The recent post, "Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom," was viewed as depressing by many stay-at-home moms in my circle of friends. We were saddened not because any of us could identify with the author, but because she seems to have made decisions that made her unhappy, day after day, year after year, without having the confidence to change a thing about her life. That stagnation, and the lack of confidence to change a bad situation, is dismaying.
I tend to sit on the sidelines of the Mommy Wars. To me, there is no right answer about whether it is better to work or stay at home. My motto is that a happy woman makes a happy mom and a happy mom makes happy kids. Some of my friends thrive at work and would be disasters as stay-at-home moms. Other friends were never career-driven and thrive as mothers in a way they never would have in an office job.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was still undecided as to what kind of mom I would be. I had a promising, lucrative career as an attorney that I loved. I had a reputation for handling complex cases well, and a bright future. When I was eight months pregnant, I received a promotion and was confident that my career would continue on its trajectory when I returned from maternity leave.
But, throughout my pregnancy, I visited daycare centers but found them universally disappointing. One was in a basement and I realized my child could go days on end without seeing the sun during the winter months. Interviews with potential nannies were similarly disappointing, with vague statements about how they would read to the baby when I was at work. For the most part, though, many of our options were objectively good and my disappointment came not from the daycare centers and nannies themselves. Rather, my disappointment came from the realization that my child would largely be raised by someone else and that other person would not always (or even usually) make the same decisions I would when it came to molding my daughter's young mind. Thinking it would be the best of both worlds, I explored every angle I could think of to return to work part-time, but in the end, my employer was unwilling.
I then began to consider leaving my job altogether and staying home. After some serious conversations with my husband, we realized we could make it work financially if we were prudent and stayed in our little condo rather than buying a house right away. Still unsure, I read and read. Once I read that if you stay home with children and realize you made a mistake, you can always go back to work, but if you go to work and realize you made a mistake, you can never get the early years back, I made up my mind. I felt very fortunate to be able to make this decision and after my daughter was born I did not return to my office job. I won't say I never look back, especially as my peers have gone on to become wildly successful, but I when I do look back, it is slyly and without regret. Beyond the obvious joys of spending my days with children, there have been benefits to staying at home I could not have imagined as a new mom.
1. I am honoring those who went before me.
Women who struggled for equality before me struggled for the right to make a choice. If you define feminism, as I do, as the right for women to make their own choices, then I am proudly and boldly honoring feminists who went before me by making the choice to stay at home. Feminists who went before me wanted to be able to choose a future for themselves that was on their terms and that would make them happy. These women did not want to be forced into roles not of their own making; they did not want to be locked into a box of any type be it a kitchen or an office. At the time I left the paid workforce, my feminist predecessors would have been proud. I was earning more than my husband and, as is still the case, all housework was split equally and financial decisions were made with equal input. When I was deciding my own path regarding employment, my husband was supportive of all options on the table. He offered to be the parent who stayed at home if I wanted to return to work and was open to the idea of us both working if I thought it was the best choice. My own mother, who needed to work out of financial necessity when I was growing up, envied the decision before me, since the option to stay at home was not available to her. I was in the fortunate position to be able to make the decision to stay home and the decision was mine alone. As far as I can tell, I am in the first generation of women in my family to truly have this choice and it is incredibly empowering.
2. I use my education.
I have a law degree and a master's degree that I went into a lot of debt to get. You had better believe that I am going to use them. Before children, I used my degrees in the paid workforce for years. This time with a rewarding career alone would have been worth all the years I spent in school. But, as time permits, I still seek out opportunities to consult on cases in my area of expertise. For years, I mediated cases as a volunteer. I teach. I currently sit on the board of a legal organization where I get to put my legal knowledge to use. I am also quick to offer a legal opinion when asked to keep my skills from getting stale. Seeking out these opportunities requires some hustle, but as a newly stay-at-home mom, I had the time to find them.
3. My kids know I do a lot.
My kids don't see me going to an office, but they know there are different kinds of jobs. When I mediate a case or go to a board meeting, I call it work because it is. I explain to my kids what I am doing and why. In this way, I try to be a strong role model for them as well as show them that work can be meaningful. I get involved in causes that are meaningful to them as well, such as fundraising for a children's exhibit at the zoo, so that they see the payoff of dedication and hard work in way they can appreciate and understand.
