Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Advice from a SAHM

I just got back from my traveling adventure and am so disappointed that I can't comment on Julie's blog. Damn.

Jack and I flew to Arizona for my work. On both flights he cried at take-off and landing, but slept the entire flight. Hey, I think that's pretty good. I'll take it.

Jack stayed with my friend Valerie for my first day of work. Because Valerie has two other kids (2 and 1), she also had her mother and aunt over to help. On my way home from the office, I called Matt to tell him how wonderful it was to be away for the day. My productivity had been high. I got to talk to grownups, wear grownup clothes and grownup shoes (which killed my feet), and get lots of work done. I had training and meetings and loved it. Then I got to Valerie's and found out that my little angel had screamed all day. Hours non-stop. And each time he'd cry, her 1 year old would cry, doubling the crisis. And they tried everything to get him to stop, but couldn't. And I felt like crap.

In my arms, Jack was calm and happy and sweet. He melted and fell asleep immediately, apparently exhausted from his day of torture. The least I could do was buy dinner so after getting him off to sleep, I handed him over to Val's mother and Val and I ran to the sushi place to get some take-out. (He slept the whole time we were gone.)

This should have been a fast trip, but it ended up being an hour. During this time, Valerie and I shared some wine and talked, or at least I let her talk. She'd had quite a day at the hands of my child, so she was free to say whatever she needed. I was there to listen, like I always want Matt to do when I've had a rough day.

What I heard from her I didn't expect, although maybe I should have. First, a little background information before I get into what we discussed. When she was pregnant, she planned on returning to work part time while her husband worked from home or her mother watched her kids. Instead her daughter was born with down syndrome, so she did not return to work. She has therapists who come to the house 4 days a week, every week of every month. Her daughter also had open heart surgery, so there were/are multiple doctor visits. Her husband figured out he could not work at home and care for children, and Valerie surmised that no one could care for her special needs baby as much as she could, which is true for every child to different degrees. It was a sacrifice, but she'd never call it that as she doesn't call it anything but doing what you have to do.

Like I said, she didn't go into any of this because she never does. What she did say was that Jack was too young to be left while I worked in an office. Not only that, but I shouldn't be working so much when I'm home with him. He needs someone who will care for him all the time. If I Have to work, then cut it back to part time, but only if I Have to work to help pay the bills.

Valerie is a SAHM, and I don't know too many of those. Actually, she is the only one I know besides my MIL. And I have heard of the SAHM versus WOHM war, but I have never been a participant. Working in the home, I've never really felt entirely part of either group. Besides, what I want is the best of both groups. So, Val is a SAHM but she wanted to return to work part-time but chose not to. I never put her into that militant SAHM group who look down on those who work in an office. I saw her as part of the SAHM group who said 'this is what I do because it works for me, your mileage may vary.'

Maybe she's been home too long, I don't know. I just didn't expect her to find fault with me going into the office 2-4 days a month. And working from home, she knows that I sometimes have Matt's aunt here to help, or Matt here, or my mother. Generally I can get my 40 hour job in over the 7 day week in bits and starts whenever Jack lets me even if that's at night or I have someone to help. And it takes shorter than 40 hours. I've only brought my son or daughter to her or her family to watch because they would ask me to, and I've always paid them well.

She didn't have a problem with me working with Janie, or if she did, she didn't say anything. I don't know if the problem stems from the fact that she wasn't a mother then and she is now, or that Jack is colicky. Maybe she's been listening to Dr. Laura too much.

I'm glad for her frankness, but it did drive a mental wedge. No one likes to be told they are doing the wrong thing. No one wants to be judged. And by their best friend. I'm not her and she's not me. It's obvious to me that she doesn't understand how I feel about my work, and she thinks that I'm a lesser parent. Only our friendship kept me from just getting up and walking out.

In my mind, I start justifying myself. The truth is, I'm only working full time for July and August. This year I will be switching to part time when the school year starts. This has been my plan, and I think it's a pretty good one. I don't say this outloud because she already knows it, and finds fault with it. I'm one who avoids the argument, so I just listen and sip my wine rather than say, "where does this come from all of a sudden, or have you been thinking this all along?"

The second day in the office, I worried. I worried because there were other things Valerie told me. Jack screamed so much that her two year old told him to 'shut up.' He wouldn't come up with that on his own, he heard it from her. She told my baby to shut up. And yet I went to work. And felt horrible for it. Horrible not for working, but for leaving my baby with her when she clearly wasn't up for it no matter how much help she had. I worried for my little one. I knew he wouldn't be hurt nor neglected, but that he wasn't being loved. I was near tears all day and called about 4 times, each time with a good report. Yet, I couldn't relax. How could I possibly?

