To Work Or Not To Work?

By Alison April 23, 2008 44 Comments 6 Min Read


“Daily to a profession- paid thinking

and clean hands. She rises

Unquestioning. It’s second nature now.

The hours, though all of daylight, suit her.

The desk, typewriter, carpet, pleasantries

are a kind of civilisation, built on money,

of course, but money, now she sees, is human.

She has learned giving from her first chequebook,

intimacy from absence. Coming home

long after dark to the jugular torrent

of family life, her smile

cool as the skin of supermarket apples,

she’s half the story. There’s another woman

who bears her name, a silent, background face

that’s always flushed with effort.

The true wife, she picks up scattered laundry

and sets the table with warmed plates to feed

the clean-handed woman. They’ve not met

If they were made to touch, they’d scald each other.”

(From Two Women by Carol Rumens.)


I have a dilemma.

The other day, browsing through the oh so very local paper, I saw a job advertised in a tiny little interiors company I adore. A job I could do. A job demanding experience in everything I’ve got too much experience in. A job I would be good at. A job that pay’s regular money. And bonus’s and commission… in a shop with chandeliers and oodles of gingham.

And there is a little piece of me that wants it badly. A little of piece of me that says How often do jobs that are made for you crop up locally? (Actually twas the man I adored as a teenager who said that, but lets pretend it was my sensible side. The side of me that says: Your little boy hasn’t got a proper tv. There is a HOLE in the kitchen lino! What are you going do about it Big Lick?? Write your heart out and hope your fairy godmother is feeling generous? ) 

Oh no, oh no, oh no.How very awfully terribly dull. I was hoping I didn’t have a sensible side.

The thing is this: at the risk of offending the entire female working population,there is a bit of me that thinks that  choosing to be a full time working SINGLE (and there’s the rub) mommy is MEAN. That is more noble to be the self sacrificing full time Mommy than it is, even as a single mother, to be able to provide for the child concerned, or at least to be able to provide decent shoes as well as constant attention, without relying on the man who chose not to live with us to keep a roof over our heads, (while I remain creatively satisfied and secretly kinda smug about dancing to my own tune)…  

My reasoning behind all of this is deep rooted and the whole matter throws up all kinds of yukky things I don’t want to think about.

Firstly it asks me to redefine my entire image of who I am: essentially somebody who has the opportunity to make a really rather amazing life for herself and chooses not to. The woman with the agent desperate for her to write the book he knows she has in her. The woman (I wanna be a girl!) who when all is said and done is scared of who she is and more than that- scared of who she could be, so sabotages herself on a daily basis. She who is (whisper it) a bit lazy…

Secondly it challenges my frankly absurd moral stance on parenting: a stance I formed as part of a couple. Not as a single mother who owes it to herself and her son to be independent. To not be reliant. Or worse beholden. Because I don’t want to be beholden. Not any more.

And thirdly it asks me to recognise that things change. Situations change. (Isn’t that a scandal?). The future changes shape and occasionally life asks you to bend yourself out of a shape a little bit to make a world less challenging than the one you currently endure. If only temporarily. If only so that you give yourself the time and space to re-invent the future. To challenge the status quo that is your own stubborn mind-set. To give yourself the freedom, even if that only means the financial freedom, to unpick the ties that bind us to situations we should no longer have to endure. Situations that are essentially curtailing a promising future… 

Damn it. Such terribly reasonable reasoning.

But what about the fact that new kitchen lino ultimately equals one child in breakfast club and after school club? What about the fact that taking this job would mean harassing all sorts of people for babysitting duty and school runs, at least in the short term till Finley starts school in September? What about the fact that the idea of being only “half the story” whether I’m at home or at work might possibly break my heart? What if Finley develops abandonment issues and still lives with me when he’s 43 and carries a Roy Cropper shopping bag whenever he ventures out the door? What about the fact that I might like who I am in working garb and end up not recognising myself on a daily basis? What if I abandon all my carefully chartered ambition and start living for my lunch time tuna sandwich?? What if I sell my soul to a devil disguised as a shop full of Gustavian furniture to die for???

Maybe I like my life. This relative poverty thing is strictly bohemian after all… a choice. A way of life I enjoy, with coffee.

