Excuse me. I’m new here.

**I’m about to make some sweeping generalizations here and I don’t mean to offend or put anyone in a box. It just helps me tell my story. You understand don’t ya?

I turned 35 a few months ago and sent my two oldest children to school down the road –  and totally did not know I was entering a new life-stage category. You know when you visit a church for the first time and you have to check the box indicating your age range? Well, unbeknownst to me, there is a life-stage range too, and I’ve been blindly hopping along unawares.

Apparently, I have just exited the, “Staying at home with my babies” life-stage and have tripped right into the “Go back to work” life-stage.  You’ll never guess how I discovered this! Someone asked me a simple question, one I’ve answered a million times in the exact same way, but suddenly, my answer was wrong.

The question asked was, “Do you work or are you at home?”

Now, I realize this is a totally loaded question, but generally people know what it means. We all know the possible combinations and reasons and complicated scenarios and we generally extend a sort of general grace over the question because really, how else can you ask it and cover all the bases?

Do you work? I mean besides all the “work” you do, do you work? I mean are you pursuing a career right now? Do you operate out of an office or home office? Do you pay for daycare or work out something with your husband? Who brings home the bacon, or most of the bacon?

See, it’s too complicated. The acceptable, baseline question is,  “Do you work or stay at home.” We basically just want to know if we call at 10:30 a.m.- will someone answer the phone? Just kidding.

Anyway, when I was in the “Staying at home with my babies” stage of life, and I answered the question, “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” people smiled at me. They verbally or non-verbally bestowed honor on me, nodded their head as if to say, “Good for you. It’s a sacrifice isn’t it. It’s worth it.” Even if they were working themselves, it was totally acceptable for me not to. Mutual respect was exchanged.

So, in this new life stage I just entered, everything is switched up. The expectations are totally different and I’m a bit lost in the shuffle. I was recently asked the question, “Do you work or stay at home,” and when I said, “I’m at home,” there was a very dramatic pause.

The follow up question…

“Aren’t your kids in school?”

The follow up response…

“Uh, uh, uh…” (Cheeks flushing, heart beat increasing)

“Well, I do help my husband with his work quite a bit. And I still have a preschooler at home most days. And we just moved here. And, and, and… that’s all… I guess.”

More and more, I’m finding that most folks expect someone like me – someone in her mid-thirties, with a college degree, with kids in school, to go get a job. After all, what is the purpose of being at home when there isn’t a baby to take care of? The bottom line is –

What contribution could I be making that isn’t significantly less important than bringing home additional money and furthering my career?

I admit it first sent me into a tizzy. I started a job search. I thought about going back to school. I felt low and lazy and stupid for not having a plan. There is so much to consider. There is an “In an ideal world” answer, and a “Real life, real bills” answer.

All the searching and struggling didn’t produce a plan (as I’d hoped) but it did produce a wonderful list. A list of the qualities, skills, and experiences that I absolutely value and as a family we will prioritize as we make decisions about how I spend my time from season to season. Now, that’s good stuff.

Guess what?  My list did not include a career exactly. Ideally, there is a set of skills I’m working on developing that will allow me to contribute to our work with college students in richer ways. There are skills that will allow me to continue to develop our home as a haven for the family and center for hospitality and ministry. There are experiences we want to have as a family that require me to be somewhat flexible and available (can you say – summer long training programs with the family!!!) and there are aspects of Ben’s job I want to totally take off his plate.

Does this mean I’ll never “work?” Nope. Again, that “Real life, real bills” variable is certainly a factor. But, my list gave me the freedom to assign value and priority to areas that have no monetary return. That is HUGE for me.

So, do you have a list?

Does it have a career on it? Great! Go for it!! When I ask you “the question” I  hope you’ll feel proud to share about your work experiences and plans.

And, I think I’m ready for the next time someone asks me, “the question.” And, could someone please warn me about any upcoming life-stage changes. I’d really prefer to be more prepared next time. Thanks!

11 thoughts on “Excuse me. I’m new here.

  1. Heidi says:

    Hi Jess,

    I feel for you. All I can say is being back “in the public workforce” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, it is nice being able to have adult conversations with other women, but I do miss being at home, even though my kids are all in school. I get completely behind in housework, endless loads of laundry, and dusting! If I could, I would stay at home and not blink an eye. I make sure that I can have days off where my kids are involved whether it’s a special day at school, or whatever. I’m lucky that I have that flexibility, otherwise it just wouldn’t work. Love your time at home, you are valuable in God’s eyes and your family. Big hug from me!

  2. steph says:

    A friend of mine with three older kids (youngest is 11?) says she stays at home to keep margin in her life so she can help out and serve all the other folks around her with less margin (= Great idea.

