April 21, 2007

Stay at Home? Watch Your Kids?

My sister called yesterday to tell me about her meeting. An old colleague had called earlier in the week, asking if she would come back to work and fill his spot, as he was taking another job. She has been home with her kids since her first was born, worked out of the house a little too. She'd like to work some again, and they could use the money, but she doesn't know how she'd balance home and kids and work. She's worried about what they'll do after school, where they'll go in the summer, how they'll deal with her being gone from the home.

She nonchalantly brought it up with her daughter one evening when they were getting ready for bed. She began relaying the story to me over the phone and interjected breathlessly, "I can't even say this without crying." She told her 8 year old that someone had called her and asked her to come work again and that she was going to meet with him to find out about it. Her daughter asked reflexively, "Who will be here when I come home from school? I like it when I can see you after school. Where would I go?" As if this stream of consciousness had quickly swept her mind into rougher waters, she continued on with more concern growing on her face. "What about Veronica? [Who lives down the street with only her father.] If her dad dies, will we take her and let her live with us? Could we take care of her? And Katelyn. What if her parents died? Would we take her?" My sister reassured her. "If anything happened to their parents and they needed someone to care for them, we would surely take them to live with us."

This whole interchange broke my sister's heart. She wants to be a mom who receives her children after school and participates in their nurturing at that time. She knows they have needs, seek comfort, have excitements, new discoveries and problems to discuss at 3:05, that are fresh on their minds. But she added, as if hearing an opposing voice to her concerns, "What's the difference? All they want to do is go to other children's homes to play anyway." That is all that kids want to do, it seems. But then where are the adults at that other child's home? Who's watching them? Another mom who wants to be there for the same reasons.

All this is swimming around in my head right now for a few reasons. One, I've been looking at my life lately, listening to my rhythms and feeling my promptings and wondering if I should find some work inside or outside the home in one respect or another. Two, I've been weighing the pros and cons of sending the two younger ones to school next year, for various reasons. And three, I might be the one who'd take my niece and nephew if my sister goes back to work. At least some of the time. How would that affect my role with my kids and their home life? Do I want to lose some of my freedom and commit to that?

To tell the truth, at first glance, the idea makes me draw back a bit in wariness. When I was a new mom who had chosen to stay home with my child, I quickly noticed an alarming dynamic. When some working moms spot a stay-at-home mom in the vicinity, they have a way of assuming that since you're not doing anything, why wouldn't you be able to fill a need - my need - and support me in my endeavors by caring for my kids!? It seems like a no-brainer to them: they have to be somewhere + obviously I don't have anything real important to do = I inherit the job of raising their kid during the day! Ta da! They all seemed very good at simple math. I resisted each and every time, torn between wanting to be a help to the mom and a warm loving place for the kid and carrying on with my own plan, what I knew I could handle adequately. Sure I watched kids from time to time, like any mother worth her salt would do. We are sisters and should be a network of support and I am more than happy to step in when there's a need, but my kids have needs too. My family has needs and goals too. And I didn't chose to open a daycare center. I chose to raise my children and tend to my family and home and husband as my primary job. And the heads of these working moms cocked to one side and wondered what in the world would ail a person like that. Anyway, they have to be at work Monday at 9 - soooo what's it gonna be!? I always sort of felt like a heel telling women I wasn't interested in taking their money and their child all day every day but the weekends. No thank you. Sometimes they were insulted and frustrated. A working mom next door to my sister hasn't talked to her since September when she asked my sister to drive her kids to school every day, which would entail dropping them off at her house for 45min every morning and walking her youngest daughter into the school. She didn't offer her money for it. Just, Can you do it? You're going there anyway. Wow, no thank you, I don't need or want added aggravation in my life from your life, believe it or not. Would you like some from mine? How about raking my yard or cleaning my oven? You're not busy on Sundays, right?

We stay at home moms have needs too, we're balancing things too. I never hear other people talking about this because frankly nobody really gives two shakes. They seem to think that if you're not employed or pulling in money from some source, then, well, you're probably not doing anything at all, really, so you don't count here in the real world. The needs of a SAHM don't involve money, but rather childhood and family, so they are not recognized in the official book of Urgency and Importance in the US of A, but I'm going to speak them now and whoever doesn't like it can cock their heads and scrunch up their noses.

