Friday, February 15, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, Can We Get a Round of Applause for a Stay at Home Dad and a Working Momma!?!? There's Nothing Like a Modern Family to Make my Heart Go Pitter-Patter!

This is another couple that was brought into our friday saga of stay at home parenting and the working parents by Ellen. I am going to continue to call this series "The Mommy Chronicles," but this couple spoke so eloquently about traditional role reversals in the home, that I considered changing it. Stay at home dads aren't getting enough credit and I think that this living situation is becoming more and more common.

This is a long one, but a good one. I found this the most interesting of all the posts so far because their situation could be considered "taboo" by a family following what would be considered "traditional" roles in the home. Fortunately for all of us, times are a-changing and I was FASCINATED by this. Riveted even.

The working momma is in regular type and the working from home/stay at home dad is in bold italicized type. Their story alternates back and forth on each topic and you can just feel their support for one another ooze out of the screen. They were an absolute JOY to read.

I am not your typical working mom. My work week begins on Wednesday afternoon. I work from 2:00 in the afternoon until 10:00 at night. I commute an hour each way so I'm out of the house by 12:45 and I don't get home until just after 11:00 P.M. Thursday and Friday I work the same shift. Saturday is the hardest and longest day. I get up at 3:30 A.M. to get ready for work and I'm out of the house before 5:00. I usually get home around 3:00 P.M., at which point I have to go right to bed because I have to be at work again by 11:00 P.M. I work overnight until 7:00 A.M. on Sunday morning and that's when my weekend begins. My other job is being a mom.

I’m a work from home dad and, unlike most structured jobs where there is a definitive start and end to the workday and workweek, my job is essentially 24/7; all day, everyday. On the flipside, there could be a day where there is literally nothing to do at all. I’m the lead editor for a website called Gaming Examiner and I have the good luck to be able to do this from my home office. A typical day consists of my getting up at 7AM, working until Laura leaves for work, and depending on the day of the week, I either transition seamlessly into the nanny arriving (where I will eat a quick lunch and return to work), or I will watch my daughter for a couple of hours until the nanny arrives. Both my job and being a dad take up most of my day.

Working isn't my first choice but it's a commitment that I made years before becoming a mom and I know I have a responsibility to my family. I am an air traffic controller. So is my dad. When I graduated from college I had no direction and my fiance and I were working just to make ends meet. My dad came to us with the news that the FAA was hiring through a job fair that they were holding and he recommended that one of us (or both) apply for the job. Knowing that my fiance and I wanted to have kids and that it was important that our children have one parent in the house when they were growing up, we came to an agreement that one of us would apply for the job and the other would uphold a promise later in life to stay home - working or not - to raise babies. That is how I came to be a working mom.

Prior to having our daughter work (outside of the home) was just a normal part of my life. I’ve been working full time since I was a child. My parents owned a neighborhood grocery store and my life consisted of school, work, sports, homework, sleep, repeat. It wasn’t a choice; working was just something I did. As a result, even after my parents lost their business, the natural course of action for me was to just find another job. I bookended jobs, all the way until just prior to the birth of our daughter. The interesting thing is, when Laura’s dad approached us with the job fair opportunity, it was originally meant for me. It was always understood that I would be the one that would possibly one day be an air traffic controller. However, the more I thought about it, and with a real opportunity in front of me, the more I felt this job wasn’t for me. Now, years and years later, after hearing all the stories about Laura’s workplace, I am SO GLAD I didn’t do it. Let’s just say that it takes a certain, ah....”personality” to be an air traffic controller.

My husband, Tony, and I were cautioned about the strain that this kind of role reversal can put on a marriage. I'm not going to lie - it's HARD! Every Tuesday I get a little sad because I know that I have to go to back to work the next day. Ironically, good family weekends make me the saddest. I just remind myself that I'm lucky enough that I'm good at my job, I enjoy it, and that the income will provide many advantages for my family. Likewise, Tony knows that he gets special bonding time with his daughter that not a lot of dads (or moms, myself included) get. Tony and I have had to remind ourselves that we're both making sacrifices and, honestly, we couldn't do this any other way.

We were cautioned by some people that a role reversal with me staying at home and Laura working in a testosterone fueled, Type A workplace could potentially be a disaster. If I remember correctly, we were even told that many similar situations didn’t work out and resulted in divorce. Of course, Laura and I took all that with an air of “Well, it won’t happen to US.” And you know what? It hasn’t. I think regardless of the equalization between the roles of males and females in today’s society, there is still quite a bit of eyebrow raising when a father chooses to stay at home and a mother chooses to be the primary breadwinner. It still seems that a SAHD gets branded with the “Lazy bum who can’t won’t find a real job” stigma, and the working mom tends to have her qualities as a mother questioned with the whole “You would choose your career over your child?” stereotype. Pretty hypocritical, if you ask me.