Lordy see how good I am at talking myself out of things? I do this at the supermarket. I fill the basket with things and by the time I’ve got to the till it’s empty again and I walk out with a single banana and a magazine, and then get myself home and beat myself about the head with a big stick because I’ve put the tea-bags I really needed back on the shelf.

Oh heavens I’m going round in circles aren’t I?  Throwing question marks around like confetti..

Help wanted. Apply with sensible advice within.


  1. Joanne says:

    I know you’re going to get heaps of advice on this one! And it is such a difficult issue. You haven’t mentioned whether the job is full- or part-time – I’m guessing full-time? Is there any way you could apply for the job but ask for it to be a job-share, with someone else doing the other part-time bit (do you know of a friend who’d love to do it?)? Then you’d only have to organise yourself/change routine for two or three days a week. At least until Finley is at school? I bet, if the shop owners see how enthusiastic you are, and how perfect you’d be for their business, they’d make it work for you. There’d be no harm in trying! Then you’d get the best of both worlds – time at home with Fin, and time out in the heady ‘real’ world, doing something else that also exhilarates and satisfies you. Oh, and as you say, the extra money would be handy!
    I have managed to make such a combination work out, working part-time from home in my dream job as a freelance book editor and writer (but then I do have hubby at home to be full-time parent on the weekends, and I also work when the girls are at kindergarten).
    I really wish you the best of luck, in whatever you do. (And get on with that book, won’t you?)
    Love Joanne

  2. Amy says:

    My two cents is why not go for it? It won't hurt to find out more about it – maybe it's just what you've been waiting for 🙂

  3. Mary Ellen says:

    How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How about you apply for the position and find out what it entails (schedule, resposibilities, etc.) Armed with this information your problem solving skills can kick in and you can judge if it is a feasable situation. Just remember, chance favors the prepared mind!

  4. Denise says:

    Hi Alison,
    I say, give it a shot. If it doesn't work out for you and Fin, you can quit. In the meantime, why not show the universe that you are listening and attentive? Why not shake this up a bit? Maybe you need to KNOW that you don't want to work at all outside the home or maybe the universe is sending you this opportunity to discover something else about yourself and about Fin!
    In the meantime, I'll pray for you.
    xox Denise

  5. Dianntha says:

    Wow, isn’t it interesting how people throw out the baby once money is mentioned? You will only get one shot at raising your son and noone else can do that for you. When your son is older there will still be a perfect job waiting for you. This may just be the thing that causes more problems for your family…protect that which is important to you. You have a careful what you do with it!

  6. debbie says:

    I have no doubt you will make the right decision for you and that precious little boy. Either way, I can’t wait for the book!

  7. Fleur says:

    Why not apply for it? Find out a little bit more….work out how much it would cost you. Work out your take home wages, how much Breakfast Club and Afterschool and Vacation Care would cost, Transport, New Clothes/Shoes, Makeup, Coffee on way to work, Lunch, a few takeaway dinners, A Housecleaner or Ironing Lady. Then you have to decide if it is worth it “financially” before you start to worry about it “emotionally”. Kids bounce. Finley will be fine – it will come down to whether you want it bad enough. Others have said it – another perfect job will be waiting for you when you want it. It is not the end of the world yet. But put your big toe in the water and see how hot it is.
    Also work out how much you need for your special projects ie; Lino and TV and see how long it will take you to save up for them with work $s and without work $s.
    🙂 Good luck.

  8. gena says:

    Give it a go! I worked when my oldest was small,I had to,simple as that,she has grown into a wonderful young woman and I have no regrets,when baby number two appeared some 10 years later,I was able to do something I love from home,times change people change,circumstances change,but I absolutely hate the bad wrap working mothers get,its not like you are sending Finn to an orphanage!you might love it,it may be so fulfilling that it makes you a better Mommy(if thats possible!) or you may hate it,in which case,so what? you leave,lesson learned,I believe things are put in our pathway for a reason,at least give them a ring and find out a bit more.xx

  9. Laura says:

    Change seems inevitable no matter how you turn it. With Finley off to school (dare I say it; so soon) doesn't this opportunity come with the most perfect timing?
    Asking for initial part time seems a smart move. You can test the waters and see if the new situation proves to be a comfortable one.
    If it feels right, that's simply what it is. Don't start with the "half the story" attitude. It may just as well be the chance to have the best of both. Independence and being a good mother go together very well.
    Good luck whatever you choose to do and if Finley is still living with you at 43 many, many other things will have gone badly. 😉

