"Motherhood truly softened me." Seattle mom Kathleen talks about the choice to stay home.

Kathleen, 43, hiking with her children.

Kathleen is unlike most of the stay-at-home moms I interviewed for this biweekly series, Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms.
Most struggled with their post-career identities, unaware of the toll the social isolation would take on them.
Kathleen, who lives in a Seattle suburb, worked as a nanny for seven years before she had kids, and then in a private preschool for eight years.
She was accustomed to the lifestyle.
Staying home is important to her, she says. Her parents divorced when she was young and she spent much of her time in the care of sitters.
She didn’t want that for her children.
I spoke with Kathleen, 43, five years ago. Her children are now 11, 9 and 7. She is thinking about going to school and getting a job, but she  keeps herself busy now volunteering at school, caring for her household and her kids and keeping the whole family physically active.
This and all interviews in the series can be found in their own blog: Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms. 

Here is Kathleen’s story in her words:

We’d always said what you say when you’re dating. (I was nannying when we were dating.) When we have kids I can always work with the first one and by the time you have two, you stay home.
Really I was working at a daycare that was quite elitist. It had infant massage every day. This place was very, very fancy. I don’t know how I got a job there, but a lot of people wanted their kids in there, so to be able to have my child go there was really, I thought, kind of a blessing. We were glad to have it.
But, the problem was, they kept adjusting my hours, you know working the latest shift that you could have. The place closed at six thirty, so I was there until closing. Technically, I could see my son on all breaks, but that was when he was sleeping. I would get home. He would fall asleep on the commute. I never saw him. He was pretty much just there to get me in the carpool lane back and forth.
It was really, really depressing.
Then on the weekends, he was just pretty much going through withdraw from being in pretty much the most glorious daycare. I wasn’t happy with my job. They wanted me to work more and more hours. Half my paycheck was going into his daycare. I was getting a fifty percent discount, but being such a fancy place, it was a very expensive program.
He started at four months and by the time he was eight months old, I quit. It kind of all blew up in my face. All of a sudden, I just couldn’t stand it anymore.
It was great to stay home but, to be honest, it was really hard because I had to get to know this baby that really didn’t want to be with me. He really wanted to be with the other people.
That was hard.
He did and it felt lousy.
They did baby sign with him there and I didn’t know what he was saying. I had no idea what he wanted. I just really never got to spend that much time with him, which was a terrible thing. He was my first child. I’d been with other people’s children more than mine own as a newborn nanny.
That was hard. I think.
It was so depressing and so I gained a little weight and then I finally really had to get myself out there and start doing things, because that wasn’t good. It wasn’t really a big paycheck in the first place. It wasn’t like we went through this monumental change. It was literally like if we cancelled the diaper service and I washed diapers and we didn’t go out to eat as much and I wasn’t really buying a lot of wardrobe… He (her husband) always had a good enough job that he could have supported us. We always knew it was coming. I don’t think we intended for it to come that fast.
And then I got pregnant again right away, so it worked out.
I’ve thought about going back and getting a different kind of degree. I actually don’t have a degree, but getting it in just a completely different field, getting a degree in nutrition because I got really into eating healthy and stuff like that.
But it was just one of those things where it would have had to have been after my youngest was out kindergarten before I could even start going back. In reality, it’s really important for us to have somebody at home. I was raised by a single mom without supervision and that was not a good thing. When you think kids are more independent, that’s really, really when I want to be home.
So I think we just kind of focused on having somebody here or, if I did go back it would just kind of be a hobby. But we don’t really need it. My husband’s a tightwad and I’m pretty much a hippy and those two things actually can really work out well together. We’re pretty tight with money, but I think it’s more that that’s how our lifestyle is.
Our lifestyle is unusual. I make ninety percent of what we eat. We grow a lot of our own food. We have goats. My husband is from Europe, so we still go back to Europe. He doesn’t really have a big bling-bling job or anything like that, but we are pretty tight with what we spend it on compared to other families. He works in IT and he does well enough to support a family of five in the city and everything. So I guess being at home really did put the focus on living more of a natural life.