Stay at home moms would love it if their child had a neighborhood full of children who mostly dwell at their own home with whom they could play and homes which they could visit by simply wandering down a few houses and knocking and having someone answer the door. Remember that? Stay at home moms are tired of orchestrating play dates, rides and other details with the one lone stay at home mom and her child who live across town. When I was little, I remember stepping out into my yard and attracting kids like magnets. You couldn't play alone when I was little, there were always three or four at your side and two others you had to fight off with wooden bats. (And no adults intervened either! We worked it out ourselves in our own little backyard worlds. Yes, sometimes there were stitches - and lessons learned too!) When I was two to five years old there was a troop of kids on my block of all ages and we hung out like sisters and brothers. I guess this dynamic is now played out in daycare centers and after school programs and nursery schools. Bummer.

Stay at home moms would love to have the company of other wonderful women in their pursuits. I have this fanciful dream of being friends with other moms in my neighborhood, of sharing my days with intelligent, grounded women. We could have coffee together before the day began, you know, sort of like meeting at the water cooler in an office. We could take our kids places together, we could hear each other's worries and pains, we have family barbeques, we could start homebased businesses, we could bake together...A girl can dream. We could give our children strong, relaxed foundations from which to spring forth - together, and as if we thought it was the most important thing in the world.

Stay at home moms would love to have support. We could watch each others' kids for each other. Women used to share in these duties at one time, didn't they? Not just give it to the one that looks like she probably has the least to do? Surely they did share in this, because it only makes sense. Hey, I need to run an errand, hey, I need to work on a project, hey, I need thirty minutes without my darling little so and so. And when you're banging your head against the wall next week, I'll take your darling little so and so! It's hard to do this job with little support or interest from others. There is a reason that women are thought to have breakdowns at midlife after staying home with their kids , and I bet that reason is loneliness and living in a culture that esteems money and power over nurturing. It's hard to do the thing that no one else seems to be doing or deeming as even remotely important.

It's true, I do have friends like this and I am so blessed. Honestly, I don't take advantage of their friendships as much as I should. Some of these friends are online friends. Somehow this fits into the modern lifestyle quite easily, and chatting with one or two for a few moments a morning is often preferable than driving and planning and arranging. It's just that since I'm home most of the time, I look around at all the empty houses in my neighborhood and wish the wonderful women who live in them would be available for a cup of coffee...or a chat over the fence once in a while.

So, will I care for my sister's kids when she goes to work? My decision gets down to a few things. Do I want to help nurture my niece and nephew and not make them stay after school in a babysitting program? Absolutely. Do I want to help my sister? Absolutely. Is it a good plan for my family, my aspirations, my goals? I'm not sure yet. Will I miss my sister's company and support? Yup.


rosemary said...

I have been in both places...at home and a working single mom. You sound like you have your priorities straight and will make the right decision in the end. There are a few pluses to being "elderly."

Paul said...

I vote that your sister turn down the job. After all, she was only asked to consider it, right? If her heart cries, it probably means it's not time to step outside the house for a little cash.

You've written a great article, but you don't have to help your sister, either. Maybe if you say "No" before she goes to check out the job, then...

I hear your heart cry, too. As a working man, I too infrequently see my neighbors. They're all running off on the weekends to golf, soccer, Little League, basketball...

Here's something I noticed about this era's working Mom's. They are all at the grocery store on Sunday afternoon and evenings. The joint is loaded with Mom's and cranky, tired kids. It's the last moment they have before the next round begins in the morning.


Paul said...

I notice that I now have to "log in" with word verification. I saw those spams and figured it was coming. Sorry.

Mrs. Guthrie said...

Wow... I can relate so much to both you and your sister. I've been in both positions - my heart crying because I wanted so desperately to be home with my kids and feeling so very frustrated because, well, duh! Of course I don't do anything when I stay home and keep up on housework and teach my kids and, and.... *sigh* So, here is another SAHM feeling your pain and sending a little e-support. :)

Kathy said...

I don't have children and I work outside my home, so I probably should shut up. BUT...I can't imagine having children and NOT being there with them when they are home.

My mom did it, but she had 5 kids, 3 of whom were perfectly capable of taking care of the rest of us by the time she was working. And, being the youngest, I felt like I missed out on a lot due to her working.

Anyway...I wonder all the time how people manage to raise their children when they work full time. It's more of a 'wow...they must be amazing!' kind of thing for me than a judgement. I just don't think I'd have the energy!

Kathy said...

OK...I just reread my post and see that it is confusing. What my mother did was work outside the home after I, the youngest of 5, started school. She got home in time to fix dinner but was so tired from her (factory) job that she often didn't eat with us. Sorry about the confusing segway, there.

MarlaQuack said...

Those are hard choices to make.

Marla- who will be looking for part time work very soon.

Pearl said...

I enjoyed you explaining that. I've never thought about what it's like when only a few moms are left being at-home moms. Important to think about how much one could do well.