Wednesday, October 05, 2011

the latest big life decision

So, I haven't written a blog post in, like, forever. Much has happened, and there have been things I've considered blogging about, but for one reason or another I haven't. Part of the reason for my lack of blogging is probably the psychological pressure I felt to explain or analyze my latest Big Life Decision... quitting my full-time job as a legal assistant. And I guess I just wasn't quite ready to dissect it. I'm not sure I totally am now, but I'm closer than I was four months ago, anyway.

I actually quit my job as a legal assistant at the end of May, as most of you in my limited readership probably know by now. There was quite a bit of build up to the decision, in the form of discontent with the work environment and the hours that were being required of me. I had been considering whether I should look for a different job ever since late winter/early spring, when my supervisors had taken my familiar groove of job duties with which I felt skilled and efficient, and turned it upside down, dumping a bunch of stuff on me that I was not good at and did not enjoy doing. And actually, by the time I quit, they were realizing just how devastating this switch around was to my productivity and morale, and were offering to basically give me back the duties I had before, with some minor changes and additions; but it was too little too late. I had put much effort into learning and taking responsibility for the new tasks, and had finally achieved some level of proficiency with them, although I had remained convinced that all the things they had now shifted to my plate simply could not be done by one person without working significant amounts of overtime. Which is just insanity when you are paying your employees by the hour -- why pay me a bunch of time and a half and burn me out in the process, when you could just hire another person? My team was mostly working moms, none of whom wanted overtime, and like I said -- it's bad business practice anyway. However, this particular office couldn't seem to keep a full team of legal assistants; we were always one or two people short. Which was really not that surprising considering the working environment. I tried to talk to my supervisors about my frustration and discontent with my new duties several times before quitting, but I think they thought I just needed more time to adjust to the increased workload of unfamiliar tasks. I tried to believe their reassurances... but really, they were just wrong.

If my supervisors had been more communicative and supportive all along, I might have ended up staying. But ultimately, I'm glad I didn't, because it really was not realistic or healthy for me to continue to work more than 40 hours a week on a regular basis, with three young kids and a husband at home who need me. I'm not condemning anyone else who does this -- everyone knows on an individual basis what they and their family can handle. As for us -- stuff just did. not. get. done. And this despite Heath doing more than he ever has before to help with the house, more than I was the vast majority of the time, in terms of cooking, cleaning, and caring for the kids. Which caused him to be perpetually exhausted and not to be able to focus as much on his job as he previously had, which really isn't a good thing since he was making well over twice as much as I was, making us much more dependent on his income than mine.

I've told several people that one of the really good things that came out of the 9 months of me doing the full-time-working-mom gig was that Heath and I both realize now just how much I was doing at home. Before, there was a temptation to look at the house at 5 pm and think, geez, what DO you do here all day?? Now, it's like, wow look at how very many things did not get done while you were working that are getting done now! And Heath is the one who is pointing all this out. Which is just an incredibly life-giving and affirming thing for me to hear. Yes, I did help stabilize and nurture our family during the eight years I was home, before I went to work full-time. Good to know.

The other thing I have mentioned to quite a few people is how after I quit at the end of May, I had little incentive to get another full-time job until after the kids went back to school in August, because during the summer months I was going to net very little income -- like $35/week after child care for all three kids, gas, and lunches out. We were attempting to make some arrangements with my mom to help with child care over the summer, so we wouldn't experience such a dramatic drop in income, but we were still trying to work out all the details, and it was becoming complicated and stressful. Part of the stress was the fact that I just didn't feel very confident or comfortable with the summer programs out there for school-age kids -- this was another reason we were talking to my mom about helping out with child care over the summer. For Samuel's full-time care, I had searched and toured and researched until I found a day care/preschool that I felt very good about. I hadn't found anything that I felt similarly confident and good about for my school-age kids. And knowing that one of them had had some persistent behavior issues at school as well as at after-school care, it made me all the more concerned and nervous about how the summer child care arrangements would work out.

So, the original plan when I quit my job was not that I was giving up working full-time, but that I was quitting this one miserable job and looking for something better, to begin when the kids went back to school in August. However, I was nervous about looking for other jobs, because it is nigh impossible to determine what the working environment is really like before taking a job. Case in point, I managed to enjoy working at my previous job for 5 or 6 months, insulated from the issues that would finally make me quit -- issues which were there all along, affecting other people, but just not me so much. I had many of you ask me during the first few months of my new job if I was enjoying it, and I was able to honestly and enthusiastically answer that I was. It was an adjustment for our family, we were still trying to figure out how to balance it all, but I enjoyed the work. It added to my personal quality of life -- for a while. I was producing something tangible, I had adult interaction, I felt like there was something that was mine outside of being a mom and keeping a home. But when my job description was changed and different work dumped on me, work that made me feel incapable and stressed rather than competent and productive, that required more hours than I could comfortably give, that even eliminated much of the opportunity for adult interaction I'd had because of it's intensity and pace -- the benefits I had experienced all seemed to evaporate. Or at least they became insignificant, in light of the stress and exhaustion they cost me.

