By Jen Ashenfelter
Some decisions are based on a want. Do I want to be a stay-at-home or a working mother? Sometimes there’s no choice in the matter—maybe going to work is a financial need. I’ve experienced all three.
I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother so I stopped working after my first son was born. Eventually our financial situation changed, so I needed to be a working mother. For many years I really enjoyed my job in real estate—until it started consuming the time I wanted to give my family. A career in real estate cost me more than I was making; once again, I made the decision to get off the merry-go-round and be a stay-at-home mother. I loved it—time for the kids, the household and myself—to sip coffee or have lunch with friends, read books, attend a class and take on some freelance writing projects.
My days at home weren’t quite as dramatic and well-paying as those of the Real Housewives of NJ, so I got a different job.
However, I figured my days of living like one of the Housewives were quickly nearing the final episode, especially since I was not getting compensated for this reality show where “getting nickeled and dimed” actually costs Jacksons and Bens in this economy. With college tuition looming large over the horizon, going back to work was part of my long-range plan but the bank account couldn’t wait that long.Whether you want to work or you need to work, well, it’s still work. However, there are advantages to being a working mother. Here’s my spin on what can be gained—besides money in the checking account—from being a working mother.
It’s my paid vacation
I didn’t want to leave my toddler and infant every other weekend when I started working at the real estate office. I didn’t want to be away several nights a week when I worked at the tax preparation office from January through April. As fun as those jobs ended up being, they were a need and not a want. There were plenty of responsibilities in the job descriptions but there were also no diapers, no endless questions, no bickering, no whining and no SpongeBob! All that and a paycheck too—put your hands in the air and give me woot woot?! There’s no downside when you look at the bright side. Discover the positives when you have to work and create some fun.
Dust off the jewelry and heels
Being at home with two boys left little opportunity to dress up, but I’m still a girl at heart. Wearing sweatpants and sneakers are comfortable and convenient for kicking around the house, but some days I was a prime target for a style ambush where obnoxious TV hosts go through your closet and drawers and heave every piece of clothing you own into a giant garbage bag. I’m all for casual, cozy clothing, but I have a new appreciation for business attire. Buy a new outfit and blow the dust off the jewelry and heels, then add some mascara and lip gloss—the feeling is amazing!
Break the OCD housecleaning habit
My name is Jennifer. I’m a clean freak. What’s that on the floor…why are there crumbs on the counter? I don’t care what your house looks like; I care what my house looks like…a lot. If that makes me a little OCD, then I guess I’m guilty as charged. However, I’m learning to deal with my obsession, but only because I have to! Sadly, I don’t have as much free time to dust and scrub and vacuum anymore. So to all you clean-home haters, forgive me. I’m a changed woman and I want to be a part of your club.
Give the kids something to do
Ok, I’m not completely cured of my clean-house obsession. Isn’t that why we have children so that eventually they can take over all the chores? (No need to call Social Services—my two are definitely old enough…and it’s about time too.) The boys are learning that their clean clothes and a bathroom that doesn’t feel like a public restroom don’t just happen. There’s just not enough time in my day to do it all. Working has made me realize that they live here too and the free ride is over. This working woman may not be awarded Mother-of-the-Year for making the boys do more housework, but some day my daughters-in-law will thank me.
When I’m belting out a tune, this is what I see looking through my windshield.
In the car, you are a ROCK STAR
Whether it is five minutes or one hour, embrace the commute. The time and space belong to you! It could be the quietest time of your day or the loudest. Personally, I prefer the daily rock concert. I don’t sing in the shower—someone in the house might hear me, and I’m fairly sure my American Idol audition would produce goose bumps—more of the fear-inducing than the awe-inspiring kind. But in the car—with the speakers thumping—I am Kelly Clarkson…no, Carrie Underwood…wait, a little Jennifer Hudson. Ok, in reality maybe more like William Hung, but it’s my moment on the stage. Rock on!
And more important, surround yourself with really smart and creative people
What’s the saying…too much of a good thing is too much…or something like that? It’s true! Most days I enjoyed being at home with my boys. I loved watching them play and learn and grow. It was fun for them but not always fun for me. It was all about Legos and Matchbox cars and tool sets and playing in the dirt—don’t get me wrong, they are all very cool things. But some days I longed for a mountain of Barbie dolls with fabulous outfits and little shoes. Or I wanted to just sit and read a book. Try reading any Harry Potter book at 5 minute intervals with 10,000 interruptions—not going to happen. Let’s just say that exercising my mind, finding adult conversation, and keeping my writing skills fresh were challenging at times.
Now that the boys are in school, working part time allows me to concentrate on learning and growing too. Never stop learning. Do yourself a favor and surround yourself with people who are smarter and more creative than you, but who are encouraging and patient. Don’t feel intimidated. It feels great being part of a team, to be working with people who are really passionate about what they do, and accomplishing positive things every day. Our children receive our wisdom, guidance and encouragement to learn and grow. Even as adults, why can we not give that to ourselves?
If you’re a working mother, what do you feel you’ve gained by going to work? How do you make your time at work fun and rewarding?