Originally published in June 2013
When I read the title of Lisa Endlich Heffernan’s post, “Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom,” I immediately wanted to hate it. The editors at the Huffington Post had done their job of choosing a title that was inflammatory enough that I just had to keep reading. What I found was that Heffernan’s piece is extremely personal to her own life’s circumstances and not actually a piece with an obvious agenda for other women. Still, I’ve spent the last week talking with friends and family about her “regrets” and how little I relate to the outlook she expressed about her time at home with her kids. So, here are my own very personal thoughts on why I’ll never regret being a stay-at-home mom:
1. As I’ve written before, the feminist movement didn’t make a woman’s place in the workforce mandatory. Instead, it gave us the choice to work or stay at home in a more traditional arrangement. What would be the benefit of a movement aimed at liberating women from the shackles of one lifestyle only to force them into another? Duh.
2. I was raised by a SAHM, for whom I have the utmost respect. I certainly wasn’t spoiled or oblivious enough to think that even though my mother didn’t leave our home to do her work, raising us and caring for our home wasn’t a “Job.” I must have always respected my mother’s work, since I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t envision becoming a SAHM myself. And had my mother left a true career behind to care for us, I know I would have admired her decision, not questioned it.
3. My “1950s marriage” has strengths that weren’t there before I became a SAHM. When my husband and I were both working, we spent a lot of time arguing over domestic chores, since I always felt resentful that I took on a greater load. “Why shouldn’t things be 50/50,” I thought? Well, because that arrangement wasn’t playing to our relative strengths. I’m good at (and enjoy) working with my hands: finely chopping vegetables for dinner, hemming pants, even mopping the wooden floors until they sparkle. On the other hand, my husband would much rather be stationed in front of the computer, paying bills or figuring out how to allocate our retirement funds (boring). Now, our marriage has new strength because instead of fighting over who’s going to do what, we respect each other’s contributions.
4. My kids do need ME. As a friend put it, if you take the attitude that your kids don’t really need to spend their days with you in particular, then maybe they don’t. But in my case, I want nothing more than to spend my days with my children, showing them affection, teaching them new skills, celebrating their victories. No one else could really give them what I’m giving them because no one (except their father) loves them the way I do.
5. I haven’t ever had as many close friends as I do now. I tend not to be the kind of person who has a ton of acquaintances, but a few really close confidantes. But since becoming a mom, I’ve connected with a truly amazing group of women who have children the same age as my oldest. We met when we were all still pregnant, so we’ve seen each other through the transition into motherhood. We’ve celebrated our children’s birthdays together. We’ve swapped sleep training horror stories. We’ve prepared dinners for each other when we welcomed our second babies. These are women I love and trust, enough to leave my children in their care, and that says a lot! I’ve never had such a large, yet tightly-knit, group of friends in my whole life.
6. I didn’t ever want to be defined by a job. Even when I was a teacher, it would irk me to introduce myself as such, not because I was ashamed of my profession in any way, but because I didn’t want my job to be what defined me. Upon meeting a stranger, why shouldn’t I have begun with, “Hi, I’m Evanthia. The last book I loved was Gone with the Wind. I find it therapeutic to cook an elaborate dinner nearly every night of the week. And my favorite place on earth is Paris, closely followed by New York City.” Who cares if I was a teacher by day? If I died now, is that what I would want to have defined my life? Not in the slightest.
7. I’ve never been more ambitious than I am right now. When I was working, I had a tendency to get all wrapped up in my job: I wanted to be the perfect teacher, designing the perfect lesson plans, making endless time for tutoring students after school, sponsoring student groups, and attending school functions. But what I was really doing was devoting myself so wholeheartedly to my career that I was overlooking the fact that I might want to leave room for other dreams, too. In the last year, I’ve made time to dream bigger, about writing books and making this blog into the next big thing (it’s true!). And I know this has something to do with not having a traditional “job” to obsess over.
8. Call me an existentialist, but I think a lot about my legacy, and I know that’s my family. Life is fleeting, and any day could be your last. So I often think about how I can leave the greatest impact. Sure, if I were to become president, my name would be written into the history books, but on a day-to-day basis, the people we affect the most are our loved ones. So for me, staying home to be with those people is the only thing that makes sense.
9. My education was not wasted. The years I spent at a liberal arts college in New York City and then earning my master’s degree outside our nation’s capital certainly gave me book smarts that I wouldn’t wish away, but more importantly, those years taught me how to think: how to be introspective, how to question what I read and hear, how to be logical and methodical. But I also came into contact with so, so many people who weren’t just like me or the people in the small town I’m from. I gained an appreciation for diversity and human rights that will shape the way my children will grow up thinking about the world. And that is truly priceless.
10. And speaking of money, we didn’t really need my income, anyway. Heffernan talks a lot about lost wages and earning potential. But I wonder, what material possessions were really lost? A bigger house? A boat? A fancy car? Would those things have made her that much happier? I realize that having one parent stay at home is just not financially feasible for many families, but even those who do manage it make sacrifices. We just think they’re worth it.