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Friday, September 22, 2006

is my ambivalence a luxury?

I have gone back and forth on this in my mind for several months now: Should I quit my job and stay home with TJOML till she is ready for school?

I know I might be putting many readers off: either because the answer is obvious, or because it is aggravating that I have the luxury of pondering on this dilemma.

I WANT to stay home with TJOML. I want to be her everything. I want her to learn and discover with me, through me. I want her to know I am always there for her.

But, I am also afraid I will find being a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) a bit overwhelming, exhausting, frustrating and possibly maddening... and worst of all I am afraid I may not be built for it.

Not because of any lack of love - I know I can't possibly love anything as much as I love TJOML - but because of human limitations like self-doubt, guilt, fear of falling short of expectations, wondering if i am doing the best as a mom always...

In my mind, being a SAHM equates to (a) not expecting much from my husband regarding taking care of baby and (b) relying on my husband to be the sole bread-winner/provider for the family. (a) could be maddening and (b) could potentially crush the self-reliant spirit

These seem superficial somehow, especially compared to the need for food and shelter, which is primarily why many moms have to take up a job.

And yes, we were in the same boat a few years back - unemployed and desperate. But, thankfully, we had not yet welcomed TJOML then and we could get by...

I've had to dismiss the idea of part-time job in my field - projects need to get done, and when things are in your plate with a set deadline, full-timers end up working 16 hr days and part-timers are probably expected to at least work 8 hr days, for the same pay!

What about part-time job as check-out cashier or barista? Well, who would hire me for a 10-12 hr/ week job? Besides, most stores have self check out registers in my neighborhood and it seems counter-intuitive to have to drive 10-15 miles to work as a check-out girl or barista for minimum wage and no benefits, plus end up paying more for someone to watch my baby while i am away at my job. Of course, there's also the nagging issue of wasting one's hard-earned education and training...

Will my baby benefit more from me staying at home with her, considering she seems well-adjusted to daycare now and seems to have fun playing with other kids?
Will I be able to socialize enough to manage play dates and developmental activities with enough structure and discipline?
Will each day just be a long string of challenges trying to do the best for my baby and feeling that i am probably falling short?

On the flip-side:
Will my baby lose out on much-needed bonding because i am packing her off to daycare now?
Will my baby end up liking her daycare care-giver more than me? (this one nags me quite a bit...)

Won't my baby grow up affectionate and attached to her mom as Nature intended if she spends her first 5 years at home with her mom?
Won't she just blossom and thrive in my attention and care much better than in some stranger's limited care?
Couldn't she potentially get quite fluent and proficient in second language if i can have her at home with me and speak exclusively in my mother tongue all the time...

And then there are other lurking issues:
What is it I am afraid of about quitting my job? Is it that I may never find another one? Or, is it that I will be far-removed from latest trends in my field that when I do decide it is a good time to get back in the workforce after my sojourn as SAHM, I will not be employable in my field? I am only planning to take a couple of years off, but, what if i need for it to be longer? Am i afraid of not being able to make myself skilled and marketable while on this hiatus so that i should feel 'ready' to enter the workforce down the road?

Having had the ground pulled from under my feet when my husband and i found ourselves unemployed after the crash in 2000, with no nest-egg to dip into, I am very conscious of all that we've gone through and would not want to find ourselves in that situation again. Which necessitates that we plan for the future well. But, if we are working hard and still just getting by, what is wrong here?

The dance with the numbers is a tough one: can we afford all the things we need (as opposed to want) with just a median single income? Tight as things are, can we make it any tighter so I can stay home with my baby? Certainly it should help to recover the daycare expenses each month, but, will that cover all our commitments, minimal as they are, plus help build a nest-egg of sorts?

When my income becomes superfluous and we can manage on a single income, meaning - get by just fine - am i being irresponsible by not planning for the future? What if I want to send my baby to college? Should I not work as hard as I can and put away enough for her future? I certainly want to... which clearly means, I cannot afford to quit my job. But, is that all life is all about? Plan and work for future, while letting the present slip by?

