W I N T E R 1 9 9 8
14 stay-at-home moms reflect on choice between career and family
B Y K A T H L E E N ( B U R K ) N O R T H ' 8 6
A group of PLU alums and others have formed a play group that meets every Friday at one of the member's homes. One mother plans activities for the group. On this particular Friday, Nov. 21, the children have brought something from home that they are thankful for. From left: Ben Welch, 3; Torrey Morales, 3; Katherine Cody, wife of Erick Cody '85; Alex Cody, 1 (on Katherine's lap); Luke Cody, 3 (standing); and Caryn (Coltom) Welch '87.
My stay-at-home mother occasionally wore an apron with bold red lettering that read "I went to four years of college for this?!"
Perhaps the difference between her era and mine was the ability to poke fun at ourselves. As I remember, everyone laughed when she wore the apron.
Now we carefully choose our words, attempting to affirm each person's choice: the at-home parent, the part-time employee and the full-time worker. No teasing allowed.
So I realize I'm venturing perilously close to insensitivity when I wink and pose the following questions.
When asked, do you have trouble articulating, even remembering, just what it is that you do all day?
Does the sight of Scene in your mailbox make you cringe because your day didn't include discovering a new species, eradicating smallpox or shaping public policy?
Is your most important contribution to society keeping your household one step ahead of complete chaos most of the time?
Can you describe your life as beyond "the mommy track" and now at "complete career derailment"?
Yes? Then this article is for you.
Some PLU moms choose full-time parenting as their career'
It's a rare student who mentions full-time parenting as one of his or her life goals on a PLU admissions essay. Yet many PLU alums are suspending career for anywhere from several months to several years to care for their children.
Recently this group of moms took time to reflect on the reasons, rewards and challenges of being at home, as well as how PLU and their careers helped them prepare for parenthood. Most are at-home moms. Two have resumed their careers.
Why 'nest is best'
These moms cited two main reasons for staying home: First, it's what they wanted to do, and second, they found ways to make it work financially.
Kari Hubbard's '87 career as senior consultant for the telecom division of Ernst and Young was exciting and fulfilling, but it also required extensive travel. Before beginning a family, she and her husband exchanged their big-city careers and lifestyle for the small-town pace of Colville, Wash., and running the family hardware business.
"For me, I know I couldn't have traveled for work with kids at home," Kari says. "I wanted to be the one to see them do all the cute things they do!"
Kari's neighbor, Lisa McCullough '89, and her family moved for similar reasons. Lisa had worked two years as an employee benefits consultant in a California consulting firm and three years as a financial aid counselor at PLU, when her husband finished his master's degree. "We knew it would be easier to live on one salary -- a teacher's salary -- if we were in a small town."
About staying home, Lisa says, "It was always the plan. I knew deep down that for me there was no job that could beat being home with the kids."
Unlike Lisa, the decision to stay home was a complete surprise to Lori Howard '86. "I never suspected I would want to stay home because my job was so important to me," she says. Lori described her life as centered around her position as proposal center manager of an environmental consulting firm. In fact, Lori says, she worked extra, wrote memos and "bent over backwards" during her pregnancy and maternity leave to convince her staff that she was coming back.
With a day care already selected, and just a few weeks before her maternity leave was to end, Lori constructed a list of pros and cons. She agonized over her decision, but the amount of overtime required in her marketing career tipped the scales in favor of staying home.
"I just feel the first three to five years are so important that I wanted to be the primary caregiver."
-- Kaaren Daugherty '86
It was a hard decision for Kaaren Daugherty '86 as well. She cut back to part time as an engineer manager with Washington Natural Gas after her son, Drew, was born, but she describes working part time as "unsatisfying and difficult." With the birth of daughter Claire, she decided to stay home full time.
"I just feel the first three to five years are so important that I wanted to be the primary caregiver," Kaaren says, but she noted that becoming a single-income family has brought financial challenges.
Molly Uhlenhoff '93 laughs when she explains the financial advantage of having a child while finishing college. "We didn't have to give up anything, because we didn't have anything to give up! We were so poor it just didn't matter whether I worked."
Katrina Brown '86, Vicki Knickerbocker '84, Wendy Turnbull '90 and Leslie Young '89 all spent several years as classroom teachers before becoming full-time parents.
Katrina remembers one boy in her special education preschool class who made a lasting impression. "He came to us barely able to say 20 words. By the end of the year he was ready for regular kindergarten." She realized if she could have that much impact as a teacher, she wanted to maximize her impact with her own kids.
