If you come to a fork in the road, take it. --Yogi Berra
As I have , I was laid off from my job last year and have been unable to find another one. I also have two children and a spouse with a job. So I am in the enviable position of having two identities that are available to me: “Unemployed” and “Stay-At-Home Mom.” Which one to choose? In some ways they are remarkably similar. So let’s compare them, shall we?
Job Description/ Skills Required:
Unemployed (UE): Independent, motivated, “self-starter.” Must show lots of initiative. No supervision. Networking, sales and (self-)promotion skills required. Must be willing to accept constructive and not-so-constructive criticism. Hours: 24/7.
Stay-At-Home Mom (SAHM): Operations and Project Management of household. Scheduling, budget, transportation and procurement. Team leadership, conflict resolution, and individual counseling skills a plus. Must be willing to accept constructive and not so constructive criticism. Hours: 24/7.
Advantage: toss up
How you actually spend your day:
UE: Check websites and email alerts for job ads. Revise resume and cover letter for each potential job. Read books, websites, newsletters, etc. for job search advice. Attend workshops and career counseling sessions. Attend networking events. Send letters/make phone calls to contacts. Search Linkedin for connections. Attempt to set up informational interviews. Check email. Prepare for interviews. Participate in phone interviews and in-person interviews. Complete “assessments.” Be available for phone calls and meetings.
SAHM: Prepare meals. Clean and straighten house. Exercise. Volunteer in classroom, and other volunteer activities. Coordinate with other volunteers. Drive children to classes, practices, playdates and other activities. Help children with homework. Plan events and activities for family. Grocery shopping. Shop for children’s clothing and shoes, and household items. Various other errands. Be available for emergencies (variably defined). Provide other assistance to family, friends and neighbors as needed.
Interactions with Others:
UE: Primarily work alone. Occasional interactions are almost always asymmetrical, to your disadvantage: you need something from them and need to make a good impression.
SAHM: Work alone, with other equals, or with your children. When interactions are asymmetrical, you usually have the advantage.
Definition of Success:
UE: Success = Getting a job. Period. Some days you may feel like you’ve made good progress toward this goal, but every day that you do not actually get a job offer is in some sense a failure. All other “accomplishments” are ephemeral; they disappear at the end of the day or week and you are back to square one.
SAHM: Long term, you are successful when your children enter adulthood able to take care of themselves and contribute in some way to society. In the short term, every day that the children go to bed, and they’ve been fed and kept safe, is a success. All other “accomplishments” are ephemeral; they don’t “count” by the next day when you will need to do them, or something very like them, again.
UE: Society gives lip service to the idea that you are a productive and valuable member of society who has had a temporary setback due to forces beyond your control. But deep down many people believe that there must be something wrong with you. At the very least, you have been quite careless to “lose” your job. I mean, where was the last place you put it? And why is it taking you so long to find another one? You must not be looking that hard. Or else you are too picky, not willing to take the perfectly good jobs that are out there.
SAHM: Society gives lip service to the idea that you are a productive and valuable member of society. I mean “motherhood” is the most important job in the world, amirite? But deep down many people believe that it is not really “work” at all. What do you even do all day?
Advantage: toss up
How much people want to help you:
UE: Very much. Everyone wants to know how it is going, provide helpful advice and suggestions, and let you know about potential opportunities.
SAHM: Not at all. What do you need help with anyway?
Rewards and Feedback:
UE: Very little positive feedback. A great deal of constructive (and not so constructive) criticism and rejection.
SAHM: Very little positive feedback. Satisfaction of being more involved in children’s lives during the day; opportunity to spend more time with children; opportunity to have more say in how children are raised and how home looks and is run.
When I started this exercise, I had no idea which one would come out ahead. “Stay-at-home-mom” and “Unemployed” have a lot of similarities, but I think SAHM wins by a nose. Do you agree?