Monday, February 26, 2018

I'm not a Working Mom. I'm a Mom Who Works.

by Whitney Child
Follow her @whitney_child

I’ve always struggled with the term “working mom.” It feels like a derogatory term. On one side, it takes away from the fact that all moms work whether it’s as a stay-at-home mom or a mom who has a job outside the home. On the other side, it takes away from my primary role: mom. I am a mom who works. I’m a mom first.

Tony and Whitney Child and their two boys, Jack (right) and Thompson.

I was lucky enough to go to college knowing exactly what I wanted to do in life, graduated in four years, and found a job teaching high school in the community—essentially living out my American dream. I was ready to take on the working world, and I found so much joy in it. I was involved in every single extra professional development I could. I worked for four years teaching, and I got married at a little bit older age. Then after some years of fertility struggles, we were able to have two boys. When my first son was born, I had been working for ten years, and I loved those ten years. Culturally, the expectation was that I would give it up and stay home because that is what is expected, but I never felt like that was right for me. I dealt with quite a bit of culturally imposed guilt as a result of other people’s ideas of what was right for me. When it came down to it, I had to do what was right for me and my family. As a self-proclaimed people pleaser, that was really difficult to do. My job is my hobby—it’s a calling in life, and I feel fulfilled doing it. All of the outside voices were telling me being a mother should be enough for me, and as much as I loved that new baby boy, I knew that I needed to both do my job outside the home and inside the home. After prayerfully considering my options, I decided to keep doing what I was doing, and then to reflect and revisit it each year to make sure it was still right.

When I am at work, I know that I am ok being there. I have had some significant spiritual experiences in my classroom confirming to me that it is exactly where I needed to be at that time. When I was at home, I know it is ok being there. Going into this mom who works world, I knew I had to find a balance between the two, and even eight years later, I’m still reflecting, revisiting, and revising how to maintain (or even just get!) that balance. 

Looking back over the past eight years, I haven’t been perfect in finding that balance; however, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of being a mom who works. When I decided to keep my full time job, I knew there were things I was going to have to be better at and there were things I had to let go. The following are some of my rules of thumb to help me maintain or find balance between the two worlds.

  1. Make sure it’s right for you.
Working outside the home while raising children is not for everyone, and that is just fine. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Make your decision because it’s what works for you and your family. I had to be willing to let go of what everyone else thought was right for me, and actually do what was right for me.  

  1. Be ready to make sacrifices.
Since becoming a mom, I cut way back on what I do at school. I try not to take work home with me, and if I do, it gets done after the kids are in bed. I don’t do as many conferences or professional developments. As much as I’d love to travel to summer institutes, I gave that up to have time with my kids. I really want to pursue a Master’s degree; however, right now, I just can’t fit it in, and that’s ok.   I’m very picky on any outside of normal school hours activities I attend. When my oldest son was two, I decided I needed to work closer to home if I still wanted to keep up with what I was doing. At the time, I had a 30 minute commute each way, which wasn’t that big of a deal before I had kids, but then I realized it was an hour a day of just driving. I decided to move to a school closer to my home and in a different district. In doing that, I gave up the comfort of a school I’d known for 12 years. I lost 5 of my years, and I took a $10,000 pay cut, but I was 5 minutes from home, and the school had a daycare in it, so my kids would be closer to me.  It was a sacrifice, and the first year in my new school was incredibly difficult.  In the end, it was the best decision for my family.

When one of my kids is sick, I do all I can to be home with them. Most of the time, I have been able to work it to stay home with them, but when I can’t, my husband has been great at sharing that responsibility with me. My older son’s school is close enough to mine that I can run over there when I need to.

At home, most of my outside social life is non-existent (more to the chagrin of the people around me than me). Most of my social outlet is actually at work, and I really don’t mind that. I have great connections with my colleagues, and I’ve made life long friends with those people I work with. By choice, I rarely do a girls night out or girls’ trips. People always invite me, and I always appreciate it, but when it comes down to it, I want to be home with my family, and I’m completely ok with that. I have one book club I attend monthly (after kids are in bed), and I leave it at that. I try to do a few date nights with other couples as well.  I’ve found that those people who are truly my good friends don’t mind if I don’t go out with them all the time. They are always there when I need them to be.

  1. Be organized.
When I first started this mom who works life, I had a friend who had already raised her kids who told me she knew I could do it because I was so organized, but she never could have because she wasn’t organized enough. This is where the Mormon Mom Planner has been a lifesaver! I sit down once a week to look at the week ahead and make a plan to accomplish everything from getting kids to where they need to be to meal planning. I make my weekly and monthly “to do” lists.   I make our weekly menu based on what our plans are for the week.  I try to find ways of serving my family members each week, and I write those down, so I remember to do them. I reflect on my spiritual and temporal goals and look at what small things I can be doing now to accomplish those.  

I have a pretty solid routine for grocery shopping, house cleaning, and laundry, and they have all become a family routine, not a mom routine. I can’t do all of it alone, and I need the help of my family. Those routines have changed as my kids have grown up, so they will fit the needs of my family at that time. I only do laundry once a week because that’s all I have time for. It makes for a long day of washing and folding, but it gets done. I do online grocery shopping, so I can order later at night, and pick up the next day quickly.

  1. Realize you can’t do it all.
In the words of Lorelei Gilmore, “I fancy myself Wonder Woman.” I really thought I could do everything all the time and be perfect at it. I can’t. I could kill myself over trying to do all of it. I had to choose what was the most important for me, and give up some of those other things. I can’t be a room mom at school, but I can take a personal day at school, and go on field trips. I can’t volunteer in my son’s classroom, but I can go over every other week on a prep period to change out take home reading books. I can’t organize the SEP dinners, but I can sign up to bring something. I can’t be the PTA President, but I can do the newsletter.  

For a few years, we had a house cleaner, which was a lifesaver. I really wanted to be able to do it all by myself, but that was one thing I realized I could give up to relieve stress and have more time with my family.  I worried that I wasn’t teaching my kids how to work because I wasn’t having them help me clean the house, but I could teach them to work in other ways. (We are currently back to cleaning the house ourselves simply because our original house cleaner moved, and we have yet to find another one we like anywhere near as much!).

I also have a husband who is incredibly supportive of me, and he does his fair share around the house. I could not be a mom who works if I didn’t have his support. The decision for me to work full time after having kids was a decision we both made.

  1. Make time for you.  Schedule it!
When I first started  being a mom who works, I looked at my work time as my “me-time.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that it really isn’t “me time.” I knew I needed to have some quiet time every day in order to remain sane. I’m a morning person, so I decided to get up earlier to have that time. I give myself about 30 minutes each morning to read, study, or just sit, and I do it before anyone else in my house wakes up, which means my alarm goes off around 4:30 am.  For right now, this has worked for me.

I’m far from perfect, but I’m working on balance. When it comes down to it, even though I have a successful career, being a mom comes first—always. Despite all my fears and worries, my kids are doing great having a mom who works. Everything gets done, eventually, and I’m ok with that. This is a path that has worked for me, but I’ve had to make adjustments to what is considered the “norm.” We have worked as a family to make it work, because I cannot do it all alone. I have a full and rewarding life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I spend as much time as possible with my family, and we continue to grow together as we do. When I feel out of balance, I reflect on my decision and make necessary changes as they are needed. Being a mom who works is not an easy task to take on, but it has been a rewarding experience for me.

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