What does it really mean to work full-time?
I am at O’Hare flying to Pittsburgh to give a speech. I try to never give speeches. Actually I try to never leave my house. Because I think I will regret any time I spend away from my kids.
Well, definitely I will. Here’s how I know:
Because I chose to live in abject poverty in NYC because I didn’t want to leave my kids to work in an office. So I started building a freelance writing business on $25 articles. We ran out of food a lot, and I thought I’d look back and be horrified that my kids did not have beds. (We all slept on the floor because we had no room for beds.)
But in fact, what I regret is the four years I worked 80-hour weeks running my startup and put my kids in daycare. (I called it school, but I know there is no distinction between school for four-year-olds and daycare for four-year-olds.) I was making mid-six figures for most of that time, but those years are much more sour in my memory than the years of living in poverty where I spent my days with my kids.
So I try not to leave the kids now. And I console myself that I’m homeschooling. I’m spending most of my days with the kids.
My kids would say I’m spending most of my days doing work.
Both might be true, but I want to wrestle with this reality at home, close enough to them to hear their constant, daily fighting.
The TV in terminal G has Sheryl Sandberg telling women to Lean In. And signing autographs. And I wonder why would she spend extra time at her speech signing autographs. I don’t think it’ll sell more books. Having been an author signing autographs myself, I can testify: those people would have bought my book anyway. After all, they listened to the whole lecture—they are invested.
So I want to know: why does she spend that extra time? She has two young kids. I understand wanting to run a company, and I understand wanting to launch an organization to (supposedly) help women, but I don’t understand the devaluing of parenting time by choosing to sign autographs instead.
Did you see the Time 100? The best part of the magazine that week was Joel Stein’s essay on how hard Time works to appeal to Generation Y by targeting the 100 toward that demographic. And how much Time misses the mark.
In that same issue Sheryl wrote the homage or essay or ass-kissing-memo or whatever we are calling the Time 100 writings, about Beyonce. Sheryl talks about how Beyonce has changed the music industry. She’s a leader in song and dance and performance. But there’s exactly nothing surprising until Sheryl adds, “Beyonce does all this while being a full-time mother.”
In that little sentence, Sandberg does something very big. Sandberg declares that you can have a full-time job and be a full-time mother.
This is convenient. Because now Sandberg is a full-time mom who spends some days away from the kids signing autographs. And running Facebook. And Beyonce is a full-time mom who spends some days away from her daughter on billion-dollar concert tours. So basically anyone who gave birth is a full-time mom regardless of how much of their time is spent on kids. Now we can all feel good about ourselves regardless of our choices.
But does this help anyone?
No. It’s a way to deny that we make big choices in our lives. Of course you cannot choose to be a full-time mom and have a big career. Full-time mom means your kids are your career. If you redefine full-time mom then you take away the ability for people who stay home with their kids to describe their work as full-time. You invite the ignorant and antiquated question: “Oh, you are with the kids all day? What do you do with all your time?”
Obviously Beyonce has time with her daughter. But she is splitting her time between two things that are important to her.
This all begs the question: What does it mean to work full-time?
Marissa Mayer requires full-time employees to work in the office. And she is just putting in writing what is understood at most top-flight companies, which is that facetime matters and people with serious careers don’t work from home.
At Wal-Mart 24-hour weeks is full-time because the company wants to sidestep health insurance for low-level employees.
At a startup full-time is 80-hour weeks. When I was running my last startup, Brazen Careerist, and I cut back from 80-hour weeks to 50-hour weeks, we agreed at a board meeting that I was working part-time and the salary I draw should reflect that.
During that same phase of my life, I started homeschooling my kids. And I realized that most people assume you have to be a full-time parent to homeschool kids. But I don’t think of myself as a full-time parent.
So you can see that what is part-time work to some people is full-time work to other people. And I guess I have to admit that what is part-time parenting to some people is full-time parenting to other people.
Probably the best way to find out if someone is a full-time parent is to ask their kids. Do the kids think they are the parent’s primary concern, or do the kids feel they compete with something else on the parent’s agenda?
The irony of all this full-time talk is that Pew Research polled women with kids the majority will said their optimum situation would be being home with the kids and a small but meaningful, part-time job on the side.
The problem here is the small-but-meaningful clause. There is a direct correlation between the amount of meaning in an achievement and the amount of meaning in the things we give up to attain that achievement. It’s why people tell you that when you have kids your life will change – because you will give up so much in your life that you thought was nonnegotiable.
There are not limited-time-but-still-meaningful jobs. And there is not limtited-time-but-still-meaningful parenting. Because both imply that you somehow beat the system and avoid the tough tradeoffs.
There is only the truth that you get what you give. If you give a lot to your kids, you get a lot from your kids. If you give a little, you get a little. And the same is true with your work.
I don’t know what Beyonce has left to give her daughter. I don’t know what Sandberg has left to give her kids. But I know that redefining full-time parenting, as something you can do with a full-time job, only distorts the discussion of the choices women make now. And it is deliberately misleading to women who have to make tough choices in the coming years.
Amen. I get so tired of everyone acting like working moms are just so brave and strong. When in fact, as a working mom, I am just trying to stay as organized and focused as I can while at work so I can get back home to be with my family – where my real joy is. If we could all be a little more honest, in saying that we are working for the money – for clothes, food, our delightful home and potentially early retirement and activities and college for the kids maybe we’d realize we aren’t all that much different. We just want to be great mom’s that learn how to master the art of juggling!
Your comment is spot on! Thank you.
I know this is not the main point of the post, but as someone who has attended many book signings, I will often pick up a second copy to be signed for my mom. We have similar tastes and a signed copy makes a nice gift. Yes, I’m invested in the author/book already, but I’ll never buy a second copy from Amazon or B&N for my mom; I’ll just pass down my copy for her to borrow when I’m done. I have purchased second books at signings at least two or three times in recent memory; I can’t imagine I’m the only one.
I’m a working mom and I do it for the money- I would rather be home with my little toddlers. Our quality of life would drop significantly if we lived on one income. With that said, what about Europe – don’t most parents work in Europe – are we saying children in Europe are inherently worse because their parents work?
–Actually, I believe they have as many or more stay at home parents in Europe as we do in America. Also, working hours in Europe just aren’t as great, so it makes it all more manageable. Also, Europe has a lower birth rate than America. It’s easier to work more hours when you have one child than it is when you have two.