As a first-grade teacher, Leslie Young observed that the students who were the most ready to learn were those with a sense of security. She concedes there may be many ways to instill security in a child, but believes the best way for her family was for Leslie to remain home. "I loved teaching, but it was not hard to give it up. I love being a mom," says Leslie.
Like nearly every other mom interviewed, Jonette Blakney '85 acknowledges the difficulty in advocating at-home moms while still affirming others who want to or have to make other arrangements. "Choices about parenting are almost like religion and politics," she observes. "They are sensitive issues."
Big investments, great returns
For all these moms, the most rewarding part of being home is the time spent with their children. "I wouldn't trade it for the world," says Jill Hamilton '83.
Katrina Brown's boys are particularly fond of building Lincoln Log forts with their mom. "When I take time to stop the chores and just play with them, their behavior improves and my enjoyment of them increases," she says.
For Kaaren Daugherty the best part is "knowing that I'm able to participate in their development."
Jonette Blakney agrees: "As a parent you interpret the world for (your children)."
Molly Uhlenhoff is savoring her time with 5-year-old Madison. "It's fun to be there as she experiences everything in life for the first time, and to have the opportunity to influence her," she says.
"It's fun to be there as she experiences everything in life for the first time."
-- Molly Uhlenhoff '93
Recently, Molly watched with disappointment as Madison reached for the last Rice Krispie treat of the batch. (Molly was hoping to eat it herself.) Then, miracles of miracles, Madison tore the cookie in two and offered half to her mom. "It was so rewarding to see her do something we've been teaching -- sharing," Molly says.
Like many of the others interviewed, Chris Tigges' '86 Christian faith gives her perspective on the ultimate reward of investing in her children. "I'm not taking anything with me to heaven, except hopefully my kids," she explains.
It's not easy
So what are the challenges of being an at-home parent? The answers come quickly. "Finances," says Kaaren Daugherty. "Saying no," Katrina Brown offers. "Organization," says Vicki Knickerbocker. "Staying on schedule," believes Chris Tigges. "It's a 24-hour job," answers Lisa McCullough.
"The days can get long" Kari Hubbard agrees. She works to keep each day interesting for Haley and Matthew by letting them "help" with chores such as laundry, even though that usually makes the job even more time-consuming.
"It's like a new job every day. Just when you've established a routine, a new developmental stage emerges with completely new requirements," explains Molly Uhlenhoff.
But, "it's different than a job," Wendy Turnbull notes, because "no one, except maybe your husband, appreciates your hard work."
Jill Hamilton is more specific about her challenges. "Getting four children ready for school each morning. No, wait. Maybe the hardest part is four kids playing on four different soccer teams," she laughs.
More seriously, Jill observes, "I see myself in my children -- both good and bad. The challenge is that I want perfect kids and yet I'm not perfect. That prompts me to get my own act together. What am I modeling to them?"
Skills learned at PLU do transfer
So is a baccalaureate degree valuable for an at-home mom? Absolutely, according to this group. Many of these moms plan to re-enter the workforce in careers requiring college preparation. What's more, they are utilizing their PLU and career experience right now.
"I didn't get an education to serve me in career (only)," Jonette Blakney asserts. "I got an education to serve me in life."
Jonette drew from her undergraduate and graduate experience in social work to develop an eight-week Sunday school course on parenting for her church. The course was so faithfully attended and popular that other churches took note. She now contracts out to teach parents in other congregations, and she recently spoke about parenting at a synod assembly.
Kaaren Daugherty sees many parallels between her experience as an engineering supervisor and her role as a parent. "As a manager I learned patience, listening skills and coaching for excellence. We developed training to get the best out of our employees," she said, noting those same skills apply to the parent-child relationship.
Kaaren continues, "In business you evaluate the performance, not the person. At home, you evaluate the behavior, not the kid."
Kari Hubbard's business experience also offered transferable skills. As a consultant, Kari managed five or six major projects at a time. She now juggles responsibilities to her children, husband, business, church and community. Kari says, "I'd already learned (in business) that if you manage your time, you can have a lot going on and not feel overwhelmed."
"I didn't get an education to serve me in career (only). I got an education to serve me in life."
-- Jonette Blakney '85
Their PLU music training benefits Chris Tigges, Vicki Knickerbocker and Lisa McCullough in home schooling. Chris and Vicki are teaching their children to play instruments. Vicki leads music workshops for a home school co-op, and Lisa directs the Colville-area home school band.
