Friday, July 29, 2011

Your life or your kids?

 Being a mother is tough. Finding a great job today is tough. Being a military spouse is tough. Imagine you are Kerry, who is all three and is now faced with a terrible choice. Her husband needs to follow orders and relocate to Texas, she needs to stay in Alaska and finish her degree and embark on a career. Her husband wants to take their two girls with him. She is using "The Money Fix" offered by Daily Worth to address her spending habits.

I read this email right before driving home from lunch with my husband, and I feel very sympathetic for Kerry but also incredibly agitated. Just yesterday NPR ran a story on military spouses and how their unemployment rate is 26% compared to the current national average of 9.2%.

Being a professional adult with children forces us all to make difficult choices. I know the feeling of wanting to follow a dream and fulfill a desire that's been put off in order to have kids, or to adjust to a new life in a new city because of your spouse's employment. But Kerry is choosing to follow her career dreams away from her children. While I respect that she can decide what's best for her, I just don't agree with her choice.

I recently chose to bid farewell to my safe full-time job for two reasons. One, so I could work to make my dream of being an author come true. Two, to be more available for my children. At a critical point earlier this year, I was faced with the choice of fulfilling the tasks for a major event for my employer, or caring for the two out of my three kids who were home sick. At the time, I chose work, but I promised myself it was the last time I'd pick work over sick kids.

Not too long after, I launched my own professional writing and public relations firm. I had attempted this before I had any children, but when it was still so new, and I learned I was pregnant, I decided a reliable income was the best decision for our family.

I, too, have had to move to meet the needs of my spouse's employment opportunities, but not to Kerry's extreme.

My husband isn't an American citizen, but he's a gifted software engineer. In order to make the most of his gift, our best options were California or Pittsburgh, because the great tech jobs in our hometown near Washington, DC all required citizenship and security clearance. He wasn't willing to give up his Irish citizenship, so we gave up living close to our families. Sure, he's not in the military and we weren't ordered to live here, but the most logical choice was to move where the work was.  We've prospered here and hindsight shows it was a great choice. Thanks to technology we can keep in touch with our families very well and we have learned not to take them for granted.
Call me old fashioned, but I'm changing
my job to be home with these guys more.

As I reflect upon the choices we've made in our lives, I feel we've tried to follow a course that makes us happy as individual adults. In turn, that makes a stronger couple. And our strong, happy marriage can help us be the kind of parents we aim to be: loving, involved, and good role models.

If Kerry moved to Texas and abandoned her career, perhaps she would become depressed, detached, isolated. Perhaps she would feel resentful and take it out on the family. She has to weigh those possibilities with what she's giving up. I'm not willing to forego the bedtime stories, the backyard Frisbee games, or our peanut butter and jelly pancakes on Sunday mornings.

We all have to chose between things we love. Sometimes it's just between chocolate and vanilla. But the choice Kerry is making would break my heart.