I am writing here from Europe and am a stat at homr mom. I am the only one of my neighbors who has left work to stay at home. The job market it too hard to get back into for people who leave(at least here in Spain). It is not easier here for moms, the hours are often longer if not the same and despite only having 1 child , they still come home from an 8 or 9 hout day and have activities, laundry, dinner and husbands.
I am so glad to be home, even though it is often quite challenging. I feel like the dividing of my attention would be tough. Thanks for the great post.
Europe spans a lot of countries / cultures / languages and separate economies, so it varies.
I’m Danish. I don’t remember any stay-at-home moms (moms of classmates etc) from my childhood or adulthood, neither inside or outside my family. Not even in the years I worked on farms. The farm wives would usually have a job in town (full or part time, I’m not sure but probably the latter) while the husband ran the farm, or they would both ran different sections of the farm.
I do think stay-at-home moms are a common thing in Germany though, I learned that in school (in marketing/sociology/intercultural communication or something like that). I suspect it is also more common in latin and Eastern European cultures, and in low-output economies (measured in money).
I now live in Australia, and stay-at-home mums seem much more common here. Where I grew up it was just not a thing. My mom was mostly home with us, but that was because she studied, and we were still in daycare.
Ps. How the h### did my avatar get in there? I only filled in my first name an email, and didn’t link to my website.
Thank you for calling Sheryl Sandberg out on her “I have research to show that you can have other people raise your kids and still call yourself a great mom” nonsense. I will say that I have found very meaningful part-time work as an EFT Practitioner/Trauma Counselor. I see clients when my daughter is home with her dad, in classes or spending time with friends. Finding that balance can be done!
I think that if I can’t outsource being a wife to my husband then I can’t outsource being a mom to my kids.
Honestly, I am not of the mindset that I have to change every diaper and I have to cook every meal. Someone else can do it. And my kid does spend time with other people in his life like my mom and sister and brothers (and his aunt and other grandma).
But there’s something that happens when things are not scheduled. When everyone just lets down their guard and spending time together is not riddled with anxiety of hitting the perfect note because you don’t get the luxury again soon. I think that’s when intimacy happens.
I am coming up to my 5 year anniversary with my husband. So far (up until a month ago) our marriage was (for me) filled with the anxiety that every time we had time together it had to be perfect because we were always separated by our work schedules. It was too much. It ended up feeling too fake.
He stays at home with our son as of a month ago. It’s amazing to come home and just sit on the couch with him and not have to have perfect conversation or worry that if we don’t make the moment perfect (have the magical emotional orgasm) the opportunity has escaped us and we won’t get it again until who knows when.
I take my kid to the office and we just hang out for a bit. I figure I can bust through work whenever or have a quicker lunch. But that one-on-one hour of cuddling and reading books on the floor at my office….no one can give him and I that gift.
This is not to say that this is the only way to raise kids. But pretending that your kid isn’t missing out on something precious while you are going full on at a career is a lie. Just own up to it and say “I am trading time with my kids to sign these books so please appreciate it like it’s gold because I am giving up something so valuable to be here with you inspiring you to lean in!”
That would be more honest.
Wow, this is one of the best things you have ever written. And I’m not even a mom.
Well played. Somethings gotta give. A lot of women struggle with this issue. Many of my friends are like me, we need alternative engagement that feeds our career purpose so we can stay sane and engage fulling with our kids when we are with them. I think those who struggle with this issue are the ones who win. Fulfillment takes constant supervision. Thanks for the post, Penelope.
I like the idea that the winners are the ones who struggle. Maybe the win is in being honest about what we love and what we give up and what is disappointing. Maybe just being honest about having the struggle is the win. Thank you for planting that seed in my head, Lara.
I have to agree that this may be your best post, and I’m a guy who hasn’t given much thought to this subject either way. Very well-reasoned and well-written. It’s obviously a topic you’re passionate about, and it comes through.
I agree with Mike. Well done Penelope!
The ugly truth that no one wants to say – because the U.S. is a place where if you THINK you can do it or have it, you can- is that you cannot do both.
You cannot work full time and be a full-time mom. Something has to give. And if you’re working, it is usually your kids that lose out, not because you don’t care, but because the pressure is so strong.
But in the same turn, you can’t be a full-time mom with a job on the side, and not have the latter suffer in some way too. Often it doesn’t matter, because many part-time jobs are flexible and more forgiving. But you will still find yourself juggling work and home.
Frankly, when I was younger, I did want to work full-time. Yes, it was fulfilling, and easier in a way than staying home with the kids.
But in my old age (42) I just don’t give a hoot: if I inherited enough money to live decently I wouldn’t work another day in my life.
Volunteer, yes. Dabble, yes. Have lots of fun and fulfilling hobbies, some of which might look like work- yes.
But “real” work?
I’m just too tired of it all, and I want out of this rat race.
I almost never comment on blogs I read, but I couldn’t resist joining the chorus here and say Right On.
I think you’re missing the mark with the suggestion that being a “full time mom” relies on the sum of the hours you spend with your children during the week. My wife is a teacher who works “full time.” She also spends every spare minute with our children – and during the hours she is not with them, she’s setting an example for our two daughters, dedicating her work days to her students.
Your post misses that it is not about quantity, but quality; my wife is a role model for our girls, and the time she does spend with them is spent with the utmost joy and passion. I’d take that model over your definition of a “full time mom” who either smothers her children, or does not feel personally fulfilled without a career, and therefore does not fully maximize the quality of the time she spends with her children.
If dismissing others as “not full time Mothers” helps you validate your own choices, I guess that’s your right – but I certainly disagree.
It sounds like you and your family have a situation that works very well for you. I am very happy for you. Truly.
I think the part of your comment that is most salient to PT’s post is that your wife spends every “spare” minute with her children. I think that is wonderful and I’m sure they appreciate it, but it highlights the fact that time with her students comes first.
If your daughter skins her knee and what she really wants/needs is her mother, it won’t be a tragedy but getting sympathy hours later won’t be the same. I’m sure when your wife is there for some other mother’s child’s skinned knee it is of great comfort and value. But they would probably prefer to have their own mother.
