Opt Back In to your fine old self

Great highlight of (an update on) those opt-outers: Returning to Work after a Career Break: The Good News.

Especially good news:

“That fact is one of the least well-known, but most critical aspects of career breaks: that people’s view of you is frozen in time. They remember you as you were…”

You know, you can maintain that view of you, over time, too. Social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) — use it and use it well, at-home parents.

Opting In… if it’s still an Option

Best thing I’ve read in a while:

The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In – NYTimes.com.

Thank you very much, Judith Warner. I can see a part of myself in every one of these women. And that is why, just over the past several weeks, I am doing what I need to do to get back in the game, as a starter, not a benchwarmer. (I cannot believe I just used a sports metaphor.)

I am lucky. I have a husband who knows I want to get back to work. He knows his employment trajectory has made that complicated for me to just “do.” When I have the occasional and short-lived crisis of confidence, he reminds me that I do not need to compare myself to Sheryl Sandberg or June Cleaver. He reminds me that the only thing that matters is what I want to do and how I want to do it. He has utter faith and complete confidence in me and my abilities.

I am lucky.

And this lengthy, well-worth-the-time and perfectly timed article reminds me to do three things, always.

1. Know who you are. Your worth is not defined by your spouse, your job, or your children.

2. Invest in and protect your marriage. If you feel unequal, or equal, say so. If you feel happy, or unhappy, say so. Expect the same of your partner. Work to level things out. Spouses may take turns in life doing different things, but it’s not okay to take turns in feeling inadequate or unhappy.

3. Don’t be complacent. Remember to wonder what could happen next. Marriages can end, jobs can be lost, health can be compromised. Stop and smell the roses, be in the moment, but don’t wear rose-colored glasses, don’t let anything pass you by.

the downside of giving

There’s this thing about being an at-home parent. It can be seen as a lot of things: a sacrifice (a professional life), a compromise (waiting your turn), a cop-out (were you really all that ambitious?), a financial gamble (hope your partner never leaves you), a source of regret (“I coulda’ been a contender!”).

It can, in fact, be all of those things. At any given moment, repeatedly, and simultaneously.

There’s this thing about working full-time (or more) when you have small children at home. It can be seen as a sacrifice (can’t spend as much time with partner and children), a compromise (somebody needs to cover the bills and health insurance), a cop-out (don’t enjoy being around kids all day anyway), a financial gamble (are you sure your job is the best there is?), a source of regret (“I wanted a job with more flexibility…”)

It can, in fact, be all of those things. At any given moment, repeatedly, and simultaneously.

All of these things, for both kinds of parents.

These things reflect the nature of work—work as in, the opposite of leisure. None of it was designed to be 100% effortless fun.

But when you work for money, you get… money. You get tangible validation that your choice, no matter how it might be making you feel on any given day, is “worth” it. Your choice is rational. Your choice has benefits that can be easily shared (cash, retirement savings, health insurance coverage, to name a few). Your choice gives you power, power that is universally recognized in a store, at a cocktail party, and at family reunions.

When you’re an at-home parent, you are a “giver.” You’re giving up your professional life for a bit, you’re giving time, you’re giving yourself to your children and your partner and your home and your pets. You’re basically a public charity, you’re so stinkin’ generous.

And you’re lucky, to boot! To be able to give so much, freely, without worry, with the safety net that is your working partner—admit it, you’ve won the lottery of life.

Sounds lovely. Except you can’t put your luck in a bank account. And political candidates never say they want to create more “generous parents who give up their jobs to support those who earn money.”

I was talking with my husband about my earlier post the other night — that if being at home with children were valued in some way, if it were counted toward a nation’s productivity (as the Genuine Progress Index attempts to do), and if it were more attractive to both fathers and mothers in equal measure, maybe, over time, the pay equity gap between women and men might shrink over time. The labor market might adapt. Evolve.

“What I do counts,” I said to him. “You wouldn’t be able to work as hard, and produce as much, and be as reliable and conscientious and thorough, if I weren’t doing what I was doing. You really only have to think about work. And the lawn*. I take care of everything else–feeding us, making our home what it is, managing everything with the kids. Because of the way I spend my time, you have far more time for your job. Isn’t that true?”

He pondered this.

“Yeah, that’s true.”

Now, my husband and I both already knew these things to be true. We had just never spoken these words out loud.

There’s a downside to giving: it can be a very silencing thing. As an at-home parent, so generous and so lucky, you can talk yourself into believing that you’ve no right to feel at times down, or jealous, or wistful, or bored, or lonely, or worried. Your life is so good, after all. You’re being taken care of.

“You want to count, too?” the eye-rollers (or even a small voice inside of you) might ask. “Get over yourself!”

No. I will not. I would never ask my husband to work for less than he’s worth, to be less proud of his accomplishments at the office, to express less of his feelings and frustrations about anything to me. And I would never ask that of myself.

We both have jobs, you see. He works. I work.

He talks, I talk.

He counts, I count.

*I don’t do outdoor chores, unless they are related to snow. I’ll sweep the garage and porch and take out the garbage. That’s about all my bug phobias can handle.