Thoughts

Briefly

Camera phone picture by one of my old Ashoka colleagues who we got to visit with yesterday at Khan Market!

1) I’ve been trying to meet up with an old friend of mine from Delhi for weeks now and we finally managed a coffee date at Khan Market yesterday. It was fantastic to see her. Isn’t it always good when you see people after a long time and you can just see their happiness radiating out of their face? We had so much fun catching up and I had a funny moment walking into the cafe to meet her.

5 years ago, I came to Delhi for 24 hours with a roommate of mine from Chennai. I remembered that we stopped at a cafe somewhere during our quick trip, but I never remembered where—until I walked into the Turtle Cafe to meet my friend on Tuesday. We sat on the exact same balcony that I sat on with my roommate almost exactly 5 years ago. If you had told me then that I’d be back to that exact same cafe ever again–let alone living in Delhi with a husband and a 15 month old son I would have never believed you. Funny how life works out.

2) I’m working on a piece right now about stay at home mothers and how and why they re-enter the work force, whether its employment concerns, financial need or a desire for professional or intellectual fulfillment. It’s a topic I’m personally very interested in but the piece is not ready to publish yet because it needs quite a few more viewpoints and perspectives. So I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject–be it your own real-life scenario, your best-case scenario or what you think your future will hold. Are you a stay-at-home Mama who feels irrationally unproductive because you aren’t in an office or pursuing some sort of intellectual/professional goal? If you’re an office or working-for-a-paycheck Mama, do you think you would be completely happy staying home instead or would you really, really miss going to work? Or perhaps are you a stay-at-home parent who feels guilty for not feeling guilty about staying home? Or maybe you are actually perfectly content with your life and, in that case, let’s hear how you got there.

3) In other news, Will stripped off all of his clothes today and ran around the house naked for awhile. He looked so cute that it was 45 minutes before I could bring myself to get him dressed again. He also tried my oatmeal for breakfast this morning and liked it. Will is an agonizingly disinterested eater and you all know how I feel about my oatmeal, so I don’t know if I’ve had a prouder parenting moment yet than when he lapped up his portion and gestured for more.

4) Chris came home from work today, the day when many Embassies held special Election Day events and told me a story relayed to him by one of his friends at another Embassy in another part of the world. He said that the Embassy there hosted a “mock election” for local people to experience what voting in an American election is like. As the participants from the community were casting their votes, a locally employed staff person came up to Chris’ friend clutching a ballot. She asked him if it would be alright if she and her colleagues also cast votes in the mock election. “Of course!” he told her and behind her a group of other local staff cheered and beamed. They told him afterwards that it meant so much to them to be able to cast a vote–any vote–that they didn’t even care that it was for a mock election for a president in a different country.

I’m happy Obama won the election last night but I’m more grateful still to be an American and to live in a country where I have both the right to vote and the right to share my political views however I see fit. People get upset over endless political ads on TV and ugly rants on Facebook. To them, I say, how wonderful that we have these ads and these rants. How wonderful it is to be a citizen of a country in which we all get to have opinions and share them without fear of violent retribution. There are too many places around the world where people support their political parties not with t-shirts and posters but with knives and clubs–if they are allowed to express political opinions at all. There are some countries which never have and never will hold elections for political representatives. There are others that are “democratic” in name only. There are still others in which people hold their breath on election night waiting not to find out if their guy won, but to find out instead if their leader will peacefully transfer power or perhaps even start a civil war. How lucky us Americans in comparison!

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18 thoughts on “Briefly

  1. Hi Dani:

    I am not a mama (yet!), but have friends who kind of fit in both sides of this (or it seems like there is more than two sides!). I have friends who could only take three months because of financial commitments (not strain), and another who, while loving the three months at home, is a lawyer and is very good at her job and loves it, so was happy to return to work. Another friend is a teacher at a private girls school and has somehow managed to schedule the arrival of all three of her children with the school calendar year: she gives birth at the end of the school year, gets a year off from teaching, half of that at half pay, and then when she returns there is a daycare on site for her kids. I am pretty sure all of my friends have gone back to work in a full time capacity, though the range of maternity leave differs.

