Friday, January 27, 2012

Decision to Be a Stay-at-Home-Mom: Mine & Link-Up to Yours

***Dissertation-level lengths of my drivel below - sorry! - with link-up at the very end for you kind souls playing along . . .***

Making decisions for someone not yet conceived, for a situation you have no experience with - easy, right?

Um, no - not for anyone outside of Reality TV land, I imagine, and certainly not for the Anonymous Husband and me.

That being said, how we wanted to parent our imaginary future children was something that we talked from our early dating days (when we weren't otherwise busy staring schmoopily at one another, Classy Fab Sarah-style.)

Yes, you read that correctly -  despite what Those People Who Know Everything say, my desire to have children was something I wasn't afraid to discuss with my gentleman callers. It had been a deal-breaker in past relationships with lovable South American asshats for me, and I resolved that I wasn't going to get seriously involved again with someone who didn't feel the same way.

I'll never forget the moment during our festive "Let's pick a city to move to together" negotiations - the AH and I dated long-distance at first - in which the AH mentioned Texas as a good settling spot, since we could afford to have a parent staying at home here. It was one of those warm n' fuzzy moments when I knew I'd stumbled upon someone who shared my picket-fenced view of the future.

Photo Credit: Nicole Mlakar-Photography

So we knew that we were working towards the possibility of a stay-at-home parent, and we did some groundwork that allowed us to officially make that decision six years later. Here's how we decided I'd be a stay-at-home-mom:

It was what we knew

Both the AH & I had a stay-at-home parent & felt that we had benefited from that. In his case, it was his mother who stayed at home; in my case, it was my incredible grandparents (it would take far more time, wine, and therapy to get into the details of it here, but basically my grandparents took over while my mother pursued her military career).

Importantly, because we'd both grown up with what we saw as a good model of stay-at-home parenting, we saw that move for us not as one parent "getting away with something" by not working, but as a marriage of two equals contributing differently but just as importantly to the family.

We took stock of our career aspirations & personalities

From the minute we met, the AH was the one happiest in his job, and the one earning significantly more. He thrives in a busy office setting & is at his best with a lot of people around. As is typical with the wildly glamorous lawyer lifestyle, he's also always worked very long hours, so from the get-go we were concerned that with two working parents, our (imaginary) children wouldn't see much of either one of us.

On the other, manicured hand, I suspected early on that the law wasn't going to be my lifelong career. I'd proven over seven years of practice that I could do it; like these women, I knew that if I stayed home I wouldn't wonder if I'd missed out on professional achievement. I'm also a recovering introvert who doesn't need the hustle & bustle of an crowd to be content, and I'm better when I'm running my own show (read: veteran student body president & bossypants).

I also tend to get . . . fairly driven, shall we say, when I'm really interested in something; that trait would have lent itself nicely to a career in law but for the "really interested" bit. I figured that when it came to my future children that even though there were many (MANY) other people more qualified to care for them, no one would care about it more than I did. I also knew this drive would mean I'd get frazzled by attempting to balance job, child, and wifery.

Also? There was just that feeling I've always had . . . my fellow religious types might characterize this as a "calling". Whichever phrase works for you, I had a hunch that I'd want to stay at home; the thought of it just filled me with that peace of the Right Answer. I wasn't comfortable making that final decision until our baby arrived & I got a real sense for what staying at home was like, but on some level, I knew.

Photo Credit: Ziem Photography (hi, Z!)

We laid the financial foundation (read: the "Duh" step)

As the Dowager Countess of Awesome would say, "Oh, good - let's talk about money!"

Let me address the sparkly pink elephant in the room: "Wait one second, Ms. Pretty," I can hear you thinking, "You used to be a lawyer, and your husband still is one. This means you're gazillionaires who live in a sparkly pink palace and don't need to worry about things like money. Your advice couldn't possibly apply to us."

It just ain't so, darlings.  Granted, the AH & I are extremely fortunate to be able to comfortably pay our bills, save, and have some extra left over - and not a day goes by that I'm not grateful for that, truly. Being able to make huge financial leaps like quitting a job without significant planning, however, is very much not something we were or are able to do.

To that end, we planned from the get-go of our marriage for the stay-at-home possibility, including these steps:

- Establishing an emergency savings fund (6 months is what we felt comfortable with);
- Buying a house for which we could comfortably afford payments on one income;
- Eliminating all non-mortgage & consolidated student loan debt, to the extent possible;
- Getting all of that boring life paperwork stuff (life insurance, wills, health insurance) sorted;
- Tracking all of our expenses for one month - down to every penny spent - to get a more realistic picture of what life on one income would look like.

