A question of balance

Amanda Hendler-Voss photos by Tracy Rose
Amanda Hendler-Voss photos by Tracy Rose

When I was pregnant with my son, Ryan, people frequently asked: Are you going to keep working or stay home with the baby?

Those well-meaning inquisitors had bought into the “either/or” myth of modern motherhood: You either work full time outside the home and use day care, or you take care of the kids while a partner pays the bills.

But for many local moms, the realities of motherhood and work are far more complex. And despite the ongoing recession, women are finding creative ways to be with their children while also earning money doing meaningful part-time work.

Some continue in their chosen field (albeit at a reduced level); for others, childbirth and motherhood lead to entirely new vocations.

These days, most mothers with school-age or younger children work outside the home (66 percent, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center report). But of that group, only 27 percent work part time.

It isn’t always easy: Health insurance is often elusive, and budgets are tight. Still, the nine women interviewed below say they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Birth of a career

For two local moms, giving birth inspired new careers as doulas.

After college, Weaverville resident Stacey A. DiMuzio worked in television and film postproduction and graphics in the Washington, D.C., area. After suffering career burnout in her late 20s, she relocated to the Pacific Northwest and found work at a children’s museum.

Then, despite having been told she couldn’t conceive, DiMuzio found herself pregnant with her daughter, Layla, now 2-1/2, and experienced an empowering water birth.

“The care I got was exceptional, and the support I got was exceptional, and it fueled a passion,” DiMuzio reveals. “My passion kind of came to me through my birth experience.”

After completing her training as a doula, she moved to Western North Carolina last September with her partner, Britt Cox, and Layla.

Cox works full time managing a downtown restaurant; besides caring for Layla, DiMuzio runs her business, Bella Belly Doula Services (www.abellabelly.com). Along with providing support to women during childbirth, she offers expectant moms henna belly art and other services.

To ensure that she has enough time for her child, DiMuzio accepts only three clients per month. “For me, it’s really important that I spend this time with my daughter,” she explains.

Yet she remains strongly committed both to her doula practice and to a collective that’s trying to establish a birth center in Asheville.

The trade-off? “I’ve never been more exhausted in my life,” DiMuzio admits.

Central Asheville resident Molly Rouse had a similar experience. Rouse, who has a master’s degree in applied anthropology, was teaching part time at UNCA and A-B Tech when she became pregnant with her son, Oscar, now 4-1/2. Her research into parenting techniques led her to develop an undergraduate anthropology course at UNCA called “Cultures of Childrearing” — yet something was still missing.

“I felt I wasn’t doing the real work I wanted to do in this world: directly helping people,” Rouse explains.

Then she discovered an occupation that instantly clicked for her: postpartum doula. After earning her certification, Rouse launched Nurture Postpartum Doula Services (www.nurtureyourfamily.net) about two years ago. She cooks, cleans, cares for older siblings and offers help with breast-feeding and infant-care techniques. Rouse also serves as a sounding board and information resource for families.

“I never doubt that I’m making a difference,” she notes.

Like DiMuzio, Rouse limits her client load, working two days a week with two families while Oscar attends Buenos Dias, a small, family day care program.

Her husband, Damon, works long days as a physical therapist while Rouse keeps things together on the home front.

“I just feel like it’s … every woman’s struggle to try to do everything that’s expected of her,” muses Rouse. “Women’s liberation put us in the workplace and made us equal to men in the outer world, but we still have to balance all of the motherly and housewifely things, and it’s hard. … That sort of dilemma is present for men, too.”

Rouse says she can’t imagine working full time until Oscar is in school all day, because “I feel like I wouldn’t have the connection with my son that I have.”

Whistle while you work

Other local moms have managed to preserve some version of their former job while caring for their children. Ginger Boyd nurtures 6-month-old Wren while working 20 hours a week as chief operating officer at Carolina Mornings (www.carolinamornings.com), which offers vacation rentals and property management.

The 12-year company veteran didn’t want to give up her job — or place her daughter in day care. “I couldn’t imagine missing any of it,” the soft-spoken Boyd said one recent morning while Wren took in her surroundings at West End Bakery after they’d taken a baby yoga class.

In fact, one of her daughter’s “firsts” — sitting up by herself — happened at a rental property Boyd was photographing for the company.

“I’m very fortunate, because my office is really flexible,” she notes. Boyd works mostly from home with weekly pilgrimages to the office, where Wren can nap or watch mom Skype with her boss in Chapel Hill.

There have been financial trade-offs: To save money on rent, she and her husband, Brian, a computer programmer for Duke University who telecommutes, moved to Marshall last year.

North Asheville mom Coco Palmer Dolce, on the other hand, spent a “completely happy” year home with her son, August, before returning to work at Pack Place. “After the first year, I started to get antsy,” Dolce admits.

With a fine-arts degree from Warren Wilson College, Dolce felt she needed to reconnect with the art world. The former manager now works 12 hours a week in reception and ticket sales, a position she used to supervise.

While Dolce’s at work, August (now 3) attends a cooperative preschool; parents work one morning a week, enabling them to participate in their child’s school day while keeping tuition comparatively low.

Her husband, Tom, cares for a mentally handicapped adult in their home through Liberty Corner Enterprises. The couple also performs as GreenWay, an acoustic-folk duo, though the gigs have slowed since August’s arrival.

With less money coming in, the family makes do with one car. Coco swaps child care with her sister, and with a friend for haircuts. “I’ve always been thrifty, but I’ve been more and more thrifty than ever,” she explains, adding, “It’s worth it, I think.”

