Sunday, March 1, 2015

The one with the 'not selfish' former stay-at-home mom

Dear Dad, 

I was a stay at home mom for 10 years before choosing to go back to work last August. I walked into the perfect job for me, I got paid to do something that I 100% loved. I loved every moment of being at work so much, I started taking on any extra hours that I could. I was covering for other people when I could. I was the first person with my hand up when the company asked for volunteers. I loved being at work and loved the way it made me feel. The people I worked with didn't know me as 'Mom', and they didn't care if I forgot to pay the water bill. I found a new part of myself - a piece I had been missing for a long time. I made friendships with people who didn't even have kids and ate lunch with people who respected me.

Nobody ever respected me as a stay-at-home mom. I was just the person who didn't work or was "too lazy to work." At my job, people looked at me differently and treated me differently. I would come home from work late because I did anything I could to work later. When I would get home I would be slapped in the face with reality! My house would be trashed, the kids would be hungry, and nobody would have clean clothes for the next day. Every one of my "at-home-mom" duties were just waiting for me. I would do what I could, but I had to be up at 4 am for work the next day. My husband offered no help whatsoever, but was more than happy to take my pay check to pay bills with.

So due to a medical emergency with my daughter, I had to leave work. My boss decided to temporarily lay me off for 2 months so I could handle things with my daughter and still keep my job. During my time off a few things happened:  report cards came home and my absence showed up in their fallen grades; my oldest child was getting into trouble every day and nobody knew it and I got the "are you sure you care" talk from his teachers; I found out that because of the extra income I would lose the state's help with health insurance for my kids. You have to work for a year to eligible for insurance with the company I work for, and my husband's job had very expensive insurance.

So here is my problem: it is time to return to work and I don't know what to do. A very selfish part of me wants to go back so bad, but the mother in me says "You can't do that to your kids again and your kids can't be without health insurance." My husband is only thinking of the extra money and thinks that I just don't want to work. I do, trust me, I do, but I can't come home every day to my life a mess and my kids being without health insurance and my kids failing in school because nobody is helping them. Do you have any advice?

Dear 'Not Selfish':

I think it is safe to say your issue is understood and experienced by me and millions of other stay-at-home moms and dads - past, current, and future. Stay-at-home parents have one of the most difficult jobs, which pigeonhole us for life; in addition, the job itself has little to no respect, even though what we do as stay-at-home parents has a direct correlation to the success and flow of our family units.

I was recently advised that someone in our family said I was a stay-at-home dad because I am a "jobless, lazy, deadbeat." This was reported to me through the mouth and in the eyes of an 11-year-old child, who advised me of such because she watched firsthand what I do when she was visiting us, and saw who I am as a father and what my role is in my family. 

My niece reported those words lovingly and with respect because her innocence allowed her to be open to see the truth about what I actually do for a living, rather what was implied by an ignorant statement from someone who will never "get it." I understand that whomever stated those words intended to hurt me, or criticize me - but ended up validating me and giving me a "proud moment" in my life. I also understand I need to hold onto the truth from my niece - whether I continue working from home, or return to an outside-the-home career.  My niece's experience and "aha moment" is truth. I turn this "aha moment" to you, 'Not Selfish,' and hope you experience the acknowledgment because I know everything you do and sacrifice and endure for the sake of your children and your family every waking and non waking moment of your life.

Ten years of your life have been devoted to your children - including your husband/man-child who chooses to not lift a finger and has nothing but expectation in your partnership. You made a choice for yourself that I am sure you felt was selfish - and I assure you it was not selfish. Every single man and woman deserves to have something that is his/her own. When each woman or man decides to be a stay-at-home parent, we each sacrifice career potential that non-stay-at-home parents ever have to make. We put ourselves at a long term disadvantage in a job market that is frightening enough when one has a proven and consistent track record, and then have to figure out how to explain the "gap" in our resumes if we choose to return to work. "Gap": because what we do as stay-at-home parents is not "work." I hope this misconception is changed in our society and within my lifetime.

