Oh brother, how many times have I been asked this question as I’m catching up with an old friend or meeting someone new: “So are you working?” Or “Do you work?”
And in a not-so-proud tone, my response was always, “Well, I was working a while back, but now I stay home with the kids.”
Now, you know what they really mean. They mean a “real job.” Like, you know, one that you leave home and go do, then come back home after that job is over. Nine out of ten times, the usual, most common response to my answer of “No,” is a look of either disguised disappointment or disdain, as if I did something wrong and they are superior, but they just don’t want to say it; or their response is, “I wish I could stay home with my kids.” Funny thing is, this reaction is only common from people in my generation or younger. There’s a much different response from the older generation. “Oh, good for you!” they smile.
Before we go any further, I want to assure you that this is not a “Glorified Homemaker” blog post. Remember, I once worked at a “real job,” so I do have a voice for both sides of this equation.
Let’s first think about what has changed between these generations that gives two different responses. Married women with kids just didn’t work back in the “old days,” unless they absolutely had to in order to survive. They stayed home and did the “womanly” duties of housework, child-bearing and rearing, and making sure everyone was in line and the house was neat and dinner was cooked. She washed clothes on a washboard and hung to dry. She cooked mostly from scratch, and eating out was a special occasion. They ate dinner together at the table as a family every night, and the kids were not allowed to freely raid the pantry before and after dinner. She tried to be a Proverbs 31 woman. She woke up before the sun and went to bed after the sun. The phrase, “a man works from dusk til dawn, but a woman’s work is never done,” came from the days of old. There was also no cable bill, cell phone bill, or internet bill to pay. And if you wanted to “keep up with the Jones,” you had to physically go over to their house to see the car they bought or the nice house they had because it wasn’t posted on Facebook.
But those days are gone, well, for most. Since the women’s rights movements, women are now free to do pretty much whatever they want. They are now CEOs of major companies, doctors, lawyers, you name it. There are many pros and cons to the women’s rights movements, but I’ll just stick to my story. Because women’s rights were enforced before I was born, I grew up knowing that I could do and be whatever I wanted to be and that nothing could stop me. All I thought about in my last years of high school was going to college to get a degree in something, and I was going to be something great. That’s just what women do now, right? We graduate high school, go to college, and have a career. I’m a go-getter, and I put forth my best at whatever I do. I am strong-willed, and my dreams of a great career were no different.
I never once thought about marriage, nor having kids for that matter. Then, about a year or two into college, I began dating the love of my life. Even after marriage, I was very career-minded (and still am) and thought that maybe one day in the very far future that we would think about having kids, but right now I was focused on my career. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina passed through the year after we were married and destroyed my college (private college at that), and I wasn’t sure if it would re-open. So with three months left to the program, I found out that the college would not re-open, and I would no longer be able to attend. Even though I was sailing with a 4.0, my full credits would only transfer to another college just like it, but it was two and a half hours away from home. That commute was not very appetizing, nor affordable.
Within those next few months after Katrina, since I obviously did not know my body very well and how things really worked in the woman’s fertility cycle (oops!), we became pregnant. Yes, pregnant! My 22-year-old brain didn’t even think that I could possibly get pregnant if I wasn’t ready for kids, you know?! That was the farthest thing from my mind! But rest assured, a few hours after the news settled, I was a happy mom-to-be. I grew up in a home that taught me to deal with whatever was dealt to me, and this was no exception.
Not knowing how in the world we were going to even pay for a kid or do this child-raising thing, I was so unprepared. But the day my first child was born, I’ll never forget that love at first sight. It’s an unforgettable emotion that takes over your entire being as if nothing else matters anymore. It wasn’t until then, that I knew the capacity of love in my heart.
On the contrary, I had no clue what I was doing! Now that I look back, I think I deserve the “Most Improved” award! Seriously. I had never even babysat a baby (that I remember, anyway), much less know how to take care of one 24/7! From not knowing how often to change a pee diaper and thinking my child was just “sweating,” to feeling the most exhausted I’ve ever felt in my entire life, at times I thought I would just never get out of bed. Then, on top of that, I chose to breastfeed. Lord help me.