Also, I don’t think stay at home mothers can corner the market on smothering. I think guilt driven “quality” time forced into an available time slot can have its own pitfalls.
Again, I am not criticizing anyone’s choices, just pointing out a different perspective.
I agree with the sentiment that we should recognise that it is impossible to have a full time job and be a full time mother. But I disagree that if you’re working full time, you’ve decided not to give your children your best. Many women can’t afford to even have this discussion, it’s a very privileged thing to even be able to discuss.
I haven’t met a single mother who isn’t wracked with guilt about her choices, and I think we should concentrate on figuring out why our society doesn’t allow women to spend more with their children and still work, rather than commenting on women’s choices. No mother I know has chosen lightly about how she spends her day.
I agree Katherine! I read this post and cringed a little inside as it sounds so judgmental and archaic. My mother worked 2-3 jobs at times in my life and I never felt like I lacked time with her or that her career was more important than spending time with me. This post is a very privileged and disconnected point of view in that it discounts the hours that single mother’s have to give to their work and to their children by suggesting that you are not a full time mother if you have full time job. It’s insensitive and made my skin crawl!
When do you have a chance to spend time together without the kids?
My mom was a teacher. She did not set a good example to my sister and I. My thoughts growing up: she gave her energy to her kids at school and we got sloppy seconds when she got home. She was wiped, because if you’re a good teacher it’s TIRING being with a class all day and there’s no way you can come home after work and be fully energized for your children.
I can’t see how stay at home moms smother their children. Isn’t it the other way around for working moms who have outsourced parenting during the day and try to make up lost time at night?
And to reiterate Penelope’s point, to say your wife is a full time mom while being gone all day at work negates those that have chosen to ACTUALLY be a full time parent and stay with their kids. One day your kids will be able to understand the truth: mama spent her years raising other people’s children.
If you really think that a teacher chooses to raise other people’s children instead of her own, I truly feel sorry for you. You’re basically suggesting that anyone who chooses to work during the day isn’t “raising” their children.
This is also a moot point once the children turn 4 and start attending school themselves – no additional time is lost due to a job after that point. If an 18 year old child looks back and says their parents weren’t present enough raising them because they worked from 8-4 while the children were under 4 years old – then it’s the flaw of the individual parent, not of the working-parent structure.
That’s not necessarily how it works. School is usually less hours than a job. Often, kids are dropped off at before school programs, so the parents can get to work on time. Then have to go to after school programs until the parents can pick them up. I’ve seen kids spend the hours of 6:00 am – 6:00 pm in the care of others so the parent’s can work. It’s not the exception.
“If dismissing others as “not full time Mothers” helps you validate your own choices, I guess that’s your right – but I certainly disagree.”
Call a spade a spade.
If you’re at work during the day and your child is with someone else, you’re not a full-time parent. Period. I have four children. Until this school year I was with them FULL TIME. They were at home, and I parented them and taught them…full time. This year one of my children has gone to high school. He is no longer with me for 7 hours of the day. To say that I’m still his teacher is false. To say that I’m parenting him full-time now is false. I have other people doing that during the day now.
Same goes for your family. Your wife is not a full-time mom. She’s a part-time mom to your children and a part-time mom to other people’s children. Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve been with ALL MY CHILDREN their whole childhood. You and your wife haven’t. You’re the one that I feel sad for, especially since you think you’re both full-time parents. When you send your children to school someone else is raising them and doing your work. Period.
I agree with Ryan. Are you saying that unless you devote yourself 100% 24/7 to your children, then you are not a “full time mom”. So do you stop being a mom when you go to work?
And what about dads? If mom is able to stay at home and devote 100% 24/7 to the children then presumably someone is earning the money to allow her to do that. Does that mean that the wage earning parent (usually dad, but sometimes mom) is no longer a parent during the hours that they’re not home.
If you’re married or in a partnership, then what? Are you not full-time parent if you’re also a spouse/partner? What about being a full time partner? Obviously that goes out the window, if you can’t do that 100% 24/7.
And on top of that, what lesson are you teaching your children when you say things like that: Dear if you can’t give 100% 24/7 to something, then you don’t deserve to call yourself committed and dedicated. So just give up now because it’s not possible.
What about the idea that we can and should all play multiple roles in our lives and that none of them have to be to the EXCLUSION of the other, but a healthy person is never 100% 24/7 anything all the time?
Technically, any parent is a full-time mom, if you want to put it that way. You never stop being a mom or dad, even if you work 80 hours a week, or are divorced, or whatever.
But that is not what is meant colloquially when the word “full-time mom” is used.
Maybe “stay at home mom” is a better term, and could be substituted instead.
Still – and I’m going to go out on a limb and say this though I’m sure it will be controversial- a stay at home mom is not the same thing as a mom who works outside of the house the majority of the day.
I’m not saying that parents who work outside of the home can’t be excellent parents to their children, nor am I suggesting that because you stay at home you are automatically a better mom.
But they are not the same thing.
(I have done both- worked 50 hours a week + been on call 24 hours a day, as well as been a stay at home mom.)
I would agree with you that they’re not the same thing. But the entire thrust of this post is that unless you’re being a full time mom (i.e. home with your children all the time), you’re not “doing it right”. And the proof of that is supposed to be “ask your children”? Seriously?
Actually, the ask your kids phrase was from a commenter, not the post itself.
My takeaway from this post is that being a full time mom/working mom is different depending on who you ask, but regardless, its unfair to assume that moms can just do it all- be both- with no consequences.
Let me revise that: it’s more than unfair- it is just plain wrong.
It implies that if you or I are not managing with working a full time job and parenting our kids, then there is something wrong with us, because Beyonce, Sheryl, Marissa Meyers and everyone else can do it- so why can’t we get our act together?
I don’t want to be Superwoman.
It isn’t possible to BE a Superwoman.
But this attitude undermines any complaints you may have with a boss about working extra hours, taking off time, etc.
They’ll just say, “Well, don’t you have quality time scheduled?” when you say you need to get home on time. (I’ve had employers pretty much say that outright).
Or “Come on, if (fill in the blank) can do it, why can’t you? Never mind that no one knows what fill in the blank’s kids will look like 10 years from now.
No, the ask the kids part is taken DIRECTLY from the post:
“Probably the best way to find out if someone is a full-time parent is to ask their kids. Do the kids think they are the parent’s primary concern, or do the kids feel they compete with something else on the parent’s agenda??
