What I Learned About Career From My Stay-at-Home Mom
My mother didn't work when I was growing up. Watching her sit at home every day highly influenced my want and need to work and create.
My mom formerly worked as a lab technician when she moved to the United States from Israel. Why did she pick this field? According to her, she didn't have much of a choice. Israeli high schools in the 60's were similar to tech schools in the U.S. You were placed in classes based on your aptitude. You learned your trade while working in the Israeli army after graduation.
My grandparents told her to become a lab tech since it was a skilled position and she'd always have work in a hospital or doctor's office. In the 60's in Israel, you worked to provide and chose professions based on need versus passion.
My mother worked for 10 years in hospitals around the United States and became a working mom when she had my older sister – six years prior to me. It was a struggle for her to be a single mom.
Juggling hospital hours and daycare was not an easy task. Fast forward six years, remarried and in a much more comfortable financial situation – she stopped working and (from my perspective) never looked back. Our world shattered four years later when my dad passed away. I was only 4 and can't remember much but I never saw my mom struggle or ask for help. She dealt with lawsuits, finances, estates on top of raising two girls under 10. We were earning dividends from my dad's business and financially we'd be OK as long as she was fiscally responsible.
Growing up I never thought it was weird my mom didn't go to an office since my elementary school class was primarily filled with kids whose moms did not work (but their dads did). As I went to high school, I saw that moms started to take jobs at Bloomingdales or get their real estate licenses. My mom never did. When I got to college, I encountered students whose mothers always worked. My mind was blown.
As I've gotten older, I always asked my mom why she never returned to the workforce and her answer was always the same, "It's too late. The skills changed. I was raising daughters. I was busy. I had carpool." I think the real reason was that she was scared. She let herself stay away from it too long and became far too comfortable at home
I entered the career world without witnessing what it was like for either parent to commute to the office or talk about their work or their career aspirations. Sure, I had cousins, uncles and aunts who would give me a window into the working world but not having an example in my own home was glaring. The example I did have was my mom running countless errands and sitting at the computer. While I can attest she was involved with the stock market -- and had the smarts to invest in Viagra from day one -- the majority of her day was spent doing "nothing."
As I got older, I began to see the world through her eyes and have appreciated the fact that she was a stay at home mom. I saw that I ended up learning a whole lot about work from her. Maybe my mom didn't work in an office but she did run her household like a business.
While people lost their savings in the recession, her business skills and market foreshadowing helped her sell our home at the top of the housing bubble. While many families are still struggling, her 'business' is still in the black. She passed on this business acumen to me in the form of budgets, finance, street smarts and sheer confidence.
Let's talk money - Even without a clear steady income my mom never took a handout and imparted this importance on my sister and me. While other students were asking for financial aid (as their parents racked in $500K) she paid for our schools outright from a college fund. She didn't want to "ask" if other people truly needed it. I saw her scrimp and save and followed suit. She was a "recessionista" before the term was coined and passed on the knowledge to my sister and me.
If there was penny – she knew how to pinch it. She'd compare prices and bargain shop til we were blue in the face. She always, always asked for a deal or a second opinion. She'd spend hours researching products before making a purchase. Test shoes, coats, cars – you name it before dropping a dime. Many of my peers and friends needed to live at home after college, drowning in debt, or simply couldn't make it own their own. I didn't. I was thankful for those penny pinching lessons.
I always knew from the get-go to live well below my means. I rode the bus, had a library card (probably only person in NYC who still does, besides my mom of course) and knew how to make a meal for under $2. I never needed a handout. I knew better than to charge an item if I didn't have the cash up front. I'd never think to live paycheck to paycheck or live beyond my means.
You're an all-star – Unlike her parents, my mother saw the merit in working for a job you are passionate about. Originally I wanted to be an actress. I was signed up for every acting and singing class possible. The problem was that I was shy. My mother helped raise my confidence to audition and try. Although, she also told me that I could never major in acting but could always do it on the side. She read my high school and college essays and would rave to her friends about my writing.
When I wanted to work in TV news she was my PR person. If we passed a local news van on the street she'd walk right up and start telling the producer or anchor about me and help me make connections. While I recall being mortified at her overt perseverance, it inspired me to have the confidence to do the same. While I'll never have the amount of chutzpah she has, it certainly empowered me. While I might not be an all-star, having that confidence is key. I believed I deserved a shot at working in media thanks to my mom. I never thought I wasn't good enough or didn't earn it.
Create a living – Watching my mom spend two + decades not working prompted me to never want to be in that situation. I might never know how she spent those working hours but I do know I never want to find out for myself. Someday, I want to be a mom – but a working one. Easier said than done. But seeing her live for just me and my sister was not something I wanted for myself. And I know that is something she doesn't want for us either. Professionals spend over 70 percent of our lives at work. Besides gaining a paycheck – the office provides us a place to socialize, mate and best of all showcase our talents.
Nothing gold can stay - You never know what the future holds and you'd better be prepared. My mother was extremely lucky that we had a strong financial cushion in place. However, she became the go-to sherpa of recent divorcés and widows in my neighborhood. They'd talk to her for hours and ask for her advice. She doled out references for trustworthy lawyers, accountants, banker, brokers – even mechanics. She let me know that even the best marriages fail or the healthiest spouses perish or get ill. The future isn't certain and you need to know you can rely on yourself. Have a say in your household and be educated about where your finances are going. You're smart and you can change the world. You don't need a man to make a living for you to survive. One day – you'll regret it.