You could take this 'trial run' of your return to work and come to more than once conclusion: you can consider yourself a failure for having had the nerve to find something that doesn't feel like work, that is yours, that has respect and eventual benefits, at the cost of your entire family falling apart - and with the "second shift" of responsibilities waiting for you upon your return home at night; or, you can realize that it was not YOU who failed or dropped the ball - rather, it was your man-child husband and your old-enough-to-do-better children who contributed to the 'mess' you returned to when your child became ill and you returned home.

My advice, 'Not Selfish', is to proceed with getting back to your career as soon as possible, and make it clear to your family that you learned a thing or two from the "trial run." Man-child/husband will now put in 50% of the domestic responsibilities and start making sure homework is done, half the meals for the week are cooked, half the shopping is done, half the laundry is done, the house is cleaned half the time, and so on. If he says to you that you "make less than him" or that those menial tasks are "a woman's responsibility," tell him to hire a cook, a maid, a chauffeur, a laundry service, a babysitting service, a personal shopper, a C.N.A., a tutor, and a household manager. Let him know you will contribute your half to all these responsibilities, so he can take money from his salary to hire this help to cover his share. I would then open a bank account, and start depositing all paychecks there, with yourself as the sole authorized user. When he comes back at you with "I'm not doing that - it is your job (as I'm sure he will)," advise him that is fine, but since you are continuing the role of a stay-at-home parent, you will no longer be contributing to your household from your salary. The money in your account is now yours.

I am hopeful that if you try these tactics, he may see that he is being unreasonable and start to pitch in equally. You are both entitled to the same rights/privileges so long as you are contributing equally to the same roles and responsibilities. It is my very firm belief that whether you contribute to your family as a stay-at-home parent, or as a salaried professional - all the money earned is owned equally by both contributing spouses. I hope you can come to a middle ground where everything gets shared equally - both the benefits and the responsibilities. You need to stick to your guns on this, 'Not Selfish', because you are NOT selfish for wanting something that is yours.

I would also advise your children that "fun time" is over, and that you are running a tight ship in which there will be very direct consequences to their actions, whether you are home working, or outside the home working. I hope that the trouble maker has had some type of consequence for his behavior (and if he is old enough to get in that much trouble, he is old enough to be on permanent bathroom duty - including rubber-gloved-scrub-by-hand toilet duty). 

You have given a great gift to your children. Even if they are under ten, they are old enough now to contribute to making your household run efficiently. It takes a village, and in this regard, it takes your village to ensure you can have the career you so desperately crave and deserve, and the family can run like a well-oiled machine. The responsibility falls to every single member of your family.

I also suggest you work a set number of hours and not be the go-to for picking up needed shifts. You have to sacrifice as well, 'Not Selfish', and I think you have admitted to taking on that extra time as more of avoidance than in a career-needed, or financially-driven decision. You and your family need to have a conversation, stat!

I wish you luck and hope you decide to return to work and take the advice I have given. I do not believe this is going to be a smooth or easy transition, but it is worth you standing up for yourself and having the inevitable conflicts to come to a mutually beneficial place for all of you. Some may argue this is advising you to play a 'game' - and this is true. I am advising you to play a game that goes against a game that has been played for generations before us so we can do better for ourselves and to make the tomorrows to come for our sons and daughters more equal, prosperous, and fulfilling for EVERYONE. Good thoughts and energy to you and your family, and please keep us updated.

I understand that traditionally men have had the freedom to completely shirk their responsibilities at home, as parents, as spouses. I believe this "trend" of the 'traditional marriage enterprise' is changing and morphing - and many are idealizing the concept of the 'egalitarian marriage enterprise'. I understand, certainly as a stay-at-home parent, that domestic and provisional responsibility falls to both parents (and while historically I have been more in the supportive role of my wife's professional successes, I always contributed provisionally as well). What is the complexity (aside from hundreds of years of tradition) in realizing that if one gives more, one gets more and that marriage, parenting, and family should be a 50/50 partnership?

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