Read the next sentence after asking the children: Do the kids think they are the parent’s primary concern, or do the kids feel they compete with something else on the parent’s agenda?
I have known of kids that were in therapy and on anti-anxiety medication because their mother was away so often due to work. The reactions were similar to divorces in which one parent no longer wants anything to do with the children.
I think the most surprising thing for me in your post is that Beyonce is a mother….I had no idea she had a kid. I was wondering where that quote from Sheryl Sandburg was going…I expected you to then finish by saying, “but she doesn’t have kids” so she can do all that she does!
I loved this part: “There are not limited-time-but-still-meaningful jobs. And there is not limtited-time-but-still-meaningful parenting. Because both imply that you somehow beat the system and avoid the tough tradeoffs.” That’s a hard line to swallow for most.
I do find it really interesting to watch Beyonce as a mother. She released her last album with no promotion. This tactic has been touted as revolutionary and brilliant. But I am convinced that the reason she did it is to decrease the amount of hoop-la she has to deal with in order to release and album. She has more time in her life to be a mom.
Also I’d like to point out that asking the kids what they think is a fallacy. Kids are always going to see things from a very limited, self-centric point of view. For example, my BF is the stricter parent. If you were to ask his daughter she would (and has) said that mommy loves her more than daddy because mommy is “nicer” to her. Is her perception reality? Does it reflect the actual care and concern that her father has for her? Or is it based in a child’s ego-centric and self-indulgent view of the world and in a few years is she going to realize that daddy loves her just as much as mommy, just in a different way?
But if you ask a kid a question then just stop a their first answer you will think that they have a very limited perspective.
However, once you start digging a bit deeper “why do you say that??” “Why do you feel that you’re not priority?” Then you’ll start to see where the kid comes from.
Maybe we are too scared to ask our kids what they think.
It’s true that kids are going to view things from a self-centric point of view. But adults often do the same with the quality time nonsense. Honestly, I really don’t get why people want to be parents if one parent doesn’t want to make it their full time job??? Haven’t we learned yet that the stress just isn’t worth it for the parents or the kids? Just don’t have kids or give your kid up for adoption. It makes life easier for everyone that way
saying that you regret spending time away from your kids really touched me. It’s something I never expected to hear from you (I’m not sure why…).
I’m about to become a mother and although I know my top priority is giving time to my newborn baby, I very much feel that society wants me to send him to daycare asap. However, I don’t believe being a mum for 8 hours a day or for 2 hours a day is the same thing. Maybe it works for some, but I want to be allowed to say that it doesn’t work for me without sounding like a throwback to the 1950s.
Somehow you’ve made me feel better about admitting that my career comes second to my family.
Stay with your kid Julie. You will NEVER regret this decision. When I was pregnant with my first plenty of other moms tried to talk me into going right back to work and putting Junior in daycare. I’m so glad I didn’t listen; those days with a newborn were hard but I loved them. God bless you!
I love this blog and have followed it for years. I am not a mother yet but will be in two months. My mother stayed home for my whole life. She missed out on personal and professional opportunities. We had very limited income because we depended on my stepfather’s income. We didn’t eat well, went on no vacations, and wore old clothes. Now my mother is almost 70 and has no retirement to support her. She has very few friends and the kind of worldview that comes from staying home for almost her whole life. Time balancing aside, this is not the life I want for my daughter. I am going to work and raise her. I want her to see a role model who works, a role model that I certainly didn’t have.
But your mom didn’t have the resources we have today (a big one being the internet). And I will go on a limb here and guess that you are probably more enlightened, empowered, and self aware than your mom was.
If that’s true, you are comparing apples to oranges.
I would bet you are innovative enough to be a stay at home mom and eventually run an at home biz. If you wanted to.
I had a rough childhood and my mom and I still don’t have the best relationship. But yesterday I happened to think about how glad I was she stayed home and I was touched to tears. So I texted her out of the blue:
“Thank you so much for staying home all those years with us kids. Your being home was my only sense of stability. I was so sensitive and private that I probably would have died if I had to leave you before kindergarten or went to after-school care. It means the world to me. Happy Mother’s Day.”
Thank you for writing this to your mom. I’m guessing it meant everything to her–that it was the best acknowledgement she could ever want.
Nobody said a mom should never work. But it’s important for kids to have a full time parent at home, especially until they reach age 5 or 6, longer if at all possible.
My grandmother and her sisters were all very smart women who would have been wonderful business women or lawyers. However, at the time of the twenties for one reason or another they all became full-time moms without occupation outside of their respective households. And while their households were by no means small and took a lot of work, they all regretted that they never had a chance to embark on other work/activities. It was partially due to the times they lived in where women were simply not expected or allowed to choose differently and opportunities were rare. I fully support the women’s and men’s (and family) choice for their own individual plan – and the right to change this plan. I don’t think women should limit themselves to one life-approach like stay at home mum and caregiver and a little bit of work on the side, or work like mad and resign to never ever having kids – I simply don’t think absolute statements in this regard serve anybody and they don’t account for all the complex challenges in life.
My mother worked my whole life growing up. We still had very limited income, wore old clothes, and didn’t eat well, as well as a lot of instability and insecurity that came from being left alone had home all the time. And because my mom worked so hard, she often spent her weekends with her friends to ‘unwind’, again leaving me alone at home. That is not the life I want for my kids, so my husband and I make the sacrifices that allow me to stay home. We may not have a vacation every year and my kids may not have Ugg boots in different colors, but they are happy and secure in their knowledge that home is a welcoming safe place from the harshness of the world. I’m here when they get home to listen to them talk about the ups and downs of their day.
Everyone has their own priorities for their own family.
Why should Sheryl Sandberg be able to call herself or Beyonce a full-time mom? What a creative use of semantics. Sandberg’s definition of “full-time” is quite elastic — when it comes to motherhood. If you flit in and out all day while your kids are with a caregiver, is that a full-time mom? Apparently, yes. On the flip side, the definition of full-time employment by any employer I’ve ever known is NOT at all elastic. Could I flit in and out all day at the office and be employed full-time? It’s laughable!
Way to call a spade a spade!!
That’s a great point! We can only have a fluid sense of full-time parent if we have a fluid sense of full-time work. Otherwise, one without the other is preposterous.
