My 20-year watch
I am not a permanent employee of any corporation. As a freelance writer, my benefits package is different from most: flexibility, independence and the ability to work in my pajamas. But no regular pay cheque or staff Christmas parties for me. And those braces on my kids’ teeth? Only half-covered by my husband’s plan.
I never expected to get a 20-year watch. But I got one—from my husband.
Last week he received a certificate of recognition for 20 years at his place of employment. He also got to choose a gift, and he did. A watch, for me. “You worked all those years, too,” he said. “But no one is going to give you a watch for it.”
When our second child was born, we decided that one or the other of us would stay home with our children.
It could have gone either way, but he had a higher salary and better benefits, so I began my life as an at-home parent. It wasn’t easy at first. I missed the social interaction at the office. I missed the respect that having a career outside the home gives you in the eyes of society. If you want to stop a conversation cold, try answering “I’m at home with the kids” to the question, “So, what do you do?” (Apparently it could be worse. My friend, Ellie, says “I’m a United Church minister” really drives a stake through the heart of a conversation.)
Too many people assumed that, because I was at home with my children, I was lazy, unmotivated or not very bright.
It took strong self-esteem to go to playgroups with my fellow at-home parents (an aeronautical engineer, lawyer, accountant, social worker, chef, IT specialist—not a lazy, unmotivated or not very bright person in the bunch) and know that I was doing the right thing for me and for my family.
My break from the workplace was supposed to be short. Two or three years, maybe, until the kids went to school. But the pull toward home always felt stronger than the pull toward career. Over the years I would do check-ins with my kids. “What would you think if I went back to work?” The answer would always be a vehement, “NO!”
The list of benefits of home-work was long:
- I worked on “What’s for dinner?” over the course of the day, instead of in a rush at 6:00 p.m. with hungry kids circling.
- I enjoy relaxed, solitary grocery trips on Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m. instead of stressful crowded Saturday excursions.
- When our kids were sick, it was no big deal. No more “What’s your day like?” juggling of whose day was more important.
- My commute to the office was 12 steps up the stairs. No more arriving late at day care due to traffic jams.
- School field trips were a riot. (I didn’t miss many.)
- I had time for volunteer work and community involvement.
- I had time to write.
- I worked in my pajamas.
And the list of benefits of office-work was short:
- Intellectual stimulation and creative challenge.
- Respect in the eyes of society.
I found intellectual stimulation and creativity through my freelance writing in my home environment. That left money and respect, and neither of those two things seemed important.
My husband did the work that paid the bills. I did the work that kept our home humming and stress-free.
Is one more important than the other?
I know what society thinks. And I know what my husband thinks. I have the watch to prove it.