Excerpt from Staying Home: From Full-time Professional to Full-time ParentThe Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College conducted an enlightening study on women’s happiness. They found that the two primary components of satisfaction were mastery and pleasure. The Wellesley researchers defined mastery as what makes a person feel good about herself as a valuable member of society and as a person in control of her own life. Pleasure was defined as that which makes people find enjoyment in their lives.
These findings have profound importance for anyone trying to achieve satisfaction in life. People contemplating a radical change in lifestyle and values often need some new ground rules.
Ground Rule Number 1: Know What You Want Your Job to Be
What roles do you want your job as an at-home mother to encompass? Parent, teacher, cook, chief financial officer, laundress, doctor, educator, homemaker, playmate, homework supervisor, at-home entrepreneur, chauffeur, purchasing agent? As a mother at home, you’re likely to take part in all these roles.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should be locked into anyone else’s expectations or stereotypes of what your job is. Not all women aspire to mastery in the same areas. Today’s mother at home has the freedom and self-awareness to make her own choices about how she wants to spend her time at home.
For example, some mothers assign considerable importance to their role as educator, even to the point of taking responsibility for total home schooling. Some — though certainly not all — women derive personal pleasure from domestic activities. Others focus on community activism, personal growth, or an at-home business. Whatever aspects are most important to you, the point is that you — not some outmoded societal stereotype — should decide what you want your job to be. The happiest women we encountered shaped their role into one that fit comfortably with their own personality and aspirations.
Ground Rule Number 2: Acknowledge Your Skills
Many women share the common fear that their skills, talents, or interests will disappear when they leave the office. However, while new parents face an overwhelming learning curve regarding child care and their new lifestyle, it’s important to realize that most of your skills can be transferred to your new life at home. Heidi Brennan, a founder of the national association Mothers at Home, told us that she sees motherhood as “the ultimate management challenge.”
The next time someone asks you what you do all day, think about all of the professional skills you use during your typical twelve-hour workday. Strategies that will help you in your new profession include establishing your priorities, knowing when to delegate, working within a budget, financial planning, negotiating, organizing your household, managing your time, and training and supervising your children.
Most of the mothers we surveyed agree that setting goals is one of the most important tools you can use to make your life more manageable — with one caveat. Many women find that the often recommended daily “to do” lists are actually very frustrating, since sick children or rebellious two-year-olds may prevent you from accomplishing what you hoped to. By creating a more realistic weekly or monthly list of goals, you can make some visible progress without undermining yourself.
Ground Rule Number 3: Validate Yourself
As an at-home mother, you need to find a way to meet your needs for positive feedback and self-respect by finding support. Unfortunately, your old office network of colleagues and friends may not be up to the task. For this reason, it definitely helps to find other women in your situation as quickly as possible. Mothers need encouragement from one another and someone to talk with about their day-to-day frustrations, joys and challenges.
You can find your own support network by meeting other mothers at the park, joining a playgroup, or joining a local or national mother’s group. Salli Gamez made new friends and found supportive colleagues through her participation in La Leche League. The Gamez family moved soon after having their first child, and Salli reestablished her network of friends through her La Leche League chapter. Mothers & More, based in Elmhurst, IL, is another supportive national organization for home-based moms.
Another strategy is to find a mentor. Sometimes even one other mother you can talk to can make all the difference in easing your transition to being at home. An experienced mother who has been at home for a while can be particularly helpful, since she can serve as a sounding board and a role model. A friend you can call at any time and ask, “Why won’t this baby stop crying?” or “What do I do when she hits her brother?” is worth her weight in gold.
Ground Rule Number 4: Consider Yourself a Feminist
Historically, the feminist movement has been accused of not respecting mothers at home. As Anna Quindlen noted in Ms. magazine, “There has always been a feeling on the part of moms that the Women’s Movement has not taken them seriously, has in fact denigrated what they do, unless they do it in a Third World country or do it while running a Fortune 500 company and the New York marathon.”
A significant portion of the women we surveyed said that they feel personally let down by the women’s movement, and that the message feminists gave them while they were growing up was that staying home to raise children is a waste of a woman’s life and education.
Can you be a full-time mother and a feminist, too? The answer is “Yes, absolutely.”
One mother in our survey commented, “I really feel the feminist movement is about supporting women’s choices. For me to take time out and be with my kids does fulfill the ideals of feminism. It’s OK to have time for work and at-home motherhood at different times in your life. You don’t have to take sides.” If a woman chooses to use her talents in the domestic arena for herself and her family instead of in the office arena for someone else, feminism should affirm that choice.
One of the lessons feminism has taught us is that like any other worker, you are entitled to time off. Finding time for yourself can be difficult when your workplace and your relaxation place are one and the same. This is a problem mothers share with other people who work at home. When you sit down to read a book or strip down for a soak in the tub, or whatever it is you do to relax, you are surrounded by undone tasks and the pitter-patter of small emergencies on eager feet.
Whether your alternate care giver is your spouse, a relative, a paid baby-sitter, or a colleague from your baby-sitting co-op, remember that you are entitled to your leisure time without guilt or interruption.
Considering yourself a feminist does not mean that the only achievements you can make are in the work force. As Suzanne Chambers, a former advertising manager, put it, “I’m trying to raise my daughter as a feminist, something I wouldn’t trust an outsider to do. I hope she will realize that my choice to be a professional mother is part of my feminist philosophy. I chose this job because I felt it was the most important job I could do in my life.”