Q&A: Downsized!

Erin writes:

"So, I've been downsized.  Through some sloppiness on my supervisor'spart, I had several weeks notice, so the actual summons to his office today did not come as a shock.  And his mistake gave me some time to discuss this with my spouse, investigate the job market in my field (dreadful), and figure out how to file for unemployment benefits.  Financially things are not a total disaster, although disasterous territory will eventually be reached.  And emotionally I (currently) feel all right about this--a reorganization in August made my former workplace an unpleasant place to work.  But, since I was 15 I have always had a job, I identify strongly as my profession (I have a Ph.D. in a specialized discipline and have been successful in a tough field, up to now) and suspect there will be emotional repercussions, even if I feel quite sanguine right now. 

My primary concern right now is my overnight and involuntary transformation from WOH to SAH for my two year old daughter.  I feel like I don't even know what I don't know.  How do people structure their days with a two year old?  How do they get adult companionship that is not child-centered?  How do they keep child and self from going batshit in the winter?  My husband and I agreed that it is important to keep our daughter at her daycare part-time, for continuity and to give me some uninterrupted time to devote to my job search, work on professional development, etc., but I don't even have an inkling of what works well for part-time arrangements (one day a week?  two days?  Every morning but not afternoons?  Of course, different patterns work for different people, but I don't even know how to think strategically about this).  Or the hell with continuity and I squeeze job search stuff into her (disappearing) naptime and let her experience a full-time mama for the first time?  Is there any need to explain to a two year old that Mama's not going to her office anymore?  If so, how?  And how do SAHparents divide chores with the WOHparent? 

Although I firmly believe that out of crisis comes opportunity, I feel very at sea..."

Oooh, lots of questions. And this is one of those series of questions with no right or wrong answer, so I'm hoping everyone who reads this will chime in with what works/worked for you, and *why* it works for you, in hopes that sharing the process will help Erin.

In my experience, a two-year-old's day is organized around 1) the nap, 2) meals, 3) any activities (classes, playgroups, errands, etc.). The vast majority of 2-year-olds still need to be taking a nap every day, even though some of them will go through nap strikes or time changes (needing the nap to be earlier or later), so her naptime shouldn't be actually disappearing, unless you mean she used to nap for three hours and it's gone down to two. (Of course there are exceptions, including my older child, who gave up naps completely at 2 1/2. But I don't wish that on any of you.)

Meals are meals, although you may be experiencing any number of annoying 2-year-old mealtime behaviors, from refusing to eat anything (or refusing to eat anything that isn't purple or star-shaped or whatever other control plan your kid's come up with) to taking forever to eat to any number of other things that make you crazy. Being home with a 2-year-old can be a delicate balance between making sure the kid is offered enough healthy food to avoid crankiness and malnutrition and maintaining your own sanity in the face of impossible food demands. In short: Just because you're home more, you don't have to be a hero. And if your child will eat more than 3 different foods you're coming out ahead.

The whole classes/errands/playgroups thing really speaks to your question "How do they get adult companionship that is not child-centered?" And the answer is, you don't, at least during the day. Think about it--if you were child-free (either all the time or for some chunk of the day) would *you* want to hang out with someone else and her 2-year-old? Probably not. Which means that all the adult contact you have during the day (except incidental contact in stores) is going to be with other parents or caregivers with kids in tow. If you want to have meetings or lunch or coffee with people without kids, you'll need to get a babysitter or wait until the evening when your partner can be with your daughter.

The good news is that moms and dads and caregivers are cool people (most of us). So while you're mediating negotiations over toys at a playgroup or hanging out at creative movement class, you can get into some interesting discussions (once you get past the potty-training small talk). Yesterday I spent some time with some preschool parents and a babysitter, and we covered kindergarten admissions, Brazilian bikini waxes (pro, con, where to get the best one), A-Rod, Michael Phelps, the stimulus package, one woman's upcoming move to Pensacola (if there are any Moxites in the Pensacola area, could you email me to help give advice?), and NYC real estate in light of current economic conditions. Not rocket science, but more varied than what we used to talk about in my office, without a doubt.

Basically, I think that in order to be home with a kid, whether full-time or part-time, you need to acknowledge that it's important work that takes a certain mindset and skillset. And that you can develop both, but it's not the same as being in a office. In some ways it's more intesting, because you end up interacting with people from a wider variety of careers and backgrounds than you do in an office (where else but preschool would I have met a fashion model, an industrial process engineer, a public health outreach worker, and a high-end shoe designer?). But it can also be deadly boring in a way that still requires focus. Don't let that prevent you from experiencing it fully for as long as you do it--there is no magic secret about SAH that makes it consistently fulfilling, just as WOH isn't constantly value-laden.

As for how you want to work your part-time daycare, think about how you work best. Do you get more done in shorter bursts? Or do you need to have the whole day to really settle in and get things done?

Someone who has a real partnership should speak about dividing chores, and someone who went from WOH to SAH can help with the emotional stuff (I've only gone from SAH to WOH to freelance, and it's a very different emotional path, I'm imagining).

Enjoy this time for however long it lasts, and take it for what it is. You can do it.

How did it go for you? What do you all suggest?