  10. Sasha says:

    Ok, so you’re telling us you wouldn’t secretly WANT Finlay to still be living with you when he’s 43??? Yeah, right….!!
    Joking apart – I have been in this EXACT situation, when my daughter was the exact same age. The chance of a job in a playgroup came up, I had always wanted to work in child care/education so it seemed like fate. I was very happy as a stay at home Mum and home maker, but I was curious – I had been out of the work place since she was born. I was fortunate that money wasn’t a motivation (it was, after all, minimum wage!). I accepted, and as she was in nursery in the afternoons, and I had to work mornings, she got to spend lots of quality time with her Grandmother’s (who luckily for me, were more than willing to help me out without question).8.30am starts weren’t ideal, but the job was great fun, and Lauren seemed very happy. She was a confident, bright, deep thinking child, and everything was going swimmingly. Then the job got more involved, and I needed to take qualifications and take on the leadership of the Playgroup, to prevent it from closing. This in effect meant the job then became full time – 8am starts in the morning, to 12 midday in playgroup itself, then an afternoon of paperwork and planning the sessions, staff meetings, seminars etc, and evenings at college class and paperwork and study for a level 3 NVQ. My husband would have to force me to stop and go to bed at 2am.
    My daughter was by now starting full time school, my house was a tip, and meals were hit and miss. I was earning money for the first time in ages, but had not one moment of free time in which to spend it (ironic, huh!), The things I had dreamt of doing to my beautiful house, and buying with my new found ‘wealth’ were a distant dream. But worst of all, my daughter started wetting the bed (she NEVER did this, even when potty training) and showing other subtle signs of distress. I had underestimated the effect the monumental change in her secure home circumstances were having on her at what was a fundamental time for her anyway – going to ‘big’ school. The straw/camel moment came when I realised I couldn’t make it to one of her sharing assembly’s because I was being assessed for my NVQ – and she was expecting to see my usually ever present smiling face with the other Mum’s. I went in to ask one of my colleagues if she could gently tell Lauren Mummy couldn’t be there after all – and I ended up sobbing my heart out on her shoulder! I felt like such a heel (and I NEVER cry in public!) to my poor little girl. And I realised I was putting more time and effort into making life perfect for other people’s little darlings coming to playgroup, than I was my own little darling. And I had never intended to be that person. So I quit. And the playgroup had to close. I got threats, would you believe, from disgruntled parents who did not want to lose their very cheap child-care (so I felt even more of a heel, but hey, I’ll live with that). I have a management level qualification, and nowhere to use it. But you know what? The feeling of total joy I felt when I had the whole of the summer ahead of me, with my daughter, and projects waiting for me around the house was overwhelming. It taught me where my true skills and heart lay – as a stay at home Mum and home maker! And I appreciate my role with a whole new perspective – as does my family. It is my job, I’m good at it, and it makes me happy.
    I guess you’ll never know if you don’t find out Alison! This situation could be perfect for you, or it might serve to demonstrate where you are happiest. Only you can decide, and there’s only one way to find out. I think it’s the things we DON’T do in life we most regret, not the things we do. And as my story demonstrates, there is also always the get out clause – you can quit if it doesn’t work out. No situation is irredeemable.
    Incidentally, if you got on with writing that book, and you already have an agent (that’s half the battle isn’t it?!) then with that being your new job, would it render this decision null and void…. just a thought!

  11. Ali says:

    Apply for the job regardless. That way you won’t always be wondering “what if”.
    It would also be helpful to remember that Finn won’t always need as much attention as he may right now. I wonder if your not using what you perceive as Finn’s need of you as an excuse not to get back out there. Just as Finn is growing and finding independance, so Mum needs to as well!

  12. Mary says:

    Go for it and see how Finn does.