I don’t think my social life changed intensely. I stopped going out, but I did that years before I had kids. I gave up my theater tickets. That was pretty much the only big switch. It was hard to get my husband to come home early, so I could go to the theater. My husband, I think he likes it. He has somebody here. Somebody is looking after the animals and somebody is with his kids. He really likes that and I think it’s nice to come home and smell dinner.
My friends, I think they really think I lucked out. I mean, they know we are not excruciatingly wealthy, but a lot of my friends were single moms most of the time. Like I said, they’ve raised their kids already or maybe they were working moms. I think they were not necessarily jealous, but I think they definitely think I lucked out. I feel sad that they missed out on everything that I have. I think it would have been really nice for them to be able to stay home and have that kind of a bond with their kids. I can imagine that some of them feel a little remorseful because they just weren’t able to do that.
I came from a divorced family and I’ll tell you my parents have the utmost respect for it. I was raised by a single mom. I think it’s really healing for my parents to see—my husband and I have a very strong, very loving marriage—to see us raising children in a way that my parents weren’t able to do for whatever reason. I think it’s really good for them. I guess I have a lot of admiration from my friends and my family for that. I am very supported and I guess I’m just really lucky.
I’m really happy with it (her decision). Coming from a divorced family and being raised by a single mom, my main goal as an adult was to have children and be able to stay home with them. I didn’t suffer. It wasn’t like I was beaten or anything like that. My mom worked very hard and she’s a really good person. It’s just that, you know, she wasn’t home and I really, really miss that. I’m just so grateful to be able to do that, to stay home with my children.
My oldest, he is in kindergarten now and he had a cold and it was just a cold and it was a slight fever, but I got to stay home with him. I was so grateful to be able to do that. Whereas, when I was a kid you had to be vomiting for my mom to be able to take a day off from work.
I’m very happy with the position I’m in.
I’m very happy about the life I lead.
I feel really good about it.
I don’t think I could be this happy about anything if I was working a job. It would never give me this kind of satisfaction.
His family? I think the hard part is that his older sister isn’t married. She never married and she really would have been a wonderful mother and she would never have children in her own or anything like that. They are a different generation and from a different country and you just don’t necessarily go out and adopt children on your own. There is probably not a lot of hope in her marrying at this stage, which just breaks my heart to even say.
His second sister doesn’t have any children either. She and her husband have tried and tried for years and have gone through IVF, I think, four times, They’ve been on an adoption waiting list for a few years now. You can’t adopt Irish children. You have to go out of the country. So I think that they see me as very blessed and I’m sure I do have a good relationship with his family, but I would like to think that they see me as being appreciative and grateful for what I have.
I would never, never complain about staying at home with the kids or anything like that. Neither of them have children and I know they want them. There are really not a lot of people I can bitch to about it. A lot of my friends are going on the same boat as my husband’s sister. They are going through IVF so you can’t really complain.
I don’t complain that much.
I do a lot to my husband.
Going out? I don’t know what to do by myself. I really don’t. My husband will be like okay why don’t you go off and do something, and I don’t have anything to do. I’ll say okay, I’ll just take so and so, one of the kids, and he goes, don’t take one of the kids or it’s not time for yourself. It’s really nice actually for me to have one-on-one. So I do enjoy taking one of the kids. It’s nice to go with that one person and talk to them. I don’t have like a gaggle of girlfriends just waiting for me.
I think it would be very presumptuous of me to tell everybody that they should be Becky-Home-Eccy. I think there are some people out there who are just meant to work and there’s nothing wrong with staying at work if you really want to work. God knows, my OB is a mother and my pediatrician has children in school. I would never judge someone for that.
But I think if you go to work and decide you would rather stay at home, there’s a lot that you can do to do it. There are so many cutbacks and things like that. So I think it’s nowhere near impossible. It’s how much you’re willing to give up. Just find your own groove and find something that works and stick with it.
Motherhood truly softened me.
Like an emery board, it just sort of smoothed out the rough edges.
I can’t remember who my mentor was before, but now it’s Mr. Rogers.

