Monday, October 12, 2009

Career Counseling

A fellow-mom friend of mine was telling me the other day about her deep desire to be a "career mom"--and wondering if you can really be a "career mom" with only two children. She didn't mean a working mom--not a mom with a career. She meant that she wants full-time motherhood to BE her career, only she wonders if being a career mom means--sort of requires, in a way--having a life like HER mom did, giving birth to five children over a span of 20 years, and therefore raising them over her entire adult "working" life.

My friend and I each have two children. We're both in our late 30s, and many days we feel old, and tired. Even though we sometimes think about it in a musing, what-if kind of way, mostly we can't imagine putting our bodies and minds through a third pregnancy, postpartum period, or early-baby-years stage--you know, those years devoid of sleep and self-care? Neither of us has nearby family for help; neither of us has enough money to be able to comfortably have baby after baby and not worry about how the bills will be paid. Our resources--of all kinds--are relatively sparse. Our husbands don't want third babies; they love being dads, but they're tired and worn thin. I look in the mirror and feel as if the five years I've been a parent have aged me more than five years; those early parenting years are like dog years when it comes to aging, I swear.

And yet, despite the complaints and the fatigue and the annoying behavioral phases that you swear are going to drive you to drink--oh, I don't know, things like the five-year-old and her torturous school-morning routine, the one that involves daily wailing and wringing of hands and shedding of tears and then a last-minute scramble for the bus? just for example--well, believe it or not, my friend and I both really do love being moms. We love it so much we'd like to make it our careers. We'd like to re-create the retro 1970s childhoods of our youth, when it was perfectly natural to be a years-long stay-at-home mom, volunteering at the school and baking cookies for after-school snack and cooking soup all afternoon on a chilly autumn day and showing up in December for the daytime school Christmas program to see the grade-schoolers singing carols.

But can you do this with just two? is the question my friend was asking. Are two children enough to legitimately make a career out of motherhood?

What do you think, readers? What does it take--and how many children--to be a "career mom"? (And why does it seem like three is the new two?)

10 comments:

donna said...

I don't think that being a career-mom is tied in anyway to the number of kids you have. I think it takes a certain personality to be a career-mom. (That, and the financial means to be able to support your family (however many kids you have) on one salary.)

Funny that you mention 3 is the new 2. It seems that recently, the majority of my husband's students are one of three or only children. We've also noticed that in my son's and daughter's classes, too!

Christopher Tassava said...

Two is one more than you need to be a "career mom." We seem to be making it work pretty well so far.

Rob Hardy said...

My question is: what happens when all the children are in school all day? I was a full-time stay-at-home father for nearly a decade. When child #2 started school, I fell into a real, diagnosed depression. Suddenly, my purpose gone, my career was over. So, I think you need to plan for something else when you hit that transitional stage in your life.

Shan said...

I don't know, Rob. That's a good question. The problem(s) I often hear about is that a.) there's more to do to manage the house/family than can easily fit into nights/weekends only (and there are kid-related things that need doing during the day i.e. after-school/before-school care), but there's not necessarily enough to do to fill six or seven hours; and b.) that jobs requiring work only during the children's school hours are pretty hard to come by.

I guess I'm stymied by that.

I do, however, always have slight thoughts/plans in my back pocket involving my own practice/business, which could be as part-time as I want and fit into the hours I would like.

Not sure though. It seems like an awful lot of at-home parents (moms, generally) of previous years did the career-mom thing despite the issue of the kids being in school. Or did they keep having babies, and because of that, there was always work to do at home? Which means I'd have to have more babies if I was going to jump on that bandwagon. As my friend said, "I think I'd have to find myself a new husband!"

Shan said...

P.S. I almost forgot: I plan to have a book contract to work on by the time the children are in all-day school. ;)

Mnmom said...

I would be one if I could! I miss having the time to cook soup, keep up with laundry, sweep the front porch, and clean out the car.

The ideal life for me would be about 10-15 hours of paid work, then the rest of the week to volunteer and be a homemaker. And I'm a card-carrying feminist.

Shan said...

Yeah, me too, Mnmom. Except for me, maybe, uh, four or five hours of paid work per week. Possibly two to three. Maybe one. ;)

Drew said...

oh me too! i love this thought. the whole of it. beautiful post.

i think the what to do part is interesting. it sort of assumes that you're done once you send them off to school. and i suppose it irks me a little since i too value the career mom architype. built into my dayjob and thus my purpose, are a host of other things (not including the children) that keep myself and my home afloat. i guess it depends on what it takes to make ones individual home, but i cant imagine not having a million things to do. we do make a lot of our own food, cleaners, and medicine. but being available to them and not having them need before and after school programs because of work schedules seems reason enough to find something productive to fill those few hours when they are away...my mother was always involved in school and i loved it. when my folks divorced and she had to work full time, i always missed that she couldnt be there.

i dont mean to say its not possible to feel a loss. im just not sure its enough to give up being a career mom. sorry i went on. a teeny tiny sore spot for me...

Drew said...

shan- that drew was me, latisha. i didnt realize he was logged in to blogger. sorry for the confusion!

Shan said...

Hey Latisha (aka Drew, ha ha!), thanks for this comment. I feel the exact same way. I do a LOT of cleaning. (Some call me obsessive; the truth is we have 4 people in a small house with zero storage. Keeping things clean makes our life healthy, happy, and livable.) I do a LOT of from-scratch cooking and baking. I deal with boxes of fresh produce each week all summer from a CSA farm. I write. I shop carefully. I do the errands. I run. I volunteer for my girls' schools. I keep up and organize all our family's baby books, photo albums, memory journals. I buy the birthday and holiday gifts. I plan the parties. I "do" the holidays. I can hardly imagine not having things to do between 8 and 3 every day, even though, like you say, I can understand why some would feel purposeless. And who knows, maybe I will? But I can't imagine it now.

In all honesty, my ONLY concern with staying home into the school years is lack of income. If my husband worked in a different field that paid more, I would happily plan for a future as a years-long SAHM without a second thought---and not because I'm lazy or unambitious or don't want to be busy or do work, but because of my own family values and because it still seems like the management of a family/household requires a lot of work.