Monthly Archives: June 2014

What no one told me about staying home

I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mom. Not because I didn’t think I’d be good at it, or didn’t like the idea of it, but because I never really thought about it. I just assumed I’d be successful in my career, and that equation didn’t involve wiping butts and refereeing fights over who gets the pink cup. I knew I wanted to have kids, but I guess it didn’t occur to me that by having them, I’d be forced to make a tough choice. You’d think that the tough choice would be to have the kids, but the tougher choice is to what to do about your career once you have them.

I went to (arguably) the best journalism school in the country and was minoring in biology. After my junior year I got married. During my senior year my husband got an opportunity to intern at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria. We jumped at that opportunity, and I also got an internship at the UN in public affairs. When we returned I interned at a PR firm and then worked diligently to get a job in Monsanto’s public affairs department. I loved it. I was working with brilliant people, surrounded by science I believed in and I was good at it. I’m certain I could have made a really good career there.

My husband got offered a job in a different city. For some reason, we thought that was a good time to have a baby. We’d been married five years and I was probably going to have to quit my job anyway when we moved. While my husband fully valued my career and my love for my job, it was a matter of numbers. Working in PR, I could never make what he could make. So we got pregnant, he took the job, I had the baby, I quit my job, and we moved. In one sweeping motion I became a stay-at-home mom.

Everyone was cheering for me: my family, my friends, my colleagues. Good for you! You’re doing the best for your baby! And I never really looked back. It seemed like the best thing at the time. I even remember thinking, no job could possibly be as important as raising kids.  We both knew that I would return to work. I was only 26 when June was born. In fact, my husband started pushing for us to have our second baby right away. He’s an eternal engineer: he reasoned that the longer we waited between babies, the longer it would be until I could return to work. So let’s do this, have number two so you can go back. And I was game for that. Staying at home was not all rainbows and butterflies. It was damn hard, and I couldn’t really say I loved it. Worth it? Yes. Mind-numbing and at times lonely and isolating? Yes.

Now I’m six years into it. My youngest is starting preschool three days a week next year. Yes, it’s time to go back and I am so ready! I can’t wait to use my brain again, bring home a real paycheck, have important stuff to do, talk to adults all day, eat lunch with people who don’t cry over the orientation of their chair. So I started looking, casually. You know, “I’m not going to just take any job, I have time to be picky.” Turns out, no. I don’t have the luxury to be picky. I assumed I could get a job easily despite the fact that I haven’t truly worked in six years. I thought I was being smart because I kept my toe in the water – I contracted for Monsanto on and off the whole time. I didn’t expect to be able to advance to the next career level, but I did expect to be able to get a job similar in experience to the one I left. So far, no dice. I’ve cast out a number of applications for jobs that I’m fully qualified for. I’ve had one interview for a job that I am probably over-qualified for. I can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly certain I didn’t get it because I’m a stay-at-home mom. One of the questions they asked me was why I wanted to return to work.

Am I not the same level of qualified that I was when I left the workplace? Do I not still have all the same skills I had, plus many new and valuable skills? I started reading up on SAHM’s returning to work and was floored to discover many women have extreme difficulty. They take jobs that are a step down and a pay cut. And they have to claw their way back in.

Shit, no one told me that when I decided to stay home. Granted, the recession tossed a wrench in the equation. I’m now competing with people who are unemployed, don’t have a six year gap in their resume and have all day to commit to job hunting and making themselves marketable. I’m just looking for a part-time job that will actually use my skills. Or even a full-time one.

I’m actually now a little afraid to keep looking. If I’m not actively looking, I can pretend that I haven’t made the decision to go back and I don’t have to face the rejection. I have a good friend who used to be a teacher before she decided to stay home. She tried to go back to work two school years ago and couldn’t get anything. The rejection prevented her from applying last school year. Now she’s trying again and running into a brick wall. That’s really hard on an already fragile sense of self-worth; doing laundry and making grilled cheese doesn’t exactly make her feel like she’s getting her time, energy and money’s worth out of her two masters degrees.

