Labeling a Life of Work and Family

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It seems I’ve forgotten how to blog…and maybe dial the phone, too.  Thank goodness for Facebook where I can at least post an occasional status update or photo as a means of reassuring my mother (all the way down in Texas) that, yes, we’re still here and still doing fine.

I had realized toward the end of September that I didn’t have many new website clients coming up and so, for the first time in my webdesign “career” I actually decided to do a little advertising.  You may have seen this cute little ad floating around cyberspace:

Pre-Baby Special

I thought the best way to end the year with a bang would be to do a bunch of smaller, quick websites which are guaranteed to end before Peach decides to make his/her appearance in early January.  So, this month I’m trying like mad to clear a small backlog of old contracts (which have only been waiting and waiting and waiting  for client content submissions) and I’m finishing up a giant website project for our La Leche League area: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  Then, beginning November 1st I’ll be building one website a week through mid-December.  The response to my first advertising attempt was better than I could have imagined (especially because it didn’t cost me anything!); I received a referral from a past client, a new client here on Nantucket, and two new clients in Austin, Texas who saw my ad through the wonders of viral marketing — all thanks to Facebook.  I’m super excited about each of these websites (and grateful for the wonders of  social media!), even if they mean I’ve been spending  — and will keep spending — nearly every waking, non-parenting moment glued to either Photoshop or WordPress.

We’re nearing the end of the year and as we get ever closer to Peach’s birth, I often find myself marveling at how this little business venture has worked out.  Never would I have guessed that I would be busy enough to actually say I’m taking a maternity leave.  And yet, here I am, working seven days per week, while Nora’s at school, while she’s napping, and long after she’s jammied up and tucked snugly into bed.  Some days and nights I manage to squeeze in six, seven, or eight hours of work, while still leaving plenty of time for playground exploration,


play dates with friends,


shopping trips unhurried enough to allow for taking fun pictures and inspecting stacked pumpkin people, lots of cooking together, and even an occasional candle-lit bubble bath. (Even if it was at two a.m., in lieu of blogging, and my tiny bathtub won’t let the water cover my ever expanding belly, it still felt amazingly luxurious.)

There was a post recently on Motherlode written by a father who listed the normal parenting/household things he does in addition to working and asked why he isn’t given the title of “working dad” when women in similar roles are labeled as “working mothers.”  I understood the point he was trying to convey about equality in parenting, though I think that term isn’t in common use because his situation is not unique.  The reason our society doesn’t need it is because it is generally assumed most dads work outside of the home. The expectation is that if you have children and you are a man, you are a “working dad” – unless of course you’re a “SAH dad,” a “single dad” or a “deadbeat dad,” in which case the qualifier is added to explain a unique situation. I expect that when the term “working mother” came into use is was because that was still a unique situation.  While reading that Motherlode post and pondering my own situation, I was struck by just how pointless all of these titles and labels are, as they do very little to truly explain or identify how any given family works.  Ann Romney’s stay-at-home mom experience, for example, is dramatically different from that of the average low-income SAHM.  Or, as another example of the futility of such labels, I realized I still have no idea what to call myself or how to sum up my combined business/parenting identity to a stranger.

Stay-at-home mom just doesn’t seem right anymore, not when I’m working on websites until three a.m. and running out for client meetings before Chris leaves for work in the morning –despite that fact that I did quit my job two and a half years ago to be a stay-at-home mom and despite that I do all of the things a mother with no outside childcare does.  But I also work, too; in all technicality, I might have never actually been a SAHM, since I was babysitting full-time from almost day one of my SAH life.  On the other hand, I’m not sure I would ever call myself a “working mom.”  Putting aside all considerations of political correctness and whether or not such a term suggests that SAHMs don’t do work, to me that term generally implies employment outside of the home, reporting to someone other than one’s self and, more often than not, full-time employment. To me, it implies time away from one’s kids.  Even “work-at-home mom” makes me think of a situation with an outside employer and a significant time commitment each week, although it might best describe my situation.  Technically, I suppose, I’m a “small business owner” since I have two registered businesses (one of which I am currently doing absolutely nothing with).  But again, the very part-time-ness of my situation isn’t reflected in that label.  Nora’s schedule, care and play always takes precedence over my work, and though I do need to make a certain amount of money to supplement Chris’s income, it’s small and she is always first priority (not that I can say the same for housework!).   And I wonder what role is played by the amount of income, time spent working, or type of work being done on the validity of any particular label.  I work less now than I did when I was babysitting, but I make significantly more money per hour and am doing things that cannot be doubly labeled as “work” to care for my child.

In my Motherlode comment, I advised the dad to call himself whatever he wants to call himself, for this exact reason.  One person’s understanding of what a label means is always going to be different from someone else’s, simply because every family is different.  Divisions of labor, time spent with kids, hours spent at work, the relative importance of family versus work and vice versa are all defined at an individual family level.  No matter what I call it, no one outside my family will really know what I do.  My friends or perhaps even some blog readers may have an idea of the role I play in my family, but even then it’s limited to the words and pictures I find time to share and the time of day I manage to post an update.  Beyond that, no one knows if I’m writing from an immaculately cleaned house after checking everything off my to-do list, if I’m blogging after putting my kid in front of the TV, or if I’m surrounded by leftover breakfast dishes, un-showered at 10:30 in the morning and forcing myself to make blogging a priority while Chris is still home to build puzzles on the (very furry) living room floor.  Now that I’m my own boss, no one knows how many hours I’m clocking or what time of night I’m doing them.  The people who see me come into yoga for a rare 10 am, Monday morning class might think I’m one of those mothers with no outside income, a nanny, and a housekeeper, rather than the mom who is lucky to find an hour and a half each week to focus on herself and knows doing so will mean giving up sleep later.

No matter what the title or label is, no one will ever truly understand what I or you or the mom or dad on the other side of the blog post does, and that’s ok.  We don’t need a qualifier to explain our contribution.  We don’t need to explain it at all.  The people who matter, our children and our partners, know our contributions and that is good enough.

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