Flashback Saturday! If you missed a post yesterday, I am on the road back to Houston and have loads to catch you up on next week. Get ready! For now, here is a post about work at home moms. As a writer, I work at home…and often don’t get paid. It’s fabulous. This was originally published over at I Still Hate Pickles in May of 2012 when I was watching my friend Shank’s kids (and yes, that is a derby name) when she started her new job.
“Mommy, why do you pick up Bea and Hardie from school?”
“Because their Mommy got a new job and can’t do it right now. I can help pick them up because I don’t work.”
“But you do work, Mommy,” Sawyer said. “You do your work in the front room at the computer.”
Smart little guy.
I have been explaining to Sawyer lately that during his “rest time” (a playtime in his room that replaced his nap time) that Mommy does her work. My computer desk is in our front living room, and so sometimes he’ll see me in there and I will tell him that I’m working. This usually means either writing, freelance editing (which I’ve just started to do), or blogging.
Still, I was surprised by his answer, and that surprise made me realize something: Even though I will say that being a full-time mom is work and that my writing is work, I don’t always believe either is really true.
There will always be battles in the media and in the comment sections of blogs about work-at-home moms, stay-at-home moms, and work-at-work moms. While I don’t want to choose a camp or jump in the fray (I think the “war on women” would be over if women stopped warring with each other so LET’S STOP), I think what this reveals is that we ALL struggle with the idea of motherhood and work, or motherhood as work.
If that weren’t enough, I also struggle to call writing work. Because my agent didn’t find a buyer for my first book, I haven’t gotten paid. I just have a lot of pages in Word documents on my computer. Despite having my MFA and the validation of getting into and through that kind of program, I have a hard time saying I’m a writer. Why am I reticent to call these two things work?
I think the real issue for me is that deep down, I don’t feel validated without payment in the form of money or some tangible achievement that others can see.
Without an outward stamp of approval from other people in the form of a published book, or an official job title, business card, or other trappings that come with a “real” job, I don’t fully accept that being a stay-at-home mom is an occupation. If I don’t have a book people can buy at a store, then I could just be one of those people who “writes.” Kind of like those tone-deaf “singers” who audition for American Idol. Until I have something tangible, my job of writing doesn’t feel very tangible either.
And my job of parenting is no better, because there are certainly no tangible awards or verifications for that. As a parent, there are no tangible ways to measure your success. If your child turns out great, you may have done a great job OR it could be a happy accident. If they grow up and go crazy, it may or may not be your fault. There is so much time and effort put into parenting, and yet, you don’t always know if you’re doing it well. You don’t have bosses to pat you on the back or give you performance reviews. You don’t get a bonus. You also get very little vacation time.
When I go even deeper, this is an identity crisis. I know women who have left jobs to become stay-at-home moms struggle with identity. So, too, do moms who leave their children to go back to work. Our work, our titles, and our passions get so tied up in our identity that when we lose those things or they change, we find ourselves lost sometimes. Who are we, really? Does what we do affect who we are, or does who we are remain unchanged by what we do?
Does my work matter? Does my parenting matter? Am I succeeding at either?
I am a writer, even without a bestseller, or even a book deal. I do work as a stay-at-home mom, even if that work pays little and doesn’t give me a cushy office or a company car. But even as I write this, I feel like I’m having to convince myself that it’s true. Am I alone in struggling to find value in my identity as parent and also a writer?
I want to hear about YOU. Do you find that you struggle with tying your identity with your work? Do you consider parenting a legitimate job? Where do you find the validation for what you do AND who you are?