I really, sort of, entirely, totally, 100% LOATHE talking about financial thingies like this, since we all have our individual incomes and priorities and Life Stuff to deal with here. I'm not saying these steps are required for everybody, of course, but these are the ones that worked for us.

Things to Consider About the Stay-at-Home Decision

Everything Those People say about how you love your child more than you've ever dreamed possible, even when you don't like said child very much, is true. There's rainbows and unicorns aplenty. That being said, here are a few things I'd advise any potential stay-at-home-parent to consider . . .

Are you good at being your own boss?

The thought of filling a day's worth of activities and snacks and naps (and snacks, and more snacks) for your wee one can be intimidating at first. Not only do you start off having little idea of how to do it, if you're like me, but it's strange being the one calling all of the shots for a human being relying entirely on you OMG.

If you're a bossypants like me, calling all the shots comes a bit more naturally, so I like this part of the job. Even so, the weight of being the sole person in charge of the day time decision can still be jarring, even for me. I occasionally suffer from what a friend diagnosed as, "paralysis via the million little decisions you have to make every day."

Also - irony of ironies - though you have company 24-7 as a stay-at-home parent, I still get lonely sometimes for adult conversation - how good would you be at forcing yourself out of the house and into child-friendly social situations (mom groups, library storytime, classes, etc.)? Or do you need that guaranteed structure of an office to feel like you've got company?

Are you good at not being your own boss?

Some days are boring, or your kid is acting like the lost, teething "Jersey Shore" cast member. Whatever ails you, unlike when you worked that desk job, as a stay-at-home parent you can't necessarily just pick up and haul off for lunch or even a quick coffee break. Or you can, but that "quick coffee break" takes an hour after you've loaded the car/ changed the diaper / packed the snacks /forgotten the snacks / forgotten your child inside the house, etc - by which time you've messed up his all precious nap schedule.

Long story long, your time isn't entirely your own anymore - can you deal with the repetitiveness (which some find boring) of the eat-play-nap structure of a newborn or toddler day?

(This isn't at all to say that you working types are off swilling martinis at 3-hour-lunches, but you get what I'm sayin' here. xoxo.)

What would you miss most about your job (aside from your paycheck), and can you live without it? (My answer: lack of validation)

There are no gold stars awarded for doing your job well as a stay-at-home parent, and this Type A Minus occasionally struggles with the lack of worldly kudos for what I'm doing. This is the first time in my life I don't have external pats on the back for a job well (? marginally fine? not at all well?) done.

My former job gave good dinner party - it sounded prestigious, provided me with a decent living, and I had feedback from the boss if I was or wasn't living up to expectations. Feedback from the boss now involves a half-eaten veggie burger being gleefully flung in my direction.

Yes, yes - I know, this is #firstworldproblems at its worst, my missing ego stroking. Alas, I'm merely human - if a human with inordinately good shoes. I can live without the validation just fine - just let me keep the shoes, Pretty please.

Loss of spontaneity

All parents deal with this, working or otherwise, but my struggles with this have related to sorting out how the AH & I still get to pursue our pre-child fun. Part of me throws a pity-party when he's able to call an audible and head to the occasional happy hour after work, whereas I have to strategize like an army captain leading troops to war just to make a girl's night out. I don't question his desire to do so on occasion, and he doesn't abuse the ability - I just sometimes envy that freedom to do so on a moment's notice.


Any questions, class? This look about right to you, other stay-at-home parents?

Please remember to LINK-UP below to your own Pretty posts . . .


SaritaPagita said...

This post is so completely spot on and one I wish I'd had the benefit of reading 3 years ago. Going from a corporate job to being a stay at home mom is a huge step and certainly not to be taken lightly.

[darci @ the good life] said...

We are the same person... I'm sure of it. And I'm jumping on board with this next week [when I actually have some time to sit down and devote to it!].

Thanks for sharing - I think it's so fun to see what the method to our madness was! ;)

Happy weekend.

And - I absolutely loved all of the photos in this post. Blessed indeed, friend....blessed indeed!

Mrs. Type A said...

I appreciate this post. My husband and I are a few years away from having kids, but we have a lot to think about. I had a stay at home mom and I agree with you and think I benefitted enormously. R's mother always worked and so he did the daycare from 7 am to 7 pm thing when he was a kid-- and turned out fine. I hope we can come to a decision that we BOTH feel good about.

Cheryl E. said...

