Friday, March 28, 2014

"Just" a Stay at Home Mom

The other day I was at a school board meeting sitting in the audience with other parents and friends as several parents stepped up to the podium to voice their opinions about the topic of the day, which happened to be the creation of an advanced science class at the middle school. As each of these parents stepped up to the mic they stated their name and often followed that with a title or pedigree or other qualification that they believed would give their statements  more weight or clout. Several had Doctor in front of their names and one was even a neuroscientist. I hadn't really planned to make a statement and had attended the meeting simply to add more faces to the 'pro' side of the argument, but as I listened to these parents I mentally rehearsed what I would say if I were to stand in front of the crowd and list off my title or pedigree or qualifications. What makes me an important person? What gives my opinions and statements weight? What benchmarks of success have I achieved? Do I really have any qualifications now, or have my years of being 'just' a mom robbed me of what once made me a powerful person with opinions that should be listened to and respected?

Once upon a time I had a very impressive resume. I'm an MIT graduate with a bachelors degree in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science. For my thesis project I worked alongside the man who discovered the rings of Uranus. After college I worked as a Software Consultant in the Boston area then moved to Seattle to be a software developer for a small startup in downtown. The work I did in that startup led me to become a co-founder in another startup based around code I wrote. The entire company was based on code I wrote! I was a VP at age 23 in my own dot-com startup for goodness sake! Yes, I know, in the late '90s dot-com startups were a dime a dozen, but looking back on it, I still feel that was a pretty impressive feat. As often happened in those days, one thing led to another, and over the course of a few years the Venture Capitol vultures had gained control of the company. The work wasn't really any fun anymore. So when my first child was born pre-mature, I took that as a sign that my dot-com-founder days should be put behind me, and I jumped head first into the world of mommy-dom.

Let me just pause here and say that I LOVE being a stay at home mom. I love that I was there for all of the incredible moments that make up a child's first years. I saw every smile, every step, every accomplishment and I wouldn't give those up for anything. I was the primary person who got to shape my children, mold them into the tiny humans they are today. I am proud of my kids and how they are empathetic, caring, hard working and shockingly witty, and I'm ecstatic that I get to take credit for some of that. A great woman I know once said to me "I became a parent because I wanted to parent.". I'm with her 100% there. I wanted to be the person to raise my kids. I didn't want to turn them over to another person for most of the waking hours of the day. I selfishly didn't want to miss all of it. I wanted to be a part of the show and have the memories of it to reflect on when I'm old and have that inevitable empty nest.

On top of all of that, I'm lucky enough to have a husband and co-parent who is compensated enough for his work outside the home to pay all of our bills. In my eyes, he's made the greater sacrifice in agreeing to miss all of those precious childhood moments in exchange for money. I try to record as much of our kids' life as possible in photos and videos for him to relive, but if it were me in his shoes I'd spend a good deal of my workday in tears knowing I was missing the show. He is a stronger person than I in that regard.

Over the course of my kids' childhood, in addition to the household management, scheduling and maintenance, I've had various part time jobs that have allowed me to work from home on mommy time. I've done consulting work writing code, started a cottage food business baking paleo treats with a friend, and most recently writing cookbooks and children's books with my kids. These have all given me a sense of professional accomplishment, but none feel very resume worthy when compared to what I did pre-kids.

So, when someone asks me what I do, I'm never sure how to answer. When I was in the working world, I had an answer. If I was a full-time working mom now I'd answer with the title I held at my paying job, but saying I'm a stay at home mom doesn't seem to have the weight that the actual job of stay at home mom entails. I've seen various internet jokes where a mom is required to list her occupation and she writes something like 'CEO of child development and education, head chef, grounds keeper, chief sanitation engineer, head nurse and chauffeur'. Those are all true, but when you list out all of the duties, it sounds like your trying too hard to say how important your job really is. Saying you're CEO of a company or putting an MD or PhD after your name automatically gives you clout regardless of really how important your job is or how vital you are at your workplace.

If I ask my 'employees' if they could survive without me, the answer is no. For many years of my job as a SAHM I literally held the lives of my 'employees' in the palm of my hand. So, how vital was my role? In my heart I know that being a SAHM is just as important a job as any doctor's, lawyer's, or CEO's, but when someone asks 'What do you do?' it often doesn't feel that way. I sometimes feel like I have to follow up my answer that I'm a stay at home mom with what I used to do before kids, just to prove I am smart and capable and worthwhile. In my head I think if they know that I graduated from MIT and started my own dot-com and wrote code, then they'll treat me like the smart person I am rather than someone who wipes noses for a living. Sometimes if I'm talking to a person with an out of the home career they do seem to treat me differently if they know I used to have a 'real' job. Why is that? Is the fact that I care for my home and family full time proof that I can't do something more 'important'? No, no it's not.

If success is measured in happiness rather than titles and money, then I think I'm currently a great success at my job and life. I'm much happier now being CEO of my home, volunteering at my kids' school, being a co-leader of my daughter's girl scout troop and writing books with my kids than I ever was being VP at a software company. I know in my heart that someone else can write that code or lead that company just as well as I can, but no one else can raise my kids the way I do. So, this is where I'm needed right now, and this is where I plan to stay. I just need to work on a better job title; maybe I should say I'm retired from the office world and am now spending my days doing what I choose to do...who wouldn't want to have that job?


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