“You’re going back to work soon, right? You’ve gotta be getting bored at home every day by now.”
That quote came from a well-meaning friend with whom I used to work. I’ve been a full time wife and mother and self-publishing writer for going on twelve years now. I wrote yesterday about how it took a pretty long time for me to figure out who I was, and that’s what this post is about.
A long time ago, in what feels at times like someone else’s life, I was a single girl who worked for a home construction company, and that’s the place at which this particular friend worked with me. That was my only full time job, and it was my longest lasting job…I worked there for 8 years, from right after I graduated college until The Boy was born. But before that I’d worked as a barista (I wrote about that job…I liked that job), as a server and kitchen staff for high end catering events, in a flower shop (hoo boy…not a fun way to find out you have severe pollen allergies), in an auto parts store, and entering journalism copy as well as DOING reporting on restaurant health inspections for a local newspaper (yes, really). I also had one photography assignment (I got a byline and everything). I never hated or resented any of that work. But I never LOVED it, really either. I know…’Who loves work, Jen? Nobody…’ But that’s not true, and it doesn’t even take fame and wealth to make a person love their job. It’s more than actors and athletes and rock stars who love work. I know ‘regular’ people who love work. They love what they do. They feel a sense of accomplishment or worth or responsibility that’s rewarding to them beyond the money…they’re driven and passionate about their career. I know teachers, small business owners, firefighters, engineers, nurses and doctors, salespeople who love the products they sell, service staff who love their regular customers. Yeah…there are some of those folks who are also phoning it in for paychecks, but at least to a significant percentage of people? Their job’s a *calling.* They love their work. On most days, work isn’t a slog. It’s a place they want to go, sometimes are grateful to go. They have bad days…maybe even some where they claim to HATE their jobs (J has these days at his engineering job). But really? They love their work. Elie Wiesel says the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And that’s how I felt about every job I ever did. Indifferent.
I’m not indifferent about being a wife and mom and writing. NOW, I love my work. But some argue I’m not supposed to.
Back in the Dark Ages, before the internet…before VHS even, my mom went back to work when I was less than 2 weeks old, and I went to stay every day with my dad’s parents, who were older, and retired. They were essentially a Norman Rockwell caricature of a couple who married and parented children in the 1930s-1960s.
My mom always had to work, but she liked working, and I’m certainly not invalidating that. I get it. Sometimes it’s a victory for feminism, and sometimes it’s following a dream of something a woman has always wanted to accomplish for herself, and sometimes it’s fulfilling a need to be social with other adults in addition to or even instead of mere necessity, or a combination of some or all of those things. I’m grateful to stay home, and I’m also grateful for all the working women in the world, particularly all the working moms, including mine. I have a ton of respect for them, because there are times being a full time parent of my ONE child seems totally overwhelming on its own. But Mom has always been bothered by my desire to be a homemaker, and she’s never been shy about sharing it. I’m not opposed to work. I *did* work outside home. I bought my own new car and house on my own before I met J, something my parents never did as single people, or even together as a newlywed couple. (She criticized me for doing those things too, by the way. Mom is a mystery to me fairly often.)
Anyway, Mom always thought since I could work, I should, and she’s always made me feel like staying home made me ‘less.’ Less than what I could or should be, less than what she expected me to be, less than what I should want to be, and certainly less than J, because he works outside home. But staying home with The Boy made me *happy.* I loved my work. That’s the first time I loved my work…staying home with The Boy. When my ‘job’ became ‘full time wife and mom.’ And growing up with my grandparents, I didn’t see what my mom saw in that dynamic. Grampa never treated Gramma like ‘less,’ and she didn’t ever act like ‘less,’ or like he was ‘more.’
That’s what I really wanted to be when I was a little girl…my gramma. Sure, I had phases of wanting to be Sally Ride and Mary Lou Retton and a Ghostbuster, and I thought about being a veterinarian or a writer (ok, so I did eventually do that one…but still…it’s not something I thought I could ever make a living at…and I can’t make a living at it now…and I was told repeatedly that I couldn’t make a living at silly, creative pursuit…). I was ‘pretty good’ and ‘above average’ at a lot of things, academically, but I never really had a passion for something that would lead to a future career I could reliably support myself with. The only thing I cared about like that was people.