Great post, as a working mom I still go back and fourth about staying home. Both are very hard decisons and should not taken lightly. Love this post though. Perfect explanation.

Legally Fabulous said...

I have absolutely nothing to add to the stay at home mom decision, but I want to know more about you and the husband starting out dating long distance, as I may be embarking on one of these relationships myself. I need details of how this all happened. I thought you and AH met in law school??? Or did I make that up.

I have done long distance before but it was a boyfriend who moved away after we were already dating. I MAY be (I hesitate to even say that because I feel like I'll jinx it) dating a guy who lives in NY now and I feel like it's really awkward because I have no idea how things are to proceed when we live a flight away!

And I just vomited something totally irrelevant in your comments. GOOD TIMES.

I did love reading this post though! haha

Emily said...

This is a well done post. I also liked the article you linked. One comment stuck out to me regarding finding a balance in the workload to keep the women's talent they've developed engaged. In an field (tech) that is always evolving, one thing that I fear about staying home is become obsolete or lagging behind if I chose to take a time out. I know I could catch back up, but it still is a fear.

I love the newborn pic of your crew!

Lindsey said...

Such a great post!!! I think every SAHM should read this because every word speaks to me!! Thank you!!

Lisa @ Trapped In North Jersey said...

We are the same person 2000 miles apart. I will try to write a post on how we came to our decision later this evening.

dWa said...

This post hits so close to home for me! Not with being a parent thing, because I am only 17 but being the child who benefited from my parents decision. Both my mother and father went to law school and became lawyers (law school is where they met). They worked really hard and set a first step for their life. They had my brother and not long after they had me. That is when they made the decision that my dad and his friend were going to open a practice together (still doing it and very successfully at that) and that my mom would stay home and take care of my brother and I. I am so glad that is what my parents choose because my brother and I both benefited tremendously from the situation. Picture elementary school kids in the nurses office throwing up. We could call our mom and she would pick us up within twenty minutes and would be driving us straight to the doctor because she had already made an appointment. It is so good that y'all had talked this through and decided because your child will realize later that us kiddos are a job of our own!

Brittney said...

Love this post! We're wrestling with the decision right now. Thanks for your thoughts and how you two make it work!

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

Dissertation-level indeed! Golf claps all around. Great job at covering the psychology behind "being your own boss" and all that jazz. I also abhor talking about money, hence the lack of any mention in my post :)

Maria said...

I'm also a SAHM and I'm late to the linky party. Boo! Sometimes I think going back to work would be so much easier than staying home- kids are not easy! But I know I was meant to be a mommy and my son needs me daily. My husband is a lawyer but the school loans are eating us alive! Another post for another time. Go SAHMs!

ABBY said...

Well said!! Thanks for sharing!

courtney - larking. said...

I love this post -- and the idea of linking up with other moms who went through the same decision-making process/struggle. I have 20 days to tell my boss whether I'm coming back next year or not...and leaning towards not. Thanks for sharing your insight!

Shannon Sentences said...

I am currently struggling with the decision to go back to work (just a few days in), so don't feel capable yet of linking a full post regarding the decision, as I'm still not sure it's working. It's helpful to read your decision-making process and makes me question my own in good ways. The blog is one of my coping mechanisms, I guess.

And I can tell you that as the mommy even if you were back at work there are still no spontaneous happy hours, as either day cares closes or the nanny has to leave, and mommy has to be there to get her baby...but truly there's no place I'd rather be at the end of a work day that home in time to pick up my baby.

Sara said...

This post has me curious of how many SAHMs miss their former jobs. I always thought that I wanted to stay home, but not that I have a baby and have gone back to work after my leave it's hard to know if I liked the idea better than the actual job. Does that make sense?

I know lots of moms go back to work because they have no choice, but I do have a choice and I'd love to connect with more moms like myself. Anyhow, not really related to your post, but I just thought I'd let you know it got me thinking. :)

Modern Housewife said...

I love this post. I'm really wrestling with this decision for whenever the time comes. I live in NYC which is so expensive and having a 2BR is not even doable on both salaries, much less one. Even in the nyc burbs its difficult. It is definitely a goal of ours too. I have a great job, just not a career. I love being at home so much, I imagine I would take great pride and joy in focusing on the family 100% for a few years at least. Thanks for the reminder to prepare for it financially.

Chas said...

OMG OMG OMG I could have written EVERYSINGLE word of this. I can't believe I hadn't read this yet!

Probably going to write my version of it soon and link to yours. It seems there are SO many women and families who struggle with this decision. Blog posts like this are a really big help, it's all very well written and common sense.

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