**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!