As I type this, it’s mid-morning on a weekday and two contractors are digging out the lateral sewer pipeline in my front yard.
The fun started a few days ago when our daughters took showers and suddenly raw sewage began oozing out of the floor drain in our unfinished basement laundry room. We could see shredded toilet paper in the sludgy water. We knew we had a problem.
I called a plumber who spent three hours at our house on a Monday morning. He first tried to snake our line, hoping the problem was just tree roots that could be easily cleared, but when his cable wouldn’t go as far as it should have, he ran a camera down the line and discovered our lateral sewer line had partially collapsed.
The next day, while I was stress eating Halloween candy, I was on the phone throughout the day with my city (it offers a financial assistance program for costly lateral sewer line repairs) and with various contractors because the city requires three different bids. Then those contractors showed up at my house at various times to look at my yard and talk to me, which brings me to today with the two men digging a hole in my yard.
I share this story to make a point: I am grateful that I work from home, and that I don’t work full time (unless I want to on certain days), so I can deal with this situation.
I’ve written recently about how, after several years as a stay-at-home mom while my kids were young, I’ve increasingly taken on work as a freelance editor and writer. My kids are now in school full time (my youngest started full-day kindergarten this year), and my husband and I decided together years ago that when I re-entered the workforce, I would work from home rather than take a traditional out-of-home job. It helps that my degree is in English, and there are many opportunities for people with my skills to work from home these days. Thank you, computers and the internet. We also felt that it was better for our family if I didn’t do freelance work full time because it would allow me time for errands, house cleaning, and all the other things that help a household to operate happily … like hiring guys who will keep our basement from becoming a cesspool of human waste.
My husband expressed gratitude that I am taking care of all of the logistics of this sewer repair project. As a high school teacher, he, in turn, promises to continue to work to as our family’s primary breadwinner to pay for it. It’s a division of labor that works well for us.
This isn’t the first time this fall that my husband and I have marveled at how much less stressful life is because I’m at home during the days.
Within the first month of school this year, our oldest daughter ran a fever for two days and stayed home. I set her up on the couch with cartoons and snacks, and I worked on my freelance projects as I would on any normal day. The main interruption to my schedule was that I couldn’t go grocery shopping or run other errands on those days, although I could have gone out once my husband returned from work and could watch the kids. My husband tells stories of fellow teachers who have to negotiate with their partners about who will take time off when the kids get sick (again, and again). Not all employers are happy to give that time off, especially if that time has started to add up.
Another example of how my role helps our family was the other week when my husband had to visit the eye doctor. I went with him so I could drive him home if they dilated his eyes. I worked my freelance schedule around his appointment so I still finished my assignments that were due that day.
People sometimes point out that at least my husband is a teacher in the district where our children attend school, so if I did work outside the home, he would have the same vacation days and snow days as our kids. However, our district and many others now scatter professional development days for teachers throughout the school calendar year, so kids in our district get random Mondays and Fridays off school while teachers have to show up. We also have an early dismissal day one Wednesday afternoon a month, when students must be picked up one hour early while teachers stay later for additional professional development. These are times when my husband would not be available to take care of our children and we would scramble to make childcare arrangements. The week of parent teacher conferences, when teachers must stay at school until nearly 8 p.m. several evenings, can also wreak havoc on family routines.
Simply put, most traditional workplaces don’t offer the flexibility that families raising kids need, and that means stress for families trying to juggle work and life. The United States – specifically our politicians, churches, schools, and even some employers – loves to give lip service to the importance of family and work-life balance, but the truth is that many corporate policies are unfriendly to families, with limited personal days, sick leave, and vacation time, and little to no flexible scheduling. Even the most progressive employers who offer generous maternity and paternity leave in an effort to be family friendly fall short once infancy is past. The best employers are still likely to get cranky if you take off too many days for sick kids, school holidays, early dismissals, and snow days … or for ailing parents or grandparents, personal illness, or my days-long sewer emergency.
That’s why my husband and I decided it was worth it for me to be at home. I can earn a little or a lot of income depending on how much time I put in – and many savvy freelancers earn as much as traditional employees – but without the stress and rigid scheduling that come with a traditional job. I feel fortunate to have skills that allow me to work remotely, as not all career fields are so flexible.
I’m only a few months in as a work-from-home parent and already my family has dealt with several scenarios in which my specific role at home has made life easier for all of us.
Because when the basement is free of raw sewage, everyone wins.
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Tags: Freelance Friday