“Why I Regret Being A Stay At Home Mom” by Lisa Endlich Heffernan gave me great pause. She listed 9 reasons she wished she had not become a Stay-At-Home Mother (SAHM); I have never heard any Mother say she regretted quitting her job to raise her children. I thought, “Finally, I’m going to see the other side of this one”, and I jumped in with my mind open. By the end, I wish I’d stayed out of the pool.
I’m not much of a response writer, but L.E. Heffernan really missed the boat on being a SAHM. My heart breaks for her. I know some folks are built to see thorns before roses, and her context would indicate she may have been in the throes of an empty-nest syndrome. When I make it there, I will need more than a therapist and a box of Kleenex. But I hope I don’t look back with regret, for that means I will have missed the purpose of the calling.
Using Ms. Heffernan’s regrets as an outline, and at the risk of becoming a soldier in the Mommy Wars, I must respond:
(1) I’m not disappointing the Women’s Lib Movement.
I’ve never thought the entire fate of women’s workplace rights were on my shoulders, but they equally fought for choice. I stand for the right to stay home, just as I have many friends standing for the right to work. I see us as different pieces of the same pie. It’s simply not realistic that a 2-working-parents paradigm is right for every family. Sorry Ms. Steinem. I’m keeping my bra on (when I’m not digging it out of the laundry pile). I do owe the Women’s Liberation movement this: I have the responsibility to design my own destiny and I do so with pride.
(2) It’s OK I’m using my driver’s license more than my college degree.
Which puts me in a club of countless people. I once worked with a surgeon whose hips gave out and he had to change careers midstream. I have several friends who reinvented themselves during the Recession, my husband included.
I shed many tears over not being a Neuroscience Researcher, but kicking and screaming like a toddler wasn’t going to change my story. Our reality included a special needs child, and infant, and 2 very stressful careers. I needed to have flexibility about who I thought I was, or was going to be. Basically, I had to be an adult. Enough bellyaching already! No one has the exact life they designed at the age of 22. Unless you’re thinking of Barbie, because she’s living in the Dream House. But even Barbie had to make sacrifices. Think about it: Ken is missing a critical piece of his own pie. I think you know what I mean.
I may use my degree again, as at my last check, I’m not dead yet. In today’s world, a degree is just a tool to get started. It’s a check-off box, not an all-defining endpoint. And as for the overuse of my driver’s license? That’s true for all parents, working or not. ‘Nuff said.
(3) I don’t think my kids would be better off if they saw me work outside of the home.
Again, why is this all on my shoulders? They have a Dad. He works. They see women they respect working at school all day. My children have certainly never witnessed me vegged out on the couch, eating chips and watching “ma’ stories”. How did countless generations of SAHMs produce teachers, doctors, and Presidents? Probably by doing a whole bunch of laundry and signing off on homework papers using a pencil in their mouth because their hands were covered in dinner. I strongly suspect our roles as “Mommas” are more of a central focus to our children than the work we do outside of the home. The “Momma” list is the same for all of us, employed or not. Our children learn different things, based on their family, but to say one lesson is better than the other? Mmm…not sure ’bout that. I’d say they are just different.
Ms. Heffernan wrote “my kids think I did nothing”, but I think she meant her children thinks she never had gainful employment. This is a common error in American thinking: we place more value on employment than we do home-based tasks. Why shouldn’t we? Laundry is a thankless, mindless job. But there is a deep clarity of mind that comes from walking away from the business card and the corner office. It requires the ego be tucked into a drawer, and after mopping those floors for the 1000th time, the wisdom comes. It’s great to have a career, but it’s equally purposeful not to have one.
If you disagree with that statement, I’m guessing you’ve never been a stay at home parent? I reiterate: you won’t find the wisdom until the 1000th mopping…go to it Grasshopper.
(4) Lisa E. Heffernan writes her world narrowed: mine expanded.
I do feel for Stay At Homes, because it’s challenging to expand into this space. It feels limiting at first, mainly because the workload is mind-numbingly repetitive. After taking some time to learn about things of interest to me, I WAS OF USE, almost every single day. I reveled in the marvels of a less stressful life. It freed my mind to grow in new directions. My Mother and Grandmother worked, so I explored a family life which has different dimensions than the one from my childhood. Eventually, I found my voice in writing, and cherished the gift God had reserved, just for me.
In many phases of our lives we’re invited to shrink or expand into our current storyline, no matter what “title” we hold. The choice is ours.
(5) Volunteer Work and Its Co-morbid Guilt
There is no sugarcoating volunteerism. If you don’t have the guts to say no, this world is not for you. If you are volunteering out of guilt, I can almost guarantee you won’t enjoy it. I say no to the offers which don’t fit my skill set. I say no to the offers which will overextend me. I say no to offers I really want, but come at a time I promised my efforts to other projects. What does that leave? A full mountain of volunteering opportunities! They never end. I love volunteering, but I accept it must have clear boundaries which are defined by me. I accept my work is at the will of an organization outside of my control. I accept I won’t agree with all tenets of that organization. And the best part of donating my time and talents? If I don’t want to do it, I can politely decline!
