This is the fifth entry in “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” a series of guest posts about the working mom/stay-at-home dilemma. It’s written by Emily Paster, editor and founder of WestoftheLoop.com. Emily, a mother of two, teaches legal writing at Loyola University School of Law in Chicago. She writes about parenting, cooking and the struggle to stay cool in the suburbs at her blog West of the Loop.
Emily is another blogger that I loved as soon as we met at BlogHer last summer, and she is someone I look up to. She tweeted recently that writing this post was “profound”. Read it and find out why.
“I don’t know how she does it.” Does anyone say that about me? I doubt it. It’s pretty obvious how I do it: I don’t work.
Okay, admittedly it’s not as simple as that. It would be more accurate to say that I barely work. Instead of the full-time law firm or government job that I trained for when I went to law school, I teach one legal writing class a year at a local law school, blog, write the occasional freelance piece, volunteer in my community and, of course, take care of my two young children.
My husband is the law firm partner that he trained to be. He is a national expert in his field and travels at least one day a week for work. He’s an involved dad when he’s around and a supportive partner, but let’s be candid: He’s not going to miss a meeting or cancel a trip for a case of strep throat, a flaky babysitter, or any of the other things that wreak havoc in the lives of working parents.
Although I grew up in a family with two full-time working parents, and was a full-time working parent at one point, I deliberately chose a different kind of life after my second child was born. I didn’t want to outsource that much of the raising of my children to a nanny. And the truth is, I enjoy the domestic sphere. I like to cook more than almost anything else. I like being able to volunteer in my children’s classes, get to the gym regularly, meet a friend for coffee and spend a summer afternoon at the pool. I feel it is important to be the one who takes my daughter to piano lessons and swim practice and supervises homework.
In short, the life of my family runs smoothly. I take care of errands and household tasks during the week so that weekends can be relaxed family time. I am just around the corner – not 45 minutes away in an office — when one of my kids gets sick in the middle of the day. My schedule is flexible enough to accommodate all the extracurricular activities and appointments and last-minute bake sales that make up the lives of school-aged children. The clothes are always clean and the fridge is always full.
Oh yes, my life works. So why am I so ambivalent about my choice? Why can’t I hear about a former classmate’s success without it feeling like a knife in the gut? Why I am ashamed to call my former boss and meet her for coffee? Why do I feel like a disappointment?
I worked hard at one time to put myself on a certain career path. I walked away from the path and chose a different one — one that prioritized other things above career success. As a result, my husband, my children and I have relatively calm and manageable lives. That is a nice thing and I feel good about my choice, except when I don’t. I can’t seem to get over my inner feelings of discontent and my self-pity about my sacrificed career even while I enjoy all the benefits of that sacrifice.
Yes, this life works. But my attitude sucks.