From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

The Contract

I had always heard there was nothing better than being your own boss. After working in the media for eighteen years, I decided to go it alone as a radio talk-show host and freelance writer. But having a home-based business was more difficult than I imagined. Especially because my daughter stayed home with me all day.

“Mommy!” cried three-year-old Micah from the kitchen.

The click of my heels on the tile echoed down the hall. My mother would be here any minute to watch Micah while I attended a morning meeting. Thank goodness for Mom. Now retired, she usually could babysit with a little notice. She even kept Micah overnight on Fridays while my husband, Michael, and I enjoyed some time as a couple.

Micah sat at the kitchen table. Strawberry milk mixed with globs of oatmeal surrounded her. “I made a little mess,” she admitted as she scrunched up her nose. “Sorry.”

I grabbed a dishcloth and stifled a sigh. “It’s okay, sweetie. Let Mommy help.”

As I bent over to clean the goop off the floor, Micah leaped from her chair onto my back. “Giddy up, horsie!”

“Not now, Micah.” I tried not to sound annoyed. As she slid down, she gave me a big hug around the neck and a kiss on the cheek.


“Grammy, Grammy, Grammy.” Micah darted for the front door.

“Good morning,” chirped Mom.

I threw the dishcloth in the sink, grabbed my briefcase, and headed toward the door. “Thanks for coming. The kitchen floor is slick, beware,” I announced as I hugged Mom.

“Might want to change your jacket,” Mom said, pointing to clumps of oatmeal on my shoulder.

I sprinted to my bedroom. Nothing new for me; I was always running, literally and figuratively. Interviewing guests, meeting with advertising clients, stopping by the store for more groceries, cooking meals, and taking care of the house, Michael, and Micah left little time for anything else—or anybody else. Including me.

We had photographs, so I knew I must have had a life before I started my own business and became a mother, but I could barely remember what it was like to sleep in on the weekends, linger over lunch with a friend, or lose myself in a good book.

Because I mainly worked at home and Michael’s business had flexible hours, I figured caring for Micah all day wouldn’t be that hard. And it wasn’t, unless I wanted to do something else. Trying to squeeze in work when she slept or when I could coordinate with Mom or Michael to watch her was hectic. There was definitely no downtime for me.

Now with a jacket sans breakfast stains from a three-year-old, I kissed Micah and hugged Mom good-bye. “Hey, your birthday is this month.” I suddenly remembered. “Think about what you want.”

“I already have an idea, but it’s a little out of the ordinary,” Mom answered with a smile. “Julie Andrews is coming to town. Think we could get tickets?”

“That sounds easy enough,” I replied, shutting the door. After all, I worked in the media. Event tickets were my specialty.

A couple of Saturday evenings later, Daddy and Micah had a date while Mom and I went downtown to the Civic Center. On the drive into the city, we chatted like schoolgirls. Before Micah was born, we often did things together, but now our attention centered on Micah. I’d forgotten how much I missed having my mother all to myself, and planned to enjoy it, even if it was for only a few hours.

As I sat in the darkened theater, I breathed deeply. So this is what it feels like to be relaxed. My responsibilities at work and home floated out of my mind. I got a faint glimmer of who I used to be—before my business, husband, home, and daughter consumed my time.

Sure, my life was everything I’d hoped for. But I craved some “me” time. Until now, I was unaware that I desperately needed a night off. I enjoyed myself so much that it almost felt like my birthday instead of Mom’s.

“That was so much fun,” said Mom as we walked to the car. “Let’s do something like this again.”

The next week, while on the phone with a client, he negotiated: “I want to buy the radio spots, but I want them for a different rate.”

Eager to make a deal, I agreed. “Okay, write in the price you suggested, fax the contract back to me, and I’ll take a look at it.”

Wish I could strike a bargain like that! I thought, hanging up the phone. I leaned back in my desk chair. Just what would I negotiate if I had a contract?

That evening I cooked all of Michael’s favorites: meat loaf, corn, mashed potatoes, rolls. I even got a cake from the in-store bakery.

“What’s the occasion?” he asked, suspicious.

I smiled sweetly. “I decided that I want to start cooking more often.”

After I put Micah to bed, I found Michael in front of the television. “Honey, I want to be a better wife and mother, so I came up with this.” I handed him a sheet of paper—a contract that outlined all the things I was already doing: working, cooking, housework, shopping, errands, caring for Micah. At the bottom I had only one request: Saturday night off.

“It’s a small concession, don’t you think?” I asked.

Michael nodded. How could he refuse when everything I did was listed right there in black and white?

I now sometimes spend Saturday evenings at dinner with Mom or friends, but mainly, I just hang out in the bedroom and read. Michael makes sure Micah eats dinner, takes a bath, and gets to bed. And I have the night off to do whatever I please.

Every mother needs to negotiate a little time off. When my contract comes up for renewal, I plan to ask for Tuesday afternoons off, too!

Stephanie Welcher Thompson

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