The Opt Between Revolution

Welcome to the Tuesday guest blog. Every Tuesday "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Johanna Wald

At a recent barbeque, I sat drinking margueritas with three other working mothers of teenaged children. Since producing our offspring, our employment histories have been, let us say, non-linear. I have bobbed and weaved between full-time employment, freelance writing, and part-time consulting. The others have followed only slightly more conventional paths as teachers and architects alternating between full- and part-time work since their children were approximately three months old.

What none of us has yet to do, however, is either "opt out" or hand our children over to "strangers," the only two options available to us if we are to believe a slew of new articles and books. On one hand, Linda Hirshman harangues us to have only one child, if we must reproduce at all, before sprinting back to full-time work. On the other side, Caitlin Flanagan berates us to forsake the sinful and worldly pleasures of outside employment in order to cater to every need and whim of our precious darlings (although she never did any such thing). The mainstream media, most notably the New York Times, validates this ridiculous narrative by prominently featuring articles about the choices of the overly privileged, such as last September's Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood and The Opt Out Revolution in October 2003.

If others can elevate anecdotes to "trends," then so can I.

I declare my friends and myself to be the leaders of the "opt between" revolution. We work hard at our jobs -- while putting in less than 40 hours per week. We daydream about a company layoff one day and yearn for a challenging promotion the next. We choose a regular paycheck when college tuition looms, but accept the financial risk of freelancing when the prospect of teenaged children home alone in the afternoon terrifies us. We use all our vacation time without shame or apology, occasionally sneak out early in the afternoons, and still fret over the quality of our work. Every day, we slog through the murky, complex waters between the bi-polar camps of Hirshman and Flanagan, where each of us forges our own truce to the "Mommy Wars."

Johanna Wald lives in Dedham, Mass., with her husband and two children.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  August 1, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Comments

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I agree 100%. It's nice to see a blog about those of us who aren't at either extreme. I feel like I work full-time because, with my commute, I'm away from home 40 hours a week, but having that extra day off gives me a lot of flexibility and the extra time with my kids means a lot. I have a SAHM "friend" from junior high who I've grown out of touch with in part because she's three hours away, but also because every time I see and talk to her she is so judgmental about how what she is doing is right and how those of us with paid jobs are hurting our kids. It also hurts because she knows I wanted to stay at home when my children were born, but my husband didn't think we could afford it. If she calls me and I'm not home because I've had to work late, when I return her call she says "Doesn't sound like fun to me." She always talks about how, when things were rough, she and her husband were willing to sacrifice their standard of living and barely get by because it was important for her to raise her children instead of someone else (her husband was unemployed for awhile). But she never seems to acknowledge that those of us who cut back, without quitting completely, also make sacrifices. I make 80% of what I would otherwise make. I've also "mommy-tracked" myself, not working at a 60-hour-a-week job like I did before having children, or putting in for promotions that would otherwise require me to increase my hours working. But no one looks at those of us who make these compromises as sacrificing our careers for our families. It's not a sacrificie I mind, because the trade-off is worth it, but I'm sure the full-time SAHMs feel the same way. It would be nice if those of us that still work a fair amount of hours, either the 32 I work or the 40 a week that others work who earlier in their careers worked at law firms or a big accounting firm, were recognized as having made accommodations to be good parents rather than demonized as caring only about our career and standard of living.

Posted by: Sam | August 1, 2006 7:52 AM

Wald would fit in among my Route One friends. Between Laurel and the District, a number of opt-betweeners live and work thusly. Some of us call this work/family pattern the split-the-difference style. And yes, the teen years spur these choices perhaps even more than the tender infant-toddler days.

Posted by: College Parkian | August 1, 2006 7:52 AM

Hooray for Johanna Wald! I'm right there with you, working 3 days a week and loving the stimulation and challenge of my job, and being at home with my kids the other 4 days when I enjoy spending time with them. I have watched somewhat bewildered at the volleying of the Mommy Wars camps. I have many friends who are at home full time and some friends who work full time and some in between. All of us are supportive of each other for the most part.

I feel like a lot of this hullabaloo is a very vocal minority, screaming over the rest of us who don't really like to step into the fray. (Except on this blog.)

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 1, 2006 7:58 AM

Johanna seems to get it, that balance is individual to each family, and it changes with age and circumstances. However, she forgets that it isn't just Flanagan that doesn't follow her own advice, L. Hirshmann also didn't either, she has two or three daughters.

I stayed at home for my childs first five years, and now am interviewing and want to return part-time. It is MY choice and no one elses.

Posted by: Finally, | August 1, 2006 8:04 AM

Hirschman's second and third daughters are her step-daughters that came into her family as adults. She only had one child to raise. Just, FYI (not a flame!). I think it is exactly women and men like Johanna Wald that will affect the next wave of change in the workforce. For the better!

Posted by: To Finally | August 1, 2006 8:28 AM

FINALLY, blog I can relate to. I work fulltime but mostly from home and my son is in daycare 3 days a week. Since I can work from home in the morning, he doesn't go until late and since I am done working by 4pm he doesn't have to stay long. The 2 days he is home with me and I am working are crazed but work for us. Even though he is almost 3 I am already thinking of what we will do when he is in school, and part time is looking appealing to me. If only Fairfax County would institute full day kindergarten earlier than later.
Most of our friends, working and SAH think we, me in particular, are nuts because of how we are balancing work and family. But it works for us (most days). It's nice to hear of other working parents having the same internal debate on what is balance for their situation.

Posted by: Burke Mom | August 1, 2006 8:43 AM

I think that people changing their careers/jobs to suit family needs is more common than people think. The parents working 60 + hours a week is less common than people cite when discussing these issues. I have a "high powered" career, but I've made choices about jobs with my family in mind. Once kids are in the picture, often goals and ambitions change and so do our career choices.

And Sam, I feel sorry for your friend. She sounds jealous and uncomfortable with her situation such that she feels she needs to justify her choice by criticizing you. Ignore her. Make friends with people like yourself, with your values. You are doing what is best for you and your family.

And can we stop with the "I don't have strangers raising my children" cr*p. It's the equivalent of SAHM asserting that they are "full-time" mothers while WOHM are not. It would seem to me that if "staying at home" was really so wonderful then these people wouldn't feel the need to criticize others to validate their own choices.

And I think the "war" is mainly on these blogs and in the media. Personally, I have all sorts of friends who run the gamet from SAH to part time to work at home to myself working FT out of the home. We all support each other and there is absolutely no underhanded snarky comments about choices.

Posted by: working mother | August 1, 2006 8:43 AM

I think that people changing their careers/jobs to suit family needs is more common than people think. The parents working 60 + hours a week is less common than people cite when discussing these issues. I have a "high powered" career, but I've made choices about jobs with my family in mind. Once kids are in the picture, often goals and ambitions change and so do our career choices.

And Sam, I feel sorry for your friend. She sounds jealous and uncomfortable with her situation such that she feels she needs to justify her choice by criticizing you. Ignore her. Make friends with people like yourself, with your values. You are doing what is best for you and your family.

And can we stop with the "I don't have strangers raising my children" cr*p. It's the equivalent of SAHM asserting that they are "full-time" mothers while WOHM are not. It would seem to me that if "staying at home" was really so wonderful then these people wouldn't feel the need to criticize others to validate their own choices.

And I think the "war" is mainly on these blogs and in the media. Personally, I have all sorts of friends who run the gamet from SAH to part time to work at home to myself working FT out of the home. We all support each other and there is absolutely no underhanded snarky comments about choices.

Posted by: working mother | August 1, 2006 8:44 AM

Oops sorry about he double post. Don't know what happened.

Posted by: working mother | August 1, 2006 8:46 AM

FINALLY, blog I can relate to. I work fulltime but mostly from home and my son is in daycare 3 days a week. Since I can work from home in the morning, he doesn't go until late and since I am done working by 4pm he doesn't have to stay long. The 2 days he is home with me and I am working are crazed but work for us. Even though he is almost 3 I am already thinking of what we will do when he is in school, and part time is looking appealing to me. If only Fairfax County would institute full day kindergarten earlier than later.
Most of our friends, working and SAH think we, me in particular, are nuts because of how we are balancing work and family. But it works for us (most days). It's nice to hear of other working parents having the same internal debate on what is balance for their situation.

Posted by: Burke Mom | August 1, 2006 8:50 AM

Sorry about my double post too, is there a glitch?

Posted by: Burke Mom | August 1, 2006 8:51 AM

Unless you go the homeschooling route, I think it's impossible not to "hand your child over to strangers" at some point.. when we sent our daughter to high school last year, you should have met the slew of crackpot teachers that supervised my daughter's education. Get a load of this -- The biology teacher felt that it was ethecally wrong to use animals for science. How the heck she could teach a biology class with this attitude is way beyond my scope of comprehension. The students sat around and drew pictures of cats, dogs, bunnies and chicken feet with colored pencils. Good thing the teacher didn't have a moral adversion to cutting down trees, or the kids would have had to bring in chalk and slates to pass the class.

If you let The Village raise your kids, you got to take what you get.

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 1, 2006 8:53 AM

>

Let's take that a step further. "The Village" is where your kids are going to live, work, and socialize after you're done raising them. So teaching them early on that they're part of a village is a good thing. They need to know early on that everyone is different--and knowing some biology teachers have a different "style" than others isn't a bad thing.

I think a child who has been insulated from the community around them is the one who is going to have a tougher time later in life.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:01 AM

How often I've felt alone in the no-man's-land between the women who work full-time out of the house and those who SAH. I've found a wonderful balance working 3 days a week. This balance allows my kids the stimulation and socialization I sometimes see lacking in my SAHM friends' kids without forcing me to miss out on all of the things that makes being at home with the kids such a joy.

If this option were available to more women, we might not find ourselves in such a divide.

Posted by: JennyK | August 1, 2006 9:02 AM

No joke! One reason to put our eldest into preschool was to socialize and learn that he couldn't always be the center of attention - that's almost impossible to teach by the mom and dad = that they will have to wait their turn, that while they are loved and cared for, the teacher is different than parents.
Children today are not really learning that, alas - as mom and dad do homework for them even into college...

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 9:04 AM

Working mother, your post probably came up twice because it made such good sense! :> ITA with your comments.

Father of 4, the not handing kids off to strangers argument (or paranoia?) is another example of people isolating themselves and refusing to relate with and get along with each other, IMHO. Kind of reminds me of the so-called Mommy Wars.

Posted by: momoftwo | August 1, 2006 9:06 AM

Hooray! I love this post and I can relate. With my first I went back to work when she was 10 weeks, but had her in daycare only 3 days a week. With my second, well, I'm unemployed and have been enjoying being a SAHM. I think it's more for the 4-year old than the 6-month old, though. Now I'm looking for part-time work. We'll see what comes.
Most of my firends are doing the opt-between, too.

Posted by: in Boston | August 1, 2006 9:09 AM

Why are we "slogging through waters and fretting"???? If your children are well taken care of and well-adjusted, regardless if you work full-time, part-time, or not at all--then isn't everything absolutely fine.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:09 AM

I work 4 9 hour days. I spend every Friday with my daughter and it is wonderful. I took a 10% pay cut and earn 10% less sick and annual leave. I love it. I have kept all my benefits. I think modified work schedules will be the future. I just more men would also jump on the band wagon. Can't convince DH to go part time.

Posted by: Lieu | August 1, 2006 9:10 AM

[If this option were available to more women, we might not find ourselves in such a divide.]

JennyK, what about men? I hope you're not being sexist here, are you? Maybe that was a slip, perhaps?

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 1, 2006 9:10 AM

...and to add to that...why are we fretting?????? Is it because of our own internal guilt? Because others are judging us badly for our choices? Or because our children are genuinely suffering because of our working status?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:11 AM

There are not a lot of part-time options where we live in the West; but, it's also a very family-friendly culture. I work 40 hours a week but stagger my hours with my husband's to minimize time in child care. We've made an effort to choose and know our caregivers, and I hardly consider them strangers. It takes me 10 minutes to get to my office, I don't work overtime or weekends, my children are in school (not all public but that's a function of quality of the local schools), I'm home less than an hour after my middle schooler gets home. I agree that the blog and the media often portray the "Mommy Wars" at the two extremes - SAH or WOH with crazy hours. Most of the parents I know fall in between. I do, however, still feel the hostility and judgment of SAHMs here. I don't think my working friends are nearly as harsh or critical of the SAHMs as the SAHMs are of the working moms. I also don't think any of my working mom friends actually want to stay at home full time - maybe part-time as the ideal but most of us acknowledge that we wouldn't want to be at home full time. And NONE of us want to home-school! Sure there are problems with the schools, and some wacky teachers, but the social benefits and the requirement that children learn to adapt to different situations are also very important things to learn.

