One of the realizations I had when I went back to work full time nearly 3 years ago was that I hadn’t been a full time homemaker. I mean technically most people would probably say I was, I said it many times, that was my primary focus, but I was always involved in my husband’s business and worked with our investments. However, it was a work-from-home job; I set my own hours and was my own boss. When I would pay our sub-contractors or meet a tenant to negotiate a lease it always felt more like a fun game I was playing rather than my job, the stay-at-home mom off to play working woman for an hour or two. The burden of actually supporting us was on my husband’s shoulders and I just occasionally played a part. Yet looking back at my involvement, while not nearly as key to making money as my husband’s, it was real and necessary to free him for sales and fulfilling commitments. We wouldn’t have had the success we had without my role.
I think as women in today’s world we are so blessed. We have so many choices. We can stay home full time, part time or not at all. We can simply augment our family income to help with the extras or be the primary bread winner for our family earning enough for both the necessities and the extras.
Interestingly, while on one side of my mind I didn’t work, on the other side of my mind I always thought of it as a family business which we all worked in. This was most evident when we owned rental property and lost our cleaning service. For several months the whole family packed up once a week to go over and clean bathrooms, mop and vacuum the building. I kept thinking it was a nice bonding time and opportunity to teach our son about responsibility. I was alone in thinking this however, the boys hated every minute of it. What we learned during that time was that the 3 of us should not start a cleaning business! Still, we rallied together and did what needed to be done for our business and for our family.
While I didn’t think of myself as someone with a job, I knew the way our family supported itself and how we interacted with our work was very non-traditional.
One of the changes that happened in the industrial revolution in this country was a separation between work and family life. Prior to that you had a lot of family farms where ma, pa and the kids, likely along with grandma, grandpa and maybe some aunts, uncles and cousins would be part of caring for animals, planting and harvesting the fields. Pa and any of his field hands would come to the family home for lunch. The school schedule was worked around the need for kids to be able to help with the harvest. Not only was there a close nuclear family but close extended family as well. Then people moved to the city for work and things changed. Today each of us has our own careers, including the kids. We go our separate ways in the morning to work and school and meet back up in the evening to begin a second job of caring for children and managing household responsibilities and homework.
The family – far from joining and complementing other social networks, as in the earlier period – seemed to stand increasingly apart. Indeed, its position vis-a-vis society at large had been very nearly reversed, so as to become a kind of adversary relation.
During my homemaking years, the years where John was self-employed and I helped, I often thought of it as our “new family farm” lifestyle. John’s schedule was flexible to allow him to be at most school and social events in our son’s life and was often home for lunch. I knew exactly what he did each day, met many of his clients, interviewed subs with him and negotiated leases. And Jake got to learn to vacuum a commercial building as well as listen to shop talk at dinner. It always felt like our career, not just his. We worked together as a family to support our life together. It wasn’t perfect and we could have spent more time growing our business bigger than we did, but for us it was about being together as a family and making enough to support our simple lifestyle. And in that we were a total success.
When we decided to close the business and make this major career change which required John to return to school and causing me to have to take a more active role in supporting our family, I thought it had to mean the end of our “family farming”. And so I went away to a job each day for the first year and John went off to school. And we began leading two lives, our daytime lives and our evening/ weekend lives. And it was fine, not horrible, sometimes good, but very much not us. Not how we had come to define family.
There were some positive changes during that time. We had always had very traditionally defined roles in our family. As the homemaker I had done virtually all of the cooking, cleaning and laundry. John quickly stepped up to the plate and took on more than his share of cooking and laundry. He also learned about school bus schedules, pony tails and after school snacks. Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In”, might say that while I was “leaning in” to begin my career he was also “leaning in” by taking on responsibilities in our home.
As I have begun to read about women and careers in an attempt to learn how to advance in my own business and career the one thing I continue to see is an attitude that separates our families and our careers into two different boxes. As women we have come far in the work force and can be found making top money in many top positions in every field. However, there is still a sense in which we are supposed to check our family at the door.
I am constantly asking myself, “how can we integrate our children into our lifestyle?” How can John be part of my career the way I was part of his? And how can I be part of his education? I often bring my daughter to the office with me when she is home from school and hope someday she can be in charge of baking cookies for my open houses or helping me edit an article. I want her to feel part of our lives, including our careers.
A trend I am seeing more and more is the idea of the work-life balance. And since returning to work I have sought out several articles to determine the secret to finding it. I haven’t seen one universally agreed on answer to this question but there does seem to be a lot of discussion about it. While the last couple generations, including my generation, have been putting in more and more hours to reach the top, the next generation, the millennials, seem to be more interested in family, they don’t want to work 60+ hours a week, they want time with their family, both men and women. Somehow I am relating a little more to this generation than my own when it comes to approaching my career. According to pwc research:
“Employment at professional services organisations…can come with considerable work demands. While meeting such demands can have significant rewards in an employee’s future career (e.g. rapid advancement), Millennials value work/life balance, and the majority of them are unwilling to commit to making work lives an exclusive priority, even with the promise of substantial compensation later on.”
Recently I have seen a shift in advertisers messages of success. Most recently a commercial ran that showed a young man climbing the corporate ladder of success but when he reached that corner office they said something like, “but this isn’t your end goal” and they moved him to his next step, starting up his own business. While we value the experience the corporate world can still give us, we seem to be more interested in taking control of our life and our careers by starting our own business.
This fall our family made a major move to adjust our expenses while John is in school which makes it easier for me to support our family. I have taken a part time job to give our income stability while I am building my business but chose something that offers me the ability to bring my daughter into the office when a snow day is announced with no time to set up alternative child care. It does mean I am working some weeks 7 days in a row but both jobs allow me to share my career with my family and gives me flexibility so John and I can work our schedules around each other and still be present for Isabelle.
Family farming is not necessarily the easiest route. There is certainly something to be said for a job you can leave at the end of the week and not have to think about again until Monday morning. Clearly defined work and play times. But for our family, and many families like ours, the work-life balance isn’t about managing two separate entities evenly; it is about learning to juggle the two parts together into one life. I see this in my other business owner friends, homeschooling friends, pastor’s family; I even see examples of this in families with traditional 9-5 jobs. It is all about attitudes and priorities. If your career is a family affair, welcome to family farming.