Keeping It Home, Part Three
by Stefani Leto
When people say "It takes a village" to raise children, they forget to add that the villagers all worked where they lived.
ometimes, I just gotta laugh when I hear folks debate the effects of parents working outside the home. It's not that the debate isn't serious, or that the stakes aren't high, it's just that the terms seem all wrong.
In the scope of human history, neither parent regularly left the family. Even in hunter-gatherer societies, men went off on hunts which lasted a few days, intermittently. Mostly, mom and dad hung around, doing their thing. The kids did kid stuff, within easy distance of the parents. When people say "It takes a village" to raise children, they forget to add that the village all worked where they lived.
So yes, it is a new thing to have children raised by only two adults (the "village" argument). It's also new to have one or both of those adults out of the home earning a living. Children don't run in a village group. They're either at home with one parent for the bulk of their days, or in a group setting, cared for by paid workers.
But historical perspectives don't help much if you're one of those people either working outside the home or keeping home while the only other adult in your household goes off to work in the salt mines. What might help is a clear articulation that this isn't an optimal situation for children or adults. Chopping our lives up into "work" and "not-work" imposes a structure made for industry, not families.
The ideal and the (current) reality
Ideally, we'd all move seamlessly from paid and unpaid work. We'd have things to do which filled our needs for creativity, use to others, and economic survival, without conflict between them. Most of us don't live that way now. Not every person staying home rearing a family wants or needs paid work. For those who want both to work at something and be there for their families, the times are against them.
Making a stand that making a home matters as much as paid work starts the process of change. For many women and men, working and being intimately involved with their family would be the best approach.
A truly family-friendly society, where people found a mixture of in and out of the house work which suited them, isn't an easy goal. But we can start making these changes in little ways, simply by how we live and how we think about the issues surrounding work and family.
Declaring that making a home matters as much as paid work starts the process of change
Families would have to start thinking in such a way that it makes sense for parents to both work and parent. For some, that means both partners having part-time work. For others, it means restructuring their out of home work to include some time at home. The rise of flex-time work and job sharing (although still in a minor number of jobs) indicates that this kind of thinking is getting more popular.
Businesses would also have to make some conceptual changes. How many employees must physically be at their job site? Those who interact face to face with customers or clients must, as well as those who physically create or alter things. Others don't. Or at least they don't have to be there all the time.
For employees who think that they can perform their work duties as well from home as from the cubicle, it's important to focus on the benefits of this move. What will the employer gain from "letting you go"? A family's increased happiness is nice, but unless it impacts the bottom line, most companies will only give that lip service.
Cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit
Other friends have found a way to work at home by taking talents they used to use outside and making them pay on their own. This is not a pitch for any of those "Make thousands stuffing envelopes" businesses. Overwhelmingly, they're scams. No, what I'm talking about is the kind of entrepreneurial spirit which sees a gap and fills it. From helping people with their dissertation research to renting breast pumps, if it can be done, someone will pay for it.
Unfortunately, self-employed people pay more than those in other's employ. Taxes and social security all favor employees. So if you're going to go this route, and plan to make enough to matter, get as much sound financial advice as you can.
Revolutionary social choices don't come easily. Since the financial health of your family should be a high priority, I'd be remiss to encourage people to "drop out" and reject work which takes them away from their families. Rather, what I'd like to promote is a rethinking of our job/family dichotomy. The way this dichotomy resolves for each family will differ.
If you want or need to work while you're at home, the standard advice is to evaluate the talents and experience you have and find some work which draws on those. This is great if you were a medical transcriptionist or computer programmer before beginning a family and deciding to stay at home with children. If your talents are more diffuse, more digging is in order. Sometimes, talking to friends in the same situation promotes creative thinking.
Some of the things I've seen adults do to work at home include computer programming; web page design; garden layout consulting; freelance writing, editing, and copyediting; and providing in-home care for children of adults who work. Sometimes this work requires making some arrangements for childcare, often having someone come into the home or choosing to work when the children are asleep or the other adult looks after them.
Whatever route you and perhaps your partner choose to explore, rest assured that having adults around working benefits children in many ways. Not only can they have their needs for parental attention met, but they get to see adult work up close. I'm in the camp that believes children are curious about adult lives and work, and want to find their own places in the world. By working out of the home, parents can give their children the best of both worlds.
Contributing Editor Stefani Leto writes and parents in the Bay Area. Mother of an almost-five year old and an infant, she says nothing challenges her mind like parenting. Her work also appears at http://www.windowbox.com and
- Paul and Sarah Edwards have written many great books on home-based businesses, including The Best Home-Based Businesses for the 21st Century and Working from Home.
- WAHM, or Work At Home Mom, is a website devoted to women who own home-based businesses. Siprelle and Associates, which produces this website, is a WAHM ring member.
- iVillage Work at Home is a terrific site with all kinds of resources, columnists, guest experts, discussion groups and more.
- Work at Home Parents is part of the Suite101 web guide.
- Barbara Whiting, the Stay-at-Home Parents guide for About.com, has a good collection of work-at-home links.