Posted by: SS | August 1, 2006 9:18 AM

I think most parents fret because they so badly want to do right by the kids and just don't know for sure whether their choices will impact their kids negatively or not. It takes a while to really assess the impact of our choices on our kids and by then it's typically too late and the harm has been done.

Posted by: fabworkingmom | August 1, 2006 9:19 AM

Yes! This is a great post. The either/or dichotomy has always seemed false to me. Why should parents have to choose between staying at home or working full time when there are many, many attractive option that lie in between?

Yes, doing freelance, part time or temporary work is a wonderful way to navigate work/life balance. Self-employment or creating a small business are exciting ideas too.

Thank you, Johanna, for articulating the obvious, yet seldom discussed solution to the work/life balance problem. And thank you, Leslie, for inviting Johanna to post here.

Posted by: Friend | August 1, 2006 9:20 AM

"It takes a while to really assess the impact of our choices on our kids and by then it's typically too alte and the harm has been done."

Don't you think you can "read" your children along the way--if they're happy, healthy, and well-adjusted aren't they just fine?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:21 AM

Can you imagine how much less we would fret if we weren't reading/hearing/surfing for every study addressing how to "best" raise our children? I think we fret more now because we have too much information coming at us and it's contradictory and confusing - one week kids in day care are fine, the next they are going to turn into violent, antisocial, obese, tv-addicted monsters. For every study that seems to confirms one choice (SAH v. WOH) there is another to question it. Add the constant reporting of abductions and violence, the threats of online predators, the consequences of virtually anthing our kids eat, drink, listen to or watch, and we FRET. Too much information creating a culture of anxiety and fear - and fretful parents.

Posted by: SS | August 1, 2006 9:23 AM

SS--Great post!!!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:26 AM

Did our moms and dads "fret"????

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:27 AM

We were raised without seatbelts--loading a bunch of kids in the back of a stationwagon wasn't dangerous (no one knew better). We used to go down the path behind our house to the creek and play for hours--no adult in sight. We didn't have mom and dad hovering over us--dragging us to a bunch of activities to "enrich us"--so, why are we worrying so much?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:29 AM

And heck...if mom and dad could get a "stranger" (aka babysitter), or a neighbor to watch us, they didn't worry about what that was doing to us.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:31 AM

Johanna wrote that she was fretting over the quality of her work at the office... just to clarify. She seems pretty content with her homelife choices.

Posted by: Ms L | August 1, 2006 9:31 AM

Yup - we just played by ourselves, having to entertain ourselves. Oh, no! Not that...
We try to allow our children 'free' play where there aren't organized activities. That is definitely being lost - where children do not know how to entertain themselves. This is a terrible thing for our society - where people need others to entertain them.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 9:32 AM

I just wanted to take a moment to apologize to everyone here. Yesterday was one of the worst days I've ever had. I failed myself and all of you in allowing the stress and anger I was feeling to overflow into this blog. I think I'm going to take a break for a while from this blogging thing, clear my head, and come back when I can be a bit more positive and constructive.

Posted by: Glover Park | August 1, 2006 9:37 AM

Hang in there GP. It's not that folks all thought you were wrong so much as they couldn't hear your message through the anger. Decompress for awhile then come back and join us again.

Posted by: To GP | August 1, 2006 9:42 AM

Glover Park, It has been my experience that many times a person earns more respect by making a mistake and admitting it than not having made the mistake in the first place.

You have a good message to bring to us and a little polish from the messanger goes a lot further. Don't go away for too long, please.

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 1, 2006 9:45 AM

Joanna, great guest post (and several inspiring comments, so far). Glad to hear that my friends and I aren't the only ones who see through this BS about the "Mommy Wars," about how there are only 2 extreme positions parents (generally the mothers) can take.

Posted by: Mo2 | August 1, 2006 9:46 AM

GP, hang in there. You have a lot of valuable things to say.

Posted by: Lieu | August 1, 2006 9:46 AM

GP...hope today is better!!!!! Stick around...your posts are always interesting.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:48 AM

Father of 4, the Washington Post should hire you to have your own blog. You're good at this.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:49 AM

"If you let The Village raise your kids, you got to take what you get."

"I think a child who has been insulated from the community around them is the one who is going to have a tougher time later in life."

Interesting thread Fo4 and anon.

I'd agree that insulation is a bad thing. I think that there is some truth to the notion that exposing kids to *some* basic amount of risk and danger teaches them that they aren't the center of the universe. A baby learns that if he climbs a couple of stairs he just might tumble down. He also learns that a face he doesn't recognize might be responsible for catching him when he starts to tumble, and it's his responsibility to do that for the next guy later in life.

And if someday he winds up with a bio teacher who does not believe in cutting open an animal to explore it's "biology", he, as a part of The Village, can have a constructive conversation with the teacher about whether that makes any sense. Because having the conversation is good for The Village.

Great blog today everybody.

Posted by: Proud Papa | August 1, 2006 9:49 AM

SS - Take comfort! The point of today's blog is that you don't have to choose between working or straying at home. How about doing both? Finding flexible work that allows to to earn an income, participate in the working world AND be there for your kids when they need you?

Posted by: Friend | August 1, 2006 9:50 AM

Yeah, agreeing with someone up there, I think more of the 'mommy' wars is a media driven thing to make us crazy. I was a SAHM for 3 1/2 years, and now I work full time. It's different, and difficult in a different way.
I wish I could find a part time position - but they are few and far between that would pay more than I pay a nanny. Once the little one is in preschool, maybe it would make more sense, but we'll see...

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 9:54 AM

FINALLY! Thanks for the great guest blog. This is what I needed to read: that it is possible to achieve a balance, yet it is not always one-size fits all, nor does it stay the same over time.

Thanks again!

Posted by: Soon to be Mom | August 1, 2006 9:57 AM

Who here has ever been on the "front line" of the mommy wars? Have you ever been confronted about your choices?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 9:58 AM

Great blog entry today! :)

Posted by: Meagan | August 1, 2006 10:00 AM

Someone earlier asked:
Why are we "slogging through waters and fretting"????

Why are we fretting? Because time is swiftly slipping thorough our fingers. Our children are growing and we want to be there to enjoy it, as much for OURSELVES as for our children's sake. When I did the stay at home mom thing during a two year maternity leave I did it because I would have been consumed by jealously of some other person watching over my baby. Why would she (or he) get to spend their days with my child while I "get to work!" as Linda Hirshman demand. Forget that! I am very happy to now be back at work and DS is happy in daycare- often 45 hours a week and doesn't want to leave at the end of the day!

i agreee that the "Starangers watching my child" comment raises my hackles a bit, but I also recognize that for some parents it really is a personality issue with them-- NOT a JUDGEMENT on others! So if someone tells you they had to quit work because they weren't comfortable leaving their child with a stranger, please don't take that comment to mean "Those of you who work instead of staying at home are terrrible parents." Often IT really is a personal choice and something they are doing for themselves as much as for their child.

Now, IF they say they would LOVE to go back to work but, alas, must stay home for the good of the child, back away from this toxic parent and pray that the child never picks up on the bitterness and resentment of the parent towards the child. Ideally, only people who really want to stay home with the child do. Am I saying parents need to do what is right for them, not what is right for their child? No exactly-- I am advocating that parents really look at what is best for their child and staying home with a parent who isn't enjoying it and would rather be elsewhere is not putting that child in the best situation-- better for the child to be with "strangers" who have the patience and training and the love (yes, they do come to love your child) to introduce the child to the beautiful world out there. As I said before, life is short and time is running out.

Posted by: Capitol Hill mom | August 1, 2006 10:01 AM

Friend, thanks for the encouragement. I actually don't want to change things - I love my life, my job (employer is flexible, offers lots of vacation time etc...) even if it's full time. My children are older - 12, 10 and 4 - so I don't need to be at home more as long as my hours are flexible, which they are. And the family friendly part means that I can usually make it to the school performances and field trips. Balance isn't easy, and we are definitely busy, but it works. I confess that I occasionaly use a "sick day" for a day at home all by myself. This indulgence (once every two or three months) keeps me sane and lets me have an island of mom-time once in awhile. I used to feel guilty about it - like I should have the kids with me too - but now I realize it gives me a store of enery that I need in order to not feel so stressed and to be a better mom.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 10:02 AM

Oops, the 10:02 is mine.

Posted by: SS | August 1, 2006 10:05 AM

Great guest post. I love to hear from other women finding their balance. I think flexible work options are wonderful for a lot of people (while recognizing that there are always tradeoffs).

Another option with part-time work/parenting balance is that we can help one another out. I've got another friend starting a business and thinking about having a baby. I'm so excited for when she does, because then we can do some trading off of watching babies and building our businesses.A win-win-win all around.

Posted by: VAMom | August 1, 2006 10:09 AM

Serendipitously, there's a great op-ed piece by Judith Warner about this self-same topic in today's NYTimes.

She addresses the Katie Couric issue. Apparently, Ms. Couric has received a lot of flak for refusing to anchor the news from Iraq. The reason she states for refusing is "I think the situation there is so dangerous, and as a single parent with two children, that's something I won't be doing."

Here's a brief but inspiring quote from Warner's piece:

"Let's just fantasize for a moment. Imagine that more women like Couric -- women of influence and means, women who have choices and the freedom to live comfortably with the consequences of their choices -- started throwing down a gauntlet at work to say: This I will do (my job, all that it reasonably requires), and no more.

No jaunts abroad just to "show the flag." No less-than-essential meetings or face-time lunches. No excess evenings out wooing clients, no night-time heroics. No posturing. No preening. Just the essentials.

It might be deemed a trend. It might -- like all trends involving women of privilege -- be perceived as a new norm. Imagine that: Ten-hour days boiled down to eight. Eight-hour days boiled down to six. It's what working mothers already do -- when they can get away with it. It's what working fathers ought to do -- if they'd dare."

Posted by: Friend | August 1, 2006 10:09 AM

Yeah, I have a friend who said, when I have kids I would NEVER EVER work - I'm not curing cancer, dontcha know.
So she quit work after child no. 1, then went back to work within 6 months as a freelancer.
When I said: i'm going back to work - she basically berated me about how it was so horrible to do, but it was OK for *her* to go back to work, because she only works from home, and she's there, etc...whatever.
I mean, really, I don't make choices for *her*, so why would she even think to make them for *me*?
And I love how she rationalizes her choices, but everyone else is making bad ones.
In any event, we each do what is best for us, and for my children, I was better off going back to work. For my whole family it was our best decision.
I may decide to stay at home again, or my husband may decide to stay at home, or one of us might start our own business or work part time.
But it doesn't affect anyone else.
I would love to be able to work part time, but that option doesn't really exist for me.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 10:09 AM

I love this subject mostly because it applies to me 100%. I work in the office three days and two at home & I get to work early in the a.m. and arrive home before the school buses arrives in the afternoon. I try not to sweat the little things and mostly try not to get dragged into the whole super-competitiveness of other parents. It is important for kids to have down time where they can play, use their imaginations or just be bums for a bit. I don't think my parents fretted about child rearing at all. Times sure have changed.

Glover Park, I agree your message is important, take a little r&r and come back

Posted by: working mom of two | August 1, 2006 10:13 AM

Can Johanna Wald please be the new host of this blog? She posted something that seemed to affect most of the parents here, rather than trying to write about any one extreme in an effort to rile up our opinions and postings. Ms. Wald honestly seems to get what it's like for most of us working women with families. Thank you for such a wonderful post.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 10:13 AM

Capitolmom--I agree with a few of your points, but I think you're not exactly right when you assert that parents who say such things as "I don't want my children raised by a stranger" don't mean to be hurtful. I've always worked and I can't count how many times SAHM have said stupid things like that to me. I feel like I have to be the mature one and recognize where these comments are coming from. Some women who "SAH" are not entirely happy with their choice and validate their choices by "attacking" other women who seem to be happy or "have it all". I usually laugh, make a joke, or change the subject. One of my closest friends who periodically made comments like that eventually revealed to me how unhappy she was having to SAH and was in therapy for depression. Her husband's expectation was that she would SAH while he enjoyed a high powered highpaying career.

