I’m new to this.
Before I was married, I worked a full-time journalism gig for 7 years, and then for another year after marriage while my husband finished his undergrad. We had a baby during that year, and I continued working full time while my husband went to school and stayed home with our daughter on the days he didn’t have class. A patchwork of volunteer babysitters from our church helped us out on the other days, and though I was technically a “working parent” at the time, it didn’t feel like a big deal. My husband made dinner and babies sleep a lot, so although my time with our daughter was limited, I knew it was temporary and she wouldn’t remember it anyway.
Then we moved to Pennsylvania and my husband started seminary and I stayed home with the baby girl, who would be followed by a baby boy a year and a half later. It made sense for me to stay home, even though our income was severely limited and we had to rely on government assistance to get by. Had I worked, we still would have had child care costs and a whole lot more stress. I know this decision is not a popular one and opens us up to criticism, but it was what our family needed to do to get by.
It would be years before we had stable full-time income, and in those years, while parenting small children, I tested the freelance writing waters. Here and there I sold an article. I started blogging to keep myself sane because writing is a lifeline for me. But parenting was my main job, and I didn’t always do it well, but I did it.
We’ve always known, at least I think we have, that when the kids went to school, I would focus on my writing and do what God has called me to do, and seek to make money at it, even if it never “paid the bills.” Phil said to me the other day that he feels like he works an outside job so that I can write. I don’t take for granted that I have a husband who supports and champions my dreams, even when I don’t have the energy or confidence to do it myself.
That’s where I find myself: with two kids in school full time, a husband working a full-time job, and me pursuing writing as both a calling and a career. For about six months, I’ve been working with a client on a memoir, which means that I am getting paid for a project that is time-consuming and demanding and a lot of fun. But it also means that I feel more like a “working parent.”
Most days, my husband goes off to work, and I get the kids on the bus, and then the day stretches out ahead of me in a rhythm of writing, eating, and housework. Okay, and some leisure. But today, that rhythm changed. I had a meeting with my client and I needed the car, so we all left the house at the same time. We dropped my husband off at work and then I took the kids to school, something I’ve never done before. Then I swung back by home because we’d forgotten to put the trash out. Knowing that this morning would be hectic, I spent part of last night printing out a copy of the manuscript for my client and making sure dishes were clean for lunches. We remembered too late, just before bed, that my husband needed work clothes washed, so into the washer they went at 11 p.m., into the dryer at 6:30 a.m. After my stop at home, I met my client at McDonald’s where we talked through some questions I had about his stories for almost two hours.
I get it, though. That’s nothing compared to what most “working parents” face every day. Also, I hate that phrase, “working parent,” because parenting by its very nature is work. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done, and it’s endless in its demands. “Working parent” is redundant. I’ve been a working parent since my kids were born; now I’m just working at something besides parenting, or in addition to it. I’m ridiculously grateful that I can work for myself and set my own hours and pursue a craft that is mostly fun and enjoyable for me. So, that’s why I can only say that I sort of know what you parents who work at something in addition to parenting go through. It’s a teensy tiny glimpse.
I know that it’s easy for us parents to be hard on ourselves about any of our choices: to work a job outside the home, to stay home and work at parenting, to work from home and work at parenting, so can we just agree that whatever we decide to do is okay if it’s a right fit for our family and makes ends meet? That are lots of ways to be good parents and we’re all working at it the best we can?
Forget labels. Forget about the “shoulds” that other people try to place on your life and just do what you need to do. That’s what I’m telling myself today. I need to give myself that grace. Maybe you do, too.