    For me, though not dealing with this situation yet, I would love to be able to have my own business up and running doing portrait and video work. At the moment I work in a small company that allows a very flexible schedule, but not sure what that would mean with the arrival of a baby. One of the non-creative/passionate, sensible reasons I have for this, is being able to travel and move and still work. My husband and I are from different countries, and we have ideas of living in the other’s country in the next couple of years. It would be great to have something I can pursue either full or part time that doesn’t require being in a contract or an inflexible office. I think regardless of what your line of work is, it’s important to be able to have time for that, while being a mother. If it motivates you, and fills that part of you that is just for you, then, if balanced properly, it makes you a better mother. At least I have seen that with my friends anyway.

    Not sure if this is much help! 🙂

    • Thanks Liz! Your friends’ experience are really interesting to hear about! I hear you on the flexibility thing to travel/set your own schedule thing. Niether of my parents work a traditional 9-5 work week and, honestly, I think they ruined me for office culture! 🙂 (my mom is a nurse practitioner who works three to four 12 hour shifts a few days in a row ad then has a few days off each week and my dad is a financial planner who, very liberally, sets his own hours). My first job out of college was in an office, but there was a ton of flexibility. All overtime was comp time and since we all worked crazy hours, we all always had plenty of time for vacations, doctors appointments, or even just time to leave the office a few hours early once in a great while to go do something fun. It was totally normal to leave the office and go work at a coffee shop instead once or twice a week.

      And then I took a job with the government and oh wow, culture shock! Annual leave requests, the 9-5-ness, ahh I hated it! 🙂 I realized that, if I can’t work in a very modern flexible office, I’d rather not work in one at all. Horribly indulgently generation Y of me perhaps, but true. And with Will at home now, I feel that much more strongly about it. So, freelancing!! That’s the goal right now, as long as we are overseas and I have time to build up a portfolio without having to worry as much about paychecks. I’m hoping over the next few months to transition to being purely home with Will for 2/3 of my day and letting our (wonderful, fantastic) housekeeper/babysitter watch Will for 2-3 hours as needed for me to get work down without trying to watch Will at the same time. We’ll see how it goes! Thanks so much for the thoughts and the great advice, really appreciate it!

  2. Hello,

    I’ve never commented but wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog — the pictures, insights and views of the foreign service. Thank you for keeping it! Good luck with your decision about working, if that is why you are writing about this.

    I have been a mother who has worked full time, part time and now I’m home full time and not working at all (until the next A-100, whenever that will be scheduled, sigh.) In my opinion part time is the best….though it is difficult to find interesting/fulfilling work that is only part time.

    I was so excited to be home full time with my kids (2 and almost-4) and mostly I DO love it. The one thing that has really surprised me about being a SAHM is not so much my loss of “working identity,” although I do struggle with that, but the loss of a true feeling of co-parenting with my husband. I worked a late 4-midnight shift so we really alternated bedtimes and mornings. Now it is very easy for me to default into all the parenting duties (bedtimes, baths, meals, putting on and taking off their shoes all day long) because husband is going to work/at work/finishing this one work project/etc. There’s also just a lot less time for my husband to be with the kids without me — we have to make time for that specifically whereas when I was working, it was a normal part of the day. We’re working on it together but I mention this because it blindsided me. I love the work of taking care of my kids, but I miss the feeling of having a true partner in parenting sometimes.

    Emily

    • Emily, reading your comment was like reading my own mind in a way!