Since we “thought” we needed to buy a new house because we didn’t have enough room in our two-bedroom apartment, our first brand new house was built in a brand new neighborhood. I’m a worker at heart, and I knew we needed more money for our savings at this time, so when my son was three months old I went back to work. One thing is for sure – I’ve never had a problem finding a decent job, and I’ve never been scared of work. So naive though, I never even thought about child care or what to do with my kid when I would work. Thank God my wonderful mother-in-law helped out with that.
Not long after, I was offered a full-time graphic design position at a major oilfield contractor company and couldn’t be more excited! It was an hour drive from my home, but I was even raking in $4 more per hour than my hard-working hubby (he out did me on the hours of course). He was always the bread-winner, and there’s no competition, believe me. He worked crazy, on-demand hours at all hours of the day, including middle of the night. He also worked offshore (which is down-south talk for working on an oil company platform or oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and spending the night, or two or three or four or five or six nights, or whenever they can communicate the right tools for the right job so you can do the job they sent you out there for. Then you wait for a helicopter to bring you back in, only to find out that you have to go back offshore the next day and only God knows when you will come back). This is the beauty of offshore work. Anything could affect your arrival home – weather, someone not getting the right email, mis-communication, etc. If you are not used to working offshore, these things can bother you, but it is very normal around here. It can throw a wrench in your family plans, so you definitely get used to that happening as well. But on the flip side, oilfield work down here is what keeps the south employed so well and keeps the economy down here so strong. We couldn’t be more thankful for a good job. Therefore, I could not depend on the hubs to be home all the time, and I did most of everything at home.
I was just living day to day, never thinking about the future and never really thinking about anything except how to live at that moment. We had a great combined income for our age. We were sailing. We could do pretty much anything we wanted, well almost. We had nice cars, a motorcycle, a nice house, and took nice out-of-town trips at only 23-24 years of age. I know my parents didn’t have this kind of life at our age. Many of our friends didn’t either. Then, the unexpected happened.
Remember that “love at first sight” I talked about when I had my first child? Yeah, that came back to bite me with the teeth of a shark. It ripped my heart wide open. Although this great life of opportunity had started for us with my new, great-paying job, we thought we were so happy. But as the saying goes: money doesn’t buy happiness. The first year of me working outside the home was all adrenaline. I was doing what I’ve always thought I’d do. I was loving it, and I was loving the extra money – keyword: was.
Call me crazy, call me weird, and call me what you please. I was waiting for that “feeling” of wanting to be home taking care of my baby to just go away. I was just waiting. There’s more to this story, some of which is a blur, but I put my son in daycare when he was about one and a half. After a year and a half of dropping him off at daycare at 6 am, and driving an hour to and from work, then picking him up again in the evening, most days felt like I was a single mom – but I wasn’t. Then, after getting home in the evenings I was still responsible for all the cleaning, cooking, etc. and had very little help. Yes, I have family, but my mom lives in the next state, and most of my close family works full-time. If I had to do this so that we could eat and pay our basic bills, there was no argument about it, I’d suck it up and march forward. Some people don’t have a choice (like they can’t even feed the family if mom didn’t work), but I had a choice.
I began to question: What was I working for? (And being so stressed for?) There was an aggravation that was growing inside of me, and I began to look at all our unnecessary “material” possessions we had acquired. Most of these nice, big possessions had debt attached to it. Those are the “bills” we were paying, that if I quit my job, we would no longer be able to afford, with no wiggle room in our budget. I was angry. I wasn’t working so that we could afford to pay basic necessities, I was working so we could have the extra stuff, extra trips, and extra eating out, while someone else had my baby all day.