The following are real comments made to me:

"I chose to be a full time mother"
"Oh you don't care how clean your house is because you're not there enough to notice the dirt"
"I could never let someone else raise my children"
"I don't HAVE to work".

I often believe that some women who "choose" to stay at home are not really doing it because he or she 100% wants to SAH. Instead, I believe there are external influences such as family pressure, peer pressure, bad workplace experiences, discrimination in the workplace, etc. that colors their judgement. I believe that in an ideal world (barriers removed), almost all women would be working.

Posted by: Working mother | August 1, 2006 10:17 AM

SS - It sounds like you're doing great. Keep it up!

Posted by: Friend | August 1, 2006 10:17 AM

To Altmom:

I hope you realize that your friend' comments about your choices have something to do with her issues of trust. She doesn't trust people as much as you do and therefore can't see leaving her children alone-- maybe you can get her to work on that, maybe you can't, but don't take her comments personally. Hopefully her issues with trust are not negatively impacting her kids.
It sounds like your family is doing great! Let the success of your choices drown out the cacaphony of advice out there.

Posted by: Captiol Hill Mom | August 1, 2006 10:18 AM

"And can we stop with the "I don't have strangers raising my children" cr*p. It's the equivalent of SAHM asserting that they are "full-time" mothers while WOHM are not. "

I don't think these phrases are necessarily judgments or assertions. They can simply be descriptions or feelings that aren't meant to criticize anyone else.

When I worked full-time, I was annoyed with the the phrases "other people raising my children" and with people who said "I'm a full-time mother."

Now, as a SAHM, I realize that they're just words. Yes, a parent is still raising their children when they're at work. They're definitely still a parent when they're at work. There's no such thing as a part-time parent (except in the cases of truly neglectful situations of course.)

However - I agree with what Capitol Hill mom said - "strangers raising my children" is not *necessarily* a judgment. It's not the best way to word it, but many parents simply feel they want to be the ones spending the majority of the time each day with their child.

And about being a "full-time mother" - I probably have used that phrase about myself, even though it used to drive me ballistic when I worked. It's just a description of what I do with my time - stay-at-home-mother does not really describe what I do with my time. When I'm asked "what do you do?", it's the most logical thing to say. I realize it raises hackles though, so I usually answer "homemaker" or "stay-at-home mother." But does the term "homemaker" also raise hackles? Aren't all of us homemakers?

Posted by: momof4 | August 1, 2006 10:26 AM

I disagree with Ms. Wald's characterization of Caitlin Flanagan as "berat[ing] us to forsake the sinful and worldly pleasures of outside employment in order to cater to every need and whim of our precious darlings."

On the contrary, Flanagan has written about the shift over time between "house-wives" and "stay-at-home-moms," and she draws a big distinction there. The much-maligned housewife does more than simply chauffeur her kids from one activity to another. She runs the house and doesn't put dinner on-hold if her kid is tugging on her leg to play.

I enjoyed Flanagan's book and never interpreted her as suggesting we should all (wohm's or not) be helicopter moms.

Back when I was working full-time, it took Flanagan's book to show me that I could *gasp* read a grown-up book quietly to myself with my child in the room without being a bad mother.

Posted by: Burke, VA | August 1, 2006 10:28 AM

Thanks, capitol hill.
No question you are correct. She had put her almost 3 YO in preschool two mornings a week for about 3 or 4 weeks, then took her out, because she was so freaked out by it. She definitely has her issues and they mostly stem from being in control, I could go on and on, but I won't!
Unfortunately, her isolation from staying at home is making it all worse, and she's pregnant with number three.
One of the things is that she doesn't believe in playgroups because she thinks that it just makes kids sick (she really freaked out when my then 3 YO touched something that was for her 1 YO - you really can't control germs, unless you want your kids sick all the time when they do get exposed). Rather than looking at playgropus as a time to connect with other people - I REALLY needed that when I was home, and when my son was little, he didn't necessarily need the interaction (not til he was a little older).

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 10:29 AM

To working mother:

i think you made my (intended) point better than I did!

Regardless, I believe that in an ideal world, we would all be doing whatever it is that makes us happy. I imagine that means part time work, both mothers and fathers. Isn't there a book out there called the 1/3 Solution that talks about this? 2/3 of childcare fromt he parents and 1/3 from some other from the village.

Posted by: Capitol Hill mom | August 1, 2006 10:29 AM

"I believe that in an ideal world (barriers removed), almost all women would be working."

Interesting comment. I often wonder what choices people would make if the financial barriers were removed as well. What would I do if I (and my husband) were a trust-fund family that didn't have to earn income in order to have a comfortable middle-class life? Would I stay home full time? Work full time? If so, would I keep my current job?

I sometimes ask myself this question because it illuminates for me what my values are and where I should be heading. I would like acheive some of the goals I would want under "no barriers" with the current barriers that I have.

What about the rest of you? Would you continue to make the same choices if all barriers were removed? If not, how would they be different?

Posted by: Ms L | August 1, 2006 10:29 AM

Working Mother - Interesting post. It sounds like some of the SAHM's in your life have spent a lot of time thinking about how to justify their SAHM status and that their anxiety has spilled onto you.

I have a theory about friends - that the way you feel after spending time with a friend is a reflection of how he or she feels about him or herself. So if you come away feeling anxious and defensive after spending time with certain people... Well, you know the story.

I like what you said about an ideal world "that in an ideal world (barriers removed), almost all women would be working." Although I'm sure there are some invested SAHM's here who would beg to differ.

Posted by: Friend | August 1, 2006 10:31 AM

Parents sometimes realize that at times, they are not the best caregivers for their child - and they find the best ones they can! It is not easy staying at home with children, since it USED to be that people supported one another, whereas now, families are seen as mom and dad and we should never ask for help.
Nowhere in history has this been the case (ask your mom if she never let the neighbor watch her kids while she was off doing whatever and then did she reciprocate?).
My husband and I joke that our nanny is suspicious of us and doesn't necessarily trust us to be with the kids all the time -
we went on vacation not long ago and we joked the whole time that our nanny was wondering if she should have let us do that (cause she cares so much for our kids).

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 10:36 AM

I have been waiting for a post like this. It is good to see that there are people out there that are trying to seek balance in their family and career life. It is something that I strive towards. At this point I cannot financially afford to work 75/80% of the time but it is a goal that I am working towards when my daughter starts kindergarden so that she will not have to attend after school care. At times I am made to feel guilty for working full time, but being a single mom and the only income in the family (I receive enough hsild support to almost cover day care) I have to, and remind myself that I want to. I love my career and am passionate about what I do; both in the office and in raising my child.

Posted by: single mom in DC | August 1, 2006 10:37 AM

What follows is a little off the focus of this blog, but I wanted to respond to a comment by Father of 4: "Get a load of this -- The biology teacher felt that it was ethecally wrong to use animals for science. How the heck she could teach a biology class with this attitude is way beyond my scope of comprehension."

In fact, it is not at all necessary these days to kill, mutilate, or otherwise exploit live animals to teach a basic biology class in junior high or high school. Photographic resources, diagrams, and art renderings done by professional medical/scientific illustrators can quite satisfactorily demonstrate the internal biology of most species, and observation of live animals -- with human interaction where possible -- can teach about behavior. A 15-year-old doesn't need to dissect a cat to see what it looks like inside or to inject adrenalin into a dead frog to make it jump. The miracle of life doesn't have to be killed and taken apart to share its wonder.

Students who have potential career interests in medicine -- human or veterinary -- will have plenty of opportunities for channeling that curiosity in college and beyond. Even in advanced high school science courses. But, in a basic biology course, destroying animal life or otherwise exploiting animals is unnecessary and teaches a disregard for life forms other than our own.

Posted by: pittypat | August 1, 2006 10:37 AM

glover park,

I've had those days on the blog too. Sometimes I'd get so mad I'd forget to sign my posts. It's okay, take a break if you need to, but don't sweat it. At least no one is talking about your privates today.

Posted by: scarry | August 1, 2006 10:41 AM

To be honest with all financial barriers removed, I would still do some work. It might be volunteer work or other forms of unpaid labor, but I would still work. I would still desire adult interaction, adult influence and time away from my child. But I think I would like to meet my kid at the bus stop, attend every school event and be home on all sick days. But that is not life or not my life. So I do the best we can. I do think some parent's both SAHP and WOHPs spout such silly rethoric. Not to be mean but just because they don't know any better. I think people are soo emotionally invested in their child care choices that they don't see straight. I still don't get the home schooling crowd. I try to understand them. But when did schools become these horrible enemy places? Do they plan to go to college with their kid?

Posted by: Lieu | August 1, 2006 10:46 AM

We all have so many choices, it's difficult sometimes to figure out what to do. Before the 50s, everyone always worked. They had more children, they rarely had any toys (or few), and both parents worked. My grandmother raised two children basically by herself (my grandfather died young), so my mom was a latch key kid, was responsible for her sister, and ran around Manhattan and New York by herself at a very young age.
My grandmother made dinner every night for the kids (and her nephew, who lived next door with her sister), and there were no microwaves or frozen dinners back then.
And she managed and never complained. She did what she had to do.
Today, we can actually choose to NOT work - which is a huge luxury - wherein in other parts of the world, they even beg for jobs to do. I think this anxiety over what to do stems from the fact that we have so many choices.
My mom, by the way, didn't work outside the home, but was NEVER home when I got home from school, starting in first grade.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 10:50 AM

"I like what you said about an ideal world "that in an ideal world (barriers removed), almost all women would be working." Although I'm sure there are some invested SAHM's here who would beg to differ."

You got that right! :o)

Posted by: momof4 | August 1, 2006 10:51 AM

I want to look at the flip side of parental "fretting" about their children.

Some parents "fret" about handing their children over to "strangers" or leaving older children at home for an hour after school because bad things DO happen to kids. I have heard many stories from family and friends (majority are women, a few are men) who were molested when they were younger by people who were put in charge of them, or who got into bad situations when they were home alone after school (neighbor boy next door "date-raping" younger girl who he knew was alone). These things happened back in the "good old days" when kids didn't wear seat belts and played outdoors in the summer unsupervised until the parents hollered for them to come in. So please, be aware that some parents are protective because they might have been harmed themselves or had a close relative or friend who was.

It's NOT a safe world out there, and sometimes you should be more careful with your kids than you realize.

Posted by: Mel | August 1, 2006 10:54 AM

what will be interesting to see will be the impact of the fact that more women are getting college degrees than men will have on companies policies down the line. granted it may take 10 or 15 years for any impact to be noticable but it would be interesting to see if companies start granting more flex time to keep the female employees they have since there are more women than men with that degree they require. since more women than men are graduating college i hope that impacts number of women who are in positions where they can really speak to companies about the benefits of allow something other than a traditional work day.

Posted by: quark | August 1, 2006 10:54 AM

"Before the 50s, everyone always worked. They had more children, they rarely had any toys (or few), and both parents worked."

I'm sorry. That's just not correct. Are you talking about only the middle classes and below? There were plenty of wealthy women (and men, too) who didn't work before the '50s. And the women who worked in and around their homes -- cooking, cleaning, tending animals, sewing -- were still home with their children most of the day.

Posted by: Connie | August 1, 2006 10:59 AM

Who came up with the silly idea that typical work day should span at least 8 hours anyway?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 11:02 AM

The reality is that there are no more abductions or abuse than there was 20 years or 50 years ago, you just hear more about it. Is that good or bad? I don't know...

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 11:02 AM

"It sounds like some of the SAHM's in your life have spent a lot of time thinking about how to justify their SAHM status and that their anxiety has spilled onto you."

I disagree. I may have anxieties, but they are not related to my career and family. I just find it sad for these women who lash out at others when they are unhappy. I feel that because I am non-judgemental that some of these women have been able to open up about their situations.

