Eleven years ago, I was a growing star in the accounting field. I had graduated with my Bachelor's degree in Accountancy at the age of 19 with several years of leadership experience under my belt. I had easily landed my first job as a tax accountant for a billion dollar company and was being recruited for other desirable positions. Then, 10 ½ years ago, I left all of that behind to wipe noses, change diapers and wear out several washing machines.
My new career is unpaid, un-glamorous and often downright disgusting. There is no corporate ladder to climb, no year-end bonus and very little employee appreciation. My clientele is juvenile and whiny, and yet I still continue to choose this stay-at-home life over a corporate position.
It is not always an easy decision. In the years since I left the workforce, my family has experienced college student poverty, lost jobs, broken-down vehicles and unexpected medical expenses. I've personally struggled through two bouts of postpartum depression and at least one mid-life crisis. Yet, I still stay home and clean the same floor I cleaned yesterday, read the same stories and play Candy Land for the millionth time.
Some mornings, it take a great deal of determination to not slip into some heels, run out the front door and beg for my quiet, organized cubicle back. That is why it infuriates me when a working mother says the following things to me:
1. "I could never be a stay-at-home mom."
Of course you could! Would it be insanely difficult for you? Probably, but the rest of us are in the same boat. I don't choose to be a stay-at-home mom each day because it is the easier option. I do it because I believe in it, no matter how challenging it gets.
2. "Motherhood just isn't enough for me."
How dare you say that out loud! Would you seriously insinuate that, while you are off building a glorious career, I am content to sit at home and simply perform motherhood? Staying at home for the last 10 years hasn't turned me into a laundry-folding, nose-wiping robot. No, I work hard to continue learning, growing and developing my mind much like you, only I don't get paid, and there are usually five adorable distractions around.
3. "We couldn't afford for me to stay home."
Imagine walking up to your child's teacher, one of the most unfortunately underpaid careers in our society, and saying to her, "I could never afford to be a teacher." Would you do that? Never! It would be incredibly insensitive and rude to tell someone their job isn't good enough for you because of the pay scale. My husband and I sacrifice a generous second income because we believe that our children will benefit from the constant care of someone who loves them the most, someone with the greatest interest in their success, someone who will never, ever give up on them. Over the years I've pinched pennies, clipped coupons, taught piano, provided child care and gone without so that I could continue to be there 24/7 for my kids.
4. "Isn't that bad for your career?"
Why yes it is, and thank you so much for rubbing salt in that wound. When I left my job I was way ahead of the curve, highly successful and going places. Now, I might have trouble getting a job in my field at all. At some point when I choose to go back to work, I will have to fight and struggle to make up for lost time. I will be behind, inexperienced, and probably underpaid. It keeps me up at night on occasion, but the next day you will find me in the kitchen, with my kids, all day long.
5. "Don't you feel like you are losing yourself?"
Sometimes, but then I fight back. I read, I exercise, I learn to do new things. I refuse to become simply Mrs. Mom. My name is Amy Nielson. I am a wife, a mother and an evolving human being. I am a budding gardener, an improving chef, a growing writer, a musician and a wannabe scientist. My interests reach across many subjects, and much like you, I long to have my growth recognized and appreciated.
Now to be clear, I'm not expecting the women of the world to rise up as one and exit the workforce. I respect your right to your own beliefs, your own intuition, and your own judgement. I could not possibly know your situation or what has led to the decisions you make. All that I am asking is that you show respect for my decisions, my life, my fight. Don't insult or demean my career of choice. Be happy for me. Support me. Lift me up.
So, what should you say to a stay-at-home mom? How about, "Good for you for making that work," "What lucky kids you have," or, "That's amazing! I hope your kids appreciate you for what you do." After all, the little people we work for may not be able to understand our monumental efforts and sacrifices, but a little bit of recognition from our friends and neighbors or even strangers can go a long way to helping us feel validated in the difficult life choice that we make to stay home with our kids.