How did we even get here? I was beginning to view our “stuff” as a roadblock to our happiness, and I began to hate it all. There was one problem though. Many of these debt-acquired possessions were my husband’s (and no, not all his fault). So I began putting things in his ear about how we should get rid of some of these things so I could stay home. Needless to say, it didn’t go very well, at first. For God’s sake, We had four vehicles! One of which was a free company vehicle! Who needs four vehicles for a family of three?!? I think we got here by just not being very mindful of our future. I don’t think we gave it even one little thought. Young people, sheeesh. Just don’t wait til you’re fifty to start thinking about your future. It’s never too late, but it’s better to start early.
In the meantime of praying and searching for answers about what I should do about this whole ordeal of me wanting to be the sole caregiver of my child, I began to sink into a depression coupled with major anxiety. Our marriage also began to suffer. With my husband always gone, and me knowing there was a way out of this craziness but couldn’t find the escape door, I began to seek God even more.
There was a women’s conference being held in Atlanta, and I just felt like I needed to go for some reason. I never really felt like that about a conference. After mentioning it to my husband, he did not want me to go. I also knew we couldn’t afford the extra expense, so two of my friends and I prepared meals to raise money for our trip. I laugh about it now, but since money was so tight, during the trip, I ordered soup every time we went eat out because it was cheap. I had no idea I had to buy my own food! For some reason I thought it was included with the conference costs. Oh, boy.
One night into the conference, there was a guest speaker, Chonda Pierce. She is a comedian, and at the end of her stand-up, she tells her personal testimony and shares her struggle with, you guessed it, depression. Whaaaattt?!?! I was sitting there so uncomfortable, yet so moved by her story. Then, she asks everyone who can relate to her story and may be struggling with depression/anxiety to take a stand in front of everyone by standing up so they could all pray for you! As I sat there sobbing, I was probably the last one to stand up, and I did. Then I thought, “Great… Now everyone knows!”
Most of the time, getting past our struggles includes swallowing our pride. Then, Chonda asked everyone near the person standing to put their hand on them to pray for them, and they all prayed together. I didn’t know it then, but not long after that, I slowly began to heal.
In church one Sunday, my pastor shared a word with me, something like this, “I see an anvil on top of you (you know like those big cartoon anvils?)…..and it’s about the size of this church. It’s big. And it’s about to be lifted off of your shoulders…” He had no clue what that meant, but I knew what it meant. He then preached a message, and I felt like he was talking directly to me and telling me what I needed to do! Yet, he had no clue what was going on in my life.
So not long after all that, I had enough confidence to put in my two weeks notice at work and trusted that God would do the rest. And He did. It wasn’t easy by a long shot, but learning what I’ve learned and how we got to where we are today, I’m glad I endured the pain of change. We eventually traded in two vehicles for one, sold the motorcycle, and slowly started to reduce our spending. We also took the challenge of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and totally transformed our life. That’s a whole different story in itself. We learned that a happy and content home was more important than an “abundant” home filled with extra “stuff” where the people were stressed and unhappy on the inside and looked happy on the outside. Eventually that lifestyle will destroy you and everyone around you. We now refuse to overextend ourselves beyond our capacity just to have extra nice things to show off to our friends. And please don’t take that the wrong way – there is nothing wrong with nice stuff. But if your family is falling apart while you’re chasing “stuff” and money, it’s not worth it. Not one cent worth it.
Don’t overwork yourself your whole life, as your family passes you by, and then end up with nothing.
You never know what someone has been through to get to where they are today. Six years later, after quite a journey, reading several books and seeking counsel from others, sickness and health, struggles and failures, our family of now five couldn’t be more tightly knit. The things I post on Facebook and the photos I post are real photos of us being happy (not perfect, but truly happy). Behind those photos are content people who could care less about what everyone thinks. After almost 12 years of marriage, my husband and I are in love more now than when we first met, and he and I are definitely not the same people we were back then. Thank God. Thank God for His grace and mercy, because without it, I don’t know where we would be today.