Education major Katrina Brown also teaches at home, incorporating many of the creative teaching ideas she learned while working at the after-school program on PLU's East Campus.
Wendy Turnbull is still impressed with the School of Education requirements to observe classrooms. For her, seeing children and what they are able to do at different ages was great training for her role as a mom.
Leslie Young, another education major, says, "I probably had the best education you can have for raising a family -- especially the child development classes."
Molly Uhlenhoff points to a global perspectives class as an example of PLU's lasting impact. "That class changed how I view the world. I want Madison to understand that where we live is going to make her experience of the world very different from the majority of the world's population."
Molly notes that she and her husband took the PLU ideal of "life-long learning" to heart. "We realize that we don't know everything about parenting, so we take classes and read books," she says.
Here's a little advice
When asked what advice they would give to a mom who chooses to stay home, two themes emerged. Leslie Young summed up the first in one word: "Network."
"Find other people who are doing the same thing you are," she said. Leslie is one of eight moms (six are Lutes or married to Lutes) who formed their own weekly play group. One mom serves as host and another plans an instructional activity for the kids.
Lori Howard joined a parent support group to meet other moms. "My esteem had been based on what I did outside the home," she says candidly. When she decided to stay home, she had to "create a new lifestyle with new friends."
Molly Uhlenhoff and her daughter also benefit from a play group. "It can be lonely," she says. "You have to find some other friends who stay home."
"[Full-time motherhood] can be lonely. You have to find some other friends who stay home."
-- Molly Uhlenhoff '93
To find other at-home moms, Kari Hubbard enthuses, "Go to MOPS!" MOPS, or Mothers of PreSchoolers, is an international organization with chapters sponsored by local churches. The weekly program offers moms the chance to hear a speaker, participate in small group discussions and start and finish a craft -- all while their children are being taught and cared for in another room.
Lisa McCullough and Wendy Turnbull are very familiar with MOPS. Lisa serves as the Colville MOPS coordinator. Wendy, also a coordinator, welcomed 35 moms to Ephrata's first MOPS group this fall.
Kaaren Daugherty addressed the second bit of advice the group held in common. "Remind yourself that what you're doing is the most important job and that it all goes by fast," she said.
"Stay focused on your purpose," recommends Katrina Brown. Reminding herself of the reasons she is staying home makes it easier for Katrina "to find joy in all the tasks -- laundry, feeding, diapers," she says.
"It all goes so quickly," Jill Hamilton observed. "Savor this moment and don't look ahead. You might be anxious for the time they get out of diapers or can brush their own teeth, but other challenges come with the new phase. Enjoy the stage you're in."
Vicki Knickerbocker may have said it best. "Cherish the time now. There isn't another time to do it."
Leslie (Van Beek) Young '88 leads a song by Payton Young, 3 (middle), and Mason Fridline, 3.
Finding creative solutions to the parenting dilemma
PLU is proud of offering an education that promotes critical thinking and problem solving. Some alums have put their
problem-solving abilities to the test to determine how to combine work and family when being at home isn't an option. Flexible hours, e-mail,
faxes, paid child care, shared housekeeping and the help of extended family are just some of the parts of an often complex equation.
Barb Jagels '86 didn't take a vacation for two years to earn the four months paid leave she used when her daughter, Laura, was born.
Now she's back as the assistant nurse manager for Ambulatory Clinic at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, but with a new schedule: four
10-hour days. When Barb is at work, her husband, Bob, cares for Laura. In the three days she's at home, Barb becomes the primary caregiver,
freeing Bob to run his home-based business.
Barb says she'd always planned to continue working after Laura was born because "it's a great job and frankly, we have a mortgage." What makes
it all work is a "truly equal partnership," Barb believes. "We truly share the housework, the cooking - it's about as integrated as it can be," she says.
Deirdre Brown '86 went back to work after "nine glorious months of staying at home" with her daughter, Natalie. With debt left over from a previous business, "the reality is I can't stay home full time, even though I'd like to," she says.
Former positions in marketing and sales, first with Washington Natural Gas and later with Quantum Computers, were a terrific fit for high-energy Deirdre. But that's not the kind of career she believes would work best for her family now.
So Deirdre enrolled in community college classes in medical terminology and medical transcription. She now does transcribing work from home and works on-call as a unit assistant for the 3 to 11 p.m. shift at the local hospital. The payoff? "No day care," she says.
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