  3. jessdager says:

    Steph – That is such a sweet and succinct way of saying it.
    Heidi – You are super mom of the generation. Dave and kids are so lucky to have you.

  4. Thanks for the heads up on the big life change – I’ll go back and read this in four years! Makes me appreciate more what I’ve got going, though it mostly feels like chaos all the time!

    love ya!

    Sherry

  5. Amy says:

    Jess,

    I really admire you for writing about this and I admire the woman you are. When I look at you I see such a loving wife & mother and a really crafty lady who is a great writer. I still think your calling could be writing…and that IS something you could do at home 🙂

    I just wanted to say that I know you realize just how much you do for your family and your home but other people see it too.

    Take care…

  6. Thanks for sharing this one. When people at work asked me why I went part-time this year I explained to them that we are preparring to be foster parents and I knew I could not be a full time foster mom and continue to work full time at my job. Mark and I had to sit down and rework, reevaluate, and reconsider a lot of things. When I made the decision to go part time I almost felt bad (guilty) about telling people. But, every woman that I work with (I am not exaggerating here) has made a comment similar to this: “Oh- that sounds so nice! I WISH I could go part time!” They all really desire to give themselves more fully to their life outside of work- but yet there is this pressure (comming from the culture? I am not even sure where) that you must be a full time everything to everyone in your home and also have a full time career and be able to manage it all and be perfectly fine. Maybe there are woman out there that can balance it all- but I know myself well enough to say “no way”. Sorry I am getting lengthy here- but this is something that I feel God has spoken to me, personally, about this year. I would encourage women to fight the idea that you have to completely burn yourself out to be ‘the perfect woman’- that we shouldn’t have to feel guilty or justify ourselves if we want to pour into our families, into ministry, into nurturing others and all the things that God created us to do. We should not be ashamed because those aspects have lasting effects that can often not even be measured by this world. Anyways- You are amazing and all you do is amazing and meaningfull and lasting in the eternal world and not just here and now.

  7. Jeanna says:

    Both my kids are in school & after a stint working part-time, I am now back to being a stay-at-home parent to my dogs. 🙂

    The laundry & the dishes get done now, which is a plus!

  8. Kristin says:

    I am not usually the one to make politically-related comments, but have you noticed the ads that say President Obama is asking moms to go back to school? It seems like there has been another shift in the culture, where the whole stay-at-home thing is viewed at temporary…to end as soon as it’s possible for mom to “get back out there.” I think that scholarships for people who want to go back to school later in life are marvelous, but it does creep me out a little that the govt is targeting moms. Are we an economic commodity now? And btw, you DO have a job: you partner in ministry with your husband…even if the culture doesn’t get it.

  9. Rose says:

    If the culture is pushing something, it usually is wrong.
    If you could have a “do over” and come back as an infant, would you want to be raised by a day care center, a nanny, random babysitters, or a mommy? If you were in grade school, to whom would you want to come home? In middle school or high school, would you like your mom to be home when you came home and available to talk or keep you within your limits (even if it annoyed you at the time), or would you like to come home to an empty house? Do any of you remember, or can you imagine, what a habitually empty house feels like vs. a home that is managed full-time? How much more love can a stay-at-home mom show to her family? And how much more diligence can she practice in this evil, fallen world?
    The C.I.A. actually helped finance Cosmopolitan Magazine in the 1960’s, because elements within our government wanted to destabilize the American family, and one of the primary methods was to convince women to enter the workforce. Gloria Steinem stated this in her autobiography.
    Finally, if you knew that the dollar was worthless, would your job be where you wanted to spend time? Some people can say yes to that question because their jobs are their callings. However, if you cannot, and you do not have a specific reason for being there (i.e., paying a child’s college tuition), you need to rethink your decision.
    One could recast Edmund Burke’s famous line, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” to, “All that is necessary for kids to go bad is for good parents to be absent.”
    God bless – Be wise as serpents, then gentle as doves.

  10. susq says:

    Um….okay, maybe I’m a total dork, but I always considered our support as going to BOTH of you because BOTH of you minister on campus. I’ve always considered you first and foremost a Mom to your awesome kids and I’ve always been amazed that on top of all the Mom duties you do bible studies with the girls on campus, make tons of food for big get togethers, let college aged kids take over your house and help with worship for NAV night. Now, to me that sounds like you’ve got a big job and you’re succeeding in your career 🙂
    And, yes…I do think about the future “job” and if I’ll be going down that road later on. I feel for ya sister…that’s scary stuff to be thinking about sometimes!
    One last thing. I read a book recently called “In Praise of Stay at Home Moms” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. There were parts that were sort of out there for me or things I disagreed with, but overall it made me feel confident on this next path of SAHMing. It’s worth reading as it’s a quick one to get through and a great self esteem builder 🙂

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