Monday, May 5, 2008

The Mommy Paradigm Shift

par·a·digm (pār'eh-dīm') n. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

I have hesitated to write about this for several weeks because I'm still deciding how I feel about it. But I think it is safe to say that I am experiencing a major paradigm shift in my life.

After working full-time for most of my married life and in particular, being a working mom for the last 6 years, we have finally reached a point in our financial life that I don't have to work anymore. Dan's job writing patent applications on a contract basis has finally stabilized and is bringing in a fairly reliable income, allowing us to meet all of our monthly obligations with just Dan's income.

Here's how it all went down: At the beginning of April Dan and I were going over our budget for the month and a major discussion erupted from my intention to spend a couple hundred dollars getting a sample album printed and bound. January through April is always my slowest time with photography, there's not many weddings and it's too cold and ugly outside for most family portraits. So I hadn't been working much for the past couple of months. I'll freely admit it was nice not being constantly overwhelmed with editing and reprint orders and wedding albums. I'd been able to keep up with the housework better and I felt more emotionally available for the girls. But always in the back of my mind was the nagging guilt and worry that I wasn't bringing in enough money.

Dan and I had discussed ways to build my business on several other occasions, but I was sluggish to implement much. I was afraid to get too busy and not be able to keep up with my workload. Last fall was my busiest season ever, and I felt pretty overwhelmed most of the time. And I just wasn't managing the stress of being a working mom very well. Remember this post? (Life did improve greatly once we busted out the Ferber Method on Amelia and got her sleeping through the night.)

Anyway, this money discussion came after a lengthy period of relative inactivity in the photo department, thus Dan was pretty leary of me spending more money on marketing. I had tried several things to try to drum up more business (like my mini-portrait days and the photo handbags) but it always ended up costing more in expenses or time than it benefited us in increased revenue. So Dan said he didn't want me spending any more money building my business until I decided if that's what I really wanted to do.

Here are a few thoughts from my journal:

The thing that I have wished for deep, deep down in my guts for 6 years is finally upon me and now I just can’t figure out what to do... Dan told me, "The thing is, it just seems like you don’t want to build your business. And if you don’t, that’s fine, but you just need to make a decision so we don’t spend any more money on something that you don’t want to keep doing." Did he really just say "that’s fine"? I stewed on that while Dan commuted up to the firm in Salt Lake.

After awhile, we spoke on the phone and I told Dan, "You say ‘that’s fine’ but I don’t think you really mean that. I think you’ll be disappointed in me if I’m not doing something to bring in money." He said, "well, I just thought that we both agreed that the most important thing for us right now is getting out of debt. But ultimately, if it’s not worth the stress and bitterness you feel about working, then we’ll just take longer to get out of debt. But you just need to decide. Do you want to work?" I answered, "Of course I don’t want to work, but that’s just never really been an option, I’ve always had to work out of necessity. But what I really want to do is be the mom and run the household. I want to help Lily with her homework, read with the girls, spend time with them playing and creating things. I want to manage the finances, keep the house clean, all that kind of stuff. But I just don’t think it will be enough for you." What I meant by that is that I know one of the things Dan loves about me, one of the reasons he married me, was because I had a "thing", something that I pursued and was good at. He admired that about me. And if I stop doing that, I’m afraid he won’t respect me as much. He answered, "It’s not that I don’t find value in what you do for our family. I know that you are busy from the moment you wake up until late into the night. But I just don’t think you realize that you’re not going to feel fulfilled if all you do is be the mom."

After stewing over this for several days, it’s clear to me that Dan knows me better than I claim to know myself. We talked through a lot of things about what I hate about working: the editing, the production work, people always wanting their stuff and me always feeling guilty that it’s not done, me feeling guilty when I ignore the girls so I can work, me being stressed out about not having enough time to run the household and keep up with my business obligations. That’s the biggest thing, the competing sense of obligation to my children and to my clients. Of course, the obvious answer is that my first loyalty is to my family, but after three or four times of telling someone an estimated completion date and still not having it ready, I start feeling so crappy about myself, like my word means nothing. And then there are the days when Lily whines over my shoulder at the computer, "You’re always working. I wish you never had to work." That’s a dagger right through my heart! The same with Amelia, whacking me on the knees as I sit at the computer, crying "Mama!" in desperation and exasperation.

And yet, when I have a set of images that I’m really proud of, where I feel like I’ve really captured a feeling of love, or of silliness, or when I’ve captured the essence of a personality, I swell inside knowing that I did something that is special. And it’s a great stroke to my ego when someone loves their pictures. Dan asked me what I loved about photography and aside from that feeling, I really love designing albums. And it’s not just because I like scrapbooking or graphic design. Dan pointed out that I could get a job doing albums for someone else and it wouldn’t "do" it for me. What I love is taking the images I created, my vision, and translating it into something that tells a story, something that compiles many images to reflect the true nature of personalities and relationships. I enjoy making art out of my photographs.