Stiffer laws and fingerpointing: how strategies that helped people of color can help working women

When I  first starting working as a journalist, we had few, if any, minority reporters at the newspaper. We had none whatsoever in our rural Central New York bureaus, where our readers were mostly white.
Yet, here we were condemning others for not having people of color on their payrolls.
Newspapers across the country praised new government incentives. We reported on the lawsuits. We exposed the inequities. We wrote editorials about unfair and racist policies. We pointed fingers and demanded fair pay and equitable hiring practices.
Then the world woke up and started pointing fingers at us.
Who were we, with our lily white newsrooms to condemn them?
Things changed.
Our bureaus suddenly became more colorful.
At the time, I was routinely working 14-hour days with little or no overtime pay. I sometimes worked six- or seven-day weeks. I thought nothing of it. The culture was encouraged by the newspaper as a whole — by everyone from the publisher to my editor to fellow reporters.
That was how we got ahead.
We did the work of two people for the pay of one. We made ourselves invaluable and if we did that well enough, we might just get moved to the city desk. When women decided to have kids, they either quit, took copy editing jobs or resigned themselves to rarely seeing their children.
Those who tried to reign in their hours were written off by the rest of us.
They were no longer “real” journalists.
Men who wanted more time with their families got the same treatment.
So imagine my surprise when one day, a young, black woman — a recent college grad — who worked in my bureau, refused to work overtime. I heard her on the phone taking a stern tone with an editor. She told him she had a life and she had plans.
She wasn’t about to work for anyone free of charge.
I was sure she wouldn’t last.
But she did.
When she left, it was on her own terms.
I was a journalist.
I couldn’t resist.
I asked her how she got away with it.
It was simple, she said. Newspapers needed journalists of color. They were desperate, but people of color had never before been encouraged to study journalism. It was a matter of supply verses demand. Newspapers were low on supply, so she could demand.
Some called her treatment unfair, preferential because of her minority status.
But I saw what was unfolding and I watched with amazement.
Newspapers didn’t want to be accused of giving people of color unfair advantages any more than they wanted to be accused of denying them. And this wasn’t really even an advantage. What newspapers had been doing was illegal and these new employees of color had the power to expose those practices and, more important, to take better jobs elsewhere.
So when this reporter and others like her starting refusing to work unpaid hours, our bosses had to comply with the law on behalf of all employees. The newsroom culture started changing. I was no longer afraid to request overtime and I often (not always) got what I asked for.
I never again worked an extra day without pay or other compensation.
So when I heard our President talk about creating equity in the workplace for women Tuesday night by making it easier for them to juggle family and work with child care incentives and better health care, I shook my head. Those are good things, but they are not enough.
They still give employers no reason to offer equal pay and equal opportunities.
What helps is empowerment and empowerment comes in the form of enforceable laws, constant monitoring and public pressure. Someone has to point the finger. Someone has to threaten exposure and lawsuits when that finger is pointed. The lawsuits and the exposure must hurt.
That works.
There is no need to devalue of women (like me) who choose to stay home with their families, but women who make the opposite choice must be valued as highly as their male colleagues. It’s only logical. It’s only fair. It shouldn’t be an issue.
But we are battling fierce cultural norms.
And, sadly, just as we needed government quotas, incentives and more enforceable laws to initiate equity for people of color, we need that same kind of pressure for working women. Women will not be the only benefactors.
Laws that helped people of color helped me, a white woman  from the Adirondacks.
Laws that help women will help men. They will help families. They will help single people. They will help stay-at-home moms and dads. They will help employers, who will have more loyal and stable workforces. They will make the United States a better, more stable, more desirable place to live.
Laws — not binders, not tax breaks — will inspire change.