Last week I did a webinar on how to earn a full-time income by writing part-time, based on my ebook. It was a weird experience, because I’ve done tons of public speaking and, though I always have nervous energy before the talk starts, it generally turns out well. The webinar is a whole new game, because there is zero audience feedback. It was just me, talking and trying not to cough, and at the pre-set times, the moderator introduced the second half of the talk and asked me questions the audience had typed into the chat form. I couldn’t see or hear the audience and had no idea if my words were inspiring them or dropping like lead balloons.
But afterwards, the feedback came rolling in in the form of book sales and tons of private emails from audience members who actually took the time to Google me, find my email address, and write. This is major because most people don’t bother to communicate with a presenter or writer or public figure unless they’re pissed off. I read a stat one time that the percentage of letters to the editor that are angry vs. complimentary is something like 75% to 25%.
In the talk I gave tons of tips on how to manage your time and set your rates so you can earn more in less time, but overwhelmingly, the subject people wrote to me about privately was how to not let your work hours balloon. I said something like, “I keep very strict hours, and they fluctuate. If my son naps for 45 minutes, that’s my work time. If he naps for 2 hours, that’s my work time. It can definitely be frustrating to quit when I hear that cry over the monitor and I’m in the middle of writing a brilliant sentence, but I always remind myself of why I work part-time in the first place. My kids. I chose this life because I want to spend as much time as I can with them, so letting my job bleed into our family life is not an option. There’s nothing to resent because I truly have it all. So when you feel frustrated that you don’t have enough time to work, remind yourself of the reason you’re part time in the first place.”
Tons and tons of emails. They were all–mostly from women, but one from a man–along the lines of, “Thank you for that reminder. I needed to hear that. I needed permission to put my family first. I needed someone to tell me that work isn’t everything and that it will always be waiting and my kids won’t.”
So, that felt good. But on a larger scale, it shows how many women crave flexibility–and the permission to create this kind of life. Maybe they want to work, but not all the time, and not to the detriment of their kids. And because they took the time to email and thank me for the reminder, it’s clear the world isn’t telling them the same thing.
Susanne Venker, an anti-feminist writer, talks about the concept of sequencing. My mom is a fan of that as well, although I’m not totally convinced yet. The idea is that you start a career, but then when you have kids, you raise them. And they grow up, too fast, and you still have way more years in the workforce than you could possibly want.
My grandmother was a piano teacher. She worked all the time, and particularly when my mom was home from school, because that’s when piano lessons are taught. My mom never saw her. Grandma worked because her father died when she was nine and as the eldest, she helped hold the family together. She worked because she was born in 1912 and was a child of the Great Depression. She worked because she loved her work.
When my mom grew up, all she wanted to be was a mother. She was good at it, too. She was that mom who sewed our clothes, made homemade, elaborately-decorated birthday cakes, wrote how-to books so we knew how to brush our teeth, taught us the right way to clean toilet bowls and had interesting hobbies like calligraphy.
And then my dad went to seminary, and my mom had to get a job to support our family. We girls were all in school, but she hated working full-time. She was tired, cranky, and all her hobbies were out the window. She eventually found a job and a balance that worked for her, doing desktop publishing (quite the new field at the time) for an educational company, part time. But she never wanted to work. She never wanted to be her mom.
I started freelance writing when Kate was a baby. At first it was sort of a lark. Hey! I can earn $100 here and there in my spare time! Then I got serious about it, but I totally bootstrapped it while Kate was napping and Derek was sweating over his vicarage sermons. When we moved back to Fort Wayne for Derek’s final year of seminary, I had to work part-time at Fort Wayne Magazine so we could pay the rent and all. We were determined to make it through sem without loans, and we did. But it was a hard year, and I vowed to never, ever again put my kid in daycare and work like that, with a rigid pre-determined schedule that was completely out of my control and flexibility.
Back to freelancing when we moved to Tennessee, because while we were thrilled, thrilled that Derek at last had a call, it didn’t include health insurance for Kate and me. I loved the flexibility, the fact that I could increasingly take on better and better jobs, say no whenever I wanted, and develop a skill set that was fascinating to me.
Mom and I had long, frequent conversations about my choice for a long time. She was concerned that my writing would get in the way of my number one vocation: motherhood. The truth is, that could have happened very easily. I’m just like my grandma: I love to work. But there’s a fundamental difference between us: I value being a mother even more.