      I totally hear you on the co-parenting thing. Growing up my mom was a nurse who worked 12 hour shifts and my dad was a financial planner who could set his schedule around my mom’s so that one of htem was home with us as needed. My mom always says that she wishes she could have stayed home with us full-time but I actually think it was really good for me to grow up having to be slightly more independent (schedules didn’t always overlap perfectly) and also internalizing the notion that both moms and dads were capable of important work in and outside the home. My dad knew how to tie ponytails and pick us up from school while my mom would come home from 4 days of working nights and somehow manage to decorate trays and trays of Christmas cookies and work on her masters degree. I don’t know how she did it, but the example she and my dad set for my sister and I was priceless. I love being home with Will but I want him to grow up knowing that his parents are both capable of taking care of him and going to work outside the home. I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one who’s had this reaction to staying home!

  3. We got pregnant while my husband and I were on active duty in the military. We both deployed a lot and knew a dual-military parenting scenario would never work, so I took my honorable discharge as he already had 12 years in as opposed to my 2. I was a SAHM until my son turned 3. Well, I did substitute teach during that time but no more than 5-8 days/month. Being a SAHM was somewhat of a struggle for me in that I was also essentially a SINGLE MOM since my husband’s job has him home on average only 8-12 weeks/year. I spent too much time at home worrying about him and his safety, feeling like a horrible mother for not doing enough arts and crafts projects and maybe letting him watch a bit too much Disney Jr.

    When my son turned 2 I started applying for jobs heavily with no success. Finally when I got a bite (as a secretary in education) I jumped at the opportunity thinking I’d be crazy to turn down a job in a depressed job market/economy. I felt a lot of pressure to go back to work sooner rather than later as I thought the large gap in my resume from being a SAHM was going to make employer after employer look me over when my son started Kinder (my original intention was to go back to work FT when that happened). And if we’re being honest here, we never did quite get the memo on adjusting your lifestyle from dual salary to a single one and we had incurred a fair amount of credit card debt because of that. And if we are being super duper honest, I was sort of bored at home full time! I struggled with that the MOST b/c I felt like the worst mother in the world for even thinking that.

    It is safe to say that I am very happy with the decision I made. I think staying home for 3 years was the perfect amount of time for me personally. My son is in an amazing pre-K program and is such a bright and caring little boy who will be well-prepared for school next year. I work in a school and so I have several 2 week vacations throughout the year and 5 weeks off in the summer. My hours are 6:30-3 which gives me loads of time with my munchkin in the afternoons/evenings. We have the second income that sufficiently supports the lifestyle standard that we enjoy living. It’s really a win-win for our family.

    Do I still struggle? Yes, somewhat. I have a Master’s degree in International Relations & Diplomacy and speak several languages and I work as a secretary in a school. I also struggle a bit with the guilt of LIKING being out of the house and not being at home full time. But I have come to realize that working outside of the home and being happy is better for my son than being at home bored and stressed (financially and emotionally).

    • Thanks so much for this comment Tracy, I’m learning so much from everyone. Being home alone with a little kid, especially without a spouse around to give ou a break once in awhile is exhausting and, honestly, I think everyone gets bored staying home full-time no matter how much they value being home with their kids. There is a big difference between enjoying the value your kids get out of having you sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 3000 times in one day and actually really really enjoying singing that song 3000 times a day. The former makes you a mom, the latter would make me question a person’s grip on reality a little! 🙂 It sounds like you have a great set-up although I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to have a Master’s degree and speak several languages and feel like you don’t get to utilize any of those skills in your daily work. But, like you say, the hours and the time off and the pay and the chance to get out of the house and have adult conversations make it sound very worthwhile.

