with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
There’s been a lot of talk lately in politics and sociology about choices, particularly when it comes to mothers and whether or not they “work.” I use quotation marks because—as we all know—most mothers, most parents, work pretty darn hard, whether they have jobs outside of the home or not. Not that there aren’t exceptions, but stay-at-home vs. work-outside-the-home vs. work-at-home… they’re all just different flavors of people doing their best to make the right choices for their particular family.
I chose the graphic here because it makes me laugh, that “oh how true” kind of laugh. There’s easy, and then there’s life. I don’t think many people have a truly easy life. I think we’re far too quick to judge and dimiss others’ choices as being wrong or too easy, in all sorts of ways.
My goal today isn’t to weigh in on the so-called “mommy wars” or get into politics. I just got to thinking about my own life, my own choices, and how—just like the picture—there’s easy, and then there’s life. You make the best choices you can, and you hope they work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they work until they don’t.
I went to college. I went to grad school. I worked at one job, then another. I had my first baby, took the maximum maternity leave available to me, and then returned to work at half-time, because I couldn’t see working full-time anymore, and I had the luxury of a working spouse and a situation where we could afford for me not to.
I had my second baby, took the maximum maternity leave available to me, and then returned to work at half-time again. After six months, my husband got a new job and a pay bump, and we decided that it was time to 1) move closer to his work and 2) have me stop working for a while.
Was there ever a time I found stay-at-home-motherhood tedious or unfulfilling? More than once. But for the most part I loved it, and I always felt very fortunate to have staying home with my babies as a viable option.
A few years later, my marriage had fallen apart, I was now divorced, with two young kids, living a hefty commute away from any possible jobs in my old field, and with a big gap in my resume that made most HR departments pass me over, anyway. I worked a series of terrible not-my-field jobs—because I had to find the best compromise between “taking care of my kids” and “being able to afford to feed my kids”—before finally deciding to give freelancing a shot.
I’ve been incredibly lucky. My ex-husband makes a good living and has always paid child support. I’m very frugal. And while I’ve been savvy about the choices I made in starting my own business, I’ve been lucky there, too.
Now I’m remarried, and my husband works a “regular” job that affords us all of my favorite perks like subsidized health insurance. The first few years of our marriage, my business was booming, I was grateful for the flexibility it gave me to be there for my kids—particularly my autistic son—and I knew I’d had a hand in arriving where I was, sure, but I mostly just felt lucky.
This year, people started talking about choice, about women “too selfish” to stay home, about women “too lazy” to work, and I couldn’t look away. Not because of the wild accusations flying on both sides of the debate, but because of the sheer numbers of people who seem unable to wrap their brains around the element of chance.
This year, I went from having one special-needs kid to two. This year I thought I was going to lose my daughter, and spent a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out how I could continue to breathe if that happened. This year, the fact that the university which employs my husband had to forego raises for the faculty for the fourth year in a row felt scary rather than just annoying… because this year, I’m finding out that a business takes years to build, but can start falling apart in pretty short order.
This year—now that things are “stable” again, though that’s a whole sort of new normal and a different story altogether—I recently calculated that I spend an average of eighteen hours a week schlepping children to and from school and doctors’ appointments. That doesn’t count the hours spent doing things like helping with homework or managing extracurriculars or, say, taking care of everything else in life.
This year, people arguing about choices make me roll my eyes. If I had a “regular” job I would’ve been fired by now; my children’s needs at this point are not compatible with full-time employment, period. And yet, as a freelancer, when I don’t work I don’t get paid. So I haven’t been working as much, and I haven’t been being paid as much. That sucks, but I also realize that for every hour my husband and I discuss how to continue making ends meet in our new financial reality, we are still among the lucky ones. We’re not going to lose our house or starve. We’ll figure it out, and get by.
Sometimes we make choices, and sometimes choices make us. If I’ve learned anything this last year, it’s that arguing what’s “best” is ridiculous. One, you can’t know someone else’s life, not really. And two, there’s too much that’s out of our control, too much that can change in an instant.
The truth is that I haven’t been feeling terribly lucky, lately. But then I think about some of the alternatives, and I remember that I still am… choices I’ve made, choices thrust upon me, and all.
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