A year into having a child, I am starting to love doing it, but it wasn’t always this way. For the longest time, my time at home was mired in paralyzing fear. It was bad times. I love my daughter, but MAN, I hated being “stuck” at home with her. Everything that could possibly go wrong would run through my head, and that was no way to live. And yes, the role reversal, regardless of how OK with it we both said we were, always seemed to rear it’s head and become a problem.

When we found out that I was pregnant we looked at our finances and decided that we wanted and needed a part time nanny. Tony was just finishing up online courses in video game design and was hoping to work from home. He needed someone that could free up a few hours in the afternoon so that he could study and work. I needed someone that could help Tony learn the ropes of being a parent. So we have a wonderful nanny that comes to our house Wed, Thur, and Fri afternoon as well as Sat morning. She has her own daughter, just a few months older than our own, and she has been a great help. My dad and stepmom live nearby and help too, although not nearly as often as they probably would like (which I'm working to rectify).

I love our nanny and her daughter as a member of our own family. Not only do I get to watch my own daughter grow up and hit all those awesome developmental milestones, but I also get to watch the nanny’s daughter as well. As a matter of fact, I believe that since our little girl gets to watch someone a few months older than herself do all these new things, it has accelerated her development, for better or worse, lol.

As a government employee I don't pay into disability. Therefore I had to use FMLA leave to take time off at my baby's birth and I had to use annual and sick leave in order to get paid for that time off. I had the choice of taking 3 or 4 months off but having no leave left over, or taking a shorter period of time off and then working part time to conserve the remaining leave I had. I chose the second option. This served many purposes. First, it allowed me to put off full time work as long as possible. Second, it saved leave for potential emergencies, sick days, or doctor visits. Third, it eased Tony into the role of work-from-home dad. My first day back at work was hard. I cried almost the entire drive in. The last time that I had made the commute I'd been pregnant. I felt lonely that first drive back. I was missing a part of me and I knew that missing piece was back at home. Luckily, air traffic control is the type of job that requires constant attention. I found that the more time I spent staying distracted with work, the better I was. Things were easier on the second day and got better from there.

When the baby was first born and Laura was on maternity leave, the reality of having a baby hadn’t really set in cliche as that may sound. I think the first 2 months were still part of being in a comfort zone for me, since Laura was home all the time. Our daughter would basically, eat, sleep, eat, sleep, poop, etc. It was honestly pretty easy...for me, anyway. As it became increasingly clearer that Laura’s return to work was coming up, I started to get more and more nervous. In fact, I remember the first time I was left alone with the baby; Laura had left the house to get her hair done; no more than 2 hours max. I basically held my daughter the whole time while sitting in my office chair, not moving and silently panicking to myself. It didn’t help that Laura’s first night back to work, after I had spent a bathtime where my sweet girl pooped, peed, and vomited on me all at the same time, I had some uninvited guests drop by who wanted to see the baby...and they woke her up. It took me three hours to get her back down after they left. I think mentally, that set the tone for the next few months, and I had a hard time stepping away from this whole experience as a negative.

What do I love about working? I love that I get a break from things at home. This was especially true when we were navigating things like sleep training and introducing solids. I use the time to step back from our home environment to clear my mind and rethink our approach to present hurdles that we're facing with raising a baby. I think about things like meal plans and paying bills. What do I hate about it? Well, up until a month ago my first answer would have been: pumping. Now...? My heart is at home. While I appreciate the adult interaction that I get at work and the opportunity to do something unique and specialized, I sometimes feel like I get too wrapped up in trivial things. The squabbles and complications that occur from working with other people take up a lot of my mental energy. It's not worth it and yet I still get sucked in. I'm still very domestic so I hate being at work when I know that there is so much to do at home.

My work situation is pretty awesome, to be honest. I get to do something I love for a living, and I get to do it 10 feet away from my daughter. At any given moment, I can hear her in the living room playing or jabbering a bunch of nonsense. If she starts crying or screaming, I can be right there for her, even though I know that’s what we’re paying the nanny for. I get to make her lunch everyday, and her breakfasts and dinners a few night of the week as well. Overall, it’s a really nice position to be in, and I’m very lucky to be able to do this.

If I could, I would switch roles with my husband in a heartbeat. He knows that I feel that way too. During one difficult period I told him that I would take the leap - move to a lower cost of living area, give up my job and all the advantages it offers, and support his decision to work out of the house. He said I was being silly. In another life Tony would work at a job that he LOVES and I would stay at home and have as many babies as I could. I would cook awesome and healthy meals. I would always have the clean laundry folded and put away. I would take my dog for long runs and have playdates and my kids would see their grandparents many times during the course of the week. I would be home to take my kids to swim class and I wouldn't have to negotiate shift swaps to get the day off so that I could see their soccer games or piano recitals.