  13. Lisa the book sniffi says:

    …give it a go, you've got to get an interview first, then get the job. I'm a better mummy for working but then again, it is part-time. Part-time is a good thing. I'll stick my neck out and venture that Finn is still awfully young and I would agree with that side of you that worries about before and after school clubs. However, I do believe you will make the right choice, beacause you have the choice and that's an empowering thing in itself. Good luck whatever you decide to do x

  14. Traci says:

    You can only cross bridges when you come to them, and avoiding bridges makes for difficult travel.
    The universe is speaking to you. Apply for the job, and see if you get it. If you get it, cross that bridge then.
    Talk to Finley about it…he’s a terribly wise boy and he may have some insight you haven’t considered.
    Good Luck!

  15. Not offering one lick of advice about “the job.” Seems as if you’ve received plenty. On the other hand, I would like to encourage you as gently as possible to work on “the book.” An agent? You HAVE an agent?!! I’m strolling out of here whistling a happy tune…

  16. Victoria says:

    It sounds like a wonderful opportunity. I say go for it!

  17. Oh my dear- I have struggled with all the same things. But you are thinking too much (sure you never heard that before!). Do this…apply, and first see if you even GET the job. If you do- then TRY IT. See how you feel. Then and only then can you make a wise decision. You know the thing we tell our kids ‘how will you know if you don’t like the broccili unless you TRY it’…..

  18. La Chouette says:

    Why not give it a try? It's not a lifetime contract. If this job does not suit you or Finley, you can always stop it. If you do not try, you will always wonder what would have happened! And extra money will probably make your life easier, more relaxing – less worries on how to pay the bills, more money to spend on a vacation with Finley! 🙂

  19. Tanya says:

    Go for it. I was waiting for the perfect job. I saw one advertised but didn’t get an interview. But they kept my notes on file and offered me an even better job about two months later.
    You have to go for this.

  20. Carol M says:

    You’ve gotten a lot of great advice — talk to your son, apply for the position, gather information, talk to those who could offer babysitting, etc., to help with the transition if you accept the job. And if it doesn’t work out, you quit.
    Every situation is different — I get so frustrated by mothers who think their way is the only way for everyone else. We need to stick together and support each other. You are a concerned, caring, loving mother and that won’t change if you work outside the home.
    I wish you all the best!

  21. jade says:

    what a difficult situation-
    any chance of working part-time-at that job?
    i’m sure whatever you chose will work out-and you’ve got all of us-out here in the cyber-world- supporting you.
    i am blessed to be a full time mom-but-my mother always worked,and i respect her very much.
    genteel poverty looks good in movies, but, i know it’s much harder in real life !
    best wishes-
    can’t wait to read your book—

  22. Amber says:

    Okay, I’m not giving you advice. I hate people giving me advice. But I will tell you, as someone who has read your bloggie for years, I feel that you will always wonder, what would have happened if I….
    So. Let me just say. I tried it. Didn’t work out.
    When my girls went to school all day I got a little part time job that I thought was fabulous at first and then I grew to hate it because I missed “Me” time. I missed volunteering at the school, grocery shopping with no kids, the smell of laundry, puttering around my lovely house, baking, all the domestic things I didn’t have time for and I just worked PART time.
    So I quit.
    But I tried it and now I know.
    So, what if you tried it so you’d just know?

  23. Simone says:

    I have no sensible advice. I just keep thinking of you worrying about your son venturing outside the house with a Roy Cropper shopping bag!

  24. Buffy says:

    I'm only saying this because you asked…and I know it contradicts what every else is saying so it won't help. However, I think that your son needs his mother's time more than he needs a good TV or the other stuff you mentioned. Also you only have a few more months of having him at home before he starts school and you won't get that time back. Once he is at school you will have a lot more time on your hands to do your ideal job. If you didn't like being at home with him it might be different but I got the impression you were enjoying being a full-time mother.
    Of course, you are the one who has to live your life so in the end you must do what you believe to be right. I wish you all the best whatever your decision is.

  25. chris says:

    Beat’s me… I got laid-off last year and have been working part time. My kids love it that I am a “home mom,” as they call me. However, I feel lost and worthless. When I work full-time, I feel terribly that I am missing out on things with my kids. Now that I am home, I feel that I’m a loser because I’m not hauling in the money. I don’t think you can win on this one. There isn’t an answer.

