Liz McEwan is not your typical homeschool mom.
Or perhaps she is. Maybe the “typical” homeschooling parent doesn’t actually exist.
Most of The Distiller‘s guests have some professional ambition or goal they’re pursuing. The majority of our discussions about “work” necessarily center around professional concerns, and how people balance the question of meaning with the need to put food on the table. But what about people who have made different decisions, and have different priorities? Or what about people who, through no choice of their own, have been removed from the workforce, such as retirees, or the disabled? How do we appropriately value and recognize the work of those whose “value” is less tangibly tied to economics?
We’re committed to showing as many sides of the “work” discussion as possible. Our conversation with Liz is the beginning of bringing more of those marginalized voices into the discussion.
The Economics of a Different Path
We sat down with Liz on a hot Tuesday afternoon in June, at Sundry and Vice, an apothecary-themed craft-cocktail bar in the center of the smoldering city. Owners Julia and Stewart welcomed us in, and behind the bar Joe served up a cold hefeweizen for Liz, and a perfect old fashioned for Brandon. And we got down to it.
When their first child was born, Liz and her husband decided they didn’t want (and couldn’t afford) to pay for daycare. It was actually cheaper for Liz to scale back her hours, keep working part time, and be home with their son. There was no over-arching plan to leave the workforce, no grand belief that homeschooling was the perfect way. Seven years and three more kids later, Liz gave up the last of her freelance hours and today, while she still picks up the occasional freelance writing job here or there, she is every bit the full-time stay-at-home mom.
Challenging Our Definitions of Work
Sure, we’ve seen articles that say the work of stay-at-home moms is worth $115k per year. And perhaps we nod our heads at what grueling work we know it is. But in the same breath we minimize the contributions these parents make to society. Or we judge their choices to homeschool out of a belief that their kids are lacking socialization. Maybe we just carry around the stereotype of the “weird homeschool kid.” For Liz, these aren’t hypothetical considerations. They’re her daily life. That’s why we wanted to dig into the rhythm of the days, the intention behind the choices, and the sacrifices and regrets that accompany them.
Liz was as candid and forthcoming as we could have hoped, describing both the complexity and simplicity with which she and John arrived at this point. And she talked about how she does and doesn’t pay attention to what people think of her choices. For Liz the ecosystem of input is necessarily small. But that doesn’t mean their lives are sheltered. Living smack-dab in the middle of the largest intact historic district in the United States, in a neighborhood where this conservative white mom is definitely in the cultural and ethnic minority, these choices have meaning and impact that goes far beyond the caricature of the suburban homeschool co-op parent. Liz and John are raising their kids as open-eyed citizens of the world.
We can’t talk about work in a vacuum. Or at least we can’t learn anything much if we do. But if we’re genuinely interested in what it means to do “meaningful work,” then we have to investigate different perspectives on that question. We’re grateful to Liz for providing us this perspective, and we’ll keep working to broaden the conversation. Sure, stories of entrepreneurs and artists are fun and sexy. And we’re not going to stop talking with people who do the exciting stuff. But there’s a balance to that. Liz is evidence of that balance, and there are more to come.
The Distiller Podcast with Liz McEwan at Sundry and Vice