As much as I like my current situation, if I were presented with a job outside of the home where I made enough money for Laura to leave her job, I’m not sure I would take it as quickly as some may think I would. I’m in no hurry to get out of the house. I don’t feel I need to get a “real job,” I have one already; in fact, I have 2. Sure I may not make all that much, and it’s not a traditional job where I must commute and punch in and out with a time card, but quite frankly, I spent the bulk of my life doing that, and I don’t see how there’s that much more pride in doing that than doing what I do. I get to do my job and be there all day for my daughter. How many dads can claim that? Even if I weren’t the lead editor of Gaming Examiner, I would still have to think long and hard about switching back to the more “traditional” roles. After a year of being at home with my little girl, could I really switch to a life where I only saw her a few hours a day? I don’t think I could. However, to allow my wife to be an at-home mom, since I know how much she wants to do it, I would make the change in a heartbeat. But the money would have to be right.

I don't live in that life, though. So I make the most of this one. Sunday morning, before I get off of work, I take a nap so that I'm rested for my drive home. When I arrive home I'm on baby duty. I give her breakfast and put her down for a morning nap. I do some light cleaning and the grocery shopping. I give my daughter her lunch and get her strapped into the jogging stroller so she can go running with the dog and me. I put her down for her afternoon nap and I'm ready to play when she wakes up. I feed her dinner, give her a bath, and put her to bed. I make dinner for my hubby and myself and we spend time together before bed. I wake up Monday and Tuesday ready to do my mom job. I love my mom job. I knew what sacrifice I was making and I promised myself that I would make the most of every minute that I had at home with my little girl. Sometimes I get caught up in trying to multitask but I try to remember my priorities, which is my family. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we wake up together as a family. Tony goes straight to the office to work and the dog, baby, and I go for a run. I come home and make breakfast while she plays and watches Baby Einstein and then we all eat together. Tony gets back to work, she goes down for a nap and I get ready for work. This is my favorite time of day - my "me" time. I take a long bath. A long, warm, relaxing bath where I jump on my phone to chat with my mom friends while I sip coffee. It's awesome.

Some of my coworkers scoff at the life that Tony and I have chosen. I work in a predominantly male environment and they don't understand how I "let" Tony stay at home. Despite my efforts to explain the arrangement and stress that this was an important issue that Tony and I agreed on, they still have a hard time understanding it. They also don't understand what Tony has to go through. Nobody does. He has his own issues as a new dad, a work-from-home dad, with his own insecurities, concerns, and issues to deal with. It's just as controversial an issue as the stay-at-home/working mom issue so I deal with hearing a LOT of opinions. Interestingly enough, my co workers hardly ever question my "choice" to work. What I think that it all really comes down to, is that moms and dads have to examine their own lives and make decisions that best fit their family. I don't think that being a stay-at-home mom or a working mom is ever the universal "right" answer. Likewise, I think that a lot of parents make the harder decision (whether it's to stay at home or go to work) because they are setting aside their own personal desires in order to do what's best for the young people that they chose to bring into this world. I don't get offended when people say things regarding the question of staying at home because they are making a generalization for something that can't possibly apply to all people. They don't know me and they don't have to live my life so they are welcome to their opinions and I will continue to enjoy my long baths, morning runs, and my little girl's smiles while I move planes, clean the litterbox, and cook dinners. It really is a wonderful life.

I think Laura’s co workers scoff at my situation due to the freedom that I have with my job to basically make my own hours and to do so out of the comfort of my own home. Perhaps they think because I’m not constrained to working for “the man” that what I do isn’t respectable; I don’t know. I’d be lying if I said their opinions didn’t bug me because after all this time, the opinions of others, whether I know these people or not, still matter to me. I think mostly what bugs me is the underlying accusation that not going outside of the home to work somehow makes me less of a man, and worse, less of a father. Like somehow, because the circumstances worked out to where I get to work from home, that I’m less of a father because I don’t “provide for my family.” I’m well aware of the fact that there are better paying jobs out there for me. What many people don’t know is that I wouldn’t be any happier, and the costs of daycare just wouldn’t be worth it. I don’t want someone else raising my daughter; I want to raise my daughter. With all due respect, and no offense to anyone else, but I do not trust a single other person to raise my child.

The decision to work or stay at home is a very difficult one, and one that affects both parents equally, though in different ways. Like Laura said, there isn’t any universal “right” decision except for the one that works for you. I mean, look at how many factors play into our situation, and yet, we’re both still here and happy.

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