Tag Archives: work

Bittersweet: The Holidays Are Over

a hand holding a pen writing in a bookI never thought I’d say this, but I might be overjoyed for the boys to be back at school.

Usually, we love our holidays. We skyve off school whenever possible during term time. We homeschooled for the better part of a year before we moved, and loved it.

Maybe it’s because the boys are getting older and more independent. Maybe the move means that we need new holiday traditions. Maybe having a TV for the first time has made us less inventive and more lazy. Maybe being responsible for my granny messed with my spontaneity, having to make sure she was taking her pills every day and worrying if I was away from home. Maybe I’m looking forward to getting back into MY life, my stuff. Child-free.

Maybe it’s a little of everything.

Part of me feels that we wasted the second half of the holiday. Part of me says, “Don’t be silly! Look at all the visitors you had, the stuff you did!” It WAS fun.

I AM sad that it’s over. I love to be with my kids. I will miss them, especially the older boys who have reached a new phase of independence and busy-ness.

I guess this is good practice for when they all leave home!

by Nan Sheppard


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Photo graciously provided by beX out loud, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

If You're Happy and You Know It, Hug Your Kids!

a mom with curly hair and glasses gives a tight hug to a childThe Mommy wars have gripped us for generations: My grandmother Margo remembers her own mum heading to ‘work’ in the early 1900s, just two mornings a week at a hostel for the elderly. “Come to think of it, I don’t even know if it was a paid job or volunteer” she muses, “But it made her happy.”

Margo has hit upon an important factor: There is a mass of conflicting evidence on whether having a mother in work outside the home is ‘Good’ for a child. Many studies are pretty inconclusive. Some lean towards having a working mother: daughters of women who work have been found to have higher academic achievement. Some lean away: Kids of employed mothers watch more TV and have a higher risk of obesity.

Search the net and you’ll find a hundred conflicting studies. One statistic is clear though. A mother’s unhappiness, whether at home or at work, does affect her kids’ happiness and development, much more than whether or not the mother is working.

Of course, for many moms it’s all academic. We must work, and that is that. Or we must stay at home, because there is no other childcare option. With the studies being vague and mums often not having many options, why do we frown upon the parenting choices of others? And why do we feel guilty?

If, as many studies have found, kids are happiest when their mother is satisfied with her lot, then maybe it’s time for us to decide what really makes us happy… instead of wondering what might be best for the children.

And THAT, my friends, might be a more difficult decision than we think!

by Nan Sheppard


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Balancing Needs

silver hanging balance I’ve written here about the on ramp, and how getting back into work, or even “finding your groove” can be difficult if you start to merge professional or business life with parenting. (And all apologies up front to parents who have always blended these things smoothly- you have my undying admiration.)

Doing project-based work, whether it’s been as a volunteer, an employee, or as am independent contractor, has frequently been part of my life.  But because it’s been project-based, it’s been episodic.  It’s been on again and off again, and it’s given me the flexibility to be the rudder and manager of our family life, fitting the projects in around the sides, so to speak.

Recently, I started thinking about what it would be like to go back to work “full time”.  What would this mean?  What would I have to give up?  What would I gain?  How would this affect everyone else in the family?  What about the other things I do- how much of that will have to change as well?  And as I talk to other moms this summer, many are going through the same thing. 

Sometimes, it’s because our kids are in school full day for the first time, or because our kids are getting old enough we can “see” the endpoint coming, when they graduate and go off to school, and our daily importance in their lives diminishes somewhat.  Even part-time jobs require giving up some things you currently do for the benefits and burdens of a workplace.  What factors tip that balance and make a return to work a want versus a need?  What makes it worthwhile, both emotionally and financially?

All of these questions are set against a background of knowing myself better than ever before.  I know who I am, what I am good at, and where I have weaknesses.  I know what I can do and what I can’t, and that’s both good and bad.  It means in some respects, I can be rigid.  We can work together, or not, and I am quite fine with either- the lines seem a little more black and white than they used to be.  I am okay with being who I am, and whether it fits other people’s needs or expectations feels more like a business decision on their part than a critique of my overall worthiness.  My “worth” is judged by the strength of the job I do and performance, and I pride myself on doing whatever it takes to get the job done.  But I’m no longer as affected by things like “I’m not sure she likes me” anymore- while I’m not impervious to those things, they matter so much less than they did even five years ago.  I know I can’t please everyone, and I can accept that as a fact, not something to try to change.