So, I was nervous about what kind of job I might find. I didn't want to invest the effort to learn something new, to get comfortable again, and then discover after a few months I was in the same kind of place I had left. I also was nervous about applying for jobs right away and possibly getting offered something that required starting before the end of summer -- I still didn't feel very comfortable with my school-age child care options for the summer. So I only applied for one job that was perfect enough that it would be worth the trouble, and continued to check job listings for anything else super-compelling, but with no real sense of urgency.

As summer drew to a close, and summer child care was no longer an excuse or concern, Heath and I had to revisit what approach we wanted to take to me getting back into the workplace (or not). We both decided that it was really good to have me back home. It made a big difference to how smoothly our family ran. It was not easy to adjust back down to not having my income, and we are still working on that. But neither of us wanted to go back to how things had been at home when I was working full-time. We had already decided, almost immediately after I quit in May, that I could not accept another a job where overtime would regularly be required. As the summer progressed, this idea began to expand in our minds, the idea that whatever job I have needs to cooperate more with the needs of our family. By the end of the summer, we were at a place of only considering jobs where I was still substantially home -- either something I can do from home, or during the hours the boys are at school.

Even jobs that are limited to school hours are a problem for the time being, because Samuel is only four years old and in preschool only 7.5 hours per week. And really, this is my last year that I can ever have at home with him before he starts school -- so maybe I don't want to trade it for working even part-time. I honestly feel guilty that I have him in even just three-morning-per-week preschool, since I'm not working during it. Sometimes I worry that I can't justify spending the money out of our now tightened budget for it -- I didn't send either Jacob or Ethan to preschool, after all. But he was in preschool every day last year, and I think it was good for him. I didn't want to lose the progress, break the continuity of the experience for him. And I want him to be ready for a Kindergarten classroom next year, more prepared than Ethan was to meet the teacher's expectations. Although I can't bring myself to believe that I didn't do what was right for Ethan, either... He was exposed to all the same letter and number workbooks and learning games that Jacob was, but he just wasn't interested the same way; he was the consummate stereotypical boy, playing with sticks as swords in the back yard all day and completely uninterested in letter sounds. No, Ethan was not prepared in the way a teacher might want for the Kindergarten classroom, but I still believe I did right by him. But Ethan's story is another blog post for another day...

So for the moment I am back here at home, full-time. I'm still not very good at organizing my time at home. I am easily distractible and not as productive as I could be if I could just shut my mind off and do routine tasks without so much internal whining about the monotony and drudgery of said tasks. But I still get way more done than I did when I was working full-time, which I guess is a no-brainer since I am here so many more hours. And on top of all that, I am here for the kids, in a more substantial way than I was last year. We might have all been fine ultimately continuing the way things were, with me working full-time -- but there is no arguing with the fact that I am actually here for them more now, more able to monitor and contribute to what's going on with them. Whether that is necessary or not, it's happening.

I wonder sometimes if I would have eventually adjusted to the pace of working full-time, even 40+ hours. I think Heath was able to contribute more to household chores than I was when I first started working full-time because he was used to how it felt to work outside the home all day -- he wasn't quite as exhausted by it when he arrived home in the evening. I don't know that there literally weren't enough hours to get everything done at home when I was working full-time. More importantly, there wasn't enough energy in me. By the time I got home at 6:15 or 6:30 pm, I was used up, worn out. I was all about picking up carry-out on the way home or heating up a packaged meal from the grocery store. If Heath wanted home cooking, he did it himself; I know I cooked a few times on weeknights, but it was rare. Laundry and other necessities got done on the weekends, for the most part, but other cleaning was often just left undone. Home was primarily where we slept and launched ourselves from each day, where the kids had an hour or two of play each evening.

I still peruse the job listings sometimes, and I have seen a couple of part-time jobs just recently that have tempted me -- one as a legal assistant for the city, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. How perfect, right? Except I'd still need 10-15 hours a week childcare beyond Samuel's current hours in preschool. I could take him out of preschool and put him in half-time home daycare to save money, assuming I could find the rare provider willing to take half-time clients -- but I don't want to do that, I want him in preschool, which comes with expensive day care hours (or "Adventure Club" as Sam's preschool likes to ambitiously call their after-preschool hours). So when I factor in the extra daycare hours, I wouldn't be netting a whole lot, even during the school year. During the summer, I'd be paying more for child care than the job provided. So that one got crossed off the list pretty quickly. Many others are getting crossed off the list because of the complication of summer child care. A job as a secretary or para with the school district, with summers off, might be the answer, although it would have to be at least 25 (if not 30) hours a week for it to be worth it with Samuel's child care costs. I am remembering now why we chose to do home day care for a while! But that was really hard in it's own ways. Again, another post... or maybe I already wrote that post.

So, there you have it -- a thread of an explanation for what's been going on with me the last four months. There are unresolved and sometimes contradictory thoughts, but I guess it's all part of the process. Maybe I'll manage to blog more now that this is out there. We'll see. :-)


  1. I read this.

    I am glad you are home now.

    You should write a book.

    The book could be about vampires who post tweets on twitter about how not all vampires are evil and suck peoples blood. It would be called "Tweelight".

  2. I enjoyed this even though we've talked about most of it :).

    I want to hear Ethan's story...

    1. Hmm, I should write about Ethan's story sometime. My perspective has probably changed somewhat just in the time since I wrote this entry, too.