Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Reflections on Being a Work-At-Home Mom

When I we first made the decision that I would work from home while our kids are young, I had all sorts of fantasies about how I would spend my time.

If I was at home, that meant I could chaperon field trips for school, volunteer in the kids' classrooms, attend daytime events and conferences at school, do activities with the kids like going to the zoo or crafts or gardening or baking, stay on top of household chores and cooking, run errands during the day, be available for homework help and supervision, not have to worry about finding childcare during school breaks and sick days, and save money on babysitting and childcare.

Now that I've been in the work-at-home (WAH) game for eight years (!!), I have mixed feelings about it.

Some of my hopes and dreams for this arrangement have certainly proven true. We have needed far less day care and general child care than we would have if I worked full time. However, I have found that I've needed to make use of babysitters and preschool some of the time, both for my kids' sake and my own. It's hard to get work done with kids in the house, especially when they're toddlers! I tell anyone considering going the WAH route: you WILL need some childcare, so work that into your budget!

Now that I have two elementary school-aged kids, all my plans to help out in the classroom and attend field trips are totally out the window. I discovered that I simply don't want to do those things, even though I theoretically could. Having two little ones still at home with me is part of the problem, because I can't really have them in the classroom with me, but even if I could obtain care for them, or even if they're welcome at a particular event, I tend to avoid volunteering. I also do need some hours at home to get my work done.

I have in the past made an effort to go out with the kids to the park, or take them out for lunch, or set up playdates with their friends on occasion, especially during school breaks. But, I find that I am very set in the routine of working at home. I like to work during the daytime hours as much as possible so I don't have to stay up late working after they're in bed, so I avoid multi-hour outings at mid-day, which is my most productive work time.

I don't like doing crafts. I do like to cook and bake, and I have started including my older two in those endeavors. Baking, especially, offers great lessons on measuring and math, and they seem to enjoy the process. Cooking is a very valuable skill, and they may as well start learning it now!

I do like to run errands during the weekdays. Stores tend to be less crowded, and if it gets done mid-day on Wednesday, then we have weekends free for other things. I do laundry during the day, too, which is super convenient.

Most importantly, though, I am home. If my son gets sick at school and needs me to come get him, I can. If there's a half-day, or conferences, or an early dismissal at school, I'm here and can easily go pick them up. I don't have to scramble for childcare if there's a blip in the schedule, like week-long conferences or the odd day off. I pick them up from school every day and can supervise homework. I can do doctor's appointments during the day or immediately after school, leaving early morning and evening appointments open for parents who have longer work days. I can and do attend their class plays and book fairs and other events.

The biggest downside to being a work-at-home, as opposed to stay-at-home, parent is that my kids don't really get the attention they would get from me if I were not working. Similarly being a work-at-home, as opposed to work-out-of-the-home, parent means my kids are hanging around the house doing nothing instead of being engaged at daycare! It's a bit of a stuck-in-the-middle feeling.

When you work at home, naptime is precious!

If I take time away from my desk to be with the kids, I feel guilty that I'm neglecting my work. I feel pulled toward my computer so I can get more done, bill more hours, earn that paycheck. But if I am sitting at my desk working, I feel guilty that my kids are in another room trying to entertain themselves. I am impatient with them when they interrupt me for needs and wants, and I don't like having to ignore them for stretches at a time so I can finish up my work. It's very difficult to find a balance.

I love my job and the flexibility it offers so that I can be home. But I know that the fantasy I had, of being available to my kids, just isn't the reality I'm living. I'm in a funny in-between place, and it's hard to define my role.

Being at home means I get to see moments like this, when the toddler found a hat and just had to wear it!

I do tend to believe, though, is that my kids will remember that I was there. They'll remember being picked up by (or coming home to) Mommy every afternoon. They'll remember being cared for by me. They'll know I was doing my best to give them what they need while meeting my own needs and the needs of the family as a whole. I do sometimes wish I had a regular office job and they were all in school or daycare all day. I do sometimes wish I didn't have to work at all and I could be a full-time stay-at-home mom. But I think either way I would be in some way less happy than I am now, in this funny in-between place.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What Can I Do If I See Car Seat Misuse?

I'm nosy about car seats. I like to know what seats people have. I like to watch them buckle their kids, or unbuckle them, or watch the kids buckle themselves. I like to offer help when a friend is purchasing or installing a new seat.

But when I see misuse out on the street, or in a parking lot at a store, or at school, I'm at a loss. I know those kids aren't as safe as they could be, but they're not MY kids. They're not even my friends' kids, where I might be able to make a gentle suggestion in passing. I am not confrontational by nature, and I am sure that the words of a complete stranger in the Safeway parking lot would not convince someone to change their habits anyway.

There are venues where education and knowledge are possible, however.

