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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Highest and Best Use

Highest and Best Use is a concept in real estate appraisal. It states that the value of a property is directly related to the use of that property; the highest and best use is the reasonably probable use that produces the highest property value. This use, the Highest and Best Use, may or may not be the current use of the property.

For some reason lately that phrase has been floating in and out of my mind.  About nine months after Tank was born and I was desperately flailing at home, a depressed mess who had quit her job to try sahm life on for size, I thought I would get my real estate license.  Of course, I was about halfway through the program when I figured out that residential real estate agent isn't the right job for me.  Ironically, I ended up working in corporate real estate, but I never did get my real estate license.

No, I find myself thinking about Highest and Best Use in relation to me, not to property.  True, I don't really want to go back to work.  But some days I think Is this my highest and best use? Why did I go to college?  Why did I take up a spot in school that could have gone to someone who needed that education to fuel a career?  It seems so for education's sake.  Are my sons going to grow up and think women are made to do their laundry and cook their meals and cater to their needs?  How can I stay home and model otherwise?  I want to raise good feminist sons, but I think doing that as a stay at home rather than working mom is going to be infinitely harder.

Is my personal value derived from my use?  When I worked, I was challenged.  Intellectually. I did something every day that was exclusive of my family and had acknowledged value in the broader world.  What is my use now?  I don't mean that in an oh, woe is me kind of way, but in a truly questioning way.

I guess the disclaimer here is that I've never been a woman who is 110% comfortable with either choice. Work or stay home.

Do many people contemplate their highest and best use?  I don't think that my corporate job was necessarily my highest and best use, but nor am I convinced that staying home is.  I've been home for more than ten months now and I am startled to find that I haven't figured more of this out by now.  And also startled to find that I haven't gone to the gym now that I have the luxury of time (but that's a post for another day).

I've read the books - Freakonomics that postulates that whether or not a mother stays home is not a factor in a child's educational success.  The Feminine Mistake which argues the long term personal economic cost to a woman to stay home is too high. I have always been wary of the stay at home life and I still harbor doubts.  Is there a third option?  I think there are probably lots of third options and I will have to find the one that fits me.  It's not PTA and it's probably not graduate school to pursue something more meaningful.  Work at home?  Entrepeneur? Maybe.  I'm still looking.  And I simultaneously recognize the immense privilege and luxury I have of even contemplating these questions.  It is also an economic luxury as many women have no choice.

Men, by and large, have neither the luxury nor the burden of having to seriously consider these issues for themselves.  The cultural assumption is that they will work and provide for their families. End of story.  They  need not struggle against the current unless they want to break that paradigm.  Mothers must always choose and regardless of their choice will be judged for it. By themselves or by others.

I am going to seventeen days...(gasp! horror!)...FORTY.  How do I not have this figured out by now?!?!?!

After re-reading the above, I feel this blog should come with a warning label at least in the short term...

DANGER - midlife crisis post ahead!

I know this territory is a field of land mines, so go for it! Comment away!


  1. I don't think there is an easy answer. I've been a SAHM for almost two years (after years and years of professional working) and STILL don't feel like I have things figured out.

    I think the grass is always greener on the other side. All of my friends who work, no matter how much they love their jobs, have expressed to me that they really wish they could stay at home and are jealous of my situation.

    I am glad that I stay at home but that doesn't mean that I don't sometimes feel a bit lost. My sense of purpose is different. There are days when I am in tears and tell myself that I'm going to put the kids in daycare and head back to work. But when I really sit back and look at that possibility, I always change my mind. Not for one reason: sometimes guilt stops me, sometimes it's picturing dropping my children off at someones house, sometimes its the fact that I have no idea what kind of job I'd find (I was SO done with the field I was in).

    I personally think that staying at home is a big sacrifice. It takes me a lot of effort to keep my head above water, manage time and try to stay happy. I feel like I'm doing better these days but as my kids get oldout of toddlerhood I might try to find something to do from home or something else on the side.

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" answer, despite what books and people will tell you. I know of some people who LOVE LOVE LOVE being a SAHM all of the time. Some who hate it and others (like me) who fall somewhere in the middle. Trust your gut - if you don't think it's for you, don't beat yourself up. A happy mom is much better than a depressed mom who thinks that going back to work will make her a bad person. That's NOT the case! Just do what is best for you and everything else will work itself out. Good luck!