  4. There is so much to say about the work issue and I’m really really happy that you are writing it. I have fluctuated across the entire emotional spectrum of working or possibly working, but have only really been a full-time SAHM for the past three years. I LOVED that I was home full-time from birth until just before they turned 2yo. By then I was convinced and comfortable with the fact that both the kids and I needed more than each other at home. They were thrilled (after the normal adjustment period of course) to be at school full-time, and I was thrilled to be in language class 1/2 day and have 1/2 day free. But now at 3yo they are still thriving in full-time school and I have the possibility of working full-time, part-time, or not at all, and the options are driving me crazy and I can’t get a firm grip on what I really want vs. what would work out for our family…because what I really want at the top of my list is for things to work out for our family, in a way that doesn’t put additional pressure on my husband or restrict my flexibility to be with the kids when they are sick or going through a transition (which occurs all too often in the FS). So where does that leave me with my quest for work or intellectual stimulation? My initial (almost naive) drive and enthusiasm which started a year ago (in DC) to find full-time work in my profession once I got to post has waned considerably. A lot of it had to do with the realities of moving to and living in a foreign country, not only because of the difficulties but because of other wonderful opportunities to be taken advantage of during the short time that we’re here. I’m currently taking an on-line course as well as doing some pro-bono consulting for several projects and find that I only want to dedicate 1/2 of my free time to those intellectually stimulating and satisfying endeavors while the other 1/2 of my free time really wants to plan trips for the family or explore interesting aspects of this culture or be on the lookout for things not to be missed that we can enjoy as a family. My lack of focus on the intellectual stimulation or renewed work identity was an enigma to me at first but I am slowly coming to realize that things have changed a lot since I last worked full-time, and there are new priorities and possibilities in my life now that are equally just as important to me. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty content now after spending a year striving for being anything other than a full-time SAHM. Really looking forward to your post Dani!

    • I so, so so hear you on the wanting to be there for your family, especially given all of the transitions we put our kids through moving around with the foreign service. Quite frankly, I get why the one-bread winner household is such the norm in the FS-things go so much more smoothly when you have one person who is around during the day to get the kids transitioned, figure out where the grocery store is, how to get things fixed, where to find things, take care of the half a dozen things that break on a daily basis. Just figuring out what to see and do in a new country and how and when to do it takes time! And being there for our kids when they are so little and we are always putting them through so much transition becomes that much more important. It’s one thing to go to work full-time after a 6 week maternity leave in the US where you know your kid will be living in the same house with the same care providers for years on end. Overseas that’s not true and that causes a lot of anguish for so, so many people. On the other hand, owing to the fact that my own mother was unexpectedly the primary breadwinner for our family for many years of my childhood, I also feel this constant need to be able to jump back into the workforce at anytime. I think perhaps a middle way is the best way–like you are doing and like I’m trying to set up here–a few projects, mostly pro bono but maybe one or two paid that take up a few hours of my day and keep me challenged while still allowing me as much flexibility as possible to be here for my family. THis post will take a while to write but hopefully I’ll get it up soon with all of the wonderful comments people are sharing!

  5. You’re right about being lucky to share our political opinions of course, but I still find the ugliness of it all quite troubling. Sigh. I’m staying off Facebook for a few days until things settle a bit.

    ANYWAY, let me answer your mom question:

    In a perfect world I would be working part-time. I would love to get to spend a good amount of quality time with my son and all the while pursue a rewarding career. However, as you know, there’s no such thing as a part-time diplomat, so being a full-time plus working mom is my current reality. I also think I would be okay being a working mama if I really had a 40 hour/week job and had evenings and weekends to spend as I liked, but do those jobs really even exist anymore? Doesn’t seem like it.

    Do I think I’d be completely happy staying home? That’s a tricky one. If I was staying home for a defined time period and knew I had a career to return to, then yes, I think I could and would enjoy it. (For instance, if my husband joins the FS I’d seriously consider taking a tour off and being his EFM.) However, if I left my career to stay at home indefinitely with no clear path to re-entering the workforce one day (as would be the case if I decided to stay at home before being tenured), then I think I would just be too anxious about the future to really appreciate the time with my son. I respect and have nothing against stay-at-home moms, but for me, professional achievements are an important part of my identity.

    This was a big struggle for me the first year of my son’s life. I think all the maternal hormones and instincts kicked in, and I really felt guilty and troubled that I couldn’t be with my son all day. It’s funny, because my husband and I are definitely co-parents and share all baby related responsibilities, but he didn’t feel any of this being-away-from-the-baby guilt. I think we mamas must be hardwired for it, or something. Anyway, during that period I thought very seriously about quitting my job, but ultimately trudged through because if I quit I wouldn’t have had a clear re-entry into the working world (as I’m untenured), and as I said, I knew in the long run I wouldn’t be happy with that choice.