Up to and including high school, because I was ‘smart,’ and a high academic achiever, I TOLD people I wanted to be a doctor, because that’s what smart, academic achievers are supposed to want to be. I was actually really happy working my part time job as a barista inside a bookstore coffee shop. In college, when the realities of medical practice set in (empathy overload with sick patients and their families, an unending cycle of paperwork mitigating how I could best help other people, the weighty responsibility of literal life and death etc.), I switched my focus to law, changed my major, and started telling people I wanted to be an attorney. That’s like a lateral move from ‘doctor,’ right? But deep down, I knew I didn’t have the competitive drive or the ability to take a hard-line stance for somebody I might patently disagree with for money. All I really WANTED to be was a wife and mom. Really. If someone asked me what my real dreams were, and I trusted them enough to be wholly honest without fearing judgment, that’s what I would have said. But I never trusted anyone enough for that. Besides, I didn’t even have a boyfriend, so ‘wife and mom’ was a dream that was clearly dependent on another person, and I didn’t have said other person. Dreams dependent on another person were ones I was conditioned to believe were flighty and weak and not the kind I was supposed to have. I knew what my own mother would say if I voiced that desire out loud around her, so I just assumed everyone else agreed with her, and they’d tell me I was wasting my potential.
Societal and more personal pressure from my family and friends made me ashamed of what I really wanted my life to be. So, I did what was supposed to make me happy, and stayed quietly miserable. I felt kind of scatterbrained, but, like everything else, I kept all those thoughts to myself.
I got a job out of college that was intellectually challenging ‘enough,’ and paid ‘enough,’ and continued to win meaningless certificates and plaques and logo t-shirts that said I was doing a good job. I did try to do a good job, because that’s a part of who I am. I don’t like letting other people down and seeing them displeased when I could have made them happier, or at least less angry and anxious. But I was still indifferent to my job on the soul level.
I saved and bought ‘things’ that were the trappings and proof of success, and my ability to sacrifice to meet my own financial goals alone, and be really independent, but I never really felt like a success. No matter what recognition I attained, or what kind of material wealth I stacked up, I never felt proud of myself or even just content and satisfied. ‘Stuff’ has never really made me happy. I’m not a shopper. I don’t get excited about clothes or cars or home decor or beauty products. I’m just not built that way.
My parents never told me they were proud of anything I did, and self-aggrandizing just doesn’t ever cut it for me. I need to hear, ‘Good job,’ from somebody else or it’s almost like whatever I did didn’t count. I don’t need an adoring crowd to chant my name or anything. I got something out of the smiling faces of the people I made coffee for at the bookstore. To get lasting positive effects, the ‘somebody else,’ in my case has to be a person whose opinion I prioritize, and the thing I’m doing a good job at has to be of some importance. So ‘good job’ from a teacher or supervisor, or a peer at school or work would earn me a little satisfaction, but it wasn’t like getting it from my parents. And hearing ‘good job’ about shaving 20 minutes off cycle time isn’t the same as hearing it about raising a child.
Then I met J.
J doesn’t see what I do, what makes me happy, or me, as less. His mom was a homemaker, and he was very close to her and honors her still (sorrowfully, she passed away two years before we met). He’s the only person in my life that I opened up to about wanting to be a stay at home parent…that was really my heart’s true desire. And he didn’t shame it or make me feel obligated to do ‘more,’ because I *could* get more education and achieve at it, and I have that opportunity, so I ‘should,’ or I could go work somewhere to make (significant amounts of) money because money is the measure of human worth, or at least of human work. He doesn’t think those things make me ‘more.’ I sure didn’t feel like ‘more’ than I am now when I worked eight years in that construction office. There, it was made clear to me that I was just another cog in a big machine…easily replaceable. The company I worked for didn’t love me. They barely appreciated the work I did (and I did quality work for them). J, at his job, makes more in one bonus than I made in every bonus I earned at my job over 8 years combined. At home? I am appreciated every day. I am loved and I feel important and priceless.
I didn’t ever see my dreams as a waste of my potential, or making me ‘less.’ J doesn’t either. He values what I do, and thinks it IS worthy of my intelligence and capability. J doesn’t think I’m wasting my potential, and he shows me with consistency that he’s happy with what I do. I know I’m lucky to have found J, and that I’m able to live the life I have now as a choice. I know my choices aren’t for everybody. And I know not everyone is blessed to have my choices. But I’m not going to feel guilty or ‘less than’ about them, because with J, I have the freedom to be who I want to be, and I don’t feel any shame about it.
So, no. Not planning to go back to work yet. I’ve honestly never been happier. And I’m not ‘bored’ at home every day. I’m doing what makes me feel calm and content. I’m doing what I’m passionate about…being J’s wife…being The Boy’s mom…writing new words every day…
I’m busy living the dream.