And I suppose one could look at the flip side of removing barriers to working, but I tend to agree with Lieu. I know families that have a lot of (inherited) wealth and still "work". It is that need to contribute to society, the interaction with other adults, the need to make a difference in the world or whatever, that drives even the wealthy to "work". Look at Bill and Melinda Gates. No one would doubt that their work is really work and they have kids.

And I'm sure there are women who enjoy being at home. I have a colleague whose wife has never worked and she homeschools the kids. I've never, ever made comments about their lifestyle and neither he nor his wife ever made any judgements about my family's choices. This is because, I believe, that they are secure in their choice (and she is really, truly happy). It's when someone is unhappy or unsure of their choices that they make the snarky comments. So I disagree that these are just words. I think it's judgemental and rude and I wish these people were more introspective.

Posted by: working mother | August 1, 2006 11:03 AM

connie - but the ones who were 'home' really weren't sitting down on the floor playing with their kids, were they? They were WORKING - making bread, food, sewing, etc, as you said. AND the whole idea that only parents raised the children is absurd - you had the rest of the town/area you lived in, as well as extended families. The idea that only the parents should take responsibility is ludicrous, it's a way for parents to go insane (i can do it by myself! - sounds like a 2 YO).

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 11:04 AM

Most child sex abuse victims are attacked (1) in the home and (2) by relatives or "Mommy's boyfriend".

Posted by: Mel | August 1, 2006 11:05 AM

"I still don't get the home schooling crowd. I try to understand them. But when did schools become these horrible enemy places?"

Not everyone who home schools does so because they think the schools are "horrible enemy places". Sometimes they just feel it would be better for their kids to be able to learn in a different and perhaps more focused way. The public school as we know it hasn't existed forever. Many great and famous people were "home schooled" and had plenty of social skills. Yes, there are home schoolers who are afraid of the public schools and some who have religious reasons, but others just think it's a better way for their kids to learn.

I think that home schooling will become more popular in the next decade. Perhaps kids will start out in elementary school and then transition to home schooling and more focus on their areas of interest as they get into the high school years. Senior prom just isn't that important, and you can participate in team sports through the local Y.

Posted by: ABC | August 1, 2006 11:07 AM

I think home schooling because you want to shelter your kids rather than because you know your children learn differently are two different things.
And home schooling does NOT always mean sitting with your kids in your living room and teaching - I believe there are a ton of websites with curriculums, I think many families get together to help each other out (i.e, even like high school - where one mom teaches math, another english, etc).
I don't have that type of a committment, but I definitely respect those who can.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 11:09 AM

"connie - but the ones who were 'home' really weren't sitting down on the floor playing with their kids, were they? They were WORKING - making bread, food, sewing, etc, as you said."

Atlmom, even though the mother was indeed working, she was also involving the children in her work. Having them knead dough, feed chickens, make beds. They were working (and sometimes playing -- yes, sitting on the floor and playing) together. A woman in charge of her own schedule can stop for a time and "play" with the kids. Think of a farm family. Their work and their life were not separate in the way a man and woman leaving home and going to an office is. My grandmother made picnics and took the kids up in the hills and she taught them jumprope games, all the while getting her "work" done each day.

I don't mean to argue with you. I think you're not getting the picture clearly. Yes, some women did leave the home and go to jobs but not "everyone".

Posted by: Connie | August 1, 2006 11:13 AM

Working Mother - You miss my point... I didn't intend to imply that you feel anxious about your own career choices.

Posted by: Friend | August 1, 2006 11:14 AM

To ABC: Just out of curiosity, why do you think people would be more likely to home school at the older ages rather than the younger ones. I have met a bunch of home schoolers. Some better educators then others. None of them mentioned that they were concerned about learning styles. I actually think that might be a good reason to home school. All of them mentioned some fear of the schools in general. I am not sure they know what goes on in schools. Most of us haven't been in a school as a pupil in a lot of years. MOre years then we want to mention. I am glad to know some people are doing it for different reasons then fear. OK, some state religious reasons. Do some religions require home schooling? Just curious.

Posted by: Lieu | August 1, 2006 11:15 AM

"Who came up with the silly idea that typical work day should span at least 8 hours anyway?"

The unions. Thank God.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 11:16 AM

Friend--sorry I misunderstood. I understand what you meant now :-)

Posted by: working mother | August 1, 2006 11:17 AM

"Who came up with the silly idea that typical work day should span at least 8 hours anyway?"

The unions came up with the idea that a typical workday should be NO MORE than 8 hours. Thank God.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 11:17 AM

Yeah, we have the unions to thank for pensions, 8 hr work days, vacation and sick time, etc...

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 11:18 AM

ABC - I would find home schooling harder as the child got older. My nephew was doing harder math in 11th grade than either of parents ever did (both have college degrees, but advanced math was not required) Most of us, especially on one income can't afford the lab equipment, the microscopes, the dissecting equipment, the chemicals, etc. Not to mention ESOL and yes some students may come to this country as older children.

As today's blog is on the opt between issue - you can't do home school and work outside the home or be a single parent so I think the idea of home schooling is actually something that won't grow because more parents are looking for that balance.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 11:19 AM

Proud Papa, when I was a child, i was shocked by a ground-breaking commercial that came out for J&J Baby shampoo. It featured "Shampoo Man", who was portrayed as being

absolutely delighted in overtaking the traditional female role of washing his child's hair. for some reason, your character reminds me of the famous Shampoo Man.

My Father was no Shampoo Man. Too bad, he missed out. I vowed as a parent, I would do better.

Joanna, thanks for the topic that provides us with the basis for constructive discussion. I would like to make one more comment on "handing your child to strangers" especially to the new

moms.

Dear New Moms,
The first stranger that you should hand your child to is the Dad. You've had at least a 6 month jump start on a life long relationship and Dad, except for the ocasional "talk to the baby" is

really far behind. Hand him the baby and make sure you compliment him on how well he is doing even though he looks clueless. If the baby starts to cry, give him a few minutes to deal

with the situation before taking your baby back. Repeat this often, take pictures.

try to hand your baby to as many visitors in the maternity ward as possible. This is not only good for the baby and the visitors, it's also good for you. Yes, all you Moms need to learn

separation at some point, so you may as well start early. If you can't separate from your baby, you'll end up driving yourself crazy.

A well-adjusted baby needs constant attention, but not just by mommy. The more you can get help from "strangers", the easier it will be for the both of you to get through separation

anxiety. Yes, separation anxiety exists for both Mom and Dad too!

It's never too early to prepare your child for the village!

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 1, 2006 11:22 AM

My retired dad taught latin to homeschoolers and converted his garage into a classroom complete with desks, chalkboard and latin text books. I understand for specialized curiculum this is fairly common for home schoolers.

Unless one lives is a district with failing schools, has religious views or has a child with learning issues that the public schools cannot address, I too do not understand the need or desire for homeschooling.

Posted by: working mom of two | August 1, 2006 11:22 AM

Lieu, I think that parents who were interested in home schooling might prefer it to the high schools because by age 12 or 14, you can often tell a child's strenghts and weaknesses and what sort of interest they want to pursue. This is also the age when the adolescent troubles pop up and the school experience gets more troublesome. More focus on "who's got a boyfriend or girlfriend" than on learning. There ARE children (and teens!) out there who would thrive on home schooling in those years. If they had been in public schools, they would have made friendships in their neighborhood that they could continue. I know a woman who is home schooling her two daughters because she just thinks it's a better way for them to learn. They live in a more rural area of Virginia and she doesn't like the schools and the only private schools are religious ones. They have quite an interesting life. The family travels a lot and the daughters are smart and articulate and seem quite adept socially.

Well, I guess in one way the Amish require "home schooling" because they set up their own schools rather than sending kids to local public schools. But I think most parents who home school for religious reasons mostly want to keep their kids from being influenced by the sordid world. I mean, yeah, I haven't been in school for many years, but my mom's friends are high school teachers, and geez, the stories they tell scare ME!

If I were very religious, I probably would not want my kids in with all the bad language, emotional disorders, and drugs/alchohol. Seriously, the number of parents I've encountered who say things like, "Well, all teens drink, that's just how they are and [parent x] should accept it" is upsetting. So I can see why parents who have different values are "scared" of the schools -- and the parents of other children!

Posted by: ABC | August 1, 2006 11:36 AM

"We work hard at our jobs -- while putting in less than 40 hours per week. We daydream about a company layoff one day and yearn for a challenging promotion the next."

I'm laughing because this describes me perfectly. I chose the middle road by working part-time and then vary my hours by workload. Lately I've been working about 35 hrs. weekly because we've been swamped, when we aren't, I like to stick to 24. I think it's WONDERFUL that I have this option. I identify too closely with work to ever quit completely, but that doesn't mean I don't fantasize about it occasionally after a really rough day or week. Then sometimes when work is going well I fantasize about throwing myself back in full time and going for that promotion. Overall, however, I'm actually very happy with my arrangement. I'm a true advocate of "everything in moderation."

By staying in the work force, I can be a role model to my daughter and will have something to do with myself once she's old enough to not need constant care and attention. But I will never put the job before my children.

Posted by: new working mom | August 1, 2006 11:37 AM

"Unless one lives is a district with failing schools"

There are more of these in the U.S. than you imagine.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 11:38 AM

Wow, today's post sure got a great discussion going! Figured as a lurker, I'd pipe in as it's on target in our situation. My wife has been working 3 days a week in her chosen profession since our son was born 3 years ago.

We now have baby #2 on the way, and her paycheck will essentially be exhausted by daycare expenses, meaning some tough financial decisions elsewhere to stay feasibly within what mine can cover (our contributions to a sizable chunk of the telecommunications industry come to mind). I'm curious to see what our real reactions will be when our cutbacks actually start to take effect.

While I do feel sometimes feel pangs of "wouldn't it be better if our kids were raised entirely at home", I'm not really advocating that my wife consider the SAH route, even in the short term. She'll continue along her career path and eventually go full time, I presume, when our kids get older. I also know she really wouldn't be happy in the SAH role, which as mentioned in earlier posts, I agree would benefit neither her nor our kids. Thankfully, it helps that our son's experience with daycare has been overwhelmingly good. Thinking long term, too, she's also continuing to contribute to her retirement plan which SAHM'hood doesn't offer.

Hardly a unique situation, I know, particularly to those of you who've already made the leap to multiple kids. Any thoughts on how to take some of the sting out of our cutbacks? Thanks for your time and consideration.

Posted by: OdentonDad | August 1, 2006 11:40 AM

Marc Fisher published an article in Wash Post in the sunday magazine about toxic parents like you describe.
I am not 'very religious' yet I don't like the bad language, drinking/drugs, emotional disorders.
We're sending our kids to public school because I want their friends to be in the neighborhood (tho the way GA does it is so absurd, your neighbors don't necessarily go to the same school!), I don't want them to feel entitled or better than others (an attitude I cull from many private schoolers). And they need to learn to deal with all sorts of people in their lives, not just those like them.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 11:41 AM

Marc Fisher published an article in Wash Post in the sunday magazine about toxic parents like you describe.
I am not 'very religious' yet I don't like the bad language, drinking/drugs, emotional disorders.
We're sending our kids to public school because I want their friends to be in the neighborhood (tho the way GA does it is so absurd, your neighbors don't necessarily go to the same school!), I don't want them to feel entitled or better than others (an attitude I cull from many private schoolers). And they need to learn to deal with all sorts of people in their lives, not just those like them.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 11:42 AM

[I too do not understand the need or desire for homeschooling.]
Working Mom of 2, My brother, wife and 6 kids do the home schooling thing. They can take vacations in the off-season (cheaper, less tourists), work at their own pace, take a day off when ever they want. They are part of a community that teaches the kids piano, art, acting, rock climbing, canoeing, Spanish...

they also do basketball, swimming, soccer, you name it with the "regular" schoolers... and they don't have to subject their kids to the crackpots...


They all seem to do whatever they want to do when they want to do it.

Isn't that the goal in life?

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 1, 2006 11:45 AM

I know of one family who home schools - but it's partially for religious reasons and the SAHM has an education degree and teaching background. They also belong to a group of homeschoolers who meet weekly and their local school system has a program where the homeschooled kids to one half day a week for science and social activities as well as sports participation. I gather this is somewhat unusual for a school district.

