When Melody Webb sent her youngest child off to preschool last September, she got a lot more than two “free” mornings a week. “All of a sudden the world was a really different place,” says the Southwest Washington resident and mother of two who gave up a career in the public interest sector to be a stay-at-home mom. “I found new ways to create options for what I want to do.”
Stay-at-home mothers often find themselves with more time and more options once they have sent that last child off to school. Some nurture their interests or indulge in hobbies. Others start home-based businesses. Still others go back to school themselves, but many, such as Ms. Webb, are not all that willing to plunge right back into the 9-to-5 workday world.
“I almost went back to work when the economy went bad,” says Ms. Webb, a lawyer who graduated from Harvard College, Harvard Law School and the D.C. public school system, “but we decided that there were quality-of-life issues that mattered more.”
Often, the same concerns that pulled moms out of the job market in the first place cause them to redefine their jobs once their children are off at school.
“I think moms are very creative about developing businesses and other things around their children’s schedules,” she says. “We want to be there for our children.”
That doesn’t mean that Ms. Webb — who had previously clerked for a D.C. Court of Appeals judge, worked for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and served as executive director of the Anacostia/Congress Heights Partnership — stopped thinking about other things that were important to her. Since she couldn’t tote her children to congressional hearings or meetings in the Rayburn Building, Ms. Webb came up with a way to connect just the same through volunteer work.
Her Web site (www.lobbyline.com), which she created with the help of her husband, software engineer Steve O’Sullivan, serves as her vehicle to educate on issues that are important to her and connect to her personally as a parent. A sister site (www.securemom.com) that she runs with her husband lobbies for Social Security benefits for stay-at-home parents.
“I needed a way to structure my time around the children’s needs,” Ms. Webb says. “It’s hard to find a job between the hours of drop off and pick up.”
That doesn’t preclude all outside activities.
Ms. Webb serves on the Harvard Club Board and is also active with the D.C. Women’s Bar Association’s Lawyers at Home Committee.
“We talk about parenting and professional development,” she says. “It’s been such a source of renewal, support and inspiration for me.”
Groups such as these are important for stay-at-home moms who need a bit of adult conversation from time to time. There are Internet chat rooms, listservs and scores of books that help stay-at-home moms cope. Even neighborhood committees can help moms find meaningful ways to use new time.
“It’s really important to connect with other mothers like yourself,” says Adriane McCray Webb (no relation to Melody Webb), who is president of the Alexandria chapter of Mocha Moms, a national organization for stay-at-home women of color. The Alexandria group meets every Friday with children in tow for field trips and nature hikes. On the first Friday of the month, the women meet by themselves.
Formalized groups are especially important for women who are newcomers to the community to put down roots, says Mrs. McCray Webb, who moved to the Washington area after her husband, a captain in the Navy, was attached to the inspector general’s office at the Navy Yard. Mocha Moms allows her to chat about nutrition, outings and, of course, what to do in the downtime.
“Having children means you really have to manage your time,” says Mrs. McCray Webb, mother of Nia, 4, and Naja, 2, “but being at home allows you more time for creativity. The decisions that mothers make are so varied.”
For Mrs. McCray Webb, that means creating and handcrafting natural body care products. She is now working with a chemist on her line, called Self, which she hopes to market.
A vegetarian, Mrs. McCray Webb says she is interested in eventually pursuing a career as a naturopath, a type of healer who uses noninvasive techniques. She says she wants to shape her career choices in keeping with her own values, which, above all, means being a constant for her children.
“The best thing is the gift of being a part of your children’s day-to-day lives,” Mrs. McCray Webb says. “I get to see the light go off. My daughter came into my bedroom the other day, and she was ready to read. I may not have been able to see that if I was working.”
Before she had her children, Tracy Turney was in nursing school and sewing uniforms for employees of Colonial Williamsburg, but once daughter Mae and son Jack were born, she and husband Aaron, a second lieutenant now stationed at Bolling Air Force Base (where they reside), decided to put it all on hold until Jack was in kindergarten.
This year, Mae will be entering kindergarten at Stoddert Elementary School in Northwest. Jack is at the base preschool, which means that Mrs. Turney isn’t quite ready to take up her sewing — and her schooling — just yet.
She does run marathons, however. Up to now, that means she has had to get up before 5:30 a.m. for her morning run. With Jack in preschool, now she can run at 9 a.m.
“I definitely plan on going back to school to finish,” Mrs. Turney says, “but right now, it’s nice focusing on family. They get good meals, and I’ve got a clean house.”
Military wives often face unique situations regarding their status simply because they move around so much. LaTara Shaw, a Landover resident whose husband is also stationed at Bolling, decided to stop working and stay at home for her daughter, Kierra, 8, after the family moved from Florida in January.
“It was great to contribute to the family income,” says Mrs. Shaw, who had been working in accounting, “but I wanted to make sure my daughter would feel comfortable in her new school, and I could go in if there was a problem.”
In the interim, Mrs. Shaw poured her energies into volunteering, helping out at her daughter’s school and chaperoning field trips.
Thanks to a smooth transition, Mrs. Shaw plans on working again, but not in a 9-to-5 situation. Instead, she’ll be going back to school herself. Although she isn’t enrolled yet, she wants to train to be an anesthesiologist — which requires a medical degree.
“I’m excited about returning to school,” Mrs. Shaw says. “I can be home by the time my daughter is home. And she thinks it’s great.”
