I have been trying to write a variation of this post for a few months. Every time I sat down to write it, the words that came out were academic, impersonal, distant. I had a truth I wanted to share, but somehow, it was getting stuck.
Start with the personal. The answer came tonight as I made pizza for my family. As I spread the pesto and washed the mushrooms and grated the cheese, the words began. And as I am learning to do, I baked the pizza and plated the food and praised the toddler and put the pajamas on and sang the goodnight song, holding off the flow of words but not losing the spark. And now I sit down to write these words, that once were choked and now are loud:
I am finally proud of what I do.
So here’s the personal: when I first became a stay-at-home-mom, I was proud of myself for making the decision to stay home, but I felt mixed about the decision itself. I was proud that I had made the decision based on my values instead of societal pressure, but I still felt societal pressure. Additionally, my success at work had become a huge part of my self-worth, and taking it away left some definite holes (this actually prompted some positive growth, but growth isn’t always easy).
On a day-to-day basis, caring for my daughter and seeing the benefits of my work with her took away this angst. I knew I had made the right choice for her, and honestly, I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, so it felt like the right choice for me as well.
But when I had to admit to other adults what I did full-time, it was a different story.
For about a year after leaving my full-time job, I dreaded the “so, what do you do?” question that people would ask at parties and networking events. I didn’t know what to say. Did I tell them what I was capable of, or what I was currently doing?
After a few social events fraught with these instances of panic and pause, I asked David, “what do I say when people ask me what I do?!”
He mildly replied, as someone who was not experiencing an existential crisis would, “maybe say what you do?”
But to me, the answer “I’m a stay-at-home mom” somehow reflected “I am June Cleaver and hoped and dreamed that I would find fulfillment in the home as a homemaker.”
I knew people who had dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom since second grade. These are the same people who spend lots of time on Pinterest and who can make pie crusts from scratch. THOSE people were the stay-at-home moms.
I was not. I hadn’t spent my whole life waiting to be a wife and mother; I was surprised when I wanted either. I liked working and advancing professionally. I’ve only made two pies ever, and both burnt. And so even though I found myself happy as a stay-at-home mom, it didn’t seem like enough.
So, “I used to be a —–” is what I would settle on, feeling like a fraud, “but now I’m a (hurriedly under my breath) stay at home mom and I do consulting work part time on the side too. Man, this bruschetta has a kick! Gotta go get some wine! I hope I never see you again and that you don’t remember this conversation at all!”
It’s hard to put into words exactly why this role was hard to own, but I think some commentary from our culture will help:
From an article on depression among executive women:
“Choose a female-friendly employer, said Harriet Greenberg, a partner at Friedman LLP, an accounting firm in New York City. Its open-door policy and flex-time option help women cope. If a woman stays home for a few years to chase kids, ‘she’s welcomed back,’ she said.” (Source, emphasis mine. The semantics kill me! We couldn’t possibly be imparting anything of VALUE during those times with our kids…nope, just chasing them).
From a conversation last Friday with a new colleague:
“So, what did you do before children interrupted your life?”
From a conversation with a man (who has children!) two summers ago:
Him: “So, you left your job? Do you actually find that spending your day caring for your child is fulfilling?”
Me: “Yes, I do.”
From a conversation with a recent (female) college graduate:
“I bet you can’t wait to get back to work, huh?”
I’m not trying to be overly sensitive, nor am I skewering anyone quoted above for their word choices. These comments and excerpts reflect a larger debate in our culture over the value and necessity of a stay-at-home parent. I understand why we have that debate, and from a sociological and historical perspective, I think it’s important that we keep discussing it.
But I hope that conversation evolves a little to say this: act from your values, ignore the critics and “shoulds,” and make yourself proud.
As a woman, I’ve been told everything from you should of course stay home with your kids; how could you leave them? to if you don’t go back to work, you’re betraying all women. How do you ever expect your daughter to respect you if you don’t?
On that spectrum, I’ve experienced everything from congratulations, you’ve made the best decision for your kids! to rolled eyes at a university faculty meeting when I said that I was a mostly stay-at-home mom and an abrupt silence at a professional luncheon when I mentioned my kids.
But I’m learning to be okay with it. Because it’s my life, and I’m acting from my values. Yes, they are values that surprised me, but it’s okay to be surprised by the evolution of your life. Accepting that evolution is called “growth.”
Since becoming a mostly stay-at-home mom who works an average of 5-8 hours a week, I’ve earned $40,000 in grant funding for nonprofits, taught college classes, trained youth professionals, nonprofit employees, youth, and parents in our area, and helped a nonprofit organization completely recreate its evaluation plan to better measure their impact, to name a few projects.
But the most important thing I do? Undoubtedly, is care for and nurture these two girls.
Now, truth: it’s sometimes the most boring thing that I do. It’s often the most thankless thing that I do. It’s not sexy and it doesn’t look great on a resume (or apparently, to a female-friendly accounting firm). But in my core, I know it’s the best thing for my family now, and honestly, I find so much joy in it.
And admitting that latter part? Is huge for me. Because I’m finally admitting that what I do as a stay-at-home parent matters, and that it’s okay to have made this choice—and to enjoy it.
Our culture doesn’t always value it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.
So what do I do?
I’m a stay-at-home parent. And I’m finally proud of it.