This is a great post. So true, all of it.
When I was first divorced my ex and his new wife made a lot of noise about me not having a “real” job. “You can walk out the door tomorrow and make $&&,&&&….” Uh huh….And, I’d have to be away from the kids at least 10-12 hours a day to do that. And, my ex didn’t want to really be a co-parent. He just wanted to stand around and criticize. So, I’m not sure who he expected to be there for the kids while I was off making all that money he claimed I could be/should be making – babysitters that he didn’t want to pay for?
My view was, since I was a SAHM for 7 years before the divorce. I couldn’t walk out the door and make nearly the figure they were throwing around to begin with. It doesn’t happen that way. Even though I had a career for 15 years before having kids, after staying home for 7 years with them, it was like starting from scratch. I felt obsolete in every way.
Also, on top of losing their family home, their family unit as they knew it, their neighborhood and their school, my boys would also be losing me, the mom who had been home with them since birth if I decided to take the route of traditional, full-time employment. No. Effing. Way. They needed me.
So, I took several part time jobs at once that worked around their schedules, not the other way around. My boys needed to know they were the priority, not the work. The work I did take, didn’t require much brain power, but I was under so much stress at that time, it was a blessing. I didn’t want to think. Thank you, God….one less thing to do.
It was a hellish several years, until I figured out how to be an only parent and work. Eventually, the boys emotional trauma calmed down as well. We survived. I did lose our home along the way, and went bankrupt, but we survived that too. That was a great lesson, to be honest. When all of the things I was afraid of the most, actually happened, I learned that I could survive the worst, and be okay. What a gift of a lesson that was. Nothing scares me now.
Eventually, I started a business that I could run from home, give me instant cash flow and keep me in the vicinity, so I would always be available to the boys. I figured it was easier to start a business than find work to support us while still having the flexibility to be there for the boys. I also wanted the power to create my income based on my own mind and work, rather than rely on yet another employer to deem me worthy to work for them or not.
Five years later, my business is growing like crazy. We have a lovely home, everything we need and now, even the perks are possible too. What an accomplishment!
The boys are now 17 and 19. We have a great relationship. Their relationship with their dad is almost nonexistent. He never put in the time. He sees them once a month for dinner. All that mattered to me was to be there for my boys and for them to feel, “Safe, secure, loved.” You get out what you put in.
I really like hearing stories of people who take huge financial risk to stay home with their kids. When I was doing it I felt like I may have lost my mind. It just seemed so risky and indulgent.
In hindsight it was a totally sane decision given my options (work 9-5 or live on pretty much no money).
Most people who do this, I think, figure out how to support a family while not having to leave for work. There is that time — just like any new business venture – where everything seems like it’s going to hell. You have to get through that time in order to come out the other side.
Cindy, I like that you told your story of coming out the other side – financially secure.
Cindy, ohmygosh! your post made me cry!
I think that what hits home is that once everything you’re afraid of happens and you know you can survive it then nothing scares you.
I could go on and on and comment about every point you made but it would be so long.
Thank you for your post!
Your story is beautiful!
I always have death in my mind. I am not sure why although I have some theories. Even though the life span has extended I feel like life is so short and we’re going to die anyway. Might as well invest it in what brings us joy and what really matters to us!
I believe that all women are full time mothers, but all are not full time caregivers. It is not possible to be in a full time demanding career and be the full time nurturing care giver.
This is why I think all women should consider freelancing. It’s very difficult to simply ask your boss for reduced hours and do it from home and everything stay the same.
I built up my own writing and marketing solo-freelance business and absolutely trade-off on scoring quality projects and get less sleep in exchange for working when my daughter is in bed. But I still work on great stuff like guidebooks, name consulting and magazine articles. It gives me a meaningful outlet, contributes to our income, and gives us a security plan in case anything happens to my husband’s job.
I think many women are too overwhelmed and pressed for time to figure out how freelancing/consulting could work for them. So instead they try to figure out how to be Superwomen at work and home to make things better, which in my opinion isn’t sustainable. There’s not much time if you’re working a day job to figure out how to build up a side business. And others think being a work-at-home Mom means selling Avon and writing for content mills and can’t stomach the thought of leaving a high-level career for that.
It’s unfortunate it’s not the societal norm for women to create their own path on their own terms. Those ‘terms’ still need to be realistic. You can’t be Beyonce a few hours a day while your kids sleep. And sometimes meaningful projects will be followed by mind-numbing ones to keep the income flowing. Having it all just takes on a much different meaning when you work from home. But I’d say I have it all.
You are at your best when you discredit the liberal PC nonsense regarding work and family issues. You are also right when you say the agenda is deliberately miseleading. The larger agenda is there is a small elite who don’t want parents to raise their own kids. It’s about more power and control for the elite.
Beyonce & Sheryl Sandberg and all women who don’t have to cook and clean are irrelevant. Domestic chores are folded into staying home with your kids if you are not wealthy & they take time. Most of the time, even if you work outside the home, you still have to cook and clean, and there are only 24 hours in the day.
If I am the only adult responsible for my kids and no one else around us has their radar up-and-on for watching out for my kids and being responsible for my kids’ well-being, then I am being a full-time mom. This describes my situation 5 days a week.
Two days a week, my kids are with their dad and I work 24 hours.
During those 2 days a week, I think about my kids and I make plans for our life together–I solely make the big parenting decisions (thus, willingly take full responsibility for those choices).
But my radar is mostly off when the kids are under the care of their dad. I am off duty with parenting.
I don’t feel like my working all weekend is teaching my kids anything, other than I am willing to do so to pay rent so we 3 can have a peaceful home of our own.
And I do it while they are with their dad so they always have access to a parent: they know they are worth this win-win scenario I created.
What I am teaching them by being there for them during the week has everything to do with fostering their well being, self respect, privacy, security, and freedom. And they get to see and experience my strength, gumption, and risking–they know what an empowered, noncomformist, critical-thinking, no bullshit, loving woman looks like and feels like.
I check in with my kids frequently about how they feel, and ask what their thoughts and ideas are. I openly share with them as well.
