing to do in the middle of the day.

As our children got older, I continued to fantasize about staying home, particularly on days when I had to leave work early to pick up a kid who wasn’t feeling well, or haul ‘em both to the orthodontist. If only I could stay home and take care of this stuff! Logistically, it had to be easier, right?

At the time, it was also hard to escape the influence of Oprah “I-always-knew-I-was-destined-for-greatness” Winfrey. Especially when she was quoted saying, over and over, “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.”

I wondered if my destiny lacked greatness. Did it? I liked my job, but I wasn’t in love with it. What were my dreams, anyway? I’d always liked to write, and I had been published in a few magazines and newspapers. But it was always on the side, as a hobby. Was that my path to greatness? To write full-time? Without the distractions of a real job?

It wasn’t as though I was treated like a criminal at work. Rather, I was treated quite well. As a provider of work/life balance programs, my employer at various times let me job-share, work part-time, and full-time with telecommuting privileges. It wasn’t like my fellow employees were creepy, either. They were educated, fancy-with-the-spreadsheet types who could speak in front of 25 people and conduct a Power Point presentation at the same time. The structure kept me on track. At work, I worked, and at home, I folded laundry while my husband scrubbed toilets and mowed the lawn.

Nevertheless, when a corporate reorganization eliminated my job a few summers ago, I was ready to fulfill my destiny. Working at home while raising teenagers, here I come!

At first, every day was like a pretty Monet painting. My employers were kind enough to lay me off in the summer, so the sun shone and the birds sang while I made leisurely trips to Target for toothpaste, toilet paper and liquid laundry detergent. Finally, I could drive our kids to summer activities without slinking out of the office early, hoping no one would notice. When the kids returned to school, I didn’t shower while others were still sleeping, and some days, I worked out to Regis and Kelly just because I felt like it.

Take that, old, semi-traditional work schedule.

Eventually, I started to write. And I got published: here, there, a little bit everywhere. But the field of freelance writing is so vast it took me a long time to wrap my brain around all the possibilities. Plus, I am a slow writer. It was hard to fire off finished pieces without a lot of thought. I wanted to be thorough! Accurate! Reliable! Trustworthy!

Then entire days flew by without feeling like I accomplished anything, especially when the laundry buzzer went off every two seconds while I wasted time on Facebook. Sometimes I had just as much trouble getting dinner on the table as I did when I was working, and our kids seemed to think all I did was pet the dog.

That’s okay, though – I’ve given up on greatness. I’ll never rocket-ship to the top. For me, life has been best lived in phases where priorities competed for my attention like glittery costumes on Dancing with the Stars. Like they should, I suppose. Maybe a good life is the sum of all that. Though I didn’t always know it, the best phase, perhaps, was the one I was in.

Tell me your experience.

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April 20, 2013 - 7:39 pm

Sharon Greenthal - I remember days at work when it felt like I’d gotten nothing done as well! Every phase of life brings new and different challenges. Personally, I’ve never worked as hard as I’m working right now, and it’s very exciting. Great post!

April 20, 2013 - 10:38 pm

Pam Houghton - You certainly seem like you are onto an exciting chapter in your life. Thanks for the comment!

April 21, 2013 - 3:33 pm

Janie Emaus - I worked, as you did. And I envied the moms who got to stay home. In my case, I didn’t have a choice unless we wanted to live out of our car. We do want we have to do in order to survive.
Great post.

April 21, 2013 - 4:27 pm

Pam Houghton - Thanks, Janie. I’ve always been puzzled by the word “choice”. Many working moms don’t have the choice to work or not work. So at times it’s easy to envy moms who stay home. That said, there’s a lot to be learned in the world of work that moms can bring home in a positive way to their families.

April 22, 2013 - 12:37 am

Jo-Anne Meadows - Thanks for the repost haven’t read this before………………I was a stay at home mum and have a daughter who would love to be one but she has to work well she feels like she has to work…….and I have one daugher who would love to work she just can’t find a job with hours to suit she is a single parent and needs to work around times when he son is at school which at this time isn’t very long he is only going for 2 & 1/2hrs of a morning

April 22, 2013 - 12:15 pm

Pam Houghton - It can be tough finding work that match the hours your child is in school. Many schools have latchkey programs, though, that prove helpful to many working parents. Thanks for the comment, Jo-Anne.

April 28, 2013 - 11:54 pm

ROWriter - I was lucky enough to have the best of both worlds – staying home when my kids were babies and toddlers, working full time with flexibility then back at home when we were surprised with the last two babies! Anyhow – loved the post! And I can totally relate to trying to balance writing, caring for the home and parenting. At least teens sleep ’til noon… 🙂

April 29, 2013 - 12:25 pm

Pam Houghton - If it can be done, that’s a nice way to do it – be at home when kids are babies and toddlers, then working full time when they get in school. However, I am reading that Lean In book by Sheryl Sandberg and am on the chapter where she advocates for equal roles in parenting where men consciously work to develop their “nurturing” skills. That way, it isn’t just the mom worrying about childcare and school lunches, etc. I hope – for our daughters’ sake – we keep moving in that direction!

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