When I was a SAHM, about 10 years ago, I was part of a group of moms who met in La Leche League. Many began investigating homeschooling but my impression then was it was in order to "justify" staying home once the kids were school-aged. Interestingly, many instead chose to work part time and put the kids in public school.

I think kids benefit from learning to adapt to different teaching styles in addition to the resources at schools. If one homeschools until college, how do those students handle the demands of college, adjusting to life away from home, and the different teaching styles of numerous professors? If I homeschooled, it would be hard for me (an introvert) to ensure adequate social interaction to a variety of kids but I could probably do it. I think I could find science programs, good curriculums, adequate books, travel experiences etc... But in the end, my kids would be used to my style only and used to my being able to adapt things to their particular styles - not the way it would be at college or even high school if they attended public high school.

I joke that the private school my chilren attend is the best of both worlds - good resources, great teachers and small classes. It's group schooling in a very close knit environment - kind of an "in between" balance in and of itself.

Posted by: SS | August 1, 2006 11:46 AM

"Any thoughts on how to take some of the sting out of our cutbacks?"

Focus on why you are cutting back. If you make the effort to see the cutbacks in a positive light -- we're not doing this so we can do that -- you'll be fine. There will be an adjustment period. Don't compare your situation to that of your friends or neighbors.

It helps if one of you has a mind that enjoys finding bargains and saving pennies and actually likes to scrutinize where the money goes. My husband and I are both thrifty in funny little ways and we laugh about it. When we save money by finding a deal or bargain, it's a real kick for us! To us, it's far more satisfying than when our friends spend $400 on a designer purse or the latest high-tech cell phone. (We know, we're lame.)

P.S. You really CAN live without 500 cable channels and 5000 cell phone minutes. Think of your children as a free source of entertainment.

Posted by: ABC | August 1, 2006 11:52 AM

Where I grew up, we had an 'alternative' high school for those who couldn't deal with the 'regular' one (VERY competitive, the environment wasn't good for everyone). It was definitely 'home school' like - very casual, maybe 30 students TOTAL (incl. 9-12 grade). A friend of mine went there and did great - and people who graduated from there went on to harvard, yale, princeton, as well as other colleges (where I grew up about 99% of people went on to college, they did also at the 'alternative' school).
The ideal would be for every school system to be able to have something like that, but I think it was very unique for where I lived.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 11:54 AM

Connie, considering the fact that throughout history most people were not (and are not) wealthy, it's evident that most parents worked. To the extent the parents included the kids in the activities that they were doing, the kids were basically apprentices who were being trained in their own future "jobs" and they were cheap labor. When you have nine or more children and you have a household to run, having the girls help out isn't fun time activities, but, a necessity so that the house can function. Similarly with having the boys help out on the farm or whatever labor intensive job the father did.

Did folks take a break to have fun every once in awhile? I'm sure they did, but, I'm also sure that people weren't having picnics everyday and the mom probably taught the first two girls to jump rope and those two taught the rest of their sisters.

And I agree with those who have stated that the argument about SAHMs and WOHMs is one of luxury that most people on the planet (and even in the States) can't afford to have.

Posted by: BEN | August 1, 2006 11:54 AM

"We're sending our kids to public school because I want their friends to be in the neighborhood"

That's an ok reason, but the kids will leave most of these friends behind when they go to college or if they move out of that community as adults. How many people by age 30 are still close friends with more than 2 or 3 of the kids they went to elementary and high school with?

What's keeping them from being friends with the neighbor kids after school hours? I know people in this area (DC) who home school and their kids are pals with the neighborhood kids. They just don't go to the same school. It doesn't seem to make a big difference to the kids.

Posted by: LL | August 1, 2006 11:58 AM

how to cut back? It's definitely hard, but I'm sure there are plenty of places to do it.
Eating out has been a big one for us, i don't do this, but know many who cook meals on the weekends to eat during the week - it's easy at hte end of a day to just say: let's go out! But if you read the post re: horrible jobs, you'll see how unhealthy it is...
Then really try to buy inexpensive clothes, take lunch from home, etc. You can do it!

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 11:58 AM

GP: Come back soon.
Pitty-pat - This is not a PETA blog.
FO4 has it right.
The mainsteam high school, medical school, nursing programs, and physician assitant programs require some sort of Anatomy and Physiology courses.
These course usually use stray cats, euthanized humanely, for dissection. Pictures just won't do it.
I want my surgeon to have as much experience as possible, and if it had to start with a euthanized stray, that sounds like a resonable choice.

Posted by: Blackwood, NJ | August 1, 2006 11:59 AM

I may be a minority here but I have never been on the receiving end of SAHM contempt as a WOHM. I have several SAHMs close friends and I often call them from work and THEY ARE the ones who can't talk. The only thing close to criticism I received was from a woman who just moved to DC and who used to work but now does not. She spoke somewhat disparingly about my job and so, since her two children are in elementary school/day care all day, I had asked her how does she fill her day during those hours.

Posted by: bethesda mom | August 1, 2006 12:01 PM

re: neighborhood school
it was more a public vs. private thing - I'm not homeschooling.
And really, my high school friends, scattered around the country, are my closest friends. I keep in touch, we meet every once in a while, we are involved in each others lives. I haven't seen one of them in probably 10 years and when I found out his wife was dying, it definitely made me cry - still does.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 12:02 PM

"At least no one is talking about your privates today.

Posted by: scarry | August 1, 2006 10:41 AM "

As Jack Palance said in City Slickers, "Day ain't over yet."

Posted by: Dad of 2 | August 1, 2006 12:06 PM

BEN, I was only saying that the statement that "EVERYONE worked" was incorrect.

And my grandmother and grandfather had 12 kids. They certainly had the kids work on the farm and in the house, but actually, all of my family remembers a lot of fun times when the parents took breaks and played around a bit. Nope, not every day, but often enough that none of the kids looks back on a childhood of "apprenticeship" and nothing but work. And the youngest children remember skipping rope with their mother just like the oldest ones do! (Ok, my family may have been the exception, but you seem to talk from what you imagine rather than any real stories you've ever heard.

"Work" wasn't looked at in quite

Posted by: Connie | August 1, 2006 12:06 PM

"At least no one is talking about your privates today.

Posted by: scarry | August 1, 2006 10:41 AM "

As Jack Palance said in City Slickers, "Day ain't over yet."

Posted by: Dad of 2 | August 1, 2006 12:06 PM

re: neighborhood school
it was more a public vs. private thing - I'm not homeschooling.
And really, my high school friends, scattered around the country, are my closest friends. I keep in touch, we meet every once in a while, we are involved in each others lives. I haven't seen one of them in probably 10 years and when I found out his wife was dying, it definitely made me cry - still does.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 12:06 PM

ABC: I guess I think of the Amish schools more similar to Catholic schools. They are schools and function just like other schools but they have a religious component to it. At least you seem like your on top of the home schooling issue. I know this guy that wants to home school his two children. I asked him if he was going to buy a set packaged material or compose it himself. He said he plans on buying, get this, 3 books and a bunch of DVDs. He said he wants to teach alternative subjects like Micro soft projects. Like he wants his kid to build a tree house and plan it out through MS projects. On the other hand, he doesn't want to teach his kids math because he says he can't find any cheap math books. I said, don't you think they will need math to build a tree house? No answer. I guess I wish there were some minimal standards to home schooling across all 50 states. I know he is an unusal bird and I imagine most home schoolers do teach all the basic subjects. But it seems as if some states do not require the parent's teach anything or hold any accountability that they are actually doing something for the kids. I feel bad for his kids. He sounds like a fun Dad but he doesn't seem like he is preparing his kids for the real world.

Posted by: Lieu | August 1, 2006 12:20 PM

I think some homeschooling probably makes sense, and some is probably helicopter parenting- in our family, there are homeschoolers in an excellent school district. Only reason I can think of is my sister has to keep justifying why she shouldn't have to work.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 12:20 PM

that's true dad of 2. It's not over until the last blogger, blogs at 3 or 4 in the morning.

Posted by: scarry | August 1, 2006 12:20 PM

Shampoo Man! That cracks me up. Actually, that is my favorite part of giving my son a bath. He actually tries to stand up in the tub and run away...

Posted by: Proud Papa | August 1, 2006 12:24 PM

What I've heard from family and what I've read in books.

I guess you are one of those people who takes things literally, like when someone says that everyone worked, you take that to mean literally everyone.

Posted by: BEN | August 1, 2006 12:27 PM

Eating meals out: "...if you read the post re: horrible jobs, you'll see how unhealthy it is..."

Please don't direct anyone to the "horrible jobs" posts during lunch hour! ;-)

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 12:27 PM

For those wondering about home schoolers in college:

It's hard to say since each home schooled child is different, of course, but with the ones I've seen so far, I do sometimes wonder if their parents are really doing them any favors.

I haven't done a full study. so those on this blog who hate anecdotes will object, nevertheless let me offer this up;

One student in particular comes to mind when I think of home schooling (although for the record, there have been others with similar characteristics). This young lady was articulate, poised, friendly, ahead of her peers in many ways.

BUT: she was unable to make an independent argument. Ever. That is, she could not take specific pieces of evidence (All dogs are friendly, there are dogs in the neighborhood, I like to talk to the dogs) and deduce some general point from them (It's probably nice for me to live in this neighborhood because there are so many friendly dogs).

Now, she could repeat any argument I made, word for word, but COULD NOT connect the dots on her own. When I brought her in to my office and explained exactly what I wanted her to do, she grew extremely nervous because she had absolutely no idea how to perform this specific mental function.

So articulate, precocious, poised, and unable to think for herself. And she has not been the only one like this, although fortunately this problem is not true of every home schooled child.

But I wondered whether her parents even know the grave disservice they had done to her by failing to help her learn to think on her own.

Posted by: Mass Prof. | August 1, 2006 12:30 PM

"you can't do home school and work outside the home or be a single parent"

My neighbor was a divorced working mother who home-schooled her child. The girl cried about going to school so much, the mother missed a lot of work time driving the child (refused to get on the bus) and picking the child up early from the nurse's office. I was never sure if the child was just whiny and spoiled, or really had problems. In any case, the mother used established curriculums on computer programs and the program seemed to be more self-learning than parent teaching.

I knew other people who home-schooled because it fit their schedules. They were well-to-do and loved to travel. Actually were able to say, with a straight face, that it was important to learn about geography by visiting the locations rather than reading. The reality was that they didn't want to adjust their lives to the school schedules, so they adjust the schooling to their own schedules. It really wasn't about what was best for their kids.

I also know of others who home-schooled and it worked out very well. As for myself, I do not feel qualified to teach my children everything. I believe that they learn different things in different ways from different people. I also don't think I have the temperament for it. We had enough "homework" battles that I can't imagine being responsible for all the schooling :).

Like everything else in parenting, do what works the best for your own family.

Posted by: kea | August 1, 2006 12:32 PM

I have a question for those of you who have managed to return to work after having children. The wait-lists for daycare centers in my area are notoriously long: you have to be on the list more than a year before they find a spot for you. And then when a spot opens up, you have to accept right away, or you go back on the list again. And when interviewing for a job, you typically have to start working soon after the offer is given. So how have you coordinated the two issues so that the timing works out? It's hard to estimate how long it will take to find a job. And I would hate to not be able to accept a job I have worked at getting, simply because we are still on the waitlist at day care. And if we accepted a spot at daycare before I had a job offer, well, that would be prohibitively expensive.

Any suggestions?

Posted by: EB | August 1, 2006 12:33 PM

but learning to think for yourself is a tough process - it does take time. Certainly, I guess you're relaying your experience and you are implying that others you have met of similar age to this woman had a better aptitude for that?
All the studies I have read indicated that home schooled children get into the same colleges and universities that others do, at the same or a better rate than those who did not. But who knows where or when those studies were published - or what they looked at.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 12:34 PM

I have a child who attended Fairfax County schools for three years, and I received a lot of grief about his 'behavior problems.' He was eventually identified as having Asperger's syndrome. I seriously considered home schooling him during those days because he truly was an abandoned child who fell through the cracks of what's considered a great school system. He was literally parked in a corner with a book for days at a time and told to 'be quiet' and 'stop being disruptive'. Eventually we moved away, and we're all much happier now. I have a daughter who is similarly neurologically atypical, and doesn't fit well with the current school system. There's more of us special needs families out there than you might know. (I personally take issue only with the 'I'm homeschooling because Jason is so extremely, extremely gifted that no public school teacher could possibly be smart enough to teach him' crowd.)

