Whew! Let it be known this is not a typical Monday for me. Usually the husband and I spend one day of the weekend doing all of the household chores together, dividing it all more or less in half. However, as this funky economy and our current life would have it, our personal labor situations have changed, with the husband picking up an extra job on the side and my own part-time work coming to an end for the moment. With him working twice as hard outside the home, I feel it is my duty to work twice as hard inside the home, taking on all (or almost all) "home engineer" responsibilities (cooking, cleaning, erranding), so that we regain the large part of our weekends to connect as a family and rest. We had this kind of "normal" weekend this weekend, and it was truly glorious. I'll gladly shoulder a bit more housework on a Monday or a Friday if it gains us the kind of deeply replenishing weekends we need.
Why am I telling you all of this? As I went about my morning, I was deep in thought about my station in life at the moment. With my contract work, my sister's wedding and this busy summer now over, this is the first time in a long time I have had to exhale and reflect. And for the first time since my son was born, my only duty is to care for him and run our household. Concurrently, a hot topic thread has popped up on the local mom's listserve I subscribe to; called "The Grass is Greener", this thread has turned into a really interesting dialogue between stay-at-home, work-at-home and work-outside-the-home moms about how we've come to these decisions in our life and all the complex emotions around them. I live in a very diverse community where moms post to the list about topics ranging from complaining about their maids to wondering when their food stamps will expire, so you can imagine the crazy collage of thoughts and experiences on this topic.
Coming to this station in life and perusing this thread on the listserve, I've become really pensive about my choices, as they are. We fully thought that I would continue on in full-time employment when we moved here, and in many ways our life would be a lot easier if I had been able to land the hot city job we both thought I'd find. My job hunt here was tough, however, and the cost of childcare in the city astounding. By default, I've ended up on the home front. However, I gain a deep and abiding sense of peace in being home with my son, and am happy in many ways that things have shaken out this way. It's hard for me to admit that, because I feel guilty (that I should want to work and somehow be working outside of the home) and freaked out (that time out of the workforce will make it very difficult to return and greatly diminish my earning potential), while feeling simultaneously relieved and incredibly overjoyed to not be in the work and daycare slog right now and to have these precious days with my son. At the same time, I constantly feel that I should be on the hunt for that elusive part-time, work-at-home, flex-hours job that every mom dreams of; and I am... I hope to spend this fall deepening my writing practice and hopefully finding ways to make it more lucrative, and I've applied for some of these dreamy positions, but they are few and far between to find on the job boards.
An interesting sub-topic within this Grass is Greener discussion has been if a SAHM can be a feminist. Interesting, that. The husband and I were both raised by rabid feminists; one of whom was a working mom throughout her kids' childhoods, and one of whom stayed at home for eighteen years before returning to the workforce. We're both heavily influenced by their decisions in so many different ways. I think of myself as a feminist, but at the same time, I do make my husband a lunch every day. Are these two things mutually exclusive? I make his sandwich while he walks the dog, a chore I'm grateful he takes over, as the dog-pulling kills my back and the pre-caffeine poop-scooping is not for the faint of heart. We're on a budget, and me throwing some turkey between two slices of wheat while my coffee brews saves us up to $50 a week on lunches bought out. So, there you have division of labor, there you have a wife with an eye to the bottom line, yet somehow I am embarrassed to admit to you that I do this small housewife-y thing each morning. Sometimes it feels like every decision within my life as a SAHM is so loaded, it can be paralyzing.
What's shaking out of both this listserve discussion and my own thoughts on the matter is how important it is to stand by the decisions that feel right to you. For me, right now, it feels right to be home and right to take on the responsibilities of running our home. It feels right to use this time to try and tease out what I want next in my career and try to push progress along in whatever incremental steps I can manage. It feels right to make my husband a sandwich. The thing of it is to somehow keep everything in balance. To find time to nurture my child and my marriage, and also my professional aspirations, my physical self (see: four mile run squeezed into this manic Monday morning) and my friendships. Most days, at least one of these things has got to give, and it is damn near impossible to prioritize what should go first.
I think the best thing we can do for each other as modern moms, modern women and modern feminists is to keep talking about these pressures and choices as openly as possible, and to not judge anyone on how they choose to execute their own particular brand of life. I take so much solace in the community of moms in my life and in the diversity of our experiences. I'm also interested in how the division of labor shakes out in homes without children. These are loaded topics and the more we share of them, the less fearsome they become.
For me, for now, the boy is waking from his nap and I could use a cup of tea.
Tell me, what does your balance look like?