So I won’t lie and say it’s not tempting to do just that one last thing before picking the kids up, or to sign them up for just one extra day of summer camp, or to stick them in front of the TV so I can make that one phone call. It is tempting. I love my work, and I’m driven and goal-oriented.
But through these challenging conversations with my mom, I’ve honed my values and priorities and set down rules for myself. In my webinar talk, I was just articulating these for everyone else.
I didn’t say this in my talk, but one way I look at my work is as kind of my hobby. In today’s world, women don’t have to hand-wash clothes and dishes. We have microwaves, washers and dryers, stoves and electricity and dishwashers and even robot vacuum cleaners and mops. Maybe that’s why women of the 50s got bored, and why women of the 70s went to work, and women of today have amazing and elaborate hobbies. I’m terribly uncrafty. I can’t sew or quilt or scrapbook, nor do I have any desire to. I hate shopping and I’m introverted so can only spend so much time on playdates without wanting to go hide in my cave. So my work is my “hobby.”
For two years now I’ve had my sights set on law school. But I didn’t get a big enough scholarship offer to go. Part of me is incredibly frustrated and sad about that. Part of me is relieved, because it would be really hard on my family for three years.
This, to me, is how the world needs to change. In my ideal world, I could go to law school part time, during the day while my kids are in school. (Some schools offer a part-time evening program, but that doesn’t work for me. UT doesn’t offer part time at all, and no schools offer part-time during the day.) Then, I could work at a firm that offered part time hours. (It’s currently almost unheard-of for a new lawyer to be able to work part time. Hours are more like 70+ a week at the big firms.)
So I’m extremely interested in studying the law, but the way the profession is set up is in direct conflict with my family goals and ideals. It’s a hard pill to swallow. And I just keep coming back to the fact that what I do now is so perfectly ideal for our lifestyle and for maximizing the time I have with our kids and for keeping me interested and engaged with the world on a high level but reduced hours.
Maybe I do believe in sequencing. But somehow, when I think about the future when my kids are gone and I’ll “finally” have time to work full time, the prospect seems dull and depressing–and my true values come into sharp focus. I adore my kids and their unique personalities and the excitement and joy they bring to our household. The day they leave–any of them–will not be a day of celebration, except on their behalf. The day they’re gone and I can (have to?) work full time doesn’t seem at all like a declaration of independence, but one of drudgery.
“Finally” having time to work is not a good tradeoff for what I have now, which is limited time to work but tons of time with my kids. Sure, some of it’s mundane: breaking up fights, getting snacks, changing diapers and doing endless loads of laundry. But much of it is pure joy, and the hard work of it is rewarding.
My grandma and mom were each a generation ahead of themselves. Grandma would have made a good 70s feminist (not really–she wasn’t much of a feminist, but her work habits were). Mom was born to be one of the new stay-at-home mom breed of my generation, whose mothers worked and who led a backlash against being a latchkey or daycare kid. I suppose I’m striking the middle ground between my desire to work and my desire to raise my kids.
It’s a lonely place. I don’t fit in with stay-at-home moms or working moms. Trying to straddle both worlds means you don’t inhabit either.
And yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The work is on my terms. My hours, my choice. Judging by the response to my webinar, to the numerous “work at home” job boards, ebay and etsy sellers, “mompreneurs” et al, it’s what a lot of women want. (Even the woman in Proverbs 31 was an entrepreneur.) It’s too bad the feminists screwed it up by insisting all women (should) want demanding full-time jobs.
I think the tide is turning, and it makes me happy. But we have a long way to go. I sometimes wonder how the world will be when my girls are mothers. Sophia says, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, “A mommy!” I love that. She’s an incredibly bright child who could no doubt be anything she wanted to be, but I hope she has the same ideal at 25 that she does at 5.
I also wonder what my girls will think about my choices while they were growing up. My hope is that they look back and say some version of, “My mom was a writer, but that didn’t really affect my childhood. She was always around and she made dinner for us every night and we talked about everything.”
(Of course, that’s my wishful thinking. With my luck, one of my daughters will grow up to be a writer, and she’ll go see some bogus therapist who will convince her that her childhood sucked and it was my fault, and she will write public articles about how my parenting choices screwed her up forever. Gosh, I hope not.)
Meanwhile, I’m going to put my head down and try to make my time with the kids both quality and quantity. It’s not easy. In fact, I’d say it’s a lot more work than…work. But it’s worth it. Oh, yes, it is.