Thursday, October 25, 2007

Arbeit Macht Frei?

And now, back to the (new) title of this blog: Confessions from a Stay at Homo.

Obviously, it is a take off from the acronym SAHM, which usually stands for Stay At Home Mom.

I am not exactly a SAHM. Nor am I a stay at home "Baba". I'm not even really a stay-at-hom-er. But right now, it feels like it.

Some for-and background:

So, last week I submitted a proposal to my department requesting a part-time schedule. It begins:

The following document outlines and describes the policy, process, and my proposal for what I am calling a “temporary-but-extended work reduction/buyout plan.” I am submitting this to the faculty of the economics department for review and discussion to explore the impact and feasibility of my proposal, and, ultimately, approval.

For those of you who have been following this blog over the years, you could probably read between the lines to see that I have been struggling with work-life balance for quite some time, mainly because of the commute. I'm tenured at a college about two hours away and, before Big came along, I'd head down on Tuesday mornings and return on Thursday nights.

This seemed fine. BioMom and I could each enjoy our careers, and I had some extreme flexibility on Mondays, Fridays, and in the summer.

Of course, we had some friction. It's never fun to be home alone with a kid on a regular basis. But again, it felt worth it, given that I really enjoyed my job and that it was, ultimately, so flexible.

Then came Big. I was off of work for the first six weeks of his life, and then on for the next semester while BioMom took her maternity leave. Then I took a semester off for FMLA, and then a semester's leave at a local college. That college offered me an opportunity to replace someone on sabbatical this year and so I bought myself another year without a commute.

Needless to say, it has been wonderful.

During this time, I have become more primary to the kids while BioMom has simultaneously stepped up her career. At the time, we thought this would be a good chance for her to do some traveling for work and take on some extra responsibilities in anticipation of me returning to my commute, and consequently losing flexibility while I would be gone.

It's funny. I would have never expected to find myself in a relationship and a household with such a seemingly strict, 1950's style division of labor with BioMom in the "public sphere" working for a wage, and me in the "private sphere" focusing on domestic work.

In reality, I have continued to both work and earn a salary, but it nearly feels like I am not working without the commute. Plus, I work a lot less than she does, and I don't travel.

At the start of this semester, my sister-in-law asked, in a concerned voice, how I was doing about returning to work. "Fine!" I said, and wondered why she'd be so worried. I realized after that she thought I was going back to commuting and leaving the kids for what ends up being three nights a week as I don't get home until after 9 on Thursdays.

My heart dropped thinking about it.

And I started processing in my head.

How could I give up six years of graduate school and another six years toward tenure? My job is great! I enjoy it, it has become manageable, I get summers off, I don't have a boss, I can be as creative as I want to, I can research problems that interest me. . . . The list goes on and on. How could I give up my life's work? Would something else come along? Would I regret it once the kids are off to college? I started interviewing people about their careers, gauging passion and commitment. I started seeing family and work as a true tradeoff. I asked HFRM#1 about the new director of the Walker Art Center (a 41 year old superstar curator who had risen to the directorship at the Hirshhorn): does she have kids? I questioned my commitment to my discipline: I don't rush out of lectures and talks with economics problems gushing out of my head! This must NOT be my passion!?! I'm not even UP for the John Bates Clark Medal and I'll be 40 in a couple of years!?! I wondered: What could I do instead? Is being at home with the kids enough? Can BioMom and I survive this role-reversal? Would it feel like we are in an unequal relationship?

But after all the extremes, I kept coming back to the thought of being without them each week.

And it wasn't so much the being gone. What felt so restrictive was that, by necessity, the schedule was rigid. In order to fit in my teaching load, it HAD to be Tuesday morning through Thursday late afternoon. Every semester.

For those of you with kids in school, you know that everything happens Tuesdays through Thursdays. So, I extrapolated to forever, thinking that I'd miss everything.

So here I am. Proposal to teach one semester per year submitted. If they accept it, it sort of lets me be both a worker and a SAHM. Possibly the best of both worlds.


MaMaMia said...

I've thought of you often, in how tough it would be for you to come back. This sounds like a good option. I hope it works out for you and all!

MaMaMia said...

BTW, I've toured that concentration camp. Hard to put in to words. Unforgettable.
Have you been?

HS Friend said...

I know where you're coming from as we deal with H being gone Mon-Th and the last two months Mon-Fri. He's pretty upset thinking about missing the Wed eve. Christmas Concert in December. Hope you are able to find what works for your family!!

Kristin said...

Hi--Just found your blog. I couldn't agree with how you are feeling more, and its something we struggle with each day. It is so hard to balance careers and families, and it makes you wonder what is most important in life (especially after all those years of graduate school and now a long-sought-after career). I'm not sure we have the answers yet, either.

giddings said...

Thanks for your comments Stef, HSFriend and Kristin. I'm still waiting to hear about the department's decision. . .

Re: the German reference. Yes -- I've been to three different concentration camp sites. Being on those grounds is unbelievable. I thought that the energy there was incredibly intense.