Tradeoffs and Choices
By Alice Doyle
Every so often, my husband and I have what we call the “role conflict” discussion. I wonder aloud whether I should be doing something different from what I am doing and my husband listens sympathetically. What I do is care for our three daughters and home school the oldest. On days when I read the same paragraph four times to my glassy-eyed nine year old who then asks, “what did you say?”, when my two year throws a tantrum immediately after her nap, when dirty laundry threatens to burst out the laundry room door – on those days I wonder how I got here. I fantasize being a successful college professor, dressing in something fancier than jeans, and walking out the door to spend a day with other adults. I imagine a clean workspace, one that stays clean, and I dream of “doing lunch” with other successful women. I know this is a cliché, the contrast of the housewife covered head to toe in baby food with the well-dressed career woman. Nothing in real life is so black and white.
I recently read an article that weighed in on the issue of women at work versus home. It cited a study claiming working women are healthier than women who stay home.
So now, in addition to other things we give up, stay-at-home moms supposedly risk their health as well.
Sometimes, I think of all the things we sacrifice for me to be a full-time mom. I see my Master’s degree growing cobwebs in a corner of my brain. If I let things go too far, I hold a great pity party for myself and then I seriously consider changing things. I get as far as reflecting on the reality of rushing the kids through breakfast and carting them off to day care. Then I start praying for God’s grace to persevere. Like anything else, this choice is a trade-off. Life is full of them. I am a classic “have your cake and eat it too” person, so trade-offs are hard for me. I want to eat great desserts AND have a fabulous figure. I want to buy everything I want AND still have money to invest. But even little children learn choosing one thing sometimes means giving up another. Why is this still so hard for me?
Some people address the question of working versus staying home by distinguishing between quantity and quality time. I find this puzzling, because even though I spend a large quantity of time with my children, I still need to make quality time. Necessities such as clean laundry, meals, and diaper changes take up a lot of my time. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, distinguishes between the urgent and the important. He insists that if we’re not careful, the urgent eats up all our time as we rush around putting out fires, never managing to make time for the important. Quality time with kids is important, but not urgent, and it’s easy to put off. I know being at home with my children affords me many opportunities for quality time with them every day rather than waiting for the weekend or the once a year family vacation.
The bottom line is Chris and I want to make our first priority to serve God by devoting our time, talent and treasure to our children’s formation. As long as we can choose to live on one salary, we agree that the best job description for me is caregiver and educator of our children. Of course, that decision doesn’t make the role conflict discussions disappear. I keep looking for ways to have my cake and eat it too. Tutoring? Teaching at night? Starting a home business? Maybe one day, I’ll find the perfect solution. In the meantime, I regularly ask the intercession of our Lady to help me become the godly woman our Lord wants me to be, whatever my role in life.