Many women who take time off to raise their children and then re-enter the workplace find themselves in an entirely different profession. Sometimes, the change is dictated by outside considerations. The corporate world is not always sympathetic to the needs of working moms, who may need to take a sudden leave because of a child’s unexpected illness or school closure. Often, however, the change occurs because mothers have taken the time to re-examine their own interests.
For years, Kimberly Zeidman, a mother of three in Leesburg, Va., worked in the corporate world in accounting and finance. She stopped working after the birth of her second child in 1994 and began “dabbling in the things that have always interested me.”
“Music had always been my hobby,” she says, “but I wanted to make it more prevalent in my life.”
Mrs. Zeidman began by playing the piano and singing in the church choir. Today, she also teaches music at daughter Paige’s preschool.
“I discovered I’m more of an artist at heart,” Mrs. Zeidman says, “and this involves me with my children and their school and doing something that I love. Money is not the criteria.”
She’s also dependent on the “good support system” that exists at her development, where more than half of the mothers are stay-at-homes.
“We watch for each other, and there are all kinds of special events,” Mrs. Zeidman says. “They even have activities for teens, which is an important way to keep the children involved in the community.”
In the future, Mrs. Zeidman says she may go into teaching full time, or something that can “keep me on a schedule similar to theirs.” Right now, though, “I have the luxury of pursuing something that I love.”
Some mothers actually stop working later, as their children approach middle school. Beth Norcross, who lives in North Arlington, had been in the environmental field for 20 years before she stopped working altogether. Her oldest child was 15, and the other two were 12 and 10.
“They were too old for baby sitters, but old enough to start getting into trouble,” she says. “When they were little, there were structured alternatives for after school.”
So Mrs. Norcross became a stay-at-home mom. Her house became the neighborhood center, where everybody stopped by after school, and she found important “talk time” with her own children.
Still, Mrs. Norcross was “a little restless, intellectually and otherwise.” She is now in seminary part time, on a schedule that has her studies ending when her last child graduates from high school.
Going back to school was a great adventure, she says. She found that her children could empathize with her for a change, since they all had papers to write and tests to take.
Mrs. Norcross has also written a book, “Use Your Fingers, Use Your Toes: Quick and Easy Step By Step Solutions to Your Everyday Math Problems,” that grew out of her tutoring and volunteer work.
Five years ago, she started Babes on Bikes, a group of women, many of whom are stay-at-home moms, who meet several mornings a week for long-distance bike rides.
“I was training as a long-distance cyclist and kept passing women who were riding by themselves,” Mrs. Norcross recalls. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we all ride together?’”
Now, they don’t just ride together. Members go skiing, bowl, ice skate in the winter and talk a great deal about child rearing, schooling and home-based businesses.
“I’ve formed some wonderful friendships,” Mrs. Norcross says. “Women need a little something that’s just for them.”
“THE STAY-AT-HOME MOM’S GUIDE TO MAKING MONEY FROM HOME: CHOOSING THE BUSINESS THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU USING THE SKILLS AND INTERESTS YOU ALREADY HAVE,” BY LIZ FOLGER, PRIMA LIFESTYLES, 2000. WITH WOMEN OWNING 40 PERCENT OF THE BUSINESSES IN THE UNITED STATES, MANY ARE JUGGLING CAREER AND FAMILY. THIS BOOK GIVES ADVICE ON HOW TO DO JUST THAT AND OFFERS PROFILES OF BUSINESSWOMEN WHO ARE ACHIEVING THEIR DREAMS.
“MOMPRENEURS ONLINE: USING THE INTERNET TO BUILD WORK AT HOME SUCCESS,” BY PATRICIA COBE AND ELLEN H. PARLAPIANO, PERIGEE BOOKS, 2001. THE WRITERS OFFER ENTREPRENEURIAL WOMEN ADVICE ON HOW TO GET AN AT-HOME WEB BUSINESS UP AND RUNNING, TAKE AN EXISTING BUSINESS ONLINE OR FIND A COMPANY THAT ALLOWS TELECOMMUTING.
“STAYING HOME: FROM FULL-TIME PROFESSIONAL TO FULL-TIME PARENT,” BY DARCIE SANDERS AND MARTHA M. BULLEN, SPENCER & WATERS, 2001. THIS BOOK IS A GOOD RESOURCE FOR MOTHERS WHO ARE CONSIDERING STAYING AT HOME WITH THEIR CHILDREN.
MOCHA MOMS ONLINE (WWW.MOCHAMOMS.ORG) IS A SUPPORT GROUP FOR STAY-AT-HOME MOTHERS. IT OFFERS INFORMATION ON AT-HOME PARENTING AND CHILD REARING, CHAT ROOMS AND OTHER WEB RESOURCES.
ATHOMEMOMS.COM, A COMMUNITY FOR STAY-AT-HOME MOMS, WAS STARTED BY A STAY-AT-HOME MOTHER. THE SITE OFFERS INFORMATION ON PRODUCT REVIEWS AND RECALLS, WORKOUT AND HEALTHY EATING TIPS, AND INFORMATION ON BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES.
MELODY WEBB OF SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON STARTED WWW.SECUREMOM.COM, A SITE DEDICATED TO CHANGING SOCIAL SECURITY LAWS TO PROVIDE RETIREMENT EARNINGS CREDITS TO AT-HOME MOTHERS AND OTHER FAMILY CAREGIVERS FOR WORK DONE REARING CHILDREN.