  2. I like what Emerson says on the subject. It's so simple and easy, and it makes me smile whenever I'm feeling lost.

    "To Laugh often and much;
    To win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children;
    to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
    To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
    To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden path or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
    This is to have succeeded."

  3. I just went through a really DOWN phase. I wasn't bored (I am still waiting for the boredom of being a stay at home parent.) but I was most certainly SAD. And I didn't feel like I had a purpose. I don't know if it was health issues, mental issues, or just plain issues. I do know this-I added another volunteer gig to my day because helping makes me feel better. My kids aren't as little as yours but food for thought... I love the idea of helping. And still being at home. I agree with Melissa-there isn't a right or a wrong but what feels best at the moment. You will make the right choice lady.

  4. OH Jen - I'm in the exact same place. Am I doing what is best for me? Is my heart in my job search? Isn't my family benefitting from my being here FT? Am I bored? (YES!). I have other friends going back to work - they aren't around to meet for a walk, go around g'lake, etc....

    One thing I'm working on is making a new 'circle' around me. People with kids and the same issues that I deal with. That is seemingly the most helpful thing I've been doing.

    I could go on for days but since I want to sleep tonite I'm going to stop - maybe I'll comment more tomorrow.

  5. I think women that are wired like us will always be questioning if we are doing what is correct at any time. When we were working, weren't we continually questioning if the current role we were in was the best fit, should we be doing more, thinking about making a move to a different company, different career direction, etc?

    The difference with being a SAHM I think is that it isn't as easy to put a transfer in and move to the next phase. I also think we are programmed to think "just staying home" isn't enough.

    You use your education and work experience everyday with negotiating the world of kids. I wouldn't undervalue how your college education is helping your boys.

    I think that whatever makes your heart feel good is what you should do. If that is working, work. If it is staying home, stay at home without regrets. It may not be the "Right thing", but maybe it is "right for right now".

    My two cents.

    p.s. I think you are brave to post this. Many people have very very passionate opinions and you threw it all out there! Way to go

  6. Not being a mom I still can't think of any calling that is more "highest & best". I TREASURE my childhood where my mom stayed home with me. I always knew she'd be there and that it would never be a burden for her to be there for me (not having to re-arrange work, etc). So, PLEASE do not sell yourself short on that front. Your kids will ALWAYS treasure having you there during this time and I cannot, in any way, shape or form, see you letting your boys grow up to be "pigs" even if you stay home until they graduate from college & get married.

    With that being said - I have the HIGHEST respect for mothers that work. How you juggle it all is beyond me and kudos to you that do it and do it well. You are all simply amazing.

    But Jen, your worth is YOU - not your job, not your kids, not your sewing/crafting ability. If you were to be hampered by one or the other, your worth doesn't change, you are still uniquely you.

    I know that's kinda rambly but I don't know how else to say it - you are one of the smartest, strongest, funniest people I know. Whatever you decide will be the right decision for you... Like the post above said "may not be the 'right thing' but could be the 'right thing for now'.

  7. Having been at home for **GASP** 8 years, I have thoughts on this topic. I was sooo into my career and quite successful from a personal and financial perspective. Ironically, said career was in commercial real estate. I totally get the highest and best use analogy.

    Do I miss the career? Hell yes. Do I want to do it again right now? No, not even for a nano-second. Do I have days that I feel like a goober on a hamster wheel? Yes. Do I like those days? Nope, not one bit. Do I like the balance and lifestyle with me at home and what it gives our family? Absolutely. Do I struggle with the mental debate? You betcha.

    I struggle with where I fit in the suburbia/at-home-world and feeling intelligent. Oh how I miss feeling intelligent outside of family life. However, there is immense value in what I do for my family, I do know that. I find solace and peace for me when I connect with women who are in the same boat, on the same river of pontification with thoughts I can relate to on a kid/Mom and intelligent, independent woman perspective.

    I don't have any specific answers other than I believe it's an individualistic decision for one to find their own groove. I don't have opinions/judgement of who works or who stays at home - finding that balance and happiness is yours alone to determine. I believe that course changes frequently in the mommyhood.

    Celebrate where you are today, is my final thought. Be true to yourself, in the moment. There is always a job to pursue or another choice to be made, just be happy in the choices you do make. I don't believe anyone has it figured out all the time - that's just not realistic.

    Part of being a life long learner and growing and developing is to question, ask out loud about things you consider. So, my friend - kudos to you for being reflective, contamplative and to put it out there. You'll find your happy place and it will be immediately recognizable to you and those around you.