****As I always say, it is everything about what you want for your kids and what kind of relationship you want with your kids. And for yourself: what you want to get out of being a parent (me: no-holds-barred growth and healing!).****
Another EXCELLENT post Penelope. Thank You. A point I haven’t seen yet is how this may change with the age of the kids. I regret not having been a stay-at-home mom when my kids were young. I missed a lot. And it wasn’t just that I didn’t get to spend as much time with them. I missed learning from other stay-at-home moms, having that network, volunteering at school, and knowing their teachers and friends better. So I didn’t really know MY KIDS as well as if I’d been doing all those things.
But now that they’re in high school, I believe they are learning a lot from me working. I come home with stories about how I fixed a problem. I ask them how to handle situations. And they see when I’m excited about a new project or something I’ve just learned. Now I feel I might be a better role model than if I were a stay-at-home mom. I can model balance – and model forgiving myself for not doing everything perfectly.
Plus, my kids are getting the “space” they need at this age to become independent. I see some stay-at-home moms who stay too involved at this stage when it’s time to give their kids some distance.
Thank You– I made the decision to be a stay at home mom the year after I adopted my Daughter. I worked at a Newspaper and the deadlines and hours just ran over my personal life. Since leaving that job, I have had the opportunity to go back to school. Our money is very tight and My daughter has become as frugal as I am! I became a mother at the age of 5o and soon realized that I was missing so much of her life–I made the right decision for me—thank you!
I’ve never commented before but just want to thank you for this post. I cannot have children, had many rounds of failed IVF, quit work to attempt IVF cycles ‘stressfree’, had several miscarriages and am now being supported by my husband while I try to find part time work. I do not want to go back to work full-time. I want meaning in my life but can’t do it through kids and find most full time jobs dull and soul destroying. It’s not just parents that want a more values-driven life away from the 9 to 5 treadmill.
Christine, thanks so much for sharing your story – and the perspective you bring to this topic.
Great article thanks! I’m so tired of Sheryl Sandberg making herself look like superwoman. You can’t possibly have a fulltime job (at least 40 hours) and then be a full time caregiver (at least 40 hours). That’s such a bunch of bull. And then call herself a full-time mom.
Of course she’s a mom 24/7 but she’s also an executive 24/7. Her focus is still split between the two. And when one of her kids fall and needs care, it will be someone else taking care of them and not her.
You can’t be working full time and be a full time mom according what that means in our times. Of course you can be creative with semantics: an absent parent can also still be a ‘full time’ parent 24/7.
A standard full-time job needs you to work on it at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
A full-time motherhood needs you to work on it every time your child needs their mother.
So if you have a full-time job and you think your child only needs you after 5pm and on weekends, or on your spare time, then go ahead and call yourself a full-time mom.
As a former, big-city, corporate executive who was making the “big bucks” but now am a full-time stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children…I loved the honesty of this!
Working full-time left me with nothing to give my children when I came home from work. There was little “quality” time. We had just enough time to feed them, bathe them and then put them to bed. Then an hour to ourselves and then straight to bed to start it all over again.
The kids were in daycare 11 hours a day and I was getting pressure at work for not working longer hours. Monday meetings were about joking how your significant other was going to leave you unless you stopped working on the weekends. No one else had kids in my department.
Being in daycare poses all sorts of problems as well. My kids were in a respected and expensive daycare. It’s still not a great place to put your kids for most of their waking hours. And I would get my kids at the worst time of the day when they were completely tired and cranky. And they would get me at my worst.
I didn’t have any “me” time to recharge. Therefore, I had little to give my kids. I would let them sleep in my bed (even though it impacted my quality of sleep) just so I could “feel” like I was spending more time with them.
I know parents who work full time and devote all their spare time to their kids. They work hard on the weekends for their children. They are non-stop. It works for them. That was too much for my personality. I could not be on top of that game.
I chose to go where my heart is. I took the scorn about leaving an excellent career. As the main breadwinner of the family at that time, we took a massive hit financially. It was the best decision I ever made for me, for my kids and for our family. I only wish I had done it sooner.
Thank you so much for talking about this. The details of how difficult it is to be devoted to work and kids at the same time — it’s the details that make the conflict real. And once you tell people where to look to see the conflict we see it everywhere.
Thanks for sharing this. I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about what having kids in day care (or school plus daycare), away from their parents and their own home, for 11 hours a day does to the kids….? Instead, a whole lot of people are worried about their own careers over >>>their kids<<<. And some even implied the kids are selfish for wanting the parents around. Jeez! What planet am I on?!
Balance is impossible. Best I can do is find ways to enjoy my choices and, if I can’t, dump ’em and start fresh. Great topic.Thanks.
This post hit on precisely the cultural bs I am in the midst of noticing and feeling depressed about.
Thank you, and thank you for making me laugh. “Beyonce does all this while being a full-time mom.”
The reality of what true full-time, full-on motherhood looks like is so foreign to Ms. Sandberg’s life experience that she can say this with a straight face. What a terrible role model for young women entering the work world. As though moms of any stripe need a nice big reminder of guilt and inadequacy. We got enough from our own mothers, thank you very much.
I do think that for some personalities, part-time work can be meaningful and fulfilling. It depends on how you choose to define achievement. (I am an INFJ) For me, part-time work in the teaching/nonprofit fields is rewarding, remunerative enough to feel useful, and my kids still know that they are #1.
“Now we can all feel good about ourselves regardless of our choices.”
I am a working mom whose husband stays home with our kids. Thursday and Friday I work from home. Family helps us fill in any gaps.
We act like the working mom vs stay at home mom is a new social construct but in reality for the vast majority moms have always worked. My grandmother in Slovenia in the early part of the 1900s took care of the house and cooked 3 meals per day for the farm hands who worked in their property. Although by our modern definition she would have technically been a stay at home mom she certainly wouldn’t have had the luxury of skipping in the backyard with my Dad all day. This hasnt changed today for most stay at home mothers who spend much of the day cleaning cooking and shopping for the household. I think what we are really discussing here is a very slim slice of me who can afford to stay home and contract out the “business” of the house so that they can spend all of their time on their kids.
A note on your farming example: today if you are the spouse of someone who farms every day and you do not have an off-farm job, you file on income taxes as a full-time farmer. Isn’t that interesting? I think it’s one of those feminist victories that goes unnoticed. But also, it’s another great example of the elasticity of the idea of what is full-time work.
