Wednesday, May 15, 2013

We All Need Some Me Time

According to this interesting story on NPR:

The Census Bureau finds that about 3.5 percent of stay-at-home parents are fathers, though that's doubled in a decade. But Stephanie Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families calls the figure vastly underreported. It doesn't include the many fathers who do some work yet are their children's primary caregivers, a trend that cuts across class and income.

You can listen to the story here:


I could especially relate to this quote from Coontz:

The place where you see the greatest sharing of child care, interestingly enough, is in blue collar and union workers who often work split shifts and then trade off the child care.

Neither Will nor I are union members, and I wouldn't describe our customer service jobs--his at Whole Foods, mine at the public library--as blue collar per se, but our middle-low income required us to think creatively about what we would do for child care when Katie was born. Neither of us wanted to pay someone else $200 a week so they could spend more time with our kid than we did, so we took a tip from Will's folks and shifted our work schedules so that one of us was always at home with Katie.  That's what Will's parents did when he and his older brother were young.  Their mom worked at a meat-processing plant and, later, at the switchboard for a home appliance service repair company during the day, while their dad stayed home with Will and his brother.  Then they traded off child care duties in the evening when their dad would head to work as the manager of a pizza joint.

My parents are much older than Will's.  My dad is old enough to be Will's grandfather.  Heck, he was forty-three when I was born, so he's old enough to be my grandfather too.  Perhaps my parent's age is why they're more traditional than Will's folks.  When I was first born, Dad worked outside the home and Mom was a housewife.  When I was four, Dad lost his high paying job as the Controller in the office of a big truck line.  He could never find another job that paid as well as that one did, so Mom had to start working outside the home.  I was four when she took a part-time job at Montgomery Ward.  She later worked at Dairy Queen, Kmart, and, after she completed her bookkeeping certificate at the community college, in an office of a big dental lab.  She worked there for twenty years before she was eligible to collect Social Security and she'd built up enough money in her 401k to retire.  She hated nearly every moment of work life, or so it seemed to me growing up.  She'd come home every night from work, exhausted and cranky, wishing aloud we could go back to the days when she was a housewife.  

I was different.  Mom grew up in the forties and fifties, when women in her social class were discouraged from going to college or having a career.  Mom had once dreamed of being an architect, but by her senior year of high school she dropped her math and science classes and took Home Ec instead when her boyfriend proposed to her.  She would be a housewife.  That was her calling in life.

I grew up in the seventies and eighties when feminists and lower-income women who might not have identified as feminist but who nonetheless knew they had to work to help support the family were bringing home the bacon and expecting their spouses to help them fry it up in a pan every once in awhile.

I will not be like her, I told myself when I witnessed Mom's frustration with her marriage to my controlling father and her dissatisfaction with her uninteresting jobs.  I will be a career woman, I thought.

When it was time for me to start my career, in my early twenties when I got my job at the library, I honestly had no idea what career I should try.  I wanted to be a writer, but I was exceptionally ignorant about the process.  I didn't know how to support myself financially in order to have time to write.  My guidance counselor in high school didn't understand me, neither of my parents attended anything other than a community college or a trade school, and I was too depressed to advocate for myself, so I had no idea that if I had gone to a university I could have learned how to be a professional writer in the English department.  When I told most people that I wanted to be a writer, they laughed in my face and said, "Yeah, but what do you want to do to support yourself?"

So I lucked out and got a job at the library, surrounding myself with books and those that love them.  If I couldn't support myself by being a professional writer, I'd support myself by surrounding myself with the works of those who could. 

And, I'm not like my mom.  I enjoy being a career woman.  I love working at the library.  I can think of no other job I'd want, other than being a paid professional writer.  I love my husband.  He's the polar opposite of my dad, not controlling at all.  Turns out, working and being married isn't bad, like Mom made it out to be.  It's an ill-suited job and an ill-suited spouse that's the problem.  If you find a good match, in both your work and home life, most days can be pretty peachy.

When Katie was born, at first, since I made slightly more money per hour than Will, we decided that I'd work full-time days and he'd work part-time evenings and weekends.  We live close to the library so I'd come home for lunch.  It was a wonderful break in the day from work and it allowed me to get the Baby Kate fix I was jonesin' for during the hours I was away from her each day.  

When Katie was three, Will's dad agreed to babysit a couple days a week for us so Will could go back to working full time too.  Katie now has a fantastic relationship with her grandpa due to all that one-on-one time she got with him before she started kindergarten.

A month before Katie started kindergarten, six months after my brother Pat had died of liver failure, I sat slumped over in my doctor's office trying to find some relief from the crushing depression and survivor's guilt I was experiencing.  First diagnosed with depression at age eleven, I've struggled with chronic depression ever since.  For the most part, I manage it amazingly well considering my early childhood trauma of sexual abuse, a hypercritical father, and general family-of-origin dysfunction.  Adulthood has been good to me.  But then my brother has to go and drink himself to death and it gets my own depression spiraling out of control.

My doctor, a woman, looked me in the eye and said, "Is there any possible way you can work part-time instead of full-time at the library?"

Despite my depression, I laughed out loud.  What a ridiculous thought.  It had never occurred to me to not work full time.  I'm a feminist, for God's sake.  I'm not like Mom.  I can't let a man financially support me.  Plus, what would I do with my time at home?  Katie was getting ready to start school and she'd be gone most days.  God forbid I learn how to cook and clean.  That's not my calling.

But the more I thought about it, and after talking it over with Will, and realizing the man who would be supporting me is nothing like my father, the more it all made sense.  I'd always wanted to be a writer.  I could be a stay-at-home writer.

For the sake of my mental health, I took my doctor's advice and slowed down the hectic pace of my life so I could write more.  I cut back to twenty-four hours a week at the library. I had worked full-time for eighteen years, so it felt weird at first, but only because my thirst had become more familiar than the drink I had been offered.  Now I drink it all in, this extra "me" time.

I'm an uninspired cook and a terrible housekeeper, but it turns out I'm not a half-bad blogger.  I write about twenty hours a week, so I'm probably actually working more hours now than I did when I worked full-time at the library, but it's so gratifying it doesn't feel like work at all.  I can say, hands-down, writing is the best thing I've discovered for my mental wellness.  I still take fish oil pills and I still walk most days, two other "natural" ways I've found that helps keep my depression at bay, but I've been off Zoloft for nearly two years, and my first prescription for clonazepam expired before I'd taken my last dose, and now, since I have post-traumatic stress disorder, I only keep the pills on hand at the suggestion of my doctor in case I have a panic attack, like a person allergic to peanuts keeps an EpiPen on them just in case.  

Writing has helped me make sense of my life and appreciate it and my loved ones more.  I need the extra time each day to write like we all need air and exercise and good food and good lovin'.  I don't think everyone would benefit from blogging as much as I do, although our society as a whole could benefit from slowing down some.  Everyone needs more "me" time to delve into their own interests and hobbies, aside from their kids and their careers.  Moms and dads too often lose themselves in the time crunch that is work and family life.  We all need some "me" time.  We need to get over our preconceived notions about who takes care of the kids and who works outside the home.  Sharing the work and child care burden allows us to not think of work and child care as a burden.  It allows us more time to care for ourselves, so our stressed-out mental state does not make us a burden to those around us.