First of all this post has nothing to do with the 4th of July or American independence, it is purely coincidence that I happen to be posting today. Maybe I should dress it up and say the theme of independence has led me to reflect….
It has been about a year since I stopped working. I can’t remember the exact date but it was just after my birthday that I went on bed rest, so sometime in the next 2 weeks I will have officially been a stay at home mom for a year. The last year has been exciting, overwhelming, scary, fun and rewarding. We’ve had our baby dragon princess Ella; she is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen and has the perfect roar that makes everyone laugh so she is commonly referred to as baby dragon. We moved to England and have had the ups and downs of assimilating into a new country, and we have had adventures both in the UK and abroad as we learn how to travel with kids and experience new places. Staying home has been somewhat like I expected, it has been a luxury to never feel like I’m missing their milestones or not getting enough time with them. It has also been harder than I anticipated. The 3 kids each require massive amounts of patience but each in a different way, I happen to not be a very patient person so I’ve had to work on making sure I keep some perspective when I’m at my whit’s end. I envisioned lots of fun playtime and snuggles, I get these but I also get lots of cleaning, straightening and dirty diapers. There have been times where just the mention of going back to work sends me into a panic feeling like I never want to go back and I just want to be there every minute as they are little and then as they’re older I want to help with homework and volunteer in the classroom. Other days I have updated my resume and LinkedIn profiles and applied to online job postings.
When we first started talking about me quitting my job I could tell my parents had mixed emotions. They seemed happy that I even had the option, they were supportive and understood my desire to stay home but they were also concerned. Their main concern seemed to be me becoming completely dependent on Jamie. What if something happened to Jamie, his job, our marriage? I understood their worry and thought of it more in terms of Jamie becoming the ‘boss’ of the house and I didn’t think that would happen. Now a year later I find myself thinking of independence in a different way. It really came out last night when I declared, “When we get back to the States I am definitely getting a job! I can’t stand having to schedule everything through you!”
Jamie and I complement each other well. There are things that we each naturally take the lead on. I have always been the one to manage our money and pay the bills, that hasn’t changed. So while the pay check may come in his name I’m the one managing our spending. If either of us wants to make a large purchase we would discuss it together there’s no boss or final say on either side. Just like I am not the decision maker on how we raise the kids just because I’m home with them. We talk about what’s going on and how we want to handle it (in reality we vent to each other and try to find coping mechanisms). Jamie loves to plan things so I actually go into our vacation with little to no knowledge of the details and that’s just fine with me. I listen to countless options as he researches each day and what we might want to do but I actually hate vacation planning so try to stay as far away as possible. I feel the need to research our benefits and try to figure out which options are the best for our family. I get really anxious that if we don’t make the right selections we could find ourselves in a bad situation. I could go on and on; I clean the inside he’s focused on the yard. But the point is overall I don’t feel any shift in our dynamic, he hasn’t become the boss, the decision maker or any other stereotypical dominant man/subservient woman type relationship.
But I have lost independence in a different way and it is a challenge. The current example is the company car benefit Jamie has here in the UK. It is really common outside of the US to have a company car available. We didn’t fully understand this benefit when we first moved; I wish we had, so we didn’t take full advantage of it. Essentially based on your level you have an amount of money each month. You can chose to just take the money or you have a whole selection of cars you can chose from. The company will lease one on your behalf and take care of insurance, road tax and maintenance. You select a car and depending on the price you either just get a car or get car and some money back. So for example if you have £100 per month and the car you want is £50 per month you will get an additional £50 in your pay check each month. Or you can just take the £100. Well we’ve come to learn that insurance is expensive here and since we don’t know how long we’ll stay we don’t want to finance a car. We first chose to buy a used inexpensive car and we haven’t been crazy about it plus we want to do more road trips in the coming year. Now what we want to do is take the company car instead. At the same time we can only use our US licenses for 1 year and then we need to have a UK license so we are having to go through the process of getting our provisional licenses (permits) and then the testing for our UK license.
Here is the challenge. Being the spouse I don’t have access to any of our benefit information, I have to do everything through Jamie. I’m used to being able to look up my own benefits, research, make a decision and take action. Now I have to send questions wait for him to get a response, often times just a phone call, he relays the info back and then I ask my follow up questions, he contacts them again and we continue on this path. It is so slow because everything has to flow through Jamie, not to mention the fact that he is trying to do his job and I’m busy with the kids so what should be easy information to get ends up being a multiple day back and forth. Now with the company car it’s not that big of deal, obviously the chance to drive a new car is exciting and I’d love to hurry the process along but this is really important for things like our dental insurance and trying to research orthodontic coverage levels for Patrick.
Since I have the kids with me all the time there are things that I just can’t do unless he works from home to stay with them for an hour or two. So scheduling my written test to get my license required sitting down and figuring out when it would work within his meeting schedule. It has been challenging to have to plan all of my appointments around Jamie’s schedule. When I worked I could schedule things when they worked for me now I have someone else’s schedule to take into account. I am Mom 100% of the time. When you stay home everything about you is in relation to the kids. If you need to get something done it’s either planning the best way to do it with the kids or planning for some sort of childcare. Even the friends I have made, who are great, our common interest is the kids so you end up talking about kids. I miss being Nicole sometimes.
This is my mission for the next phase of staying at home. How do you prioritize and carve time out to be an adult and an independent person outside of your kids? I love them, I’m glad we chose to have me stay home and the truth is I’ll be sad when this phase is over. But I need to figure out how to also be Nicole more often. Jamie has been great and super supportive of my interests. I’ve been taking one class a quarter through Oxford’s Continuing Education program and that night has become sacred, regardless of meetings or anything else I am out the door by 6:45. I always feel a bit saner after spending 2 hours learning and thinking but 2 hours is not enough.
I’ve finally reached out through a Mom’s network and found a few nannies, or child minders as they call them, that take on extra work so hopefully every now and then we can actually have a night out. I’m thinking I might even be able to use them a few hours here and there if I need to make an appointment or run errands that are just too tedious with kids. It will be a series of baby steps I’m sure until I figure out the right balance. Ella is also getting bigger and I’ve started to wean her (she is resistant) so that gives me some more flexibility as well.
I’ll also keep working on Grandma and Papa, I’m sure they would love these 65° July days, maybe they should just relocate and then I won’t have to work or have the kids full time. That actually sounds like the perfect solution.