Two projects, actually. They aren’t fulltime and they don’t take me out of my son’s playroom-home office very often. But for the first time since our son Will was born, I’m once again accountable to people who do not routinely throw spaghetti on the floor.
I love being home with our son. I love trips to the playground and post-nap snuggles. I love not having to schedule our daily explorations of Delhi around a 40-hour workweek. Having done two overseas moves now, I see the value in having one parent 100% available at home–at least for the first few months–to deal with all of the challenging transitions involved.
When my husband and I decided nearly 18 months ago that I would stay home to raise our son, I thought that decision hinged simply on whether I wanted to and whether we could afford it. I didn’t realize then that it was possible to be blissfully happy as a stay-at-home-Mama and yet so darn conflicted about it at the same time.
Parenthood is hard work whether you are staying home, going to an office or any combination thereof. And I’ve increasingly begun to wonder, just because I’m able to opt out of the workforce and stay home fulltime, does that really mean I should?
Will the love, attention and education my son receives from me all day make up for the fact that we’re not modeling for him the kinds of gender progressive norms we ourselves value? In this economy, is it reckless for me to assume that I can re-enter the workforce whenever I want or need to? And how much should it count that I simply feel I have more to give?
I posed this conundrum to the readers of my blog a few weeks ago and their feedback was immediate, heart-felt, and fascinating.
A commenter from Australia shared that most of her Mom friends felt ready to return to the office after their 12-month maternity leaves; whereas American moms used words like “brutal” to describe their traumatized return to the office after only 8 or 12 weeks at home with their firstborn. They lamented missed milestones and mixed feelings of reassurance and jealousy as they watched their children bond with other caregivers.
Stay-at-home-Mamas wrote that they loved their SAHM job, but still felt discomfited not contributing to family finances and worried about professional atrophy. One woman, who became a SAHM later in her children’s lives, said she and her husband missed truly co-parenting and the quality time the kids once enjoyed 1-on-1 with Dad while she was at work.
The seemingly happiest mothers reported staying home full-time but also maintaining a few job-like commitments on the side. Several of these women write for this very website, while others run modest catering operations or do pro bono work with local NGOs. Though they describe themselves as SAHMs, that identity perhaps better describes how they prioritize their workload rather than the extent of their day-to-day activities.
Women wrote that, in an ideal world, they would like to utilize their professional experiences and advanced degrees through meaningful work—but on a part-time basis. If only those sorts of jobs were the norm. As one reader wrote, “there is no such thing as a part-time diplomat.”
Reflecting on these perspectives, I feel so grateful to be living somewhere I am legally allowed to work but, thankfully, do not urgently require a fulltime paycheck. As such, I agreed recently to take on two small, mostly pro bono, projects. Both of these commitments allow me to brush up on old skills and learn some new ones while still remaining Will’s primary caregiver all day.
Now I’m juggling deadlines during naptime and writing copy and reviewing design portfolios after my son goes to sleep at night. Once every two weeks I leave my son with a babysitter to travel out to the Indian countryside where I’m working with an organization that employs former rag pickers making beautiful home goods out of factory waste.
In the brief period of calm we are currently enjoying, between international moves and growing our family again, this arrangement works for us. As long as I have the time and energy, it feels really good to be updating my resume and modeling for our son, as young as he is, the kind of co-working, co-parenting teamwork we’d always envisioned for our family.
Working from home as a SAHM isn’t always easy, but really, what version of motherhood is? For now, while I can, I’ll trade a little sleep and a fulltime paycheck for the thrill of new professional challenges and the priceless pleasure of getting to spend all of my days in the company of our son.
This post is by Danielle Dumm, a traveling, writing, shutterbug Mama for whom home is wherever her husband and son are–currently New Delhi, India. When not working from home, taking her son for early morning walks through Old Delhi, making a mess in the kitchen, or hanging out at the park, you can find her at http://hotpotdc.wordpress.com.
Photo credit to the author.