    After about a year I settled into the role of working mom. I’d still prefer to work part time if that were an option, but I don’t constantly feel guilty or sad when I’m away. I feel like I get a good amount of time with my son. I feel like I’m moving ahead in my career. It also helps that he’s spending his time when he’s not with me with a nanny who is truly fabulous and I think loves him every bit as much as I do, and who’s giving something him I can’t — a second language.

    Well, that was long, but hope my perspective helps!

    • Oh! And one thing I should add. If we had longer maternity leaves like every other civilized country in the world, I think I probably would have been 100% happy being a working mama from the get-go. But going back to work when my kiddo was 2.5 months old was brutal. If I’d had six months or even a full year at home, I suspect I wouldn’t have had any internal conflict.

    • Oh that anxiety about the future if you were to leave the workforce–that is something I know well! Perhaps because my mom was our primary breadwinner for many years while I was growing up? I don’t know. Anyways, I do hope that at some point you get to be an EFM for a few years if you still want to when the time comes! ANd yes, maternity leave! grrr. 6 weeks or even 12 weeks is just insane to me. I mean when I think of where I was when Will was 3 months old, I don’t know how I would have functioned at all at work. Working Mamas inspire me so much. The SAHM gig has its downsides but honestly, I find it much easier in many ways than having to wake up and go to the office and sit at a desk on 3 hours of sleep while wondering the whole time what your kid is doing at home.

  6. I’m struggling with that decision right now. I love staying home with the boys. I love being super busy involved in their school activities and my own association activities. I love the flexibility of dropping everything and taking a trip any moment since they are still young and it doesn’t affect their school. I love being a lady who “teas” with her friends often and is able to go to playgroups all the time. I love being able to bake almost every day and play with the boys and not be exhausted after work although I do egt exhausted after chasing the boys around. But, I do not love feeling like my brain is slowing down. I do not love singing twinkle twinkle little star every day and not know much about the cultural scene any more. I do not love craving having deadlines related to work vs. bedtimes or developmental milestones. I change my mind almost every day but I’m taking it slowly for not. Until that job I’m really craving craving for opens up. I know it will soon and I will stop stressing out about it until it’s available. Then, I will apply, do my part and let God take control. He knows me better than I do, anyway.

    • You are a much more patient and faithful person than me Ana and I admire you for it! It doesn’t sound like your brain is slowing down in the slightest, you keep so busy, you write a wonderful blog and you are right, it’s wonderful that your boys have you with them for those early years of their lives when we have the time to be with them at home before school starts.

  7. I had the unexpected pleasure of being in the US on election day and it was refreshing. I am no fan of political ads and especially dislike the amount of money spent on them instead of so many other things that we can improve in the US but aside from that I agree, the US is a pretty awesome country in that respect.

    On your mommy question: I have had it both ways and have been plagued by guilt in both cases. With my daughter, I went back to work 8 weeks after she was born and felt awful leaving her at home. Prior to that I thought I could not be a stay-at-home mom. I thought I’d be up the walls. But after my daughter was born and I had to go back to work, I often found myself daydreaming about being able to afford staying home with my child. At that time, it was out of the question for financial reasons and the only thing that made me feel less bad about the whole situation was that my mom was taking care of her at home and she was nurtured and loved. My mom watched my daughter at home for two whole years and loved it. They developed a very special bond, which I have to admit, I was jealous of from time to time because I was not the first to see some of my daughter’s firsts. Later on, I felt very guilty that I couldn’t be active in my daughter’s schools because most of the things they needed help with were during work hours.