During that day I met with my boss. I told her that my child care arrangements in Arizona had fallen through so my trips there would be more infrequent. I also reiterated my request to work part time in the fall. She then recommended that I get a nanny. She told me that her friend was hiring one in Arizona for $17/hour. I wanted to but didn't respond that her friend makes twice what I do and is married to a doctor. Plus, at Bay Area rates, too much of my salary would be going to the nanny and since I'd be working only part time anyway, why not just quit altogether?

When I got back to Valerie's that night, she told me that he had been a normal baby all day. That day she finally listened to me about Jack. She tried out the sling and learned he loved it, and when he started crying more than she could handle, she put him in the swing and he immediately fell asleep.

Then she asked me if I talked to my boss about quitting or starting part time now. What I didn't tell her was that I didn't agree with her conclusion for my life. Instead I responded that my boss recommended a nanny. Valerie also found the nanny idea unworkable but hers was the SAHM response of "then why bother having kids." I felt like I was talking to a stranger and I couldn't wait to get home.

I feel like trust has been shaken. I never worried about my kids with her, and now I do. And I never felt judged by her, but now I do. Although we're friends and have gone through some incredible things together, it appears we are moving in different directions. And, I won't be bringing Jack with me to Arizona again without bringing my own sitter with me.

16 Comments:

Anonymous wrin said...

I think that's a very wise choice.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Beaver Girl said...

I'm just so sorry that happened to you. It must have felt like such an ambush from a friend. Overwhelming after everything you've been through.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry you had such a bad time and that your friend let you down so much. I work full time - at least 45 hours as does dh. Our son is with his nanny for 45 hours a week. THere are give and takes, yes he is not with me but he is with a person who likes to play with him and is energetic all day and then I come home and am happy and excited to see him and am fresh. Also, I have a good job and make good money and can provided him with a house in a great school district. On the other hand if I stayed at home, he would be with me all day - and I'd be nuts :) Obviously different things work for different people. My very good friend chose to quit the same job and stay at home - she loves it. I would never criticize her choice and hopefully she would not criticize mine. Your friend behaved poorly and was clearly overwhelmed with her day and should have listened to you to start with. Sorry, you are not working alot and you are trying to make it work - she was out of line.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Ninotchka said...

Oh gosh. I'm sorry you had to listen to that. I've experienced similar judgements from both my SAHM friends and my working friends. Everyone has a drive-by it seems and it stings. I sometimes worry I might have done the same thing a time or two (or three). I seriously hope not!

7:25 PM  
Blogger chris said...

This just sucks. I'm a SAHM. I do it because it works for us. I don't always like it: I miss talking to grown-ups, I miss earning a lawyer's salary, I miss wearing nice clothes and not having someone wipe his nose on my clothing. But it works for us. Obviously, I do it because I think it's the right thing to do. For us. Not for everyone. Most women work because they have no other choice financially, but I don't think it matters whether your choice is due to finances or simply because it's what you prefer to do.

I have experienced the opposite from friends who work, the old line "how can you stay home with a kid all day, I would be bored to death," which essentially means, "how stupid are you, to sit around all day with a kid." I think both attitudes stem from women who are basically unhappy. I hear women on the playgrounds saying terrible things about working mothers. I hear them make comments about the nannies who take the children they watch to Gymboree and other classes. There's a lot of cattiness. But the moms who are the most confident about their choices? They tend to live and let live.

I think your friend's comments stem a lot from the pain she has undoubtedly undergone in the last year. Her child was born with a disability. Her worries about her child's future have to be immense, not to mention the immediate health issues. And she has another child just a little bit older who needs her attention as well. She may also wish that she could get out of the house and interact with grown-ups, reconnect with her old self. She's probably overwhelmed and scared and took it out on you because you were an easy target, the big bad mom who left her kid all day. You say she wasn't like this before and I'll bet this really isn't who she is. Of course, I don't know her.

I'm sorry this happened to you.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anna V said...

I'm sorry this happened for you and Jack. I'd hazard a guess that your friend is really struggling with the special needs stuff and the heart surgery stuff and can't see how you can balance it all. Especially if she thinks that Jack screams like that all the time for other people.

I'm a SAHM. I think I could balance all the bowel stuff with working. I cannot balance all the other developmental stuff with working so I stay home awaiting the next crisis.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Oh, Pazel, I'm so sorry you had to go through that with your friend.