A fortuitous alignment of schedules enables Maya Laura Lochbaum to stay home with her 19-month-old daughter, Avalyn, during the week. On weekends, Avalyn’s father, landscaper Shane Paulson, takes over so Lochbaum can freelance as a massage therapist, primarily at Spa Materna on Merrimon Avenue (http://spamaterna.com).

Before her daughter was born, Lochbaum worked full time as a massage therapist for 10 years, taking off for months at a time to travel and rest. On one of those sabbaticals, she met Paulson, who moved to Asheville to be near her and their daughter.

“We don’t have a traditional nuclear family arrangement, but we’re family,” Lochbaum explains. “We’re tight, and we all love each other.”

Lochbaum gets another break from the intensity of parenting a small child through a YWCA program providing free drop-in child care for qualifying parents. She schedules acupuncture treatments during that time to help her stay sane and grounded.

Lochbaum says she can’t afford day care for Avalyn but wouldn’t want it anyway. “She’s young, and it feels really important to me to be able to be available for her more often than not and to be with her,” the Montford mom explains.

New directions

Other local moms have used the altered landscape of motherhood as a launching pad, turning their passions into part-time work.

Kari Richmond found her professional niche almost by accident after her son, Isaac, was born. Richmond, who’d been giving private music lessons, answered an ad for a preschool music teacher. That introduced her to Music Together, a music-and-movement program for young children.

“It’s one of those things where I feel like a light turned on,” she recalls.

Richmond now owns Asheville Area Music Together (http://ashevilleareamt.com), a licensed center offering classes to kids accompanied by their caregivers. She teaches three classes a week; there are also three other teachers.

In addition, the mother of two (Isaac is 6, and daughter Cora is 1) gives private lessons at the family’s West Asheville home. Day care, she says, wouldn’t make sense financially, and she wouldn’t want it anyway.

“I want to be the primary one there for my kids in their [preschool and school] years,” Richmond explains. “I want to be the primary nurturer.”

Husband Matthew, a lecturer in UNCA’s Music Department, maintains a packed schedule of rehearsals and performances for a jazz trio, a pop group and the Asheville Symphony.

Grandparents, a mother’s helper and baby-sitting swaps with friends help Richmond manage her teaching schedule. And despite the inevitable exhaustion, Richmond remains passionate about Music Together and its positive effect on children.

“It’s a personal thing for me rather than a business,” she reveals.

For stay-at-home mom Sasha Mitchell, it was a move from New Jersey to south Asheville two years ago that prompted her to channel her bent for professional organizing into Memory Cottage, a home-based business (www.memorycottage.org). For an hourly rate, Mitchell organizes home and office space, photos and files; she also researches family history.

“Business is good and business is growing,” she reports. “And I’m really thrilled that the referrals that are coming are from my family history clients.”

Her interest in genealogy was sparked at age 13 when she was tasked with finding out her great-grandfather’s first name. “The triumph of making a discovery: It’s like a total rush,” Mitchell declares.

When the family relocated, the former secretary considered seeking retail work but felt the schedule wouldn’t be fair to her boys, ages 13, 10 and 8. Her husband, Trip, works full time repairing computers at CityMac; for her, full-time work would have meant enlisting her oldest son to care for his brothers.

“In all things, I work around the family,” says Mitchell. And while she loves her work, she concedes, “We do struggle, and we don’t have benefits.”

Still, she’s optimistic about the future. “I’ve found a great job for me — I just hope I can make it work better and better as time goes on.”

West Asheville mom Allison Catoe and her husband, Daniel Wiseman, have found a way to combine their talents while generating extra income. Launched in February, Outside Everywhere produces homemade wooden toys while Catoe stays home with their 4-year-old son, Eden.

They’ve set up an Etsy shop (www.etsy.com/people/outsideeverywhere) to sell the whimsical critters, which they also wholesale to a company called Eco Womb.

Catoe draws the patterns by hand, and Wiseman (who also works at Earth Fare) cuts them out. Catoe sands the toys, burns in their features (usually while her son is asleep) and paints them (sometimes helped by Eden).

“For us, it’s just really important for me to be home with Eden right now, even though we have to make a lot of sacrifices financially,” says Catoe. “I feel extremely blessed that I’m able to stay home with him: A lot of moms can’t do that.”

The Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss took a different kind of plunge when she and the Rev. Sara Wilcox founded Land of the Sky United Church of Christ (http://landoftheskychurch.org) about two years ago.

When her position as interim minister of Christian education at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville ended, Hendler-Voss felt called to pastoral ministry but feared a sole or senior pastorship wouldn’t give her enough time with her son, Myles, now 4-1/2.

“I wanted to be able to be with my child in a meaningful way,” the Montford mom explains.

The co-pastors had no idea whether their new, progressive church would take root, but it has, she reports. The biggest benefit, says Hendler-Voss, is how her home and working life complement each other: Being a mom makes her a better pastor, and vice versa.

Her “incredibly supportive” husband, Seth, works full time as a landscape architect for the city of Asheville; Amanda works 30 hours a week for the church. After Myles’ morning preschool program, they often go to a playground or do a project together; he’s learned to entertain himself when mom has work to do.

“I just feel like this is a really sweet time in our lives,” says Hendler-Voss. But it’s also a busy time, and she admits to sometimes losing patience when her daily responsibilities weigh heavily.

Still, like the other mothers profiled here, she’s committed to a path that feels right for her family — without judging moms who’ve made different choices.

“For me, as a feminist of my generation, having it all really means a balanced lifestyle,” Hendler-Voss explains. Which means being present with her child, having a meaningful vocation and contributing to the community.

And that seems an admirable goal for any parent.

— Freelance writer and editor Tracy Rose lives in Asheville.

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