I take extreme issue with the concept that there are not ‘limited time but still meaningful’ part time jobs. I think that to the contrary, there are many little niches, nooks and crannies in our economy – where you can find work in your chosen area with a company or organization that could not afford a f/t person (and the now legally mandated benefits). It seems to me that the full time jobs are the ones that in reality quickly become a grind whether the concept of the job is meaningful or not. A small dose of enjoyable work (and a small break from f/t parenting, which can be very refreshing) can be the perfect solution.
To me, the entire issue hinges on the financial/lifestyle decisions a family makes BEFORE having the baby. If you are stretched with high mortgage, car payments, other debt and live in an expensive place, and are not willing to change those things, you have already made your decision. And then everything that follows is rationalization.
The old phrase “How does a child spell ‘love?’ T-I-M-E” comes to mind.
Penelope is a farmer, who knew? I love this!
I struggled to become a mother at 40 the first time, and as we consider returning for a FET cycle at my age of 45, working and how to continue to do work I love mattered in my decision. I want the next child (if it is to be) to have what my boys did, which is a mom at home, even if it was while I was figuring it all out.
Working through struggles as you pointed out, creates strength. It is our unwillingness to settle for going with the norm and instead still forge ahead that creates our version of a happy life.
Your blog helps us all to see that there are many roads, and if we learn from one another we can get there.
Best post you’ve ever written. Thank you, thank you.
As a Self Employed Women who also took their 10 year old child out of school six months ago to home school, I am totally relating to this article.
It isn’t about full time or part time. It isn’t about work life balance.
For me it is about building all areas of our life on our values and our own definition of success and, as you point out, making choices based on those things. The other thing that I think is important is to recognise that this can and will change as our lives progress and our kids grow and evolve too.
As Sir Ken Robinson said “Life is not linear. It is organic.”
Absolutely right on Penelope. I chose to stay home while my daughter was little, even though it meant living on limited budget. I wouldn’t give up a minute of it, and it was a choice.
When my daughter was about 10, I realized it was healthier for our relationship if I had something in my life that didn’t revolve around her. So I chose a new career where I could work while she was in school, and be home in the afternoons. Again, I am choosing to work less to be available to her – and believe me teenagers need a parent at home as much as little ones.
She will go off to college in a few years, and I am so completely grateful that I was able to stay home with her. I know not everyone has that opportunity. We all just do the best we can every day and hopefully we are there to help and support each other.
What I find really interesting and gratifying is the increasing amount of hands-on parenting being done by fathers when mothers work outside the home. More dads are working for small companies or freelancing to have the flexibility to be available as a parent during the day. More equality in parenting is the only way we will see more equality at work.
Actually, full-time at Walmart is considered 34-40 hours, although I know from personal experience that during the busy sales seasons hourly supervisors often work between 50-60 hours. The article that’s linked in the blog is talking about changes to how many hours an employee must work on average to receive part-time health insurance benefits.
A lot of people work two jobs just to make ends meet. When you include travel time, even a person with two part-time jobs can be “working” more than 40 hours a week. Raising children personally is important, but I think it’s also important to realize that being able to do so is a luxury.
If being with our own kids is considered a luxury, we are seriously screwed as a society.
Some of us aren’t buying the propaganda.
Exactly! Why should this be a luxury? Why is everyone working so much, and what are we getting for it?
“The problem here is the small-but-meaningful clause….”
You’re doing it right to achieve that. A small job can be meaningful if it’s invested in over many years.
Single and without kids? In addition to your regular job, have your adaptable-to-home business that you develop.
Married but no kids. Perhaps the spouse will let you go full-time with that home-adaptable business to build it up.
Married with kids? Go part-time with that now established business. You’ve built enough skill and connections, even part-time accomplishes something important.
Married with an empty nest? Shift back to full-time to save for retirement.
In college, knew a young woman majoring in architecture who lamented that much of her training would be wasted because she wanted to be a stay-home mom. She was delighted when I pointed out that, if she developed her skills right (home remodeling rather than office buildings), she could still work at her kitchen table while her kids napped.
For me that’s writing, editing and publishing books.
“If you redefine full-time mom …” But that’s what this crowd specializes in.
Do you want to be a “full-time mom” but you spend 10+ hours a day in an office? Change the meaning of the word and -BAM- you can be a full-time mom too.
Do you want to be “married” but you’re gay? Change the meaning of the word and -BAM- you can be married too.
The meanings and definitions we attach to words and phrases tell us what is important. In both of these cases I see the redefinition serving the interests of those who want the moniker at the expense of those who used to benefit from it.
I think that we all need to do mental acrobatics when we are choosing something that hurts others.
I, for one, choose to not think of the people who are working in slave-like conditions that make many of the clothes and electronics we use. It keeps me from dying of guilt.
Many people tell me that it’s not good to make the kids the center of the universe. That they need to go to daycare and learn what everyone else has learned. But I think it’s ridiculous. We have learned to live like this (like a strictly 9-5 job is normal) because of this thinking.
Intimacy and growth (specially with kids) DOES NOT HAPPEN when you schedule it. It happens when they are feeling down at one moment and you are able to scoop them up. It happens when they do wrong in one moment and you correct them right there and then. When they are not anxious that you’ll leave soon so they can relax and be themselves and not be constantly performing.
As a father, may I add that I have always considered it a myth parents can “have it all” with regards to work/life balance. Raising children is a full-time job until they are old enough to dress themselves, feed themselves, and stay on a schedule. Thereafter it can be a part-time job. The age at which this happens varies; for my kids, it was roughly by 4th grade or so.
My wife raised our children, and I considered her work to be every bit as important as mine — and perhaps even more so. It is very hard to raise good kids, it takes the great stamina, the patience of a saint, terrific organizational skills, the ability to teach, and strength of conviction.
I married very well, and I am endlessly grateful for my wife’s work. My kids are all fine adults, and I enjoy being friends with them now they are grown.
Thanks for your comment, Dave. This sentence especially resonated with me, “It is very hard to raise good kids, it takes the great stamina, the patience of a saint, terrific organizational skills, the ability to teach, and strength of conviction.” I am a stay-at-home mother and often feel that my husband doesn’t see and value the work I do, much of it internal–such as patience and conviction. I think the biggest challenge for me is maintaining perspective and a feeling of self-worth when everything at home and in society tells you that your job is worthless. My kids certainly don’t thank me now for asking them to do chores, be responsible and treat each other well, but hopefully someday they will.
