Monday, August 1, 2011

To Work or Not to Work

Recently a friend and I were having a conversation about the purpose of work. It was a text conversation because it appears that is now where we are in the world of communication. We text. We read each other's blogs and comment on each other's Facebook pages. And honestly as someone who moves a lot and therefore has a lot of long distance friendships, I like texting. It lets me stay connected without feeling pressure to find a nice long window of time to talk on the phone. Though I did video chat with a friend last week which was fun, except I kept being distracted by how ugly I looked in my little video window. My friend was as beautiful as ever though. All this to say that I like feeling connected to my friends even if we cannot just show up at each other's houses for coffee anymore.

So my friend was talking about how she and her husband have been discussing the purpose of work, specifically how it pertains to jobs - actually real paying jobs. Unlike the "work" I claim I am doing when I want the kids to leave me alone while I am checking email or playing Zuma on Facebook. Work seems to be a topic right now. Another friend of mine had been planning to go back to college this fall to start a new career but is now postponing that plan for a while. I have noticed that as our kids are all getting older I am hearing the question, "Are you going to go back to work?" more and more often. I am starting to feel like a bit of lone wolf because I don't plan on going back to work, more specifically I don't plan on going back to a job.

It is not that I am not tempted to go back to teaching, if I could find a position. I loved teaching. I loved being in the classroom and working with high schoolers. And I loved bringing home a paycheck and having my own thing. I loved being a professional.

I have a masters degree in teaching and I instead spend most of my days keeping tabs on my kids bodily functions and how many fruits and vegetables they have eaten at any given meal. My life is at the mercy of sick kids, school holidays, and tantrums. And the tasks involved in this job never end. Laundry, meals, pick ups and drop offs. There is always another load, always another dirty dish and always another practice or activity. It is never ending. Just as I think I have made it through the to do list of my day and I am off the clock, Hockey Boy comes out for a drink of water or Little One comes running into my room scared from nightmare.

So the idea of going back to the world of a real job, with real hours and a bit of respect, is very attractive. Especially since I have a real passion for teaching and what I did once upon a time.

But then I look at the actual logistics, the having to get my kids to school which starts after I would have to be at my own school. Then the pick up, the conference days. Not to mention a sick child or a hockey tournament on a non holiday Friday. Most of the time my husband could help with some of this but he also travels sometimes, he has serious commitments at work too and the truth is his job pays a whole lot better than any teaching position ever would.

Just thinking about the logistics makes me tired. I don't like feeling tired. I spent a lot of years being tired all the time. I fought Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for a few years at the beginning of our marriage. Most likely brought on by PTSD and my type A personality stressing over my work and being perfect at everything. I worry that if I went back to full time work, I would fall right back into being stressed and overwhelmed by demanding parents and too many papers to grade in one weekend. And even if I can manage the stress and figure out a good work/life balance, a teacher's schedule is not flexible during the school year. Yes, we get the summers off, but on school days I am expected to be in the classroom, even if one of my kids has a classroom pancake party or another has a overnight field trip.

The truth is I like my life. I like being available to my kids. I like being able to pick them up after school and volunteering at their schools. I also like the down time I get when they are all at school or camp. I like the moments I get to sit and read a good book or write a blog post. I like having time to meet with friends for coffee or be in a small group at Bible study. I like being able to have strong relationships with the women around me because I am not having to rush off all the time. I like having space in my day for the unexpected.

I feel a lot of pressure at times to find a role in life now that my kids are all in school. A title to tell people when they ask. It feels a bit decadent to say I stay home, that I have 3 hours a day that are all mine, and in another year it will be 6 hours a day, 30 hours a week. I start to feel a little guilty about the freedom I have to even choose. The truth is I don't need to a job. We don't need the paycheck. We have created a life that works on my husband's salary. We won't be flying off to Europe anytime soon and we drive our cars for a very, very long time before buying another one. But we are more than blessed and we know that.

For me it is not about the money. I am free to make the choice to work or not. And I know that is a huge gift. I do want to contribute though. I want to be productive. I just don't think a traditional job is the answer.

My work happens every day, without a title, without a job, without a paycheck. I am beginning to think that work is that which you do with intention. Work is where we plant seeds and care for our plants, whatever they are. For my husband that involves accounts and ledgers and financial plans in a world of renewable energy. For me that involves taking care of my three boys, loving my neighbor and using my mind and gifts to serve God however he calls me to. If that someday involves a real job I am ready, if it involves building relationships and haphazardly writing and sharing my stories with people, I am ready for that too.

The great thing about God is that he made us all different. He designed us for different work and different jobs. We all have our part to play. The world needs us in different roles. There is not right or wrong in the work. The right or wrong comes in the intention. Are we serving God with our gifts, our talents our work? But since we can never be all right or all wrong, are we at least trying? Are we at least moving in that direction?


  1. Be a lone wolf my friend. You are doing very important work, quietly, but still very important. God would not have it any other way.

  2. @JenniferThanks! I needed to read those words today.

  3. Jennifer, I am so thankful for your words in this post. Your wisdom and truth are such a gift to my heart. Thank you