I wrestled with these conflicting feelings for several days. The truth is, being a photographer has become a large part of my identity. It seems weird or unnatural to be a mom who "used to be a photographer." It's something I take pride in. And I realize it's hypocritical to say that being a full-time mom is the most important job, and yet feel like I was somehow "cooler" on the super-mommy scale by having a job other than mommying. I'm a proud and slightly wicked girl, it's true.

My patriarchal blessing talks specifically of my career. After reading it and praying, I decided that I shouldn't turn away from my talent, from my secondary career. I should just shoot less and charge more. I should do what I really want with my photography, design albums. Click here to see a sample on my photoblog of my first family album.

I had made this decision to keep working, but restructure my pricing and promote my albums more. And yet, I still stressed about how to get people interested and willing to pay for the albums, how a minimum investment of $500.00 might prevent people from booking (even though the average client usually spends this much.) I was still stressed about work.

Then came General Conference. I had prayed that I would find direction in one of the talks, and at the end of the Sunday afternoon session, Elder Ballard's talk gave me such peace about what I should be doing with my life. If you are a young mother, you must listen to the audio feed.

There were two things that stuck out to me most:

If a child lives with parents for 18 or 19 years, that span is only one-fourth of a parent’s life. And the most formative time of all, the early years in a child’s life, represents less than one-tenth of a parent’s normal life. It is crucial to focus on our children for the short time we have them with us and to seek, with the help of the Lord, to teach them all we can before they leave our homes.

"I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less. (Anna Quindlen)

As a working mom, so much of my life is defined by hurrying from one task to another. It's the exception rather than the norm when I stop and relish a feeling or a smile or how beautiful my daughters are. But their youth, the opportunity I have to really influence the kind of person they will turn out to be, is so, so short. Photography will always be there, but my children won't.

After this talk and after speaking with my friend Cami who is also balancing motherhood with running a photography business from home, I spoke some more with Dan about what I wanted to do. The truth is, I was shocked when Dan opened the door for me to quit working. He was raised in a family where his mom worked, his grandmother worked, and now his sister works. It's just what you do. When Dan was just starting graduate school and Lily was a baby, I would say things like, "I can't wait until I don't have to work." Dan was like, "whatever..." Throughout our marriage, I have assumed that Dan would always expect me to work. But things have changed, Dan sees the importance and the value in having me home with the kids full-time. I finally just realized that the reason he's always given me the impression that I should work is not because his opinion of me was based on my financial contribution, but instead that he thought working would give me fulfillment. After discussing this more, Dan said, "Let me clarify, again. You are under no obligation, express or implied, to contribute financially."

I can't tell you how liberating those words were. I was finally free to be the kind of wife and mother that I want to be. To stop splitting my obligations and feeling guilty about not measuring up to either one.

I have had a few weeks to adjust to this new mindset. Despite my joy over the change, I have felt a little awkward trying to embrace this new image of myself. Partially it's my pride wanting to still be the "do-it-all" woman. And yet, there have been days where all I did was do laundry, fix meals, clean house and it just felt so good to accomplish those things without the sense of guilt hovering below the surface that I should be doing a photo job. Other days I think, "what do I have to show for today?"

It's going to take some more adjusting, but I am definitely enjoying how much happier the girls seem now that I can give them more attention. I've been so used to focusing on my job, which is about everyone but my family, that I'm a little out of practice on not being selfish with my time. I keep having to remind myself that making Dan and the girls happy is more important than holing up to read a book (phew, at least I finished the Twilight series before I came to this realization!)

Now, this does not mean that I will stop shooting all together. I just did a shoot on Saturday and I have one at the end of this week. I'm just not going to stress about getting the jobs like I used to. If someone calls and is willing to pay what I need to charge to make it worth it to me, then I'll happily do it. And any profits I make will go straight to debt elimination.

The shoot I did last Saturday, well, I was dreading it the whole day because I had gotten used to being able to stay home and I just wanted to blog and hang out with the fam. But once I got there, I ended up having a really good time and taking some images that I think will make a great album. It was my visiting teacher's mother-in-law and her 8 children (no spouses.) Previously, at a shoot like this I would have taken a few formal poses of the group, then some of each individual and called it good. But now, since my goal is to sell an album with each package, I need more variety in my images. And I love the candid stuff. So after the formal group shots, I had mom and the 8 kids all sit around in a semicircle in the backyard and tell stories about growing up. It was so much fun and I got some really fun shots of them all laughing together. I'm sure I'll post some of them on my photoblog in a few days.