Thank you, Penelope, for seeing through popular notions of motherhood and getting right to the heart of the matter.
You’re obviously passionate about homeschooling. On your other blog you frequently call public school “free babysitting.”
Despite the increasing popularity of homeschooling, the overwhelming majority of American kids still go to school–usually about 30 hours per week. So do you consider stay-at-home parents whose kids are at school to be full-time parents?
It’s a good question. If I’m being hard-nosed I think it’s BS to put your kids in school. But the truth is that not everyone can handle facing the realities of school head-on. I want everyone to read my education blog so they can see what I saw – that there’s no reason for kids to be in school. But I think the two are probably separate — deciding to be a full-time mom and deciding to take your kids out of school.
I feel that it’s okay to make the sacrifices of working a full time job during your 20s to build a strong foundation. Once family is in the picture, I believe it’s more important to spend time with them and value their precious moments.
Very happy to see this perspective laid out so honestly. I am someone who was, frankly, born to work rather than to parent. I work a lot, and I love my career, and I’m happy with my paycheck and the lifestyle that it helps me and my husband afford. I am one of those people who will retire at 65 only if forced to do, and then I will probably immediately look for another job.
I rarely surprise people by telling them that I don’t have kids and never planned to have any. I often surprise people with my stated reason for this, which is that I found my life’s calling at 19 and realized there was no way for me to be good at my chosen career and be a good, or even competent, mother as well. Parenting, unlike my work, is not something for which I was willing to take risks on doing poorly.
Few people seem to want to argue with me about giving up motherhood, but plenty try to argue that of course I could have “had it all” if I’d really tried. That myth will not die easily.
It’s exciting to read the other side of the coin!
“Parenting, unlike my work, is not something for which I was willing to take risks on doing poorly.”
I have a great amount of respect for people who choose not to have kids–especially when they know they wouldn’t be there for their kids. I would have chosen your same route because I too liked working. But I changed my mind later, and opted for kids (which to me, meant I was signing up for being stay-at-home mom instead).
This is one of the best things you’ve ever written Penelope (and that’s saying something because you’ve written a lot of amazing stuff)
And this is the blog post and the series of comments that finally lead me to unsubscribe and unfollow.
The level of condescension I’m reading is, quite frankly, sickening. I’m so glad that all of you are SO much better at being moms and parents than anyone else who doesn’t do it your way.
Are sick moms part time moms?
Are military moms part time moms?
Are disabled moms part time moms?
What is all this “part time” labels nonsense anyway?
Why are WE women finding more and more ways to polarize, criticize or judge other women?
We are all “part timers” anyway… we are part time mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, friends, neighbors, colleagues and basically anything and everything we are and do, as by this definition, absent round the clock, minute by minute attention to others, we are not fulfilling our roles on a “full time” basis; or are we? I resonate with those comments that talk about quality over quantity. What does Sheryl Sandberg have to give her children after signing autographs all day and night long? Everything. Her hugs and kisses are no lesser in worth at 10PM than 3PM; her love is no less either. Shame on ANY of us who think that what we say, give or do is any more or less than what our fellow sisters say, give or do.
I really don’t think this is about shaming women. But it’s time someone owns up to the fact that if you are working full time you’re not a full time caregiver to your children.
It works with adults to see each other in the off hours (as those in committed relationships will show). But it’s not the same with children
Yes you’re a mom always if you can’t always take care of your kid. But you have to own up to the fact that you’re outsourcing a big part of your child’s life so you can work. And if that’s what you chose to do it’s okay for you but you have to make the decision of whether or not the sacrifice being made is worth it.
The relationship with the child is interesting because it’s an emotional connection while it’s a lot of work. A LOT.
We don’t say “I am a full time employee” if we work only a few hours a day and make someone else do the job.
I think it’s important to have this conversation because a lot of things have gotten so out of control in our society that even when people want to cut back on their expenses to stay home they would really put their family in a high risk (or even in poverty) to be able to be with them. There’s no option to bring the kid to work. There’s no option to say “we’ll cut out all indulgences and have at least one stay at home parent.” It’s really bad.
But if this conversation is not on the table then nothing changes. There’s still the thinking that you can do both well.
“Her hugs and kisses are no lesser in worth at 10PM than 3PM;”
This is true, but are her kids awake at 10PM? I have no idea how old they are but people are saying she has young children. Young children aren’t typically awake at 10PM but they are at 3PM. And if she’s on a book tour or a press tour, she certainly isn’t home at 10PM either.
Honestly, full-time mom or part-time mom, whatever. Some people have no choice in the matter. Some people have to work and some families can’t afford the childcare for both parents to work. Not everyone chooses to stay home and not everyone chooses to work. But what I do have a problem with is someone like Sheryl Sandberg being a mom because I just don’t understand why you would have children only to see them 10 hours a week. Maybe she sees them more and I should just stop judging. I read once that she and her husband make sure that one of them is always around for dinner. I guess that’s nice? But then I feel like an asshat for guilting her for not being there because she’s successful while I wouldn’t dare do that to another mom/parent who worked just as much because they only earn minimum wage and are forced into several jobs.
I had a great job, one that I planned on returning to as soon as my maternity leave was up after having our first child. I was lucky enough that we could afford to have a full time housekeeper to take care of our daughter and our house and knowing that I wouldn’t have to put my child into daycare was a great comfort to me.
I lasted two months back on the job. I couldn’t stand being away from my baby all day. When I left the house in the morning, she was just waking up and when I returned home at night, she was just about to go to bed. I was missing it all, and I was miserable.
After some long discussions with my husband, and a lot of soul searching and figuring out a budget, I quit to stay home with our daughter. While the financial sacrifice was pretty big – cutting our income by 50% in one fell swoop – it was the best decision I ever made. Being able to be home with my children, to be a room mother, to go on field trips, to spend fun summer days with them, meant the world to me. From what both of them tell me, it meant the world to them too.
It was a choice, and one that I’m glad to have had the opportunity to make. It’s also a job title that I’ve always been quite proud to state when asked what I “do”. I’m a full time Mom and homemaker and it’s the best job I ever had. I just wish people wouldn’t think less of those of us that make this decision. We’re educated and we’re capable. We just choose to use our talents raising our children.