Jul 22

work/life balance – what’s that?

Like many parents in this country, especially those who are the primary caretakers in their family, I’ve had a spotty work history due to the demands of my family.I will spare you the details of my off-again, on-again employment history, but suffice it to say I’ve worked full-time out of the house, full-time in the house, part-time out-of-the-house, and have also been a full time stay-at-home parent.  My kids have been home with me, in part-time child-care, in full-time pre-k, and in school. Now we’re all home together, as I work at home part-time and my kids are homeschooling full-time. Except for camp. Blessed camp.

The worst situation for our family was when both my husband and I were working full-time. And by “full-time” I don’t mean 40 hours/week each – “full-time” in this day and age means at least 40 hours for salaried folk (in my case) or entrepreneurs (in his). For 3 horrible years I was working around 50/hours/week and he was working  60-80 hours/week. We had no balance. If we had two NT (neuro-typical) kids we maybe could have kept it up, but since every minute at home was spent dealing with an ETL child (his behaviors, his therapies, his dr. visits, his rages not to mention the daily, horrible drama that homework created) our lives were seriously stressful. Oh, and work – of course work had its own stresses. So it was stress and anger and worry and performing as good employees and good business owners and good parents from dawn to dusk. Not that we actually pulled any of that off.

That was truly a dark time in our family’s lives.

Thank goodness we were able to make changes. First, I went part-time, then I quit altogether. I liked my job, but not to the detriment of our family, and although I readily self-identify as a feminist, I’m also a family-ist, and if taking care of the needs of my family turns out to be what this woman does, well, I’m going to do it.

Next, we have minimized the demands on Little J: first, we pulled him from after-school care – we didn’t need it anymore, then we pulled him from school, which has helped with the rages and overstimulation and taken away the dreaded homework problem, and we’ve changed a lot of our expectations of his behavior. We’ve simplified our lives a great deal. We only do those extracurriculars that we enjoy and we make it a point to go away together at least once a month – typically something very budget-conscious, but important regrouping time for our family.

I know our family is in a privileged situation in that we can afford to have me not work full-time, but what’s clear to me is that me moving to at-home caretaker has not been so much of a choice, but a necessity. We simply could not have gone on the way we had been when 2 of us were working outside the house. Our family would have imploded. My husband and I would have probably separated. I would no doubt be seriously ill – when I quit my job I was suffering from a couple of stress-related physical problems, which have thankfully turned around since I’ve been able to get more balance in my life.

I have no idea what would have become of our relationship with Little J. Things were bad. Very bad.

And we’ve made sacrifices in order for me to stay home. Although my salary wasn’t large (I worked for public schools in North Carolina, for Pete’s sake), it was still a salary, and it was a loss. We haven’t put any money in retirement for at least five years, my kids have no college fund except for what grandma has set up (thanks Mom!), and we are certainly not keeping up with the Joneses, although thankfully there are no Joneses in my circle of friends. When I do the math and realize my lost potential earnings should I have been able to work full-time the past 10 years, I feel sick. And if I had the time to retrain for a different career that made more money, thinking of that possibility I feel even sicker.

So I don’t do the math. Because what is the alternative?

I know that people make sacrifices for their children all the time – some people sacrifice time for money, some people sacrifice money for time. It’s part of being parents. But I can’t help but think (actually, I know) that parents of special needs children are forced into the full-time caretaker role more than the rest of the population, whether they wanted to be in that role or not.

What do you think? What’s your story?