Geez, I'd think. It's the 80s. Of course women are going to college and entering the work force.
It never failed to surprise me that people thought being a wife and homemaker was an option for me. I was going to work, period.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom when I was growing up. She worked in the summers when my father, a teacher, was on summer break. She went back to school to earn her Master's Degree when I was a tween, and she had started working as a teacher by the time I was in high school. Still, I chafed that people thought all I'd want to be was a housewife.
I started my working life while I was in high school, and I worked straight through into my adulthood, including while I was in college. When I had my son at the age of 30, I took six weeks off and then returned to work. My husband and I were able to re-arranged our schedules so Tanner received in-home care from a friend a few hours a day about three days per week. By the time he was 3, I worked most days of the week as a telecommuter, with occasional days spent at the office. I was fortunate I was able to do that, and it was something I continued into his teen years.
During that time, I defined myself as a "work-at-home" mom. I loved the ability to be there for all of my child's things while still working full time. I felt my job and my motherhood were the two things that really defined me.
Jim and I married in 2003, and we moved to Lewis County for Jim's job a few months later. When Jim and I first began discussing marriage, he used to tell me, "You won't have to work if you don't want to."
That statement really irked me. I couldn't fathom what he was thinking. After all, I had a CAREER. I was so much more than the housewife he seemed to imply he thought I should be. Whenever he brought up such a thing, I soundly dismissed it out of hand. I worked. Period.
That all changed in 2009. At the time, I was telecommuting to Everett, going to the office one day a week and working from home full-time the remaining four days. With the down economy, however, things changed at my office. My company laid me off in 2009, and I knew I'd have a really difficult time finding a job in my field in Lewis County, which had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state of Washington.
I decided to change my plan and began working as a freelance writer. Unfortunately, as the unemployment situation failed to improve throughout the country, the freelance markets tightened up. While I had a few good freelancing jobs, they were getting more difficult to come by because there were so many other displaced creatives doing the same thing I was. At the same time, Tanner entered high school and grew in his autonomy. He no longer needed me nearly as much as he had when he was younger. Jim also worked long hours, and I found myself at home alone a lot. Suddenly I was less of a work-at-home mom and more of an at-home woman. The major parts of my self-identity had gone away, and I wasn't sure who I was or what my value was any longer. I had been set adrift from all of the things I believed I knew about myself.
When I had my identity tied up in what I did (work, mom), I couldn't fathom who I would be without those things. Once they lessened significantly, I had to find a new sense of myself or drown. While I still had a little bit of a job and I was still technically raising a child, those were no longer the things that occupied all of my mind space and time. Instead, I had a lot of time with myself. Slowly, I began to refill my life with other things. I wrote a book. I spent more time playing the piano. I started teaching flute lessons. I blogged. I reached out to friends. I began making jewelry. I did volunteer work. I spent a ton of time in the kitchen. I engaged in hobbies.
I also did the one thing I never, ever conceived I'd do. I became a homemaker. In the past, I'd given lip service to respecting women who were brave enough to stay at home, keep the house, and raise the children. Secretly, I didn't mean it. I was arrogant. I believed I was better than that because I had a j-o-b. I had a career. I couldn't fathom that keeping the home was a choice that offered much to society.
All it took, however, was an ounce of humility to realize just how wrong I'd been in my hubris. Once I no longer had work to occupy me at home, I started to utilize my time differently. To my shock, I found great peace and purpose in doing so.
I used to chafe at having to clean the house, do the laundry, and do the dishes. After all, I worked. I didn't have time for that. Now I take pride in providing a comfortable home environment for my family. While I loved to cook, I resented the fact that everyone in the house assumed I would be the one to do the shopping and produce the food all the time. Now I realize what an honor and privilege it is to provide nourishment and sustenance to the people (and dogs) I love the most in this world.
My shift in attitude, it turns out, had very little to do with anything I was doing. Instead, it was about what I felt was my value to the world. You see, I couldn't see the value in being a homemaker. I didn't understand the contribution it made because it wasn't a "job" that would garner me respect, appreciation, and attention from others. Initially, I viewed my job loss and fewer parenting duties as diminished circumstances, because I framed them in the judgement I was sure I would find from others. Once I stopped needing to see my own reflection in the eyes of other people, however, I found a quiet contentment and joy in this life I now live.
To all of the stay-at-home moms and homemakers who I secretly looked down upon from my lofty perch in the working world, I owe you an apology. There is no "better than" when it comes to how you structure your life. Everyone makes a difference in the world in his or her own way. What matters is that you engage with authenticity, passion, and purity.
What's funny is, looking back at my big-time career, I realized that while I was contributing to my family financially, I really wasn't doing anything with that great of a value to society. I was helping a company make more money by marketing a product that was designed to help other companies make money. I was a tiny link in a giant chain of consumerism. I wasn't particularly creatively fulfilled because the company's advertising philosophy was ultra-conservative. I could write ads for them in my sleep. I didn't really love my company (in fact, most of the time I hated it). I wasn't doing what I'd given lip service to wanting to do - bettering society. I was purely trading my most valuable commodities - my time, energy, and creativity - for money.
Fear kept me in that job, however. I feared losing the respect of others. I feared losing a significant chunk of our disposable income. I feared losing the ability to pay for stuff it turned out we really didn't need.
It's funny. Often the things we fear the most are those that will be of greatest benefit to us when they actually occur. I was terrified of losing my job. I cried when I lost it. But then, life went on, and it was even better than before. It was better because I was forced to stop doing and start being. I was humbled, and because of that humility I was able to re-evaluate my subtle prejudices. I was able to reform my own self-image into something vital, stable, and self-sustaining. I was forced to stop worrying about what others thought of me and instead seek validation in what I thought of myself. I was terrified to go through job loss, but I made it. Life went on and I came out on the other side stronger and better for the experience. Go figure.