This has put me in a very weird position.  I know what I want and what I can do.  It makes me very confident.  But the prospect of applying for a job, which is essentially all about courting and seeking the favor of someone- almost a business flirtation, where you try to figure out in advance whether or not the job, with its duties and expectations, are going to be a good fit, or is it doomed from the start, like some of those early dating relationships you had where it was fun, but destined to go nowhere long term?  Being married for a long time now, my skills at being coy and flirtatious are a bit rusty.

I know how to be appropriate, but I have a hard time turning up the volume on people pleasing, for the sake of the dance, and instead devolve straight to “What you see is what you get, plain and simple.”  I like transparency.  I like the honesty.  I like feeling like everything is clear, and decisions are made based on facts, not fantasy.  But how much of this seems weird to people who expect more of a dog and pony show?  How much of this seems like ennui?  How much of this seems like take it or leave it, and not sincere interest in the position or work?

And then there’s the inevitable “Why are you looking for a job now?”  The answer for me is straight forward- I’m not really looking for any job,  but if the right job came my way, it might be hard to resist.  It would mean less hustling for clients.  It would mean a consistent schedule.  It would be predictability, but likely at the cost of flexibility.  Kids who forgot their homework would have to deal, rather than being rescued.  Appointments and meetings would have to be scheduled and juggled and be less spontaneous.  But the trade-offs seem to come down nearly even in terms of benefits and burdens.

I love my small business, and setting my own schedule.  I love what I’m doing and how I manage it with my duties and Chief Financial and Logistics Officer for the household.  But I know if I decide I want to work for someone else, I will need to meet their schedule, their requirements, and their needs.  And balancing what its worth, in terms of finances and in terms of sacrificing freedom for more security, to have a place to be every day instead of a never ending list of tasks…That’s a hard metric for anyone to work out.

One thing I would suggest for anyone considering a transition- take a look at the following calculator:

Freelance Calculator- figure out your business costs and how much you need to make an hour to afford your overhead, expenses, etc.  This works really well for consultants, but even for parents, consider what the costs are for daycare, etc. as business costs associated with your job, taxes and the like, and you get a sense of what you need to make if you go back to work to both break even as well as get ahead.

Surprisingly, there’s not a great one for parents to decide if the cost of going back to work is worth it, but this can work pretty well to give you an idea of both what you would need to charge for your time if you consult, or what you would need to make hourly to meet your needs- and that will help you make a better decision about whether that part time job for $12 an hour really is beneficial for anything other than mental health or not, or is it really costing you money.

Knowing what your time is worth is central to these decisions, so don’t forget the analytical as well as the emotional in your decisions.

by Whitney Hoffman

Photo graciously provided by hans s, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Two Heads Are Better

a closeup of a helicopter seen from the front at sunsetI am a part-time single parent: My husband has a job which takes him away for a month at a time, sometimes more.

This does, in fact, work for us. We are both fiercely independent, born in the Year of the Ox, and love getting back together again and exchanging tales of our adventures apart. We both enjoy writing, and our emails and letters are often beautiful. Sean loves his job and brings home recipes from around the world, and I potter around with my own projects, have solitary yoga evenings, and lean on my girlfriends. I manage okay with the boys, and with email and free video calls on Skype, sometimes I joke that we have more conversation apart than we do together!

Sean has been away for over two months this time, though, and it’s been hard. There are three boys in this house, two of whom are battling to become young men, and in the past few weeks there has been plenty of swagger and testosterone in the air as they try to be the Man of the House. I’ve been getting Lip and Sarcasm, and there has been no REAL man here to raise his eyebrow, model nice manly behaviour, and say those very important words, “Don’t You Speak to Your Mother Like That, Young Man!”

