When my mother went to work all those years ago, she faced the subtle (sometimes not so subtle) disapproval of her peers. Today I find myself in the very same position… for precisely the opposite reason. I stay at home with my children, working out of my home for a variety of unlikely bosses in all manner of occupations. Teacher. Writer. Counselor. Nurse. Mother.
I’m not sure who was the first to put together this job description of motherhood, but it’s one of my favorites… and accurate enough to douse the baby fever of anyone who reads it. Who would take this job? No pay… no vacation… complete and total responsibility for the lives (and choices) of every child you bring into this world. It is like no other relationship you will ever have. In fact, it seems most of the trouble with our society today is that too many women take on this task unthinking… without having any idea of what will be asked of them by that pair of eyes staring so intently into their own.
Once great men like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington recognized the contribution their mother’s made to their lives… their success. These days the role of mother gets little respect… an afterthought in high profile professional lives or a chance to exercise the might of science. No surprise a society with such a short attention span cannot appreciate work that bears fruit over many years.
Worse still is the phrase “working outside the home” — an insulting accommodation to stay at home mothers… a verbal pat on the head that’s supposed to have us not noticing that we’re being punished for our choice in wages and other, more subtle ways. Everyone’s quick to give lip service to the idea that being at home is work, raising responsible children is of value… all the while keeping the true belief unshaken and deeply entrenched in places the words don’t reach. Respect for women who stay at home is offered in word but not in spirit.
And we know it.
You see staying at home requires sacrifices… but intelligence isn’t one of them. We give up the companionship and adult conversation of an office, the entirely measurable contribution of an added salary to the family bottom line, the chance to show the world what we can do. That feeling of being relevant… in the game. These are the things we expected to do without when we made our choice. It’s the others, the ones we couldn’t have anticipated that burn hottest. The sudden shrinking of our world, the inability to give an accounting of our actions or the results of our efforts on some days… and perhaps most maddening of all, the standing need to defend our choice.
I lay a good measure of the blame for this on Peg Bundy — though a caricature, she reinforced the listless, lazy, self-involved stereotype of mothers at home. It was a well-established image in the mind of my co-workers when I left the corporate world after my third child arrived. The barbs were there… veiled by indulgent smiles as they told me how lucky I was, while telling themselves, and each other, that working while mothering was their choice… a hard-won opportunity. Working women who also parent children do have it harder — I have no problem admitting that and giving them their due. Sadly, the reverse isn’t true… in fact; these women are often the most intent on demanding an explanation. Why aren’t you working?
I’m not working because it’s best for my family. Plain and simple. There’s no rushing out the door in the morning… there’s time for appointments and projects and taking care of aging parents. Sick kids and snowstorms don’t throw our lives into chaos. We’re not always running… forever ten minutes behind. We don’t have lots of disposable income, but we do have time for things. And in this hectic, over-scheduled world the simple pleasures of life… a fall-blue sky, the joyful shouts of neighborhood boys at play, a crackling campfire in your own backyard are a welcome chance to get off the grid.
Sad that after all the hue and cry of the women’s movement and equality, so many of us continue to judge each other’s rights and choices. That a woman who has chosen to give up working to raise her own children continues to feel the need to justify that choice, especially to other women, is wrong. Equally misguided is the insistence that a woman who must (or wants to) earn a living prove herself a worthy mother. Anyone who knowingly takes on motherhood in this day and age is worthy and welcome… now, more than ever, we need to support each other instead of wasting time and effort finding fault with each other’s choices.
It’s past time for us stay at homers to shake of the disapproval of those petty enough to display it. Stand tall and proud… for without our work, maligned and misjudged though it may be, civilization falters and falls.