I was just starting back to work after maternity leave, and knew that life was about to get crazy, with two kids to get out the door in the morning, nursing, pumping, full-time work outside the home, lots of church activities and other stuff in the evenings . . . And, Type A that I am, my natural response to stress is to organize. I made lists of the things we would all need to have for each day (lunch, backpacks, bottles, pump, etc.) and I wrote out some ways to cultivate more discipline in myself.
The guiding principle behind this discipline initiative could be summed up in this line from a prayer Matt says every Sunday before he preaches: “Lord, make us masters of ourselves, that we may be the servants of others.”
To effectively parent my kids and manage our home life, I would need to feel in control of myself. I listed out things like setting out my clothes the night before, having our bags packed and ready by the door the night before (minus the perishable milk, of course), keeping the house straightened up, and getting up at 5 or 5:30 so I could get a jumpstart on showering and dressing before the kids got up. All these things would help me feel more in control, and thus less stressed, and thus less likely to get crazy and snap at my husband and kids.
My success was varied. Definitely less than 50%. The very first day back to work went perfectly, but I soon discovered that my kids don’t wake on a perfectly-timed schedule, and that it is very, very hard to get out of bed without hitting snooze a million times if you’ve been up 1, 2, or even 3 times in the night with a hungry baby. The days I successfully rose before 6 reminded me how much better my morning feels when I’ve had the discipline that gives me the freedom to relax a bit. (Interesting how that works.) But I was still inconsistent. Self-discipline eludes me.
My year of discipline was debateable.
What I really had was a year of discernment.
From the time I started back at work after maternity leave in January, something felt different. I started rethinking my goals and priorities. As I spent more diligent time in prayer during Lent (mid-February to mid-April) I started to have a strong feeling of being prepared for something, being prepared to let go of my previous work path. I started wondering if maybe some new job opportunity was going to come my way and God was preparing me for that shift. I have loved the company I’ve worked for for 8 ½ years—my whole adult life, essentially—but I had a sense something new was brewing; I just hadn’t been filled in on the details yet.
The sage advice of a former boss kept coming to mind: "You will continue to excel at what you want. So know what you want."
As Easter passed, I felt frustration that whatever I was being emotionally/spiritually "prepared" for had not materialized within the six-week span of Lent. Then in May and June, unrelated in my mind to those preparation feelings of Lent, I started feeling strongly that it was time to act on our long-pondered interest in foster care. I felt a profound sense of calling and we chose as a family to follow it. Matt and I started PATH class, our seven-week training course, in July, and did all our paperwork and initial interviews throughout August and September.
As the approval process continued, we bought a crib for our guest room, traded in my car for a minivan that could carry our little family plus three more "guests," when necessary.
We were preparing for a big change ahead, but it was still an ongoing process of how our life was being guided and reshaped. The very first question I'd asked the social worker when I called to express our interest way back in June was "We're a two-career household, both working outside the home—is that okay?" She assured me that it is more than okay, that they want their foster families to be as secure financially as possible, so that they are not viewing care as a source of income. And we would discover that there are many single women who foster, so of course they have careers.
But as our education in the system grew, I really began to wonder how we would logistically manage the many needs of children in care. Being a working mom is one thing—you find a good day care, develop a good family routine for kids' activities, adapting for the occasional doctor's appointment or sick day. The sudden, unexpected addition of another child with unique needs would bring different challenges. If we get that infamous 2 a.m. call from Child Protective Services, and are up for the rest of the night awaiting the child's arrival and getting him or her settled, how do we manage getting the child enrolled in their new kindergarten or whatnot the next day when we are both expected in our offices? How do we juggle the child's court dates and parental visitation appointments, the scheduling of which may be largely out of our control? And then all this for another child a few weeks or months later?
The theoretical answer would be to determine which of us has less-urgent things to do at the office (oh, how I love those discussions when Kate or Claire is sick! not) then call and notify coworkers, and in my case, take a vacation day or apply for FMLA leave. (Yes, the same law that ensures maternity leave also applies to adoption and foster placements—but imagine negotiating that human resources stuff when you're already busy with a foster child's legal logistics.) Matt's job as a pastor has typically been more flexible than mine, as an editor with a publishing house, working on-site in the office, so it more often falls to him to take sick kids to the doctor and all that—something I already regret with my own kids, as I want to be able to be there for them in times like that—and with foster care being primarily my calling, supported by Matt (just as I support his calling to vocational ministry), I would hate for foster kids' mid-workday needs to fall to him as well.
I love my work. I love being a work-outside-the-home mom (a WOHM). We could not afford for me to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) even if I wanted to be. But my need for more flexibility became clearer and clearer as our approval process continued, so I started conversations with my boss about work arrangements that might allow me the increased flexibility I will need as a foster mom. Fortunately, working for a church-related organization, I've noticed people to be very understanding and supportive of colleagues following God's call. So, we discussed various options over the course of the fall, and finally, somewhere around the time we were officially approved as foster parents on Nov. 30, we determined that I would resign my full-time, salaried position and instead take projects on a contract basis.
So, I will be "going freelance" in the new year, working from home (being a WAHM, or work-at-home mom), continuing to edit Circuit Rider and to contribute to Ministry Matters, and pursuing other projects and clients as I can! My last day in the office is this Friday, Jan. 4. I've already been missing the fun office banter with my colleagues while I've been on vacation this past week, but nonetheless, I'm very excited about the prospect of running my own schedule, working from anywhere, taking on a wide variety of editorial and writing projects, and having a better work-family balance.
We're still awaiting that call about a child who needs us (I'm rather surprised we didn't get one before Christmas, since family drama puts many children into care around the holidays), and when we do, I'll be able to do what's needed to care for that child while a permanent situation is found for him or her, be more available and less stressed for my two precious "forever children," and still use my skills and talents professionally. It's been a year of discernment. A very good year that has shaped our lives and grown my faith. I feel joyfully confident as we move into 2013.