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."