Once again, I have written a short novel to convey a simple message: My Mommy Paradigm has shifted from "try to be good at several things, but fall short" to "try to raise good children and love your husband, and all the rest is just fluff."


Becky in Wyo said...

Oh, boy, where to begin. Don't be surprised if I leave several comments over the next few days.

Sister, been there, done that. Ummm... still doing that, I guess, in another form. I did my little home scrapbooking business for six years, never quite justifying the existence of the whole thing, always ready to buy more supplies than I could justify with follow-through on increased income. After six years, there is no question that I lost way more money than I ever brought in. I learned some valuable lessons, and I could probably do it better now than before, but there's no question that I regard the whole thing, especially the last two years of it, as a total disaster.

And I hear you loud and clear about the stress of splitting your attention at home between your business and your children. You do feel torn, and it's hard to feel like you're getting the important things done for your family when you're the mom and running a business out of your home. And frankly, there were times when I was fed up with both, and just wanted some "me" time, so that added to the time-management problem as well.

Doing daycare in my home now is definitely an improvement, at least financially. But it still requires I sacrifice some of myself and my time to other people besides my family. Connor gets sick of sharing his Mommy and his space with other kids, and there are things I can't do for my older kids, either, that I find frustrating at times. So, I look forward to not having to do this business, either.

But, I totally understand about wanting that "extra something" that is separate from your family, that brings a bit of spark and interest to your life, that makes you feel useful and special in a way that daily parenting and homemaking don't. We could talk all day about how important these things are, and I know deep down that they count the most, or I wouldn't have built this mommy/homemaking life I have. But there's something inside that stays hungry and hurting without something different/extra/outside of the big part of my life: my family and home.

Maybe it's that one "Mother's Day" a year just doesn't cut it. I think most women would really like more recognition than that. We'd benefit from some kind of "you are really cool, wonderful, and special" that comes from outside your family. We want the approval and respect of our peers. Men get that more from work, than women ever do at home. I know that apart from the money, that wanting respect and recognition was one of the things that kept me going in a business I was clearly horrible at.

But that's not reality, for the most part. You just have to do it because you know it's the right thing to do, whether or not you get daily, or even weekly, warm fuzzies. Your kids need you more than other people do. And I have to say, I'm glad I've tried to stay home with my kids, and been fortunate enough to do it for the most part, even if I feel like a pretty mediocre Mom most of the time. I've been a better Mom than I would have been had I been working 40+ hours a week, with my kids in daycare all the time. I know some women don't have a choice, and I don't want to rag on women who work, by any means. But I am convinced that it's better for kids to hang out with their Mom on a regular basis, than with anyone else. Doing daycare, I've developed the opinion that kids feel better, having their Mom to themselves, than being with someone who can only give a portion of their time and attention. As nice as a daycare provider can be, and there are some people who are really, really great with kids, there's no replacement for time with the person who really belongs to you, and you belong to them, and you love each other.

Okay, don't be surprised if I just post all this on my own blog. 'Cause do I have to write all this again, but in different words? I thought I gave up writing papers in college, and the nightmares are finally are over, I think. Wouldn't that be funny to have a blogging nightmare?

Becky in Wyo said...

That is a great talk by Elder Ballard. I like this, "Third, even as you try to cut out the extra commitments, sisters, find some time for yourself to cultivate your gifts and interests. Pick one or two things that you would like to learn or do that will enrich your life, and make time for them. Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children. Avoid any kind of substance abuse, mistakenly thinking that it will help you accomplish more. And don’t allow yourself to be caught up in the time-wasting, mind-numbing things like television soap operas or surfing the Internet." Does that mean blogging? Ha, ha.

The Nelson Family said...

Lucky girl. That's all I have to say.

Sara said...

This is what I have been struggling with for the last couple of years. SAME feelings... Do we share a brain? (No, but maybe a passion!) It IS so hard to give up something you LOVE for these little "somebodies" that you love MORE! Part of me has always felt if I just tried a little harder, I would be capable of doing it all. I've been very stubborn about it... And I, too, hate the idea of giving up that part of myself that I have come to respect and take pride in. I realize it is such a blessing to have a talent and the opportunity to use it and that many would give so much to trade me places... I have often felt almost selfish for even considering the thought of giving it up for awhile... and it's hard to justify the time, not to mention the investment, if you are not making it profitable.

Here is where I have come to terms with it: Last year at October Conference Sister Beck's talk pierced me straight to the heart. She said, " ' Mothers who know' choose LESS so they can DO MORE." It was like she was looking right through the TV and saying to me, "Sara, you are trying to do too MANY things and aren't doing any of them well. Choose the most important ones for now."

