Since I’ve been writing a lot lately about my current work-at-home lifestyle, I thought I’d share a glimpse at what my life was like a decade ago, when I was a broke, struggling, and not-very-happy single mom. Hopefully it will encourage those of you who feel stuck and want to create a different life, but can’t quite visualize it yet.
For a couple of years while my oldest sons were small – and before Jon and I reconciled and remarried – my morning routine looked like this: get up around 6:00, eat breakfast, get dressed. Oops! Remember that today is “nature share day” at the boys’ Montessori preschool/daycare. Run out to the grassy area behind our apartment building to hastily pick up a stick or rock to “share”. Find misplaced shoes (again), head out to the car, get on the road.
It was a 20-minute commute to the school, a 15-minute or so drop-off process, and then another 10 – 15 minute drive to my administrative job.
Of course, there were the days I’d realize, as we were pulling up to the school, that I’d forgotten the boys’ lunches. The school/daycare didn’t offer a hot lunch program, so I’d have to tear over to the closest supermarket and try to piece together a meal that didn’t include any throw-away packaging, per the school’s “guidelines”; bring it back and drop it off in the main office, and then tear out of the parking lot and just hope I’d hit green lights all the way.
Since I was the token “poor” mom on childcare assistance, the only one dropping my kids off in a rusty, ten-year-old Saturn, you can imagine how much more awesome I felt when I screwed up one of the school’s many rules.
At night I’d leave my job sometime between 5:00 and 5:30 and go pick up my boys, five and three, from daycare. We’d get home around 6:00, and I’d try to figure out what to do about dinner. Shoot, I’d meant to get something in the slow cooker, but had forgotten…again. So I’d throw something together, do the dishes and pick up, and then realize it was almost time for the kids’ baths and I’d barely even seen them.
I constantly felt like a loser, like I was just hanging on by a string. But I couldn’t seem to get all the pieces of my life to work together. I didn’t mind being at my job, and liked the people there; but I wasn’t particularly inspired by the work I was doing and absolutely hated being in the car for more than an hour every day. I never felt like I was doing enough for or with my boys, but I felt so beaten down by our circumstances that I couldn’t find the energy.
I also never felt like the 8-5 work day made the best use of my energy cycles. I’d get an incredible amount done in an hour, then spend the next two hours dying to escape the office. Yet, I knew I wasn’t doing my job well, and that bothered me, too.
And as horrible as I’d feel walking away from my kids some mornings, I grew to dread 5 PM: sure, I wanted to see the boys, but I just didn’t want to deal with the drive, the pick-up process, the stressful evening and then getting up the next day and doing it all over.
I remember very clearly one morning, crying in frustration over my steering wheel and thinking, “I do not love my life.”
That was a wake-up call for me. I wanted to love my life. I wanted to feel good about the way I was spending my time, and to feel like there was enough time, too; for working and playing and parenting and preparing meals and, yes, puttering, and all the other satisfying things that begin with P.
So I made some changes. We moved to a small town ten minutes from my job, with a good public school (for Jacob) that had an on-site daycare (for Isaac) and bussing (for me!) And suddenly, life was more manageable.
But then I realized that I didn’t want just “manageable.” I wanted to love my life.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what my ideal circumstances might look like, and came up with this outline:
- I’d want to work less; more like 25 – 30 hours a week instead of 40, but I’d want to earn more money. A lot more money.
- I’d want to spend very little time driving.
- I’d want to be home when the kids got home from school, and with any future kids, I’d want to spend a lot of time with them when they were babies.
- I’d want to have time to cook good meals, keep my house in decent shape, and sew on the occasional button.
- And I’d want to do work I loved and felt inspired by.
I’ve always been entrepreneurial, so it became clear that starting some kind of home business was probably the way to go. I considered a few options: childbirth educator, postpartum doula, after-school child care? I had no college degree (still don’t) so my options seemed limited.
But I kept coming back to writing. I’d always loved to write, and I knew I was good at it. I’d even been published, once, in Brain, Child magazine. And from hanging around freelancer message boards I knew that regular people, sort of like me, were the ones whose stories filled those glossy newsstand magazines. They were making a real living doing something that I would have done all day for free anyway.
So I took a chance and sent out my first query, to Good Housekeeping magazine. In hindsight, it was laughably bad, and I got my first rejection (via postal mail!) a few weeks later. In the meantime, though, I’d sent more and more query letters, to dozens of magazines and websites. Before long I got my first bite from a national magazine: Parenting. And the rest is history.
Today? I love my life. It’s not perfect (neither am I), but it reflects all the things I wanted for myself and my family all those years ago.
But what if, on that fateful day when my head was on the freezing-cold steering wheel in my rusty old Saturn, I had thought “I don’t love my life”…and then had just gone about business as usual?
Nothing ever would have changed.
That first series of small changes (the move, the new school) opened my eyes to what happens when you take action. It showed me that I was more in control of my circumstances than I’d ever dared to dream.
My work-at-home life isn’t the solution everyone. The things that made my “dream life” list above might not be priorities of yours. If you have, and want to keep, a traditional out-of-the-home job, then the life you love – and how you get there – is going to look very different from my journey.
But I believe that everybody deserves to have enough time to sleep, to play, to be with the people they love. I think everyone deserves to do the things that matter to them. And I think that sometimes, you have to be brave enough to make changes – sometimes big ones – to design a life you love.
Yes, I make this statement from a privileged position. But I know what it’s like to be on the other side, too. (Remember the whole broke, uneducated, single mom thing?)
“It’s not that easy…” Nope. It’s absolutely not easy. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it.
Let’s face it, anyone who’s able to read these words from a personal Internet connection is, by global standards, privileged. We all have access to more power and possibility than we might think. And while we can hope and push for systemic changes, the only thing we really have control over is ourselves, and the way we set our own lives up for happiness.
So if you aren’t happy – if you have this nagging feeling that there is something else you’re supposed to be doing, that you don’t have time for the things that matter – dare to dream. Figure out what you really want and stop worrying about what doesn’t really matter to you. Take a small step toward that life you love, then another, and another, until you see it materializing before your eyes.
You only get one shot at this life. So design a life you love.
What have you got to lose?