Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The things that fall away

Last week I wrote about how stress can be a factor in any decision one makes about work-life balance, particularly when children are involved, and even more particularly when the sporadic nature of the work means a sometimes dizzy seesaw between overload and the sound of crickets.

One thing that I didn't mention then, but should have, is that when a lot of paid work comes into the picture for a person who's previously been primarily a caregiver, there are often other costs outside the family unit itself to be met. By this I mean that at-home caregivers often do a lot of things in the community, school, world, that are largely invisible to others, but when those people are no longer available to do so much, suddenly it's apparent just how truly the quiet army of home-based workers contribute to the social economy that they live in.

Just to give you a sample: I started working heavily from the end of May, while another friend of mine, a longtime at-home parent, started a fairly intense job in March. A third friend is now studying fulltime for a teaching degree. Here is a brief and non-comprehensive list of the things we have had to scale back or drop now that we are working:

- One of us has had to resign from the school council, where her role was pivotal
- The other two of us, while still on council, have been sporadic in attendance and less able to perform committee work
- I have stopped helping with the school's Fresh Fruit Friday preparation
- Both of my friends have stopped serving in the canteen
- One of my friends used to be a volunteer patient visitor at the local hospital each week. She is determined to keep it up, but has had to drop to monthly visits.
- I used to help run the local playgroup, but have opted out of that now.
- All of us have reduced our NFP volunteering, which ranged from occasional to considerable
- I can no longer provide ad hoc childcare for friends in difficult situations
- All of us are visiting elderly relatives much less than we were, or would like to

I am not happy that these shifts have occurred. I don't want to be less engaged, less committed, on these fronts - but ultimately, there is only so much time in the week, and keeping enough focus on the work and my own family's needs is taking up all my resources at the moment. I guess it must just be chalked up as another item on the "Cost" side of the ledger when thinking about taking on paid work when you are the primary caregiver.


  1. :( giving up volunteer work is hard.. no matter if its school, playgroup or visiting relatives...

    I feel for you!! I hope you are able to settle into a routine and get back to doing things you enjoyed in the community!

    #teamIBOT was here to say hello!

  2. On the other hand, there are others who can and sometimes want to step into those roles. Ultimately you weighed up and made this decision because it was best for your family, and that is after all your number 1 priority - don't be too hard on yourself :)

  3. Social capital is another name for it - Eva Cox writes a lot about it. It's incredible when it's documented in that way - it's such a loss to the community. Work places should really factor in this kind of social contribution - it should be policy - the shareholders may not like it but at the end of the day we all benefit. Nice blog!

  4. It's hard isn't it? There is so much that sahms do that others don't realise.
    I help out in my kids classes and know just how much that time is valued by the teachers; it would make their job a lot harder without parents to do things like reading groups.