I'm a part-time work from homer myself and wondered if the rest of you had any advice. I'm starting to dread the start of the school year (I do most of my work late at night when the kids are home for the summer and during school hours during the year) because I always feel so isolated, sitting in my house working on my computer while life passes me by. Short of taking my laptop and going to Starbucks more often, what advice do the rest of you have for combating social isolation as a work from homer? Just curious.

Posted by: A Few More Comments | August 1, 2006 12:38 PM

re: going back to work ...

It's funny, cause in my interview, the manager (with no wife or kids) said: you don't have to give notice do you? Just find someone to watch your baby?

And I thought that was hysterical!!

I am in Atlanta, so maybe it's different...
My son was part time in his school, we switched him to full time, and I hired a nanny from local recommendations (I told EVERYONE I knew that I was looking - and we found the best person ever).
If you really want to go back to work but are scared about 'losing a spot' maybe you could temp while you are also looking, once you get a spot, so it won't be so difficult.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 12:38 PM

*"We're sending our kids to public school because I want their friends to be in the neighborhood"

That's an ok reason, but the kids will leave most of these friends behind when they go to college or if they move out of that community as adults.**

I find this statement puzzling. Granted, the friendships may not last forever. But, aren't some things worth having in the present? I have a friend who took her 2-year-old to the state fair and wouldn't put him on any rides. she didn't want to spend the money "because he won't remember it" (money was definitely not an issue in this family). My toddlers rode the rides and they don't remember it now, but they enjoyed it while it was happening.

Posted by: kea | August 1, 2006 12:38 PM

To Altmom:

Thanks for the question! You're absolutely correct that students develop their abilities to think independently at different rates, sure. But even accounting for variation among students in general, I still found her to be way, way behind her peers in this particular skill. (At that time I was comparing her to 130 others, although normally I have 150-200 students / year).

Worse yet, I worked with her for a year, AND I did so in two classes, in one of which everyone else was a higher grade than she (and therefore modeled far more sophisticated intellectual behavior). Despite this, her progress was quite slow.

As for getting in to college: I have heard the same reports that you have about homeschoolers getting in at good rates. Then again, getting in is often considered the easier part (except at the Ivies), and STAYING in is much, much harder. Little-known detail of college life. I don't know what rate homeschoolers have for staying in college.

Posted by: Mass Prof. | August 1, 2006 12:47 PM

Interesting article about parenting.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/31/AR2006073100643.html

Also, live discussion on WaPo.

Posted by: Slightly off topic | August 1, 2006 12:50 PM

Hey good topic today, and great timing for me. I just went down to part time at my job and today is my first day off!

Posted by: speech girl | August 1, 2006 12:54 PM

I did not mean for my comment to sound critical it is just I have always wondered about all the reasons a family might chose to pursue the home schooling route. So please don't get upset!

Posted by: working mom of two | August 1, 2006 12:55 PM

To EB,

I was a SAHM for 3 yrs and was looking out for an opportunity. When my daughter started 5 day a week 4 hrs each day preschool (mainly because she was super clingy), I did a couple of temp jobs and a freelance-work-from-home assignment. It gave both of us a chance to see how we could handle longer hours and also for her to get used to her day care provider. I work full time now and the gradual transition was very good for her. All about what works for you.

Posted by: AnotherRockvilleMom | August 1, 2006 1:08 PM

"But I wondered whether her parents even know the grave disservice they had done to her by failing to help her learn to think on her own."

I teach in a local community college. Plenty of students can't think on their own, and not all of them were home schooled.

Posted by: TracyL. | August 1, 2006 1:35 PM

"Actually were able to say, with a straight face, that it was important to learn about geography by visiting the locations rather than reading. The reality was that they didn't want to adjust their lives to the school schedules, so they adjust the schooling to their own schedules. It really wasn't about what was best for their kids."

I think it IS important to learn about other countries by visiting them. How do you know it didn't work out fine for the kids? I think parents have the right to educate their children however they see fit, as long as they follow the law. Parents who say "Oh, I so hope that kindergarten in my area goes all day soon" want to adjust the school schedules to fit THEIR needs, not the needs of their children. Same thing for divorced parents who shuttle their kids on parental visits back and forth. Is it really what's best for the children's needs, or what is dictated by the parents' schedules?

Posted by: Mel | August 1, 2006 1:44 PM

I just phoned home to check in with the wife and kids. They are all laying around in the air-conditioning watching the various forms of idiot boxes - TV, play-station... I told them to go outside for a little while and get some excersise, but no, 100 degrees is to hot. What a bunch of pansies!

So I told them (wife included) that it would be OK if they stayed indoors untill I came home if:
1. House cleaned up, toilets scrubbed,rugs vacuumed, dishes put away.
2. Laundry done, my shirts ironed, socks matched and put away.
3. Dinner cooking, at least an animal (bird, cow, pig or fish) on the stove, oven or grill.
4. Bold beer in the fridge.
and the most important:
5. Smiles on everybody's faces!

This isn't unreasonable to request, is it?

Posted by: Father of 4 | August 1, 2006 1:54 PM

to mel,

The comment was about that particular family home-schooling because they wanted to have flexibility and travel, not about all families who choose home-schooling.

PS - I've never been to another country and my life is just fine.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 2:20 PM

To Tracy L,

True, some students out of "regular" schools can't think either. I can't argue there!

The reason I wondered in this student's case, though, was because although she was so clearly bright, her abilitites in this one area of independent thought were unexpectedly abysmal. If she'd been all-around weak, I might not have noticed, but she was just bizarrely, worrisomely imbalanced.

Posted by: Mass Prof. | August 1, 2006 2:30 PM

Mass Prof: Interesting comment about a home schooler not being allowed to learn to think on her own. Funny, but I recall having to regurgitate a university professor's point of view in order to pass a class in political science. Public schools do not always offer the best learning environments as I'm sure everyone is aware. On a personal level, my high school taught to the average or lowest intelligence level. Although I was valedictorian of my class, when I reached college, I was out of my league academically. After 17 years in the professional workforce, I am now a SAHM - because I like it - and plan to homeschool my two children if all goes well. I have a bright intelligent daughter and a son with auditory processing issues among other things. I hope homeschooling will allow each of them to learn in a learning style that is best for them at a young age. I have seen other homeschooling parents who are able to teach their children, use community resources for sports and socialization and do this without running their kids and themselves ragged. Obviously, homeschooling is not for everyone - I'm not even sure it will work for us - but I don't think the public or private schools are the best answer for everyone.

I love the idea of "opt-between". If only it were easy to pick up where you left off professionally after being out of it for awhile!

Posted by: Patti | August 1, 2006 2:32 PM

I went to a prestigious state school, having been definitely not at the top of my class in a very competitive high school - where many of the top students (and not so top students) went to the ivy leagues.
Looking at my rank and my grades, you would have thought I was adequate, yet for at least two years of college, I was seeing things that I had been exposed to in my high school classes. I had been told all my life how good my school was, and I got by, but wow - I was shocked at how true it was, because I didn't think it was that difficult. It is true how not so great the schools in this country - public and private - are.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 2:38 PM

atlmom wrote: It is true how not so great the schools in this country - public and private - are.

maybe this is off topic, but it seems the adequacy of public schools is often an issue on this blog. But didn't the Freakonomics book indicate that the school itself doesn't really matter? Basically your kid's success in life is not going to be determined by what happens in elementary school.
If I'm wrong (which wouldn't surprize me) then what can the typical parent do about "failing schools"?

Posted by: Capitol Hill mom | August 1, 2006 2:58 PM

"you can't do home school and work outside the home or be a single parent"

I know *many* families who do just that - both two parent families and single parents.

Posted by: momof4 | August 1, 2006 2:58 PM

I'm in my early twenties and unmarried, but I have a steady boyfriend. I come from a background where if/when I do get married and have children I will be expected to stay home and raise them. I love kids (I'm the eldest of seven and the youngest just turned four, so I've had a lot of experience with children at various ages), and I want to do what's best for mine if I'm blessed with any. However, I don't know if I want to stop working. My job (I work in politics for a non-profit) while not perfect does give me a great sense of fulfillment and achievement. I'm proud of what I am able to accomplish. However, I've been given the impression that to keep working after having kids for yourself and not because of financial necessity is selfish. I'm confused over what is the right thing to do.

Posted by: 215 | August 1, 2006 2:59 PM

mom of 4 - home schooling means the children are with you most of the time - how do you work outside the home and have your children with you? I think a lot of people not just homeschoolers would be interested in what type of jobs these are.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 3:02 PM

Oh, I'm a BIG proponent that the parents are the Number ONE driving factor behind a child's education - unless the school is unsafe.
The reality is that the way we have schools is a little crazy - not to start a way off topic discussion, but the parents are well aware of which schools are good and which are not (see housing prices in better school districts). We don't need No Child Left Behind and tests to tell us which ones are good and which are not.
We need school choice and vouchers but alas, that won't happen anytime soon..

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 3:03 PM

You are a "self" -- you are a person -- and you will still be a person if/when you have kids. If working outside the home gives you a great sense of fulfillment and achievement, then you should be able to keep doing that even if you have kids. If you decide that staying home is also fulfilling, you could choose to do that but I wouldn't recommend doing that due to family expectations (is this your parents? your boyfriend?). You don't have to give up what you want just because you add "mother" to the list of things you are, and don't let anyone convince you (or guilt you into believing) otherwise.

Posted by: to215 | August 1, 2006 3:04 PM

To EB:

I don't know that there's an easy answer to your question -- when you have to juggle costs of daycare with finding a job, it's hard to see how it can all work out. Some options:

(1) You might have to start out in a daycare that isn't your top choice, and plan to switch over if/when you clear the waitlist. There are a lot of good daycares out there, and they don't all have huge waitlists (yes, there are bad ones, too -- just pointing out that "good" does not always equal "prestigious" and "expensive," and vice-versa). We ended up missing out on a Montessori school when we moved into town, because I had to start work ASAP and couldn't wait 6 mos. for the waitlist to clear-- but then they did have a slot available 9 mos. later when we decided the place we had chosen wasn't right for our daughter.

(2) If you can, plan your finances to cover some daycare before you get the job. It can definitely be tough, but if you realize that in advance and save up for it as best you can, that can cut the sting.

(3) Look for flexible employers who might let you be part-time, work from home, etc. while you're getting settled. It's way tough to find, but not everyone needs someone who can jump in immediately with no constraints (we just waited several months for a guy who was moving to the area to start). But on the plus side, if you do find someone who is willing to give you some leeway during those first few months, that's probably a good sign that it's a good place to work overall. If you can go back to a former employer, who you've built a reputation with, that's a great start (that's what I did, and I can't even begin to say how much that helped).

(4) Hire a temporary nanny -- they're expensive, but they can cover you in emergencies, and if you can swing it, it's better than passing on a job you really want.

(5) Start out looking for an evening/weekend job so you don't have to worry so much about daycare (presuming the other parent is around for those hours). Also can help with saving $$ under option 2 above. And if the job is in your field and you ultimately like the job and they like you, it might even provide an avenue to change over to a more regular weekday schedule once the regular daycare starts.

(6) Do the best you can on both fronts and then cross your fingers and pray that things fall into place.

Posted by: Laura | August 1, 2006 3:06 PM

why do we need school choice & vouchers if parents are the #1 driving factor? just move to a town where the parents have similar views of education as you do. buy a smaller house to live in a town where folks put a greater emphasis on education in the same way you do.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 3:19 PM

But typically, those houses are expensive - and some families can't just afford to do that.
And, why do we keep rewarding bad schools? Why not say: this isn't working, someone else does it better? It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 3:22 PM

215,

There is no "right" answer. But you'll need to find out for yourself. Don't let expectations push you into something before you even experience it because you could be miserable.

Wait until you have your babies. If you are happy at home, great. If you want to work PT, great. If you want to work FT, great. But you and your spouse should decide together -- don't take yourself out of that equation because someone else wants you to stay home.

