Keeping It Simple: On Downsizing and Stay-at-Home Parenthood

Julia & Joel from NBC’s Parenthood. A great example of successful stay-at-home parenthood, at least for a few seasons!

There’s a lot of standard questions people ask when you’re pregnant. The usual suspects, of course: When are you due? Boy or girl? Do you have a name yet? How are you feeling? But then, when there’s time to dig a little deeper, questions often turn to, “Will you go back to work after the baby?”

I’ve given this a lot of thought–I’m still giving it a lot of thought–and it’s one of those topics I don’t tire of discussing with my girlfriends. For now, it looks like I’ll be staying home with Baby, and trying to take on some freelance writing and editing on a part-time basis. I waffled for a long time (not because my company has any kind of maternity leave to speak of–they give TWO DAYS and that’s it…yes, feel free to rage with me!!); I was worried I’d get super bored at home, or resentful having to do all the   baby care and housework, which translated to me as grunt work. I was worried I’d lose my identity, my sense of purpose as a contributing member of society. But then I realized, I’ve never found my identity much in my job, but in my relationships. Same goes for purpose. I’ve had very few jobs I loved, OK, maybe one job I loved. Work for me has always just been a means to an end, a way of supporting myself and paying off massive student loans. Also, as I’ve grown older I’ve realized the “identity” question is kind of a false issue…I worried myself sick over losing my identity when I got married and became a wife; now I know that, sure, huge life transitions like that will change me, but I’m still me! I know motherhood will totally change me, but I’m not worried at all about losing my identity (maybe a perk of having a baby a little later in life?).

But the clincher for me in deciding NOT to work full-time with a baby (even if I had a great job that provided maternity leave and basic human dignity to its female employees–do I sound bitter?) was that a family life with two working parents sounded hectic and anxiety-producing to me. I’m just not the kind of person who likes to have a lot of plates spinning, a lot of irons in the fire. I don’t like rushing from one thing to another. In my mind, working full-time would mean rushing to get myself and baby ready in the morning, dropping off baby at daycare, rushing home from work to pick up baby, rushing to make dinner, then to do bathtime and bedtime with the baby. I can’t imagine a full five-day workweek of that kind of schedule! I know tons of moms do it, either because they want to or have to, and they make it work and some even love it!

But right now, I have a choice, and I choose a quieter, simpler life. I realized in our marriage so far, Robert and I have tried to be intentional about creating a simpler life: less stuff, less engagements, not being afraid to say “no” to things. Moving to Colorado was part of our quest for a simpler life, I think. And recently, we sold one of our cars to downsize, save money, hopefully cut down driving time/pollution, and just live more simply. We spent the first few years of our marriage with only one car, and that was in L.A., so I think we will be OK, but I also know that sometimes living simply means you don’t get everything you want. You don’t get to hop in the car and go somewhere any time you want. You don’t have the perfect kitchen tool for the recipe you’re about to try, or the perfect guest room for visiting friends. But enough studies (and life experience) have shown that less choices actually translates into less anxiety, more peace, and often more gratitude.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: do you like to simplify, or do you revel in abundance? (Gretchen Rubin says there are two categories of people–simplicity lovers and abundance lovers. The simplicity lovers say, “I want to feel empty,” while the abundance lovers say, “I want to feel full.”) Do you like downsizing? Are you a one-car family, and if so, what are your survival tips? (Mine is communication!) What do you think about staying at home to parent, or being a working parent? (Anne Marie Slaughter said in a recent interview that we should do away with the term “stay at home parent” because it assumes one is supposed to be in the workplace…) Let me know what you think!


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