I can’t tell you the number of women I know recently who have started selling stuff (like make-up and candles) or who have gotten their real-estate license so they can go back to work. I refuse to do that. I already went to college and had a good career! I want back into that career, not into something I could have done straight out of high school.

Where was this advice when I decided to leave the workplace? Why didn’t anyone pull me aside and say: hey, what you’re doing is awesome, but just keep in mind it will be really hard to go back to work. Not because you’ll feel guilty, but because there is a stigma associated with stay-at-home moms.  There is an assumption that now you value family over work and you might leave again if you can’t hack it or if they need you at home. There is an un-spoken concern that in your years of breastfeeding and diaper changing you’ve lost your ability to get real tasks done. You’re really good at multi-tasking at home, but can you put together a press release? Can you interview a scientist without bringing up your kindergartner? Are you going to leave early for soccer practice? Will you embarrass us with your mom jeans?

If someone told me that would I have still stayed home? I’m not sure. I’m proud of the decision I made, hard as it was. Staying home was the right thing for our family, and I’m glad I did it – it’s important and truly fun and rewarding at times.  But I never anticipated wanting to go back to work and not being able to find a job. It’s one thing to be a stay-at-home mom because you chose to, but it’s another thing entirely to still be doing it because you can’t get out.

It’s too bad we don’t live in Sweden where parents can take up to 480 days leave with 80 percent of their salary. For now, I’ll just have to keep wiping butts and sending out resumes.

PS: I’m having serious issues figuring out how to make images look the way I want them to on WordPress, so until I figure it out, you’ll have to just read a bunch of text without pretty pictures. Sorry!

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Conversations In Real Life: Bears

We were out for dinner and I took July to the bathroom. As we walked in, I directed him to the largest stall.

July: No, Mommy, that one is for bears.

Me: What?

July: That one is where bears go potty.

Me: What?

July: See? It’s for bears. (He points to the picture of a koala bear on the stall door; the symbol that indicates there is a changing table inside that stall.)

Me: Oooooh. I see.

July: Yes, so let’s use this other one instead.

*  We wouldn’t want to offend the koala bears in the women’s bathroom. Makes perfect sense.

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Birthday Party Rant

happy birthday sign-1This summer my kids will turn six and four. We’ve never really done the huge birthday party thing for them (maybe because we’re cheap), but I’m beginning to think we’ll be facing a battle of epic proportions this time with our six-year-old. It’s on. She’s been invited to so many over-the-top birthday parties at bouncy houses, and without really thinking about what I was introducing her to, I let her go to all those parties.  Now it’s going to be a knock-down-drag-out fight to maintain our small party approach.  I’m dreading the whole thing, because my husband would sooner shoot himself in the foot than drop $300 – $400 on a six-year-old’s birthday party. Granted, you can spend $200 and get a smaller package, but still. $200?

What is it with kids’ birthday parties these days?! I feel like every other week we get an evite to someone’s birthday party. “You’re invited to celebrate with Sofia and 30 of her closest friends at Bouncy-House Playground Utopia!!” Don’t get me wrong – I love it that she’s included and kids like her. But, it just feels kind of empty. For exactly one-and-a-half hours on a Saturday afternoon our kids are shepherded through a well-oiled money-making machine: First have your parents sign this waiver saying you won’t sue us if you get hurt, then put your gift in this rolling tub (oh, no, Sofia isn’t going to open it here, she’ll open it at home where you’ll never even know if she got it) then go in here and frighten your parents while you bounce your face off for 30 minutes, then go in here to eat pizza, have cake, and sing. Finally: here’s a goody-bag full of stuff you can dump on the floor of the car on your way home, thanks for coming, bye! And usually at the end of it all, my daughter is all, “Whose birthday was that again? … Oh, Sofia? I didn’t even see her!”