  26. Katherine says:

    You have to go with your instincts on this one…
    I worked with my oldest, but have not worked with my three younger sons…and, I admit, I always think back to my oldest and wish I could have spent that time at home with him.
    You are so blessed to be in a situation where you have a choice! Follow your convictions…

  27. Lesley says:

    Difficult one, isn’t it? All I can do is speak from my own experience. For twenty years, I was a SAHM. I loved it. Every minute of it. Then the OH walked out on us and I never saw it coming. Just upped one day and “I don’t love you any more”. Which is all very well but he’d left me with three kids, a mortgage, a large house (with equally large bills), no extended family and no way of earning any money. What was I qualified to do? I’d been at home (with his wholehearted agreement and approval for twenty years).
    I was lucky – I found a job, albeit only a part-time one. I really need a full-time position.
    My point is, if you can do the job then go for it. You never, ever know what’s around the corner.
    I don’t have parents I can ask for financial help, nor does my ex contribute financially in any way – the most he does is see the youngest for a couple of hours a week. Don’t be like me. Have your job – earn money and be independent, and thank whatever gods you believe in that this opportunity has come now and not when you’re in your forties. While you have a choice – make it, because one day you may not have that option. Finlay will survive – but, as importantly, so will you.

  28. shelanne says:

    Fill in the application, you don’t have to go for the interview. Go for the interview, you don’t have to take the job. Give it a try, you only have to give a couple of weeks notice! If the job is really going to fit like a glove, don’t miss out on it. If it doesn’t fit then at least you won’t feel as though you have missed out on something potentially good. That’s my tuppence worth!

  29. Rosemary says:

    Personally, i would apply. If you get the job and don’t like it, you can quit. It might be something pretty wonderful, and yes, this comes from a stay at home mom 😉 rosemary

  30. Amy Jo says:

    I’m in a similar situation…currently I work 2 jobs. But, if I left the daycare I work at and went back to only working at Dairy Queen, life might be a little easier…*sigh* but, there are bad points to that situation as well!
    You make my decision, and I’ll make yours. LOL

  31. Kelly says:

    Oh goodness girl!! You have circled around 50 times! And you certainly have advice coming…my two cents? Why not? Nothing to lose really. I mean, just like everyone else says, you could simply quit if it doesn’t suit you.
    In the mean time…get off your laurels girlfriend, and write that book we are all waiting for!!

  32. Polly says:

    We were just discussing this last night, us gals sitting at the round table. One mom in tears as she is contemplating going back to work so that her husband can pursue his art. One mom with grown children – probably the only one of all of us that had time to do her hair! One mom with a new baby and another son in college (yikes). And one me with a child expelled from highschool last week (double yikes!) Yes “work” would be easier, we determined. Financial independence is not without its costs. So here’s my happy medium… Wouldn’t they love to have a part time super creative supermom? The best of both worlds exists SOMEWHERE doesn’t it?! Blessings… Polly

  33. Jenny says:

    Just adding my 2cents which totally agrees with Kelly’s.

  34. Anna Marie says:

    I am going to say this as gently, but forcefully as I can.
    WRITE THE BLOODY BOOK. If you feel blocked about doing it, look at Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and do the exercises. She has many insights about why artists sabotage themselves. You will make a packet from your book, do something you love, and get that lino repaired.
    I was this way about my doctoral dissertation…always something else to do, something more important. But after I realized I was sabotaging myself, I finished it, and I’m now working on my third book. I have a routine…read emails and blogs for about 30 minutes, then butt in chair for 3-4 hours writing, Monday through Friday, and the book gets done. Some of it isn’t perfect, some of it I have to write and rewrite, but I do it. So can you. You have a splendid gift. Use it to benefit Finn, use it to benefit you.
    I love your blog, we all do, but really, you deserve a nice big fat paycheck for all your gifts.
    My best to you,
    Anna Marie

  35. Suzanne says:

    Working full time at some office job devours the artist’s soul, but on the other hand, working somewhere creative part time, will allow you to make some interesting social contacts, it also allows Finley to become more of a social independant as he’ll be approaching the world of schooling soon and making all kind of new friends; change on both your parts is inevitable. The job (but only if part-time) may open up a whole new world for your creativity and you have much to offer when it comes to design and style! I’d say ‘go for it’! Just make sure you leave time for The Book : ). And whatever you do, never say you’ll go ‘full’ time,,it’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.