I come from a culture where parents strive to give the best they can for their children for as long as they can and for as long as their children don't politely decline the help. I appreciate that. I admire that. I am grateful for that. I couldn't have done half the things were it not for the support of my parents.

I am usually good at making everyday decisions, analyzing pros and cons for making necessary choices and then sticking to it. But, when it comes to this issue, I feel lost. I feel my emotions start pulling me every which way and I feel quite torn... I seem to be caught in a vicious circle when i start to chase this issue logically and rationally.

I hope this ambivalence is just temporary and clarity will soon emerge from the chaos in my head.

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At 7:45 AM, Blogger Sandeepa said...

Think of the present Sheela and not too much into the future. I went through the same dilemmas and eventually did take a break.
To be truthful when on a break I was worried that I am not keeping up with technology etc.. But to tell you the truth the gain far outweighs the loss.
Many of my friends , engineers working in the IT field, with a Masters from here did the same too. That gave me a lot of strenghth. A job is something you can always get back to, maybe you have to devote a sem going back to school or doing some unpaid stuff but you will get something.
The time you have with the little one is hard to get back. At least that is what I think. Of course there have to be all kinds of people else how do you get technological advances by putting the burden on Men alone and how do you get a Indra Nooyi

But if your heart says so I think we should listen to it.I had a colleague who graduated from IIT who worked for some years after her MS for financial reasons then quit and though her daughters are in middle school she prefers to be involved actively in their school and activities instead of writing x lines of code.

Don't you feel more than the financial side its the SAHM status that irks us ? Also I think its becoming more of an Indian thing where if you are aqualified Indian Professional woman, people question about you being a SAHM

I worked for a German Company earlier and their Germany based employees all got a choice of 3 years leave if they were new moms. Its a govt. rule or something. Many of my American colleagues too cut short their hours to spend time with their child

Phew..what a comment. But again you have to decide what is good for you, the kid and the family

At 9:19 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

Sandeepa, wow! thank you for sharing your candid thoughts; very kind of you...

wish things were simpler: primary reason i believe that leaves moms like me no choice but to work is financial commitments from the past; i am OK with SAHM status as long as i know i am productive in some way - I have several hobbies i keep myself busy with and enjoy doing and maybe someday i can show and teach my baby as and when she is ready... you are right in that a job is something one can always find, but, baby's first few formative years are not easily gotten back. oh well. such is life.

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Sandeepa said...

Hope it wasn't "candid" as in "blunt" ;-)

Sorry about the long comment, its just that post reminded me of my feelings 3 years back

At 9:11 AM, Blogger shweta said...

Hi Sheela,

I agree with you train of thoughts.I did feel the same about 5 months ago.A little about myself..I just started work about 5 months ago in the IT(financial) side of the industry.I have a two yr old, whom my mom takes care of when I am at work..

We just recently moved to Canada a year ago.We were in US before and went through really hardship during the downtime 2000-2003, and since I was in H-4 status, I had to work in Coffee Shops & my husband in Gas stations part-time just to keep our life rolling..
Then once we got our PR cards in Canada we moved here and had a baby..
I was with my son till he was year & half..though I wasn't looking for Job seriously something came up all by itself with good pay in big financial sector..right in downtown abt 10 minutes from home !!
I did take it up..because I realize the value of JOB,,it might sound rather childish..but for those who have never gone through hardships of finding job..due to whatever reasons..will never understand the importance..

In Life..there are no perfect answers or perfect decisions..We just need to make them and stick by them and put an earnest effort and they hopefully will turn out good in the end..

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Sheela said...

Shweta, thanks for your thoughts - seems like you had similar experience to mine in the 2000-2003 period - pizza delivery job was he best we could hope for around then...

it is not a decision people make lightly - and yes, some just barely felt a dent around that period and some of us seemed to have been affected more and we treasure the job we finally managed to get...

thanks for sharing your thoughts with me, i really appreciate it.


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