Ms. Heffernan writes, “Those who are running the organization carry on and my job was over”. What about the lifelong ripples our work leaves behind? The children won’t remember me, but they’ll remember their school Santa Shop, the Carnivals, the Festivals, and the Field Trips. I’ve witnessed the making of precious childhood memories for hundreds of children. My work made those memories possible, and it’s my absolute favorite part of this gig.
It’s the same. Work, stay at home, win the lottery, travel the world, never leave your house. Our worry meter goes up and down based on major life events, but our normal day-to-day worry will find an average (or finds medication; I don’t judge). The same goes for mood, level of positivity, level of negativity…we are who we are. Do I worry more about my kids than working Moms? Probably. Maybe I just worry about different things. I worry less about work than they do. I can’t get fired, or promoted, or drunk at the company Christmas party. Sometimes I like to get tipsy on a random night in December while I’m buried under ridiculous last-second craft projects and call it “Lori’s Company Christmas Party”. No heels or fancy dresses required, but you do have to bring a hot glue gun and a bottle of wine.
Will my children be better or worse off for my worry spotlight? I have no way of knowing, but I’d really hate for them to get all the way to adult therapy and have nothing to discuss. I’m a natural-born worrier, so whether I worked or not, I’d probably still be medicated. Kidding! (No I’m not…)
(7) What will staying at home do to my marriage?
You’ll have more sex, and if you stay at home and you aren’t? You’re doing it wrong. Here’s the math on this: if I have enough emotional energy to clean out the PTA closet at school, I have enough energy to give time to my marriage. Not worrying about work deadlines, performance reviews, and vacation packages means I’m not spent at the end of the day. OK, I’m a little spent…but I’m not as tired as when I worked outside of the home. Is my marriage more traditional? My parents married in the 60’s, were sold on the idea marriage was supposed to fulfill them as people, and because that is load of bull, they were miserable and got divorced when I was 20. That was the “tradition” of the Generation X childhood. In today’s quickly changing world, I see tradition as “tradition is as tradition does”. We get to choose for ourselves what roles we play in our marriages, and how flexible we want to be about labels. In fact, we don’t have to choose labels at all, because they are bit irrelevant, don’t you think? Labeling is just SO 2009.
Marrying my husband was the best decision I ever made, so I don’t really care what “type” of marriage I have. It’s a happy marriage, which begins and ends my list of required labels.
(8) I’m not scared my skills have become outdated.
True, true. Leaving the workplace does not prepare you to reenter the workplace. Save me the “but Mothering involves ALL kinds of skills” rhetoric. If you haven’t kept pace with your field’s technology and science, you are outdated, plain and simple. This is the Information Age, and even 3 years on the sidelines will make you obsolete. Walking away from or towards a career with a family at home involves major sacrifices for everyone, no matter which direction you choose. Those who stay IN the workplace miss Poetry Teas and Halloween Parties. Those who stay OUT of the workplace miss system upgrades, income, and promotions. Nobody gets out of parenthood without learning you can’t have it all. That’s the whole point. Well, that…and learning you can’t control much of anything, so best to learn how to roll with it…
I spent months deciding to walk away from my career, because I knew it would not wait for me. Technology sped past me years ago, so if I want to reenter the race, I’ll have to run faster in order to catch up. Or to quote my common sense farming Grandfather, “Stop your crying Shorty. Them’s the beans.”
(9) Lastly, Heffernan writes, “I lowered my sights and lost my confidence”.
I just want to hug Lisa right here. She chose to risk her significance, and found it to be life-changing. Her phrase about confidence and goal-setting? That happens to all of us at some time or another, no matter which Mommy-track we choose. Motherhood makes you question EVERYTHING about yourself and the world around you. And let’s face it: Motherhood is a real kick to the ego more often than not. Finding an inner sense of direction and strength is so hard at the big crossroads in life. You can look out over what you made, or you can turn around and look over the paths you didn’t choose. The landscapes are vastly different, and both very real. I find looking back nearly as frightening as looking forward, but then my imagination kicks in. Ten years ago I would have LAUGHED OUT LOUD at the possibility I’d be a SAHM with a (filthy!) minivan. I was so far off in my estimates, it begs the question, “What will I be ten years from now?” Kind of a thrilling question when I put it in context, isn’t it? I almost can’t wait to find out.
Here is the heart and soul of the Mommy Wars: Lisa Endlich Heffernan is standing on the mountain top, holding the flag of Stay At Home Motherhood, and she’s asking, “Did I miss it?” One mountain over, another Mother who made her way in the working world and is sending her children off to college, is holding another flag, and she has only one question, “Did I miss it?” Maybe it’s just the wooziness from too much floor cleaner, but ladies, I think the heart of our stories is far more simple: NO. None of us missed it.
We threw our hats in the ring, threw caution to the wind, and rode the wildest ride of them all: Motherhood. I have no regrets. I didn’t miss any of it, and I find it unlikely you did either, working or not. Godspeed my fellow Mommas. Godspeed to us all.