  36. Jo says:

    As a Mum of three who has worked full time, part time and is now a full time homekeeper, I’d go for writing the book! Your child needs you and you need him. You are his major influence in life, and you do not want that influence to be transferred to a 22 year old called ‘Miss Smith at Day Care’. Our 13 yo has friends and all they remember from their junior school years are their day care/child minders, not their times with their parents. A sad situation. Personally, I think a book on your posts about scrumptious living/house keeping etc would be WONDERFUL!

  37. Amanda says:

    Honey. Take the job. Dive in. Change things. Why not? What is the worst that will happen? You hate working? Fine: quit. OR, you may love it, it may unlock your creativity and energy by forcing you to seek out time to write in your new schedule, it may foster a new closeness with your little guy as you seek out moments together in your new schedule. I feel noble and invincible when I come home from work and am able to wring every drop of awesome from what is left in the day with my kids–not always easy, no, but there are days when I feel like I should be wearing a cape and ruling the world. At any rate, all of this sounds better than living with the regret and what-ifs if you don't take the job. I think it's a no-brainer. GO!!

  38. Kimberly says:

    I have done both, fulltime SAHM and FT work outside the home mama (not my choice at the time, dh was injured and unable to work so needed to pay the bills somehow). Both are great at times. Both are awful at times. Now I'm just working PT and I LOVE it! It's the best of both worlds. I now have lots of time to spend with my 3 girls and try and keep up with the house and then when it gets to all be too much then I'm back at work for a few days, then I can't wait to be back with my girls. Do we still have holes in the lino? Yep. But now we have a little money to go do fun things like vacations, etc.. Oh and I would so buy your book. I love reading your blog. 🙂

  39. Carlie says:

    Wow. I'm surprised…unanimous support for heading into the work world. I thought there'd be more mixed opinions out there. I was going to say stay home and keep on with your current track as that seems to be what you want to do. I see no need to ever be chained to what you "ought to do." Live your dreams. And yes, as everyone else has mentioned, I'm sure this includes writing a book for us. *wink*

  40. Joanne says:

    Alison, I posted an earlier response, and having read the other fabulous suggestions you’ve received, I’ve thought of yet another option to add to your state of overwhelm!
    We all really want to read your book, and you really want to write it but are a bit scared, so why don’t you phone the owners of the business and say that you’d be perfect for them, but that you’d like to work only part-time, and from September onwards (so that you’re there to help with the Christmas rush). They obviously want someone now, and would employ someone else for that job, but they may keep you in mind for later in the year. You’d have nothing to lose by suggesting it, and perhaps going in for an informal chat. It could be worth a shot. I think part-time work is really better in terms of quality of life than full-time work when you have little ones, even if they’re at school.
    But, here’s the good bit – even if they say no, you set yourself a deadline (or let’s change that word to something more positive, like ‘live-line’) to have the book written by the time Finley goes to school, with the writing being your part-time job until September. Then you’d be free to start part-time work doing something else you love, even if it’s not at the store in question (although I don’t know why they wouldn’t just snaffle you up).
    I know your head must be spinning, but I hope this helps. A ‘live-line’ for your book might just spur you into action! (And think of all the royalties you’ll get, after publication! See, it would be a job, after all!)
    Best of luck.
    Love Joanne

  41. Petah says:

    Alison, this sure is a curly one. I went back to work when my first child was one on a part-time basis. I had no choice. Then after two and three arrived, it was just not financially viable and I worked from home. Now they are all at school, I am absolutely loving working part-time and it has opened up a whole new world for me and we don’t have to try and make ends meet and can afford the odd holiday, etc. The job I actually went for I did not get, but they took my name and I ended up getting one that suited me even more. I say go for the job, let them fall in love with you and then say you can only do it if you can job share. That way you get the best of both worlds. The stimulation and the money and to be with your beloved Finley. You can only give it a shot, but I definitely think that if you do not get it or the hours do not suit, the only thing left to do to get that hole fixed in your lino is to write that book. That could be your at home work and we all know you have it in you!

  42. Hi Alison
    This situation isn’t hard or difficult, or even a dilemma, while you have a choice. And you do….
    (have a choice, that is)
    All it is, is a phase you are going through. You already know what you will do.
    You must already be getting some type of income to be able to live the way you are living right now. And you are rich.
    In many ways.

  43. Lynda says:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content