I’ve thought many times about where our life would be today if I hadn’t done what I knew I needed to do at the time about my job. I think my husband and I may have been divorced – and if not divorced, then we may have hit some kind of major rough patch way worse than it already was (and believe me, we’ve had some rough patches). And then, no telling how much pressure that would have put on the kids (who probably would have ended up with depression and counseling as well).
So now, when some other woman asks me if I “work,” I proudly say, “Yes. I work at home.”
I’ve been there, done that, and I’m not a nobody. I’m a somebody who chose this life above all my dreams of having a successful career (for now), and I’m definitely not trying to look like a somebody that really wasn’t. I’m not better than you, and you’re not better than me, just because I choose to stay home and you choose to work. You’re still awesome no matter what. You’re awesome if you work outside the home, and you’re awesome if you stay at home. I work hard at home, and I don’t get bored. As a matter of fact, I work harder now than I did when I had a full-time job. Only now, my work is more fulfilling to me, and I don’t fall asleep on the way home from an hour commute! Do I still desire to work outside the home? Of course I do! Things can get very overwhelming at times, and I wish that I could just drift off to another place besides home in order to work. I have always been career-minded and love to work. But, I also know what will happen if I try to do that again away from home, full-time. I’ll just be miserable, wishing I was home taking care of my children. I know that soon, this season will pass by, and I’ll only be wishing I could get it back. Therefore, I should embrace it.
I actually started my own art business years ago, working part-time for now. And this is only because I love to work. So, I’ve found a way to balance both a home life and a work life. Just don’t believe the illusion that it’s always perfectly “balanced.” As a matter of fact, I will not be accepting any orders or appointments for a while, as I am stepping back and taking some time off to focus on my family.
I try to provide a home where my husband feels wanted, meals are made from scratch, eating out is a rare treat, we eat together at the table every night, we are not rushed and stressed all the time, there is little argumentation, and there is little TV time. We try to keep it as “old school” as possible in this new school world (the reason for this blog in its entirety). We spend more time with each other, rather than with everyone else. Extra-curricular activities and running around is kept to a minimum, which helps us keep our sanity. A simpler life is so much more enjoyable and rewarding to us. Our life is far from perfection, but it is much closer to joyful. Find what’s enjoyable to you and what keeps you sane.
There is no key to happiness. The door is always open.
Lastly, it’s absolutely absurd to believe that another mom’s life isn’t as busy or complicated as yours. Just because you work outside the home doesn’t make you better or worse. And just because you stay home doesn’t make you better or worse. So what if Suzy has a successful career and two kids who are honor students and star athletes. Be happy for her and encourage her just as much as you would the next person.
We are called to encourage one another, not bring them down. The last thing a mom needs to hear is your opinion of how she is ruining her family’s life by working or not working outside the home (unless she asks for your advice :)). For me personally, working outside the home for a length of time just didn’t work out. Some people are happy that way, and somehow they make it work. Recently, a mom who now has an adult child told me, “I’m glad I stuck it out and continued to work because now I’m reaping the benefits of retirement.” Obviously, she is referring to financial reasons. I think that’s great. Good for her. That’s what was important to them at that time. For us though, we once had it all (financially), and we were miserable. It’s also possible that we were just too immature to handle it all at that time. But now, after climbing out of the valley, and no longer caring about material possessions as we once did, God has blessed us so much more with everything would could ever want and need.
We have recently purchased our dream home, and we are still finding ways to save and invest on one income by living on less than we make. Sure, it would be nice to have an extra income to have lots of extra stuff, but I’m not racing to the finish line to see who gets the nicest vehicle, clothing, or vacation. We have chosen to live a debt-free lifestyle that keeps us sane and content. It is possible.
Find your purpose and your fulfillment, not what someone else thinks you should do, and not just because someone else is doing it.
Have confidence in what you do now, not what you were doing. Have confidence in who you are now and who you have become or are becoming, not who you were. Remember that living in contentment is the most happy you will ever be. Some things are only seasons, and we must embrace them or they will become a thorn in our side.
I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Welll written!