birthday cupcake-1Look, I totally get it. I understand why parents do these kinds of parties (and to be perfectly honest, my kids have an absolute blast). This way you don’t have to clean your house, invite a bunch of rowdy kids over to make a mess and break your shit, and then clean it again. Plus, if your child’s birthday is in the winter, you’re stuck doing it inside so you either grin and bear it at your house, or pay up to do it somewhere else.  And if you’re willing to shell out the big bucks, you hardly have to do any work at all (and I love things that allow me to do less work). They provide the pizza, drinks, cake and goody bags. All you have to do is show up and cart the mountain of gifts home. Of course, you can buy a cheaper package and supply your own pizza, drinks, cake and goody bags… but then you have to buy those, too.

Let me also say that it’s important to do truly special things for your kids sometimes. It’s awesome to see them so excited; having a blast with their friends and feeling like it’s all about them for a day. I have really good friends who have hosted parties just like these and I don’t fault them for it. If you’re that friend, I’m not trying to insult you.  I do think there is value in going above and beyond occasionally just to make your kid feel loved.

So I understand the appeal, but come on, seriously? $400?? For that kind of money, I could take our whole family on a trip to Seattle, go to the aquarium for the day, go out to dinner and stay a night at a reasonably priced hotel.  I think that’s a much better birthday celebration and to top it all off, I won’t hate every minute of it. I’m sure you can think of a better way to spend money that isn’t mentally exhausting. Fly you and your kid to visit Grandma. Treat her to ballet lessons. Get a membership to the Children’s Museum.

cake-1Here’s the thing. There are 26 kids in my daughter’s kindergarten class. She’s only known these kids a few months. I don’t even know all their names. Why do we have to invite them all to her birthday party? And why do I have to give up 26 Saturday afternoons and buy 26 birthday presents just so we can do it all over again next year? Ok, probably not all 26 kids will do the bouncy house birthday parties or a party at all. But just assume half of them do it or something similar. That’s $5200 generated for some kind of Bouncy-House Playground Utopia. And that’s also $260 I’m going to have to spend on birthday presents (assuming I spend $20 per present). So add that to the $400 I could theoretically spend on her party and you’re at $660 I’m shelling out for a year of birthday-related fun. And let’s not forget that mountain of plastic presents that we bring home. That’s got to be worth at least two bottles of wine that I’ll drink to compensate for freaking out over not having enough space for all that crap. Plus, we have two kids, so that’s twice the cost!! What if we had four?! Aside from that being a thought that induces hyperventilation all on its own, that would be over $2,000 per year on birthday-related costs for the kids!

Let me just be the one to say it: I’m not doing it. Remember when you were growing up and you had a huge over-the-top birthday party? NO! You don’t, and neither do I, because it didn’t happen. Whatever happened to a few friends coming over for cake? I’m not saying you can’t do fun parties for your kids, you should, but they don’t have to cost $400, you don’t have to spend all month creating Pinterest-inspired party hats, and you don’t have to invite every kid in the class (not to mention neighbors and other kids you might know through work, friends and family). You just don’t have to. Last week my kids played for hours with Styrofoam blocks and cardboard pieces that came in a package. They don’t need a $400 birthday party to be happy.

first birthday-23I’m seriously not going to be offended if you don’t invite my kid. Because they both need to learn that they aren’t going to be best friends with every kid they meet, and that’s ok, that’s life. I want them to feel loved and included, and they can feel loved and included by going to three small parties instead of 20 huge parties. Elementary school life should not be weekend after weekend of parties, that’s what college is for.  If they’re having these huge parties at six, what are we doing when they graduate high school or get married? I am not renting out a palace when my daughter gets married because I have to top her sweet 16 party. I just can’t do it.

She’s going to hate me. But maybe someday she’ll respect me for it… right? Either way, if I’m spending $400, it’s not going to be on her birthday party. It’s going to be on 40 hours of baby-sitting.

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