3:42 AM  
Blogger Erin said...

I'm going to agree with Chris. I'm a SAHM too, but would never think to push it on anyone else.
Maybe it does stem from your friend's pain. Perhaps because Jack was born so sick, she feels there is some similarity to your situation, and the way she felt when her daughter was born.
Maybe, since she was so candid with you about her feelings, you could return the candor. Unless you just feel that the friendship isn't worth saving.
Either way, she was out of line to tell you what to do, and I'm sorry you had to spend the day worrying.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Shannon Wells said...

I'm in a somewhat similar situation as you are....My daughter Darsie was born at 28 weeks and we have lots of doctors appointments, lots of attention, etc. etc. Originally, before she was born so early, the plan was for me to stay home for the first couple months and then she would go to daycare and I back to work fulltime. But, she came early and couldn't go to daycare during the winter and she requires a lot of doctors visits, therapy, etc. etc. So, anyways, I'm working at home and going into the office 2 days a week.

I totally forget where I was going with this comment...but I think your friend was out of line to tell you what you needed to do. It must have been sooo frustrating. I know it is when my boss tells me that I should just put Darsie in daycare. I love my situation now, I'm just not sure how much longer my job will allow for it.

GOOD LUCK!!

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Heels said...

I'm so sorry--that must have been painful for you.

I had a slightly similar situation when my dear friend and I had children at the same time and she felt she couldn't be parted from her son and agonized about working while I didn't mind returning to work. She made some comments that caused me to distance myeslf from her and my husband surmised that she said those things because of her own pain, not because of anything having to do with me.

We worked past it and are still friends, but she never said anything as hurtful as what you recount here.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone is different. Your friend does what is good for her in her situation. You do what is good for you.

I went right back to work after the births of both of my children. My DD is now 19 and DS is 14, it was hard to leave them, but they certainly are not any the worse for it.

I had to do it to pay the light bill. I think they would have had a harder time growning up in a homeless shelter, than they did just from me leaving them for a few hours a day to work.

In the area I am in WAH is not an option. That would seem to me as the perfect out.

Don't let what your "friend" did to you get you down. You just follow your heart and it will all work out for you and your beautiful family.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Menita said...

Sigh. I agree with the others, she may have been projecting her own situation on you, plus mis-reading her experience that first day with Jack as something more permanent and serious than it is. You are so in tune with your kids (just read your own blog, woman!) - you absolutely know what works best for all of you. Your solution to this latest crisis seems, as usual, very smart.
You go, girl.

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How sad and frustrating. Like the others, I suspect she was projecting her own feelings onto you. She became a SAHM because she felt she *had* to, not because she wanted to. And if/when you make this life of yours work, it makes her feel bad about her own. If you are unable to work part time and/or from home with a special needs child, she doesn't have to feel bad about her own inability to make that situation work.

Also, I think there's a very good chance she never told Jack to shut up. Don't you think she could have told her own 2-year-old to shut up at some point?

tracy (tracybob_one at yahoo dot com)

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Robert Carnegie said...

I agree that "shut up" needn't have come from your friend, although I think I'd tell a kid not to say it because it's rude. I also think that Jack having a bad day - for which I'm sorry - may have led your friend to overestimate the difference it'll make to him if you spend time away from him. And it is true that Jack will need more care than most kids for a while to come, and his parents are the best qualified carers. But you have to find time to live for yourself as well, and a household needs money. So your choices are going to be difficult ones. It won't be easy to count your blessings.

We only know what you tell us, so we can't tell you that it's going good or bad when you don't see it yourself. I do hear that a happy child with no health problems can scream all day just because it wants to, but it's pretty hard work so next time it may decide not to make the effort and just wait until it's old enough to have crayons. THEN look out! :-)

I think Jack will get relaxed about the idea of a whole day or more without Mommy sooner than you will.

Hey, how about a video phone or a Web cam? Maybe you can be on TV for Jack and Janie! And they can for you! Or you could make your own videotape that either kid can watch every day, just talking, singing, you know, and that way you personally bug the heck out of anyone else who looks after them for you instead of having Barney the dinosaur do that. ;-)

8:27 AM  
Blogger cluelesscarolinagirl said...

I am just going to state unequivocally that it is NEVER appropriate to give unsolicted advice to a mother. NEVER. THERE ARE NO EXCUSES FOR THIS HORRIBLE BEHAVIOR.

Unless the advice is something like, "um, you ought to get your kid out of the middle of the highway."

1:04 PM  
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