My husband always assumed a SAHM. I didn't mind taking 'some' time off, but I definately wanted to work and have a career. I am PT now with a 15-month old. I love it. Its great. I plan on doing a "opt-bwteen" thing for awhile. But I have spent alot of time and effort devising this tweener plan to keep me in my field. My husband has even come to recognize I would be miserable and not the same person if I were home all the time. I love my time at home, but I enjoy the office too. Its all about balance. And you need to find yours.

Be flexible. But also dont think you have to have it all planned in advance, that you need all the answers, or that your decisions are ever final. Maybe take a year, or 6 months after the baby and see what you think. Nothing is ever final and nowadays, people move in and out of the workforce for many reasons. (You dont have to list them out for a potential employer.)

Good luck

Posted by: alex | August 1, 2006 3:23 PM

[[If this option were available to more women, we might not find ourselves in such a divide.]

JennyK, what about men? I hope you're not being sexist here, are you? Maybe that was a slip, perhaps?]

Fatherof4: OF COURSE more family-friendly options should be available to men & women. I was simply obliquely referencing all the 'Mommy Wars' crap.

Posted by: JennyK | August 1, 2006 3:26 PM

If parents are THE #1 factor for education, then how does a school become "bad?" Aren't bad schools basically average schools that have to spend more time on kids whose parents don't expect them to do homework, have a higher incidence of behavioral problems, etc.? Someone else does What better? Educating students whose parents are not fostering the same sense of responsibility that parents in "better" school districts are?

Posted by: Anne | August 1, 2006 3:32 PM

Just say "no" to vouchers! They help only very few people and often the schools the kids go to are not better and can be worse than the public schools.

Public schools in most places are not too bad (the no child left behind stupidity non-withstanding). It's those inner-city schools with poor infrastructure and crime that need attention. Fix the school, don't send the better students out.

And to EB---your situation is very common. When I have to change my childcare arrangements, it's really stressful. What to do? I think some of the previous posters had great ideas. One thing I had to do when the timing didn't work out for me was to fly a family member into town to stay with me for 2 weeks while I fixed my problem. I don't know if that's an option for you, but this family member loved it. I had to pay for the flight and food, but it was worth it.

And to 215--I totally agree with the "to215" poster. You need to tell yourself over and over that you are doing what is best for you and your children. My mother was appalled that I went back to work after my first was born. I told her "new world". She also couldn't believe I got engaged (to my boyfriend of 7 years) because I was in medical school and surely female doctors don't get married...parents!! Learn to ignore them.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 3:36 PM

I think Johanna's "opt between" solution is indeed a way to create some peace in the "mommy wars"!

Think about it. Woman who work a little bit are not likely to incur the wrath of even militant SAHM's. They will also have an occupation to chat about at dinner parties so people won't just write them off as "losers".

I have personally put this idea to the test over the last few years since I quit my job. When people ask me what I am currently "doing",I often look them in the eye and reply: "nothing". If I said I was a "housewife" they would understand that concept and probably immediately look around for someone else to chat with.

But "nothing" stymies them. Then they REALLY want to know how I spend my time! It's pretty funny.

If I actually want to chat with the person, I don't fall back on the fact that, indeed, most of my time is spent doing housewively duties. Instead, I pull out my current passion and describe it in detail. If I also mention a plan to use my idea/hobby/skill to free-lance, I am suddenly elevated to the status of a creative, working person. All without actually earning any money. (Starving artist effect.)

It really works!

Posted by: granny | August 1, 2006 3:36 PM

We moved to our neighborhood because of the good schools. It was definately our deciding factor in buying our house. Sadly, not all people can afford to move out of under- performing school districts. I think kids in under-performing school districts get hit with a double whammy oftentimes; schools that do not seem to expect much from them and parents who are unavailable to help them academically for a whole variety of reasons. I had a friend who taught 2nd grade and she told me once she had to show a pupil how to orient a book so the child could read it. This child had not had any exposure to books at home. This is why I heartily support programs like Head-Start.

Posted by: working mom of two | August 1, 2006 3:37 PM

If a person is smart enough to try and recognize a "good" school (which is usually an abbreviation for a school district that is filled with the offspring of parents who appreciate education as much as I do), they are probably smart enough to create the same conditions & environment in their own home that exist in these "good" school districts.

Posted by: Anne. | August 1, 2006 3:42 PM

and by "I" in the previous post, that was "I" the generic, not "I" specifically me.

Posted by: Anne | August 1, 2006 3:44 PM

"home schooling means the children are with you most of the time - how do you work outside the home and have your children with you?"

Home schooling means that the schooling is done at home. This can be evenings, weekends, by one or both parents, self-learning (computer programs).

Posted by: kea | August 1, 2006 3:50 PM

kea - then where are they during the day if they are not at school and you are at work? Maybe if you can afford a full time nanny it would work, but other than that I don't see how it would be possible.

Posted by: Divorced mom of 1 | August 1, 2006 3:58 PM

OK, since we are allowed to go off topic, I will venture in. I think school vouchers are a bad thing all around.1) in large scale voucher program-you will bankrupt "poorly" preforming schools. I put poorly preforming schools in quotes because I am not sure it is always the school that is failing these kids. I think it is combination of parents, poverty, and schools that are failing these kids. 2) subisidizing the rich to pay for private schools makes me sick. They can afford to send kids to private schools, they just think someone else should pay for it. 3) The middle class can also afford private schooling or home schooling. They just don't want to give up their luxuries to do it. 4) Giving people a government subsidized voucher will not be enough $$ to level the playing field. The rich will always have more options. It won't be enough to pay for Maderia or Sidwell Friends. 5) You will get a lot of vouchers with no decent schools to attend. It just won't be enough to attend even the worst private schools. 6) It encourages for profit vulgers to go in and swipe up those poor people with vouchers and give them a substandard product. Convince the parents it is better simply because they paid for it. ie all these extra help educational places that there sole interest is to earn a buck. You know what I am talking about the ones advertised on TV. Good private schools do not need to advertise on TV. I think the solution is to invest in public education. If a school is not meeting goals, taking away money is not the solution. The truth of the matter is no one knows what the solution is. We only know what it is not the solution. BTW, IMHO NO child left behind is a big political joke. Just ask college professors. Are the students coming to college better prepared because we make them take all these standardized exams? No, college professors report the college readiness is down and more students are enrolling in remedial college courses. Are employers feeling like HS students are better skilled? No employers are reporting that basic skills are still lacking.

Posted by: Lieu | August 1, 2006 4:04 PM

"But "nothing" stymies them. Then they REALLY want to know how I spend my time! It's pretty funny."

I learned that trick, too, Granny!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2006 4:14 PM

That's how everyone else in the world has their school systems - through CHOICE by the parent.
I don't see a problem with people making a profit. There's no vulgarity it is how our country operates.
People who send their kids to 'private' school are now paying TWICE for their kids - once in taxes and once for *their* kids (tho I don't really have a large problem with this, I think we have an obligation to educate children - you pay for either schools or prisons).
But CLEARLY money is not a deciding factor - if it was the schools in DC would be the top performing in the country.
And the ones in Atlanta would be second - GA is about 50th in terms of education (and the city spends ridiculous amts of money on education).
In any event WHY NOT starve schools that are failing? Someone else could come by with a better product, and people would vote with their feet. We do this with college, don't we? The Feds give people money (vouchers) to go to whatever university/college (as long as it's accredited) they choose to attend, and I believe that system works GREAT. In fact, the competition is why most people in the rest of the world look to the US (tho probably not for much longer - China is coming) for college.
But not for high school.
No child left behind is SUCH a waste of resources, so now teachers teach to a test rather than teaching students how to think.
I don't really see other options - how long have we tried what we have (inflexible 'districts')? How long do we throw good money after bad in a system that is CLEARLY not working?

Posted by: atlmom | August 1, 2006 4:18 PM

To atlmom - I get what you are saying. And I can appreciate some of your points, but here is my question. When you say, "In any event WHY NOT starve schools that are failing? Someone else could come by with a better product, and people would vote with their feet," we know what the better product is. The better product is an educational system that effectively takes over broadly where parents are failing (which is how you get extended day schools, schools that go over the summer, etc.). Someone has to teach children that reading is important, doing your work in a timely and neat fashion (and correctly!) is important, etc. And schools that are, as you put it, "failing" have to deal with gobs of kids whose parents teach them none of these things. The reason why the "system" doesn't work is because American public education was NOT founded to give everyone what is commonly known now as "an 'equal' education." It was created to turn Catholic kids into more Protestant-like individuals. And this idea of an "equal" education has snowballed over the years to the point where people wonder what is an "equal" education when you're dealing with a kid in Appalachia, a kid in urban D.C., a kid in a lower-middle class suburb and a kid in an upper class suburb. To get these kids on "equal" playing fields, you have to take the kid from DC out of his home environment for long enough to de-program all the crap that it's been taught for the first x-number of years. That's how you end up with these 7 am to 6 pm "school days" in urban schools that do well. Sorry, now I think I'm babbling. To make a long argument short - the "good system" you're searching for is one that reprograms kids from households that don't value education/responsibility/etc. into ones that do and that takes more hours of the day in some communities than others.

Posted by: Anne | August 1, 2006 4:28 PM

Re vouchers: There's always the question of "why is the school bad?" If the sole problem is that the teachers are incompetent, then yes, that school deserves to be "starved" or in some way encouraged to fix itself. If the problem is that the kids are disruptive because they've never learned respect for authority, there are no books (or antiquated books), and the ceiling is falling in, none of those problems are going to be fixed by offering to let people leave. There's also the question of who's going to step up and make all the new private school capacity that would be wanted. Either you subsidize religious schools (which makes me mildly nervous - it has potential to be either a good thing or unfair) or you need a lot more secular private/charter schools out there. Who sponsors the start-up costs of buildings and such? What about rural schools?

And about the "double whammy" of paying taxes and tuition, remember that your family is not an island. You're not just paying taxes for the education of your own children. You're paying for the driver's ed of the other people on the road, the foundations of the doctor who can save your life, even the math skills of every person counting out your change. You receive benefits from your interactions from these people that likely far outweigh anything you paid in education-earmarked taxes. (Although it would be interesting to see just how much that is)

Posted by: SEP | August 1, 2006 4:42 PM

the divorced mother I knew actually had a middle-schooler who stayed home by herself with assignments. she had gone to public elem school but the child was very unhappy so the mother switched once she was in middle school. she attended public high school when she reached that age.

others had alternating schedules with husbands, or child stayed with family members, or child had older siblings and all stayed home together. I don't know if it is true, but I have heard that some families with parttime working parents home schooled together around the work schedules.

I have also been told that the lessons don't take as long one-on-one as they do in a classroom and that the total amount of home-school time is less than classroom time.

Home-schooling was not for me so I never really checked it out. This is anecdotal from what I have seen and have been told by others.

Posted by: kea | August 1, 2006 4:42 PM

Lieu and Anne are on target!

The early years prior to formal schooling are so important in a child's academic life. It a child is not exposed to language, books, parental attention as a toddler and preschooler, then he or she is already behind by kindergarten and 1st grade. It has been shown that by kindergarten, children in affluent areas are exposed to 10s of thousands more words than children in poverty (?inner city) schools. We need to educate those parents, support programs like head start and pre K. It may not be the schools themselves entirely, but what they have to work with. And of course it's a self-fulfilling prophecy--the lesser schools are the least desirable so get less resources and less experienced teachers. It's a bad cycle that needs to be addressed. School vouchers don't do it so I disagree with altmom. Vouchers have become the conservative proposal to fix the problem and it only masks the real issues.

With regard to homeschooling--I've only known people to homeschool for religious reasons. It's so their children are not exposed to the secular beliefs supposedly expoused by public schools. I feel sorry for these children who are largely being taught by people without expertise in education or child development. I am guessing that just as a smart kid can do well in a "lesser" school, a smart kid can get by with homeschooling and make it into college. Where of course he or she will be exposed to the "evils" of the world.

Posted by: working mother | August 1, 2006 4:47 PM

Hurrah! It is heartwarming to read that the opt-between approach works, because that's my goal. What I want to know is how opt-betweeners make it work. It seems many employers are not particularly friendly to part-time agreements! But I am inspired nonetheless!

