Be Quiet, Kids, I’m Working!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

It has been obsessively busy around the house these last few weeks. After taking a nine-year sabbatical to be a stay at home mother, I have started working again from my home. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I was hoping to get dressed up, put make-up on and go to an office. Not only would I not be faced with our family’s daily clutter but I imagined having an adoring male harem admire me around a water cooler. For the these past years I have been surrounded by almost entirely by women-other stay at home mothers whose husbands all work such ridiculous hours that they are never home. Sometimes I imagine that we are almost like the whaling wives who watched their men go off to sea for months at a time.

Fifteen years ago, I did the mommy track telecommuting thing for 8 years while I watched my husband leapfrog me on the career ladder. At the time, we had earning parity. We made the choice for me to stay home for a variety of factors: one of which had to do with my obsessive-ness over my child’s well being from my own less than positive experience with caretakers and my desire to breast feed on demand.

My mother worked and was an excellent role model for me but I wanted my child to have the things that I did not have. No mean babysitters, playdates with school friends and a safe neighborhood to grow up in. However, I realized that my children were not getting a very important thing-to me: A working mother as a role model. I feared that they were in danger of developing a sense of entitlement about our rich material life. Because they did not actually see any of us ‘working’, they had no concept of what it is to work in an office, kiss someone’s ass , compromise your beliefs…a little… clients are right after all.

They would not be prepared for the new world of short-term job stints and the need to change careers on a dime. Dad works all the time. But that is “away” in some abstract office that they visit only occasionally when we all come in to watch him work over the weekend. He has been employed by the same company for years and has survived five mergers. I call him the cockroach. No one really has job security. We now have to create our work.

When children grow up with a family business around them as did farmers, craftsmen and store owners, everyone had to chip in to make the business a success. My father recalls seeing his mother work in the basement making coils for use in submarines during World War II. It was his only memory of her doing work that did not involve cleaning, cooking and diapers. How would my children ever know what it is to sell themselves? Could they ever pull themselves up by their boots straps the way that I have?

Now that I have started to work, I allow my children to be involved in the process. They know that they have to be quiet when I make phone calls. Some of my calls involve difficult cold calling and tons of rejection. My fifteen year old daughter will listen and pat my back after a particularly hard one.  I have let her take first stab on logo designs and she has helped me to set up our company’s website. From this experience, she has decided that she does not want to be a graphic artist and I have learned that sometimes it is better not to get family involved. However, through the process, we are all learning to pitch in to make a go of it. My daughter has offered to work babysitting duties into the week so that I can have my business meetings. In the end, I feel my children will be better prepared for the world of work and the issues of balance, self discipline and the knowledge that they can create their own futures.

Previously published on Open Salon March 2, 2011