At some point, I’d be avoiding the elephant in the room if I didn’t write something about “work” out here in the burbs. Spoiler alert: I have no solution to the work vs. stay-at-home thing, but lord is it a loaded topic.
Some background about me and my ‘job’ experiences. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked in education. Out of college, I spent my days loving life as a first grade teacher. I shifted gears when I moved from D.C. to NYC and dipped my toe into corporate America as a management consultant. For many reasons, that was awful. But that stint allowed me to reevaluate what I wanted to get out of a career and what I loved doing. Turns out megabucks would be great but wasn’t what drove me, and I missed making a difference in lives and being around children.
The part about teaching that I loved the most was the social/ emotional development I facilitated in my classroom, not necessarily the spelling or the phonics or the flashcards. One Sunday morning sitting in Central Park with the NYTimes Magazine, I read an article about the troubles that adolescents are going through and how few child psychologists there are out there to help our children manage their teen years. Lightbulb!
Long story short, I applied to a bunch of schools, got into Teachers College at Columbia University and am now the proud recipient of an M.Ed. in Psychological Counseling with a concentration on School Counseling. TC’s approach to counseling is incredible. Their overarching focus is on multicultural awareness, so they pretty much knock you on your ass in order to expose your own preconceptions and baggage. Tough stuff.
For 5 years I worked as a part-time guidance counselor at a K-8 school in NYC and I loved just about every minute of it. Not that there wasn’t an inordinate amount of really tough stuff going on, but it felt good to be busy and involved and kinda making a difference in some lives. At some point, maybe I’ll find a way to share more of this counseling world as I already miss it a ton.
When we suburbanized, I left behind my counseling which leaves me, for the first time in my life, jobless. Gulp. Big Gulp (which incidentally, they’re trying to prohibit in NYC…).
All of this raises the big question of what one considers “work” and why is it that different forms of “work” evoke more or less street cred. Stay-at-home-momming is hard. Hardest work I’ve ever done, and my resume isn’t exactly sipping tea and nibbling scones. But there’s not a lot of cache to the housewife/ mom gig. Why is it that my role as stay at home mom doesn’t make me feel incredibly proud or validated or accomplished? Even on days as a guidance counselor when I sat at my desk for much of the day, I still came home and felt satisfied. That said, I am proud of who I am as a mom. I am crazy proud of my kids, and I love being around them so often as opposed to being away at an office job every day. But I don’t consider it a ‘job well done’ the same way as I did my counseling.
I should cut to the chase and mention that I have no answers here, so at the end of this post, there won’t be any rose-colored conclusion. In the city, just about all of my mom friends worked outside of the house, and here in the suburbs, most of my mom friends stay home. Different perspectives to be sure, but neither one necessarily better or worse; I’m still figuring out where I sit in the whole equation. After a mere month out here in burbarama, it’s also very evident that this notion of work is much more of a spectrum than I would have said back when I was racing down subway stairs en route to my counseling job.
Which I suppose is take away #1. That “work” is a spectrum and everyone figures out where on that spectrum they feel most comfortable landing. Everyone out here has some degree of non-mom “work” that they tap into so even though it might not be the 5 days, 8:00 a.m. -6:00 p.m. office job, it’s not all dishwashing and diapers. (In many circumstances, work is not a choice or a decision, it’s a necessity so it’s not lost on me that I could have WAY bigger issues in my life.)
I keep coming back to the question of why is stay-at-home-momming moderately unsatisfying for me? Is it too menial? Is it not cerebral enough? Is it just too grueling? Is it just me? Perhaps this is the biggest transition for me to maneuver in the urb-suburb journey. Learning not to just tolerate the job of stay-at-home-mom, but to somehow find the personal value on a micro level. It’s easier for me to see the macro values of being around my kids so much when they’re little and at home so often…I can hopefully dust off my counseling in a few years, but the kids are only throwing toddler tantrums for a finite amount of time.
Take away #2: Give it some time. These are early days and perhaps I’ll hit my rhythm and begin to feel more and more validated by the work of keeping house and keeping up with kids.
What makes us consider one thing more “work” than staying home with the children? Is it a paycheck? Perhaps… Is it the cocked “good-for-you” head that people give when you tell them what you do as a stay at home mom? Who knows… Is it that a work force of toddlers doesn’t exactly rate high on the employee engagement meter? Possibly…
Take away #3: Maybe I just need to change my perspective. Embrace the challenges of being at home and recognize that every other stay-at-homer can relate and considers me a rock star the same way I see them. Remind myself that I can’t please everyone and even at my other jobs, there were people who took me for granted, didn’t always listen and failed to praise my hard work.
Take away #4: Nothing is forever. This is a big one for me. I tend to get myself thinking that every decision I make is non revocable and permanent. Whether it’s a career decision or a new coffee table, things can change. Things WILL change.
I logged many hours creating a career as a counselor, and I still get bummed out that I’m not tapping into that right now. But I need to remember the “right now”. In ten years when we have kids who are coming home after sports at 6:00 and the only conversation we have with them is grunts, I suspect I will look back with real satisfaction at the days when I was staying at home. Every day isn’t great, and I will never get used to having 7 different projects started with no time to finish, but in the immortal words of Ann Romano, I just need to take this One Day at a Time.
Take away #5: Remember that “right now” will look different in a week, in a year, and in 5 years. I’m trying to engage in and enjoy the moments without too much thought about how I will get back into counseling. I’m trying to be my own cheerleader for different things than I’m used to: like making lunch and leaving a clean kitchen, like getting through an hour without Oliver falling on his face, like unpacking another box (none of these things happened today, by the way… but I’m sure there were other housewife victories that I could claim). I’m still working on the cheer, but I feel good about my pom-pom shaking.
Oh, for the record, my current work force has access to a moon bounce (purchased on Craigslist, natch) which is something I CAN’T say about any other job I’ve held. Not too shabby.