Sunday, April 10, 2005

Confessions of a WAHM (Work at Home Mom)

by Natalie West Criss
(Published in Metro Business Chronicle's MS Biz Column)
April 2005

As a young girl, I always knew I’d go to college, have a career, get married, and become a mother. That I’d be a working mother was never in dispute, though I had no inkling until my early twenties just what that work would be. Far too many years and majors later, I finally settled on marketing.

When I began my career in media, I thought I had found the ultimate job opportunity from which my life’s work would take flight, the calling I had longed for during the college years while filling what I considered mediocre, futureless positions liking peddling lipstick and mowing lawns: I was the assistant to the sales department for a small television station in the Delta.

Less than a year later, I learned two valuable lessons: (a) never underestimate the power of a devious, long-lived office manager and (b) hire a good lawyer. Still convinced that television marketing was for me but equally confident that the station that hired me was not, I moved across the street to the competitor after settling a brief contract dispute.

Through the years that followed, I honed my skills, secured promotions and received adequate salaries along with the respect of most of my superiors and coworkers. I learned that my strengths are writing and special events coordination and that my weaknesses are public speaking and selling. Although I could do all four, I wasn’t content or fulfilled. I kept plugging away for that one big moment which always seemed just beyond my grasp. At one point, I think I would’ve settled for resigned complacency. Eventually, I didn’t want to continue, because I didn’t believe in what I was doing anymore.

After I met and married my husband (who just happens to be the publisher of the fine paper you are holding), I had my second child and quit my job during maternity leave. Free to stay at home with our two daughters, we also decided to start homeschooling. Of course, “free” connotes that I did not have a colicky baby for nearly six months much like “we” insinuates that both parents were at home, fully available to one another for support. Unfortunately, neither was the case.

One year at home with my children challenged everything about the way I viewed my future, the status I had worked to achieve, the attitudes instilled within me throughout my education, the standards by which I measured my worth, my identity as an woman, and my definition of independence. Regardless of how many times I had insisted that I would welcome the chance to leave the workplace behind to raise a family instead, I never really expected to become a stay-at-home mom much less a home school teacher, yet there I was. For months, I pitifully mourned the loss of my “former self” (which now sounds absolutely ridiculous).

After that transitional year, during which I was not exactly a bright ray of matrimonial support and companionship, I wrote my first article for publication (prompted by Jack, who was undoubtedly anxious for me to find a hobby). Soon, I began learning more about my husband’s work, familiarizing myself with layout and design, researching various writers and studying their varied styles of communication.

Similarly, I set out to discover how other women succeed and achieve fulfillment under similar circumstances at home and in the office. I have a newfound respect for stay-at-home mothers who certainly do not lead the leisurely life I once imagined. Likewise, I have a renewed appreciation for trailblazing women executives like the late Mary Kay Ash whose cosmetics and business savvy introduced me to the world of marketing and entrepreneurship almost two decades ago.

The realization slowly dawned that I not only enjoy researching more than I ever liked promoting television stations in Market #181, but that I also might have a future as a freelance writer in an office with a view of the playroom. Until then, I had regarded work and home as two separate --not altogether equal-- entities. Now I know better.

What first seemed like a mistake made in the midst of postpartum recovery has resulted in the development of a talent that has allowed me to work with multiple publications across the South, write copy for multi-million-dollar accounts, become a homeschool advocate, and even garner national coverage of my personal blog on heavily trafficked political and educational sites. Best of all, I am meeting my children’s educational and maternal needs while enjoying the benefits of the partnership I’ve formed with my husband, both professionally and in life.
By widening my view and tearing down my own stereotypes, I’ve gained more personally and professionally than I’ve ever sacrificed. The result is a net profit of which I am quite proud.

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