4. My world has expanded.
I have learned to see the world in an entirely new way -- through my children's eyes. I let their interests guide me to new experiences I would not have sought out on my own. I could not have told you the entire cycle of a butterfly five years ago, nor rattled off different periods of dinosaur development. I would not have willingly gone to old flour mills or blueberry farms or War of 1812 reenactments. I now happily do all of this and more and my horizons have greatly expanded as a result of being pushed out of my comfort zone by children. I have also met women with backgrounds very different from mine through the commonality of children, women from different countries, cultures and different socioeconomic backgrounds. I may not have sought out these women out as friends if I had met them in another context because I would not have thought we had much in common, but some have become dear friends and our relationships are much deeper than playground chatter.
5. I have time for meaningful endeavors.
Because I am not tied to a desk, I can choose how to use the time I spend away from my kids. I have been able to raise funds for my older daughter's school serving children with disabilities, which I find extremely meaningful and fulfilling. I am able to sit on the board of a civil rights organization, which not only allows me to use my degrees, but allows me to give back to my community. I can also take the time to make my community better where I see the need, such as when playground equipment for children with disabilities was removed from our local playground and I fought to get it back. I also have time for hobbies and have developed a love of photography, which I likely would not have time to peruse as a working mom.
6. I don't worry as much.
I don't need to worry as much because I am with my kids. I have embraced the concept of being a "good enough" mom. When my children were all very young, I was able to shepherd them through their early years and give them a sense of love and security and belonging within the family that I hope they carry with them always. I am able to drop my children off at school and pick them up to ask them about their day. I hear about the good things in their day and have the time to really talk with my son about the important issues in his young life, like how to deal with a schoolyard bully and why he needs to work on his letters instead of going to the playground every afternoon. I see how my children interact with their friends and adults and can address any issues as they arise and not worry that I am unaware of something that will become problematic later on. I have the perception to know when I need to intervene and when to let them sort out their own battles. I do not have any worry or guilt that they are missing out on anything by my working and do not feel the need to over-schedule them and push them into activities in which they are clearly not interested.
7. My marriage is strong.
My husband realizes how hard I work at home. Even though he envies my position as the stay-at-home parent and still offers to stay home on occasion, he recognizes that I rarely get a break during the day. He respects my need for some "me time" on the weekends and never says no when I ask him to come home early from work so that I can sneak out for some time with friends or a volunteer opportunity in which I want to participate. In fact, he encourages me to get out more often. He does more than his fair share of housework so that I can find a balance between childrearing and activities outside of the home. My husband often thanks me for doing such a great job with the kids and I relish in his recognition of the hard work I do raising our children and with it his tacit gratitude that I was willing to give up a career for the good of our family. I realize this thoroughly modern arrangement takes the full cooperation of my husband and I love him more for it.
8. I am evolving.
I try to stay up-to-date in my field in case I do want to return to my career as an attorney one day and because I still find my former career interesting. While the possibility of returning to full-time employment is always kept tucked away in the back of my mind, the longer I stay away from office work, the less inclined I am to return. But, I do always keep an eye towards what I will do with my time once the kids are all in school full-time. What I value has shifted dramatically since having children and what I want to do changes. Some of my skills may be outdated, but I am constantly on the lookout for new opportunities ranging from teaching to writing that will allow me to have fulfilling hours while the kids are at school but still be available to them when they are out.
9. I have more confidence.
In the office, I was constantly comparing myself to others and waiting for the next evaluation. While I think my work stood up to the best of them, I was never sure doing my best was enough, since there was always someone just as good or better. Now, I no longer view promotions, raises, paychecks and others' opinions as a mark of my worth. In my desire to set a good example for my children, I have found the confidence to be bolder in taking steps to improve my community, to help those in need and to be a good person. I am human and falter at times, but I have surprised myself over and over with what I can accomplish when motivated by wanting to do right by my children. I have more confidence now than I ever did working in an office.
More than seven years into my journey as a stay-at-home mom, I can't imagine ever regretting the time I have had with my children, nor can I imagine wanting this time to come to an end prematurely. When my children get older, I want to be available to them to help guide them and support them through the complexities of growing up. Finding a balance takes time. It takes work. But, crafting this life is a choice I make every day. I still know that in the unlikely event I wake up tomorrow and realize I've made a mistake, I can start looking for a job anytime. It won't be the same job, and I'll never get back the years of experience or income I lost, but jobs are out there if I want one. I can never imagine looking back and thinking "I wish I spent more time at work." I love being a stay-at-home mom and, recognizing the privilege I have in making this choice, I wouldn't have it any other way. But, I do not begrudge anyone who feels differently and am dismayed that any mom would feel pressure to permanently abandon a career when she is not happy at home. I am living a life that makes me happy and fulfilled. In the end, I believe that this is what all moms deserve, no matter how they get there.