Thursday, April 08, 2010

Question of the Day (for me, at least)

So, here’s a thought/idea that’s been percolating in my mind for quite some time now, but has only recently come to a boiling point:

If we (and by “we,” I mean the general population) say that raising a child is the most important work that can ever be done…why is it that some, if not most, employers view being a stay-at-home parent as some kind of professional albatross?

I’ve written before about how when Ashley and I first moved to Miami, I didn’t move for my job; instead, we moved for her job. I moved here without ever having set foot on campus or in the city. For the first two years we were here, God opened some amazing doors and gave me two wonderful opportunities to work on campus at UM. Neither of the jobs I had were positions that I probably would have sought out on my own, simply because I’d never had experience working in either of the respective areas. However, I quickly learned that one of these jobs spoke deeply to passions and convictions I’d never really been able to express before, and the other honed some professional skills of mine that had begun to atrophy. However, for various reasons, neither of them ultimately really…fit. They weren’t “me” on some levels. I enjoyed myself, and I found some satisfaction in working with the students, but overall – I never really felt as if I was at home.

So, Kai’s birth and my subsequent choice to be a stay-at-home parent really was – again – a blessing for me in disguise. After almost a decade and a half of working in student affairs, I was beginning to feel myself burning out. I questioned if I really did care about staying in this field. I questioned if the only reason I stayed in the field was because it was all that I knew, and all that I felt I was any good at. I was becoming complacent, and that complacency was turning into apathy and irritation.

I needed a sabbatical. (Yes, the inner voice in me was telling my spirit I needed a Sabbath. Toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAH-toe…) However, since my field (unlike academic affairs) does not afford practitioners the luxury of taking time off to clear their heads or do research, we are left with two choices: suck it up and keep on keeping on (and things wind up either getting better or much, much worse) or bow out. And I’d seen what staying the course in spite of personal and professional dissatisfaction could do to you.

So, I elected to do the later. …much to the shock and horror of some of my colleagues. My personal favorite comment was and remains the person who said my choice to leave my job was akin to committing “professional suicide.” At the time, I scoffed at their remark.


I’ve grown accustomed to the non-work-related sexism I’ve had to deal with by being a stay-at-home dad. Random strangers in the grocery store or department store will either look at me like “Oh, that’s sweet – that little boy is with his daddy today. Mommy must be at home sick,” or they’ll ask me outright about me being out with him during working hours. When I say I’m a stay-at-home parent, I’m greeted with looks of shock, confusion, and astonishment. I’ve been told it’s “cute” that I am a stay at home dad. I have been asked if, because I’m a man, do I know what I’m doing when I take care of Kai. I’ve been told that it’s “really weird” that I would choose to stay at home with my son. I’ve been told I must not be “manly enough” because I am okay with not being the breadwinner/head of the household.

Amazingly, these comments have all come from women. When men ask me, they tell me they’re jealous. That they wish they were able to or that they would have chosen to stay at home with their kids. That I’m a great dad for making this choice, and that it clearly shows I have my priorities in order.

What I was not ready for was the reaction from people in the job market.

I know that my resume looks a bit…wonky…in that in the last three years, every year shows a different position I’ve been employed in (and yes, I count parenting as a position). Nevermind the fact that in my interviews and on my resume I was able to explain that my first position at UM was only funded by the university for one year. Nevermind the fact that I was able to explain that my choice to leave and be a stay-at-home parent was as much a chance for me to center myself (all parents of toddlers, please feel free to take a moment to laugh out loud at this thought) and to be able to state that I choose to work in this field because I enjoy it and not out of rote as it was for the benefit of Kai. Nevermind the fact that I applied exclusively for jobs that I was passionate about and not just qualified for, and jobs that made me invigorated when I read the position descriptions.

While at NASPA, I was interviewed by a number of people who looked as if they didn’t even know how to broach the idea of asking me about being a stay-at-home parent. Out of all the schools I interviewed with, only one person even brought up what I’ve been doing for the past year. Others tried with unintentional comedic results, to fit the square peg of my parenting into the round hole of standardized questions (“In your current position, what would you say your managerial style is like?”).

Now that we’re rounding the curve of post-conference interviews, it looks like history from three years ago is going to repeat itself (Ashley has been invited on three campus interviews; I’ve been invited on none). It looks as if our next move will be for Ashley’s job, and that my unemployed self’ll be tagging along once more.

Now before anyone asks: no, I am not intimidated or disheartened by the prospect of potentially being a stay-at-home dad for another year (anyone who currently has or who has survived having a two year old, please don’t shatter my fantasy world right now). In fact, now that Kai’s older and more interactive with the world around him, this next year could be a heck of a lot of fun. I feel as if I’m getting into my parenting groove, and that I feel a bit more confident in what I’m doing.

And yes: I have faith that once God closes the hurricane shutters of my time in Miami, I just might find Him opening a door to something so amazingly cool, so Sonny-centrically groovy that it will astound and comfort me. I know that this is a possibility. He’s done it before, and if I had to bet, I’d say sometime before I die, He just might amaze me again. Maybe.

And yes: I understand that I might be projecting my lack of finding employment onto the notion I quit my job dealing with other people’s poop to deal with literal poop that comes with greater regularity. I know that I might have been square pegging/round holing it myself in that I was trying to seek a job when it’s not my season to. There are a million and one variables as to why my resume, my experiences, or my skills don’t “match” what these schools are looking for.

However, Ashley and I have wondered if my choice might have affected my career. If things might look different if I had kept my job and we’d put Kai in daycare. Or would I look more “normal” to prospective employers if we’d played into traditional and more accepted gender roles and she stayed home while I stayed employed.

And if so, what does that say about not just my field, but us as a society? Do we honor and support a work ethic that advocates blind obedience over life balance? Are we so comfortable with seeing that a career proceeds on a standardized trajectory that any deviation from the “norm” sends up red flags and makes us think there might be something wrong with that person? Going beyond gender, generational or regional distinctions – are we still so mired in what defines “acceptable” that although we talk about celebrating the individual, if that individual isn’t like every other individual, hen it becomes easier to ostracize them than listen to their voice?

And if any of the above is true – would I really want to work for a place, or even in a field, that didn’t honor me choosing to put my family before my job or my career, or that would prefer that I simply slog along in dissatisfaction until something better came along?

And if what I have known is gone as an option for me, and clearly no church wants to hire me (see here for an explanation on that) – what then?

Maybe I should just write that bloody book you all say I should and call it a day.

1 comment:

Emily T. Thomas said...

A) if you think a 2 year old is fun, hahahaha, wait til you have a 3 year old. HAHAHAHAHA

B) If you were supposed to be anywhere else doing anything else, "Divine love would have placed you there." Everything you have done and are doing is in preparation of the next thing you will be doing. You will have A Job The Job when it is The Time.

C) If I have learned one thing after almost 11 years of being mainly in charge of these little people, don't listen to anyone else's advice about what is right for my family.

D) Yes, we should both write those books they keep telling us to write.