And then there was Elder Oaks, "Good, better, best" talk... do I even need to go there? Of course mothering is the "best" choice of what to do with my time...

Shortly thereafter I came across another talk from an old YW Lesson I taught several years ago about Motherhood. Elder Faust said in essence that "the World" tries to tell us as women that we can have it all... we can be beuatiful, fit, successful, career-oriented, humanitarian-minded, super-mommies, who entertain on the weekends and throw fabulous parties. The Lord's plan is different... He wants us to feel good about ourselves and develop our talents, among them, the important and divine role of nurturing. Then he says this, (which I love!). "You can't eat all of the pastries in the pastry shop at once without expecting to get a tummy ache." So it is not that you can't have all of these other things, too, just not all at the same time. We really have to remember that there are "seasons" in our life for every different thing... and we must choose wisely where we spend our most valueable resource... our time! Right now, mine is often at a premium!

I remember Elder Ballard's talk from this recent conference well. I cried when I heard it, rewound it (I was DVR-ing it for Matt who was at work) and immediately watched it again. It felt as if he was giving me permission to make my babies my very first and foremost priority, because I won't have them forever! They WILL grow up! And the longer I am a Mom, the more I realize how very fleeting this brief time is that we have "little ones".

I know that you are making the right choice. I have cut way WAY back, and am planning to even more so in the coming months. I find myself feeling less guilty saying "no" and surprised at how understanding everyone has been. It has been a difficult transition for ME, but has been such an incredible blessing to our little family, already. I look forward to the days I DO work, now, but I also look MORE forward to the other days that I don't. I am happier and more patient with both my clients and my children. I do more creative things with them. We go more places. I have time for my friends and other important relationships (that I hadn't noticed were suffering because of my lack of time before). My marriage feels more intimate on several levels, and I feel closer to Matt, mainly because I am able to spend more TIME with him! I feel healthier and have found more time for things I love to do, but had given up. I am learning to cook. I exercise. I actually sleep! I read. I enjoy Book Club. I have lunches and playdates with neighbor friends. I am a better Visiting Teacher. I BLOG! I am happier...

I still shoot a day a week and an occasional evening, (I am still weaning myself off slowly...) but I feel that I run a business now, not that IT runs ME. And more importantly, I feel that I deserve the title "full-time" Mom. It truly is the BEST job in the whole world!

I am happy that you and Dan are in a position to make this wonderful choice. I am teary because I feel that more joy awaits you than you may realize... I just know that it will bless your life and the life of your sweet family. Having just gone through it, my advice is to make the choice (set firm limits), feel good about it, and then don't look back... don't second guess, don't regret. Just ENJOY!

God bless~

(And sorry for the novel... you know me... brevity is NOT one of my talents, so just forgive and love me anyway! And tell Dan to stop mocking... :) )

Spymommy said...

Wow Sue, this post was so long and so very meaningful. I hung on to everyword, just waiting for the end when you would reveal your final decision.

I am so thrilled for you. I think you have found the most beautiful balance. The Lord does not want you to forget your talent or cast it aside completely - you and my bro Chris could have a lengthy chat on that subject alone.

But you will NEVER regret raising your daughters in their tender- aged years. You will treasure that more than you ever could a photograph or shoot. Your talent will wait for you to return to it fully some day - your children cannot stop growing and changing, so I'm really excited for you to enjoy that fully now.

Thanks for sharing such intimate and private feelings.

Anderson Zoo Keepers said...

As a mom who "used to be an attorney" - I can totally understand your struggle. I mean, pace by pace, understand. It hasn't been until recently that I felt like I didn't have to work financially - and even still it would be awfully nice to work. To be totally honest I could easily make more money than my husband can working for the US Army - but it's not all about the money is it?
But being totally truthful - you'll have days (just to warn you) where you'll resent the decision. Being a mom is not always fun, especially when you've been a mom with a career. Because you've seen the other side of the fence and there are a lot more kudos coming from clients then there are from kids. The kudos from the kids come later and in much greater peace. Just to warn you. You probably already know it but I have to relearn the lesson over and over again.
If you ever need to vent, let me know. I think there needs to be a "mommys recovering from careers" group. It's extra hard when you jump in and out like I've done and like it sounds like you are doing because the lure is constantly there. So keep your wits about you.

Lori Gerten said...

You are so blessed to have so many talents. I admire you for all that you can do and wish I could be half the mom you are!

Sue said...

Lori- I'm all verklempt. You've always made me feel like such a good mom. I love you! And yes, I had to look up the spelling of verklempt on

Thanks, everyone, for all your comments of support and empathy. It occurred to me that I didn't say the most important thing of all: A HUGE thank-you and big loves to Dan for making this dream possible for me.