Because I am a new mother working at home with limited childcare, I have been thinking lately how I have no models for how to do this in a healthy and productive manner—healthy for my relationship with my 5-month-old son, productive for my work and my career.
Growing up in the church, I knew very few married women who worked, period. Those who did were usually not professionals, and there was this vague sense that floated from and towards them that they had to work because their husbands didn’t make enough money. I might add that their children were not the best behaved on the block, which added to the sense that their situation was less than ideal. Among the professional women I knew, one was a physical therapist whose husband had lupus; I had the impression that, once again, she was in a situation where she needed to be the breadwinner because her husband could not and this is what made it acceptable.
My mother is a writer, and she did write a weekly parenting column while I was growing up. But we didn’t rely on her income (I think it paid the princely sum of something like $25 a week), she was able to write her column on Thursday afternoons so she wasn’t trying to put in more than two or three hours of work a week, and her stay-at-home mom-ness contributed 100% to her ability to write the column.
I grew up feeling rebellious—like I was a bad Christian girl—because I knew I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted a career, as a writer, and I wanted it to be a successful career—with multiple books published and magazine articles and long essays and lots of short stories. For a long time, I thought I wouldn’t have children because I wasn’t sure how I would manage both.
Though I think there are more professional and non-professional women in the church who work these days than there were when I was growing up (it is hard, sometimes impossible, to make it on one income these days), I know some of those women feel judged. My sister-in-law, for example, mentioned a melt-down she had in church one day when a man pompously informed her that God expected her to stay at home with her children. I’ve known since I was a little girl that I was supposed to be a nurse, she told him. I feel called by God to be a nurse. And I am a very good mother. So just shut up.
But among all the women I know, I personally know exactly one other woman doing what I’m doing: work at home with limited childcare. (I have someone come in six hours a week to babysit. This lets me make business phone calls without interruption.) The limited childcare is due to two things: one, I don’t really want to put my baby in childcare; two, we can’t afford it anyway. The working is due to two things: one, I love my job(s) as writer, teacher, and editor/publicist; two, we need my income anyway.
I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday and she mentioned that the feminist revolution betrayed us. “It told us that we could have it all,” she said. “But what that really means is that you have to have a career, and you have to put your children in daycare. There are very few jobs that allow you to work and have your children with you.”
That is so true. I had the fortune to jump on the online teaching bandwagon early, which means I have more experience teaching online than just about any professor I ever meet. And it allowed me flexibility for my writing career long before my baby was born. Now that I’m a mother, my dean, thankfully, doesn’t care that I have a child at home while I work—as long as I am still an excellent teacher and do what I’m supposed to do in a timely fashion.
I am lucky, too, that my publisher welcomes both me and my baby when I go to publicity events and book signings. I had Nesta lying in a stroller or I was holding him throughout the American Library Association’s mid-winter conference. As I talked to librarians outside of Cinco Puntos Press’s booth, I gently rocked him to keep him happy. And guess what? Those librarians love babies. He is my best marketing tool, hands down. But I know I’m lucky. Not all publishers would be so welcoming or so understanding.
But it’s hard. I need to be putting in more hours than I currently am, especially writing. It is easy to be interrupted from grading papers or writing a press release. It is not so easy to revise my current novel when I’m interrupted so often.
Still, I would like a few models of women who manage successfully to work at home and keep their child out of daycare. I know you guys are out there. Please share your stories, your tips, your best practices! And especially for those mother writers out there—I need to hear how you’ve done it, and how you’ve balanced the appropriate time with your children and the appropriate time doing work, and how you’ve learned to write while being interrupted.