Social Media

Share articles, videos, and images about proper car seat use and encourage friends to share them as well. If you do spot misuse in a friend's picture, send a friendly private message (no shaming, no public retribution).

Here's an idea for a gentle message you might send: "Hey, your baby is getting so big and is sooooo cute. I love the little hat he's wearing in the picture you posted! I have that exact car seat, and I had trouble figuring out how the straps should go. I went to a professional car seat installer and got the scoop. I'm not sure if you realize that the straps are supposed to be BELOW the baby's shoulders! My baby kept squirming and getting his arms out until I adjusted the straps. Also, if you tighten the straps until you can't pinch them, then it'll hold him in the seat better. They showed me that if you put the chest clip right up at his armpits, then the straps stay on his shoulders. I can't wait to see more pics of your sweet little one! Let me know if you have any other questions!"

This is likely to be fairly inoffensive, and if you "blame" your observations and information on a professional, then it's not you criticizing, it's you sharing information that you didn't have and that you found useful (even if that isn't precisely true). You may also want to include a link to a neutral third party's article or video (The Car Seat Lady is a great resource, or, of course, this very blog!). Again, the advice isn't coming from you! Just like you might say, "My doctor told us...", saying that a car seat expert told you something will probably have more power and feel less judgmental than if you jump in and say, "Hey, you're doing it wrong!"

Day Cares and Schools

My mom is a preschool teacher and often helps kids in and out of cars in the carpool line. She sees rampant misuse and isn't afraid to speak to parents about how they might improve their car seat use. As a fellow parent, you may not have that ability, but here are some ideas for ways to address misuse among other parents at your kids' schools.

Speak with the Teacher

In some schools, the teachers may not have any authority or may not be permitted to speak to parents about car seat safety. The school may not want to take on the liability for poor advice or risk angering parents with unsolicited information. However, it may be possible to share with the teacher an article or video or website that she or he can distribute to the other parents in your child's class universally, as a interesting bit of information or an issue of safety right alongside fire prevention, first aid, and stranger danger. This way, no parent is singled out, and all parents get good information. You can't control whether the parents read the articles and watch the videos, and you can't control whether they take any of it to heart and make changes, but at least you know you took some action.

Speak with the Administration

Taking things one step further up the line, you can speak to the school administration about school-wide car seat safety. If the administration is open to the idea, you might suggest having the school host a "Car Safety Day" where parents can have a CPST check their seats in the school parking lot. After all, schools often have police offers and fire fighters come to do presentations about safety. Isn't car safety equally important? (After all, car accidents are one of the leading causes of death and injury to young children!)

You may also be able to suggest that the administration to issue a newsletter or memo or include an article about car seat safety in their regular bulletin.

Direct Confrontation

If you have any rapport with the fellow parent you're concerned about, you may be able to confront them directly. As in the social media example above, though, try to be kind, nonjudgmental, and helpful. "Hey, can I show you something about your car seat?" will obviously go over much better than, "Your kid is buckled wrong." Whether you choose the direct confrontation method is dependent on your own personality, the relationship you have with the other parent, and the type of person that parent is. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that he or she is open to your information, or you may find that they shut down. If you truly don't trust this person's car seat safety commitment, then, at the least, don't let your child ride in their car.

Out in Public

I unfortunately see a lot of misuse in stores and parking lots where the fellow parent is a total stranger. I have never personally approached anyone to comment on their car seat use, but there have been times where I've been tempted. If you can establish some kind of friendly contact with the person before mentioning their car seat, your information is likely to go over better. If you feel obligated to convey the information regardless, be aware that the other parent may ignore you, become angry, or argue back.

I had an experience a few years ago with a woman when I stopped into the bank to make a deposit. This experience - as the one being "advised," not the one doling out tips - gave me a lot of insight into how it feels to be approached by a stranger out of the blue.

If I were the one making a safety mistake - willingly or not - how would I want to be approached? Probably in a similar way to methods I've listed above. I'd want the person to be friendly, "on my side," and nonjudgmental. I'd want to feel that that person genuinely had my kids' safety at heart and not merely a need to feel like a superior parent. I'd want a chance to respond, ask questions, and make my case. And I'd want to leave the encounter smiling, not fuming.

Start off with a simple greeting. A smile and a friendly "hello" are always a better opener than, "You shouldn't." Use "I" statements: "I noticed..." "I was concerned..." Most importantly, don't accuse or judge! Parenting is not a competition. You are not a better parent because you know something about car seats that someone else doesn't.

I think it's important to understand that a random encounter with a stranger is probably not going to change anyone's mind. But if you give them the information and they have it confirmed by other sources, at least you planted the seed.

Do you have suggestions for addressing car seat misuse in various venues? Have you successfully approached or been approached by someone about a safety issue? In what context? Please share your experiences and your tips here in the comments or on the Facebook page!