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Monday Mom challenge: Define 'work' for you

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Is it really a job?

In a down economy -- in any economy, really -- we need to communicate to our children about what it means to "work." But first we have to define it for ourselves. This isn't about "work-at-home" versus "stay-at-home" -- it's about effort and investment in whatever we do. Sometimes it's also about money, but mostly, it's about value.

Stay at home mom

Working — where, how, why, and so on — is a central decision and activity of adulthood. Whether you have deliberately chosen to make a career of motherhood or of banking, or your job is more a result of circumstance, you have chosen a path. Hopefully it leads to a certain amount of personal fulfillment, and even a reasonable bank balance. But how you define work and how you communicate the effort and value of that work is part of communicating core values to your children. If you don't see certain tasks as being of value, and communicate the return on the investment in those tasks, neither will your kids.

A definition of work

Defining "work" objectively is tricky! In the dictionary it might be defined as "productive activity" or in other similarly nebulous terms. Ultimately, you have to define it for yourself. Is what you do at home — whether it's helping the kids with schoolwork or the laundry, or just keeping track of who goes where and when — work? Or do you only define the activity you are paid for as work?

No matter what our roles — in or out of the home, male or female, young or old — "work" happens, all the time, everywhere. Recognizing the value in all that work can lead to creative new ways to define roles, careers and the like.

Time and effort

Work is something we put time and effort into. Consider the saying "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well." Do you believe that? For all tasks? If it's fun and you enjoy it, can it be "work," too?

Dismissing some tasks as "not work" may seem like you're diminishing their value, especially to kids who might not understand the semantic arguments of SAH (stay-at-home) vs WOH (work outside the home) in the adult world. Noting the value, even of "fun" work, can help kids understand how all kinds of work contribute to the greater whole. The time and effort we put into all areas of our life is work to some extent, even if it's not obviously "work."

Value and reward

No matter what you consider work, consider the value of all the tasks you perform. Learn to recognize the value and how return on investment in that time spent is achieved. You may not get paid in dollars for certain tasks, but you may see a return on your investment in time in other ways, whether it's personal satisfaction, time for something else or a savings in another area of your life. A paycheck does not necessarily equate to value!

How you define work and the role of work in your life is a tricky but important thing — and likely will change over time. Figuring it out, even a little bit, helps us communicate our core values to our children — and helps them understand the role of work in their lives and the many choices they will have in the future to see the value and reward in all different types of work.

More tips for working moms

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