Posted by: ArlingtonMom | August 1, 2006 5:04 PM

--Public schools in most places are not too bad (the no child left behind stupidity non-withstanding). It's those inner-city schools with poor infrastructure and crime that need attention.--

I, for one, am not okay with "not too bad" schools. I attended excellent public schools and want my children to attend excellent schools also.

It's not just inner-city schools that underperform. Some public schools in wealthy areas underperform, especially if you consider the high level of funding and parental support that they receive, and the caliber of students that enter the school. I live in an area where the median income is $108K (not that that's a big deal in DC) yet the public junior high and high school are awful.

--Fix the school, don't send the better students out.--

Public schools cannot be fixed without accountabilty, which vouchers and school choice offer. Vouchers and school choice would (1) give bad schools incentive/urgency to improve because they'd either need to become competitive (a school that parents want their children to attend) or they'd lose their students and funding, and, (2) enable every child, not just wealthy children, to attend good schools.

--If the problem is that the kids are disruptive because they've never learned respect for authority, there are no books (or antiquated books), and the ceiling is falling in, none of those problems are going to be fixed by offering to let people leave.--

If the school is in DC (or a similarly highly-funded but failing school district) and there are no books and the roof is caving in, it's very likely that the funding was there but school administrators misued the funds. In cases like this, offering to let people vote with their feet WILL work because administrators will know that they'll lose their jobs and their empires if they continue to operate corruptly/inefficiently.

--"There's also the question of who's going to step up and make all the new private school capacity that would be wanted. Either you subsidize religious schools (which makes me mildly nervous - it has potential to be either a good thing or unfair) or you need a lot more secular private/charter schools out there. Who sponsors the start-up costs of buildings and such? What about rural schools?"--

Even in a small town, if 80 parents banded together, waving vouchers and demanding better schools, some smart business-minded person would step in and take the opportunity to make the parents happy. And even if new schools didn't spring up, things wouldn't be any worse than they were before parents/families had a choice.

--I feel sorry for these children who are largely being taught by people without expertise in education or child development.--

What do you consider to be "expertise in education"? Does teacher certification equal expertise in education? If it does, why do our horrible public schools have certified teachers while excellent private schools do not? And can expertise in child development only be gained by taking formal courses in it?

Posted by: MBA Mom | August 1, 2006 5:28 PM

ArlingtonMom, to *opt-between* I became self-employed. I stayed within my same profession and contract out my hours to other professionals in my field. I had to double my hourly rate so on the weeks I only work *part-time* I'm still bringing in the same amount of money that I did when working for an employer. The downsides are of course I'm responsible for my own benefits and there are periodic dry spells, but these certainly can't hold a candle to the freedom! This sounds very casual in its simplicity but it's really about playing with the details in a very flexible kinda way until you find the right fit.

BTW, I have really enjoyed all of todays posts.

Posted by: Tracy | August 1, 2006 5:42 PM

ArlingtonMom, I'm an "opt-between" as well - although I guess I didn't know what to call it until this blog. I was full-time with my current employer (nonprofit law firm) for 5 1/2 years before I had my son 2 years ago, and I had every intention of returning to full time after my maternity leave.

Once my son was born, however, I knew I wasn't going to be able to go back to full time in the office. I tried to work out some kind of flex schedule with the office I was in, but they refused to let me go to less than full time and refused to let me telecommute.

I ended up going over my managing attorney's head to the regional counsel who was willing to let me go to 30 hours/week for 3/4 of my salary and benefits. The CEO shot that down, so now I'm 40 hours a week - 30 of which are in the office and 10 of which I telecommute whenever I can during the week. With the arrangement came my transfer to the main office, which has worked out fine.

As it works now, I am in the office from 8-3, my husband takes our son to preschool around 9 and I am able to pick him up by 3:30.

I'm keenly aware of how fortunate I am, and am keenly aware that they're definitely keeping a closer eye on me to see how this is going to work.

I think the keys to getting them to try it at all were that I was a relatively senior employee when I asked for the change, I had the kind of job (attorney) where with the exception of court and appointments, I can pretty much do my job wherever, and that during my childless years I worked lots and lots of long hours for the company.

Posted by: DallasMom | August 1, 2006 9:47 PM

Just skimming at the end of the day, but if 215 is still around, I highly advise you to talk about this issue with your boyfriend before you get married. It's a really important topic, and if you knowingly go into a marriage with different expectations, that's putting a lot of stress on the marriage. HOWEVER, part of that conversation also has to include the reality that no one knows how they will do this until it happens. There's no other experience like being a Mom, so, you really can't know perfectly in advance what you will want to do. Good luck.

As a lot of the women who post here have found, you can find ways to spend a lot of time with your kids and do meaningful paid work, but it takes effort, compromise, and sacrifice. That's universally true for parenting, actually. It's not easy, but it is rewarding.

Posted by: VAMom | August 1, 2006 10:09 PM

I hope the Post or Leslie don't mind, but I'd like to suggest this. For those looking for an opt-between opportunity, consider teaching either on-line or face-to-face. I teach for University of Maryland, University College online part-time (in addition to working full-time). www.umuc.edu. My UMUC work is all from home and after the kids are in bed and on weekends. The pay is strictly to supplement a spouse's income, but you can become a collegiate faculty member. The collegiate gig pays about a maximum of $25K. Again, supplemental income. But I love the work, I like my boss, and I like the colleagues and students. And it's a way of meeting other smart, accomplished people. You need a terminal degree (J.D. or Ph.D), but the school may make exceptions in some cases. Other teaching possibilities in the DC metro area: Prince George's Community College, USDA graduate school and Montgomery College.

Posted by: momof2 | August 1, 2006 11:31 PM

And, in case anyone's still reading, I think schools should be able to REMOVE children who do not behave, who are nuisances, who break the law, etc. They used to be able to, but cannot any longer.
Those children can go to other schools that are around to specifically deal with them - while the 'regular' schools can deal with students who are there to LEARN - why should the non - disruptive students be punished because others can't behave?

Posted by: atlmom | August 2, 2006 8:38 AM

MBA mom- the reason private schools do better is they are already self selective schools. These kids come from families who have already made their children's education a priority and have been successful in their own right to pay for these schools. Look at the results of a few private schools of 100% low income, like the Hershey school. The results are lower then the average public school and much lower then the private preparatory schools. It is not that private education has such wonderful programs. Almost all of their success comes from the student body and small class size. Atlmom-I am not against people making money. I just think if we offered vouchers on mass, there will be a lot of bad schools popping up just to take your government sponsored vouchers. Good schools take time to develop. There will be a lot of bad schools while the learning curve takes place. I distrust corporate America far more then local governments.

Posted by: Lieu | August 2, 2006 9:32 AM

Re: homeschooling and working -

Most of the ways people do this have already been posted by others - often there is a grandparent or nanny who cares for the children during the day and the children do their lessons in the evenings/weekends...but a couple of other ways I've seen it done are:

a SAHM homeschooling friend with a 6 year old daughter divorced and had to go back to work. She found a job managing a mom's day out and preschool program at her church, and her daughter went to work with her.

another SAHM homeschooling friend with two children divorced and just expanded her home business (soapmaking) to be able to support her children financially.

there is a local family who owns a restaurant and their children (12&17 now, but they've been doing this for several years) help at the restaurant and/or just hang out there.

The last family are unschoolers so they don't believe in any schooling, curriculum, or lessons at all, whether it be at home or in a school building. "Homeschooling" is such a broad, broad term....millions of children are "homeschooled" now but I'd say only a fraction of those are actually sitting at the kitchen table doing their schoolwork during a set time each day.


Posted by: momof4 | August 2, 2006 10:34 AM

altmom:

The answer to your comment is that many of the "disruptive" student have disabilities, like ADHD or Asperger's or emotional disturbances, and if they can function in a least restrictive environment, then tne public school is required to educate then in such environment. The students who cannot function in that environment (which in my opinion is dated, limiting, inflexible and too female-oriented) are required by law to be assessed and placed in an educational environment designed to accommodate them. That would be special education. In any case, public education must educate all kids in their schools, by law -- not just the "regular" kids. American education is supposed to be about inclusion and integration. Those who want a lot of separation would do well to put their kids in a private school or home-school them.

Now, on any given day just about any kid can be disruptive. Do all of them need to go to another school and let those "regular" kids learn in peace? Of course not. The kids far enough outside the norm are, either fairly or unfairly, tracked.

Posted by: momoftwo | August 2, 2006 1:42 PM

Disruptive means many things - at it's most basic, it can mean a class full of "average" kids with "average" parents that don't expect anything other than B or C student kids because that's what they probably were and they're "fine." So what do you do when you have a class of average-ish kids who just don't do homework, come to class 5 minutes late every few days, space out, don't pay attention, and have no one at home expecting them to get extra-help if they need it? That's how you end up with average/below average schools. The thing about "good" school districts (and there are certainly negatives to this, too - i.e.: the article in the WaPo yesterday about upper class kids who are overstressed), is that you have a bunch of kids whose parents expect them to be A and B students instead of B&C. It's much easier to teach those kids at all ages, and when you are able to accelerate their teaching from an early age, that's how you end up with high schools that are "better" than others, simply because these districts where parents expect excellence have been learning on a higher/faster curve for years because the majority of the kids: show up, pay attention, & do their homework.

Posted by: Anne | August 2, 2006 2:29 PM

I doubt anyone will read this, but i just have to say "thank you" to everyone who responded to my question about changing allegedly "failing schools". I tried to post a couple times late yesterday but the site wouldn't let me.

Anyway, I guess it was a bit off topic, but Anne's comment neatly brings the topic back to the raision d'etre of this blog-- BALANCE!! Sure, you should make education a priority for kids, but don't let things get out of balanace! A friend of a friend that is giving up the comunity she can afford to live in a community that has "the best schools"-- but is it really healthy in the end for her child to have that much pressure? And now the mom is totally freaked out by how poor they are compared to the other families in the area.

on the other hand, she thinks I am a terrible mother because I'm going to send my child to our neighborhood, DC public urban school. I'll keep my eye on the situation, but I don't intend to pull out unless my child's safety is at risk or the school is designated as failing to make AYP (adequate yearly progress) under NCLB. this other mom thinks I'm insane to put my child in a situation where they will be (very much) the ethnic minority. Is she racist? Am I clueless? Where is the balance?

Posted by: Capitol hill Mom | August 2, 2006 4:27 PM

Good for you for finding a schedule that works. I have to say, though, that I am astounded that 9-4 is 75% since my full-time (100%) schedule is 8 1/2 hours. If I worked your schedule, I would be at about 82%.

Posted by: to SFmom | August 2, 2006 5:59 PM

I'm a day late on this blog but wanted to write because I'm another "opt-between." Thanks for this post. I handle my part-time arrangement a little differently than most of today's posts, so I thought I'd weigh in. Maybe useful to others?

I'm about 75% part time at my job (attorney at a big firm) and I handle it by working about 9-4 every day. That way I can take my kids (11 & 13) to school, pick them up after "Homework Club", and take them to all their practices, games, doctor's appointments, etc. Plus I have time to make dinner most nights, which all of us eat together when my husband gets home. For me this is a better solution than working 4 long days and taking one day off per week -- also because I like being in the office every day to keep up with calls, clients, projects, etc.

It helps that I have a specialty (estate planning) where I control most of my own deadlines, that my job is only about 20 minutes from my kids' school, and I work at a family-friendly firm where people don't glare at me when I leave at 4 (since many of them stay till 6 or later). Downsides? No personal time, except when I'm in the car. Also, I need to be very productive while I'm in the office, so there isn't much schmoozing. And I guess I'm not developing a big name in my field as fast as I could if I devoted a lot of time to it. The way I look at it, though, there will be enough time for all those things when the kids leave for college! I will add that the part I enjoy the most (which I never anticipatd) is picking the kids up and hearing details about their school days, which somehow fade if they don't share them right after school. Overall, this arrangement has brought me a lot of work/home satisfaction and peace of mind so I wanted to share.

Posted by: SFmom | August 2, 2006 7:33 PM

In my suburban Cleveland world, this post rings more true than any other I've read about modern womanhood/motherhood. Thanks for posting some common sense.

Posted by: Wendy | August 10, 2006 8:21 AM

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