    The situation was completely different with my son. When we got pregnant with him, we had just recently moved to the DC area, so my husband could join the FS. I had started looking for work but hadn’t found anything yet. I was pretty sick the first trimester, so I took it easy with the interviews. By the time I started showing, I decided that I wanted to stay home for the rest of the pregnancy and at least the first 6 months after the baby was born. We weren’t swimming in cash but we could afford it if we watched our spending. I really enjoyed being home and truly experiencing my pregnancy. My daughter was 7 by then and I was able to volunteer in the classroom and spend some precious day time with her at home as well, which I had been unable to do prior to that. After my son was born I was able to stay home with him for the first 5 months, which was also awesome. My mom came again and helped us with our son as well. When our son was about 5 months I started taking classes at FSI (first ConGen and then Hindi). Around the same time I also took the FSOT and started the process to join the FS. However, with the joy of being home during the pregnancy and the first months of my son’s life came the guilt of not pulling my weight in the family financially. It was not something caused by my husband. It was me and this idea I had of myself as a working (and contributing financially) mom. Not that stay at home moms don’t work… So now I am going back to work and my son will be home with a nanny initially and eventually start day care. He is 21 months now and loves his nanny but I already feel that tug home to be with him. So, I guess I am one of those people who feels it’s hard either way. I am looking for that balance, that magic formula that makes you feel good as a parent and a professional at the same time.

    Also, I love my children but there’s something to be said about needing that intellectual stimulation and contact with adults when you stay home with your kids.

    • Thank you so much for this Daniela! It’s so interesting hearing your perspectives having done it both ways, staying home and working. I’m so glad to hear that you too have felt the no paycheck guilt. Like your husband my husband is incredibly supportive of me staying home and living overseas we can afford it if we aren’t crazy spenders. Even so. For some reason is till feel like I’m not pulling my weight somehow. If we had more than one kid I think I would feel differently but with just one I just feel like I should be able to handle more somehow!

  8. It’s a tough subject to write on because everyone’s opinions and situations are so very different.

    We moved overseas so I could stay at home full time with our first daughter. At the time she was the only child. I went back to work full time when she was 3 months old and quite my job when she was ten months about a month before we moved overseas. I didn’t have any remorse for quitting because I didn’t love my job. I did enjoy my benefits and the paycheck because it allowed us to live a comfortable life in Northern Virginia (where it seems impossible to live on just one income). The daily grind of DC got to me and I felt like I was failing at everything. I wasn’t giving any one part of my life 100%. Living overseas allowed me to stay home and have two more children. I can’t imagine going back to work at an office now. I like to set my hours and work from home. Desk work sounds like torture to me now. Plus all those black business suits, ugh!

    I am thankful every day to be at home with my children. They are happy well adjusted and well behaved kids. I am a homebody so being at home without other adult contact every day is actually not a big deal for me. I see friends when I need a dose of grown up conversation. I think this personality trait for me is a blessing to allow me to be happy at home. I am contributing to our family and home so much more right now than I would be if I were working outside of the home. I personally feel like I am enriching my family’s lives by doing what I do. Cooking, helping with projects, nurturing my children…all these things are a priority for me.

    A happy wife/mom will guarantee a happy family. Everyone is happier when mom feels fulfilled. Whether that means she’s at home or working or doing some of both. I truly believe this.

    In my minds version I am living the dream right now. Everyone has a vision of what “having it all” is for them and right now I’ve got it. I have never been happier or more content with my life. It’s a good feeling and I wish it for everyone.

    • I love reading your perspective Sara! I think so much of my SAHM angst stems from my own experiences growing up (my mom supported our family for quite some time) and the fact that I still have only one kid to look after. I think even with two I would be feeling much less restless because I’d have twice as much to do! I love all of my homey projects and caring for Will, but I also love the idea of having one or two challenging pro bono projects to take up a few hours of my day–at least until we have another newborn in another year or two and I go back to being totally sleep deprived again. Though blogs are only a small window into anyone’s life, the love and labor you put towards making your home a comfortable, enriching and loving pace for your family shows in your photographs and the smiles on your kids’ faces. What a beautiful way to live a life!

  9. Pingback: GUEST POST: Returning to the Work Force As a SAHM | World Moms Blog

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