I have been yelling, in a totally misguided attempt to make myself heard, and I’ve been allowing more slacking off than I should, just to get some peace. We just had two weeks’ holiday… Things have deteriorated, of course. Between the parental screeching, late nights, the sound of video games, the hyped-up post-game jitters, and the new Nerf Guns, our house has not been the oasis of harmony I like it to be.

Sean is due home now, for a month, and we are all preparing in our different ways. The boys are looking sheepish, knowing that they have crossed the line a few times. I have been doing some personal deforestation: Hey, no-one’s even seen my legs since February!

There is often some resistance: at some point in the next few weeks, someone will say to me, “Why do I have to listen to HIM? HE is never here!” and I will say that Dad works far away to support us all, and even when he isn’t here, he IS, in our hearts and his heart. They don’t really mean what they say, of course, but it is tough for the boys to suddenly be almost outnumbered by parents presenting a united front, just when they thought they were getting the upper hand.

When the boys were little, it was harder. With toddlers and babies, you really need two parents at crucial moments like bedtime, bathtime, injury-time… all the time would be nice! When folks say “How did you manage, with three babies in four years?” and I have honestly to say, “I have no idea.” It is all a bit of a blur! I did have help, sometimes, in the form of the lovely and capable Delises, who cleaned my house and auntied the boys for me. My mum and dad lived nearby, and were available in times of crisis. Friends were wonderful, as we read all the books and encouraged one another to ignore them. And apart from Delises’ occasional cleaning, the house was just allowed to get pretty grotty, which I hated. Those days passed though, the boys became more capable, and I don’t have to watch them like a hawk the way I used to.

Without a full-time Dad in the house, most of the manly chores are relegated to boys. Taking out the garbage and the recycling, minor repairs, bike tune-ups and furniture building are all boy jobs here, along with vacuuming, toilet cleaning (because *I* do not miss!) and composting. The boys are really awesome helpers, most of the time. Of course, there are computer-time minutes to be had in exchange for chores!

So yes, we manage. But nothing can replace Dad coming home. I tend to be routine, predictable. Sean comes up with sudden mad plans. We both teach the boys guitar – I get their Spanish acoustic technique spotless and then Sean leads them in wild electric punk challenges. The boys tell their Dad stuff about their lives and I think “Huh, you never told ME that!” Sean encourages them to eat spicier, leap further, be stronger than I would. He shakes things up around here. Sean is the ultimate cool, rockstar, hotshot helicopter-pilot Dad and the boys idolise him.

And when we all get used to being a family again, we’ll kiss him goodbye. He’ll jet off to live his mad bachelor life, and I will miss warming my feet on his, and having a spare grownup around who cracks me up and gives an awesome massage. Things will get all ordinary around here again.

It works for us.

by Nan Sheppard

Photo graciously provided by the author, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Middle School Angst

pile of textbooks and school papersMy middle schooler seems to be down in the dumps.  Nothing specific, but a general sense of tiredness.  He says everything in school is fine, and his grades are okay.  He says he has a lot of work to do, and he isn’t crazy about school because of the work.  When prodded, he says that he doesn’t understand why they do all this work, when at the end of the year, they just throw it all away.

It’s difficult to try to explain to him that knowledge is something you build over time and keep inside you.  The external things, like papers and projects are just demonstrations of that knowledge.  But the idea that it gets all dumped at the end of the year kind of depressed me as well.  How do I provide him with a meaningful answer when, from time to time, I ask myself the same question?  What does all this work mean?  If I just have to more of the same next year, what am I really gaining through this process?

It’s gotten a bit more existential than I ever anticipated, trying to explain the simple question of why he needs to go to school and do all this work, if it’s just going to be trashed at the end of the year.  My child likes school, and is just having one of those “What’s the point?” moments, and I find myself with lots of answers about investment for the long term and big goals and dreams, because clearly opting out of school is not an option.   But how do we justify the mountain of work kids do over the school year if they just throw it away at the end?  How does that not generate more  questions of  “Why?”

How do you answer this question for your kids?  How do you answer it for yourself?  It’s one of those thorny questions we choose to ignore most of the time, but I’d love to have a better answer, or one that seems a lot more satisfying than the ones I have right now.

by Whitney Hoffman

Photo graciously provided by foreverdigital, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved