On going back to work from a Stay at Home Mom

I feel like there has been a lot of back and forth lately about women and their choices around when they go back to work after having kids.  I just read another article The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In by Judith Warner.  These women aren’t quite my peers, but are about 10 years ahead of myself.  Judith goes back and profiles 10 women who all dropped out of high powered jobs in order to be stay at home moms.  Now for varying reasons most of them are trying to re-enter the workplace and it doesn’t seem to be easy for them.  A good chunk of them are taking pay cuts, but working in fields that mean something more to them than their previous jobs did.

This whole debate gets me thinking about myself and my situation.  10 years ago, my dream was to be the high-flying career woman.  I wanted to be a well paid politico doing something in Democratic politics that was highly influential.  I wanted to be traveling a lot and doing all sorts of things that a very important person did.  I craved this and worked very hard to try to make it a reality.  However, after several years of one job after another not working out for various reasons, Alex got a job in California and we left DC.  My intent was to pass the bar in California and then practice law here.  However, after two attempts at the bar I just couldn’t seem to pass it (not at all bitter about this!).  So I re-grouped.  In the meantime, I realized that I liked being at home.  I was good at it in a way that I could just never make work work.  Furthermore, a law degree doesn’t give you much in the way of a resume if you don’t want to practice law.  So I didn’t really have any professional skills to fall back on.  I was burned out on “real jobs.” I got a job at Lucy selling yoga clothes.  Retail can be really hard, but I also enjoyed it.  My co-workers were actually nice people to be around.  Then I got pregnant with Walter and a couple of months later Alex got this crazy raise on a raise and suddenly were weren’t struggling for money anymore, we were making what we did on both our incomes in DC.  I was able to very easily make the decision to stay at home with Walter.

Since Walter was born, there are days when I am certain that going back to work, must be much easier than staying at home minding him.  Then there are other days when I am pretty sure I got super lucky.  I keep wondering if at some point, I am going to need more mental stimulation or feel like I am missing out on a professional life by being at home.  I have twinges of it, but every time I do, they seem to pass quickly.  I feel like the real question that no one seems to want to talk about is can we, as a society, accept that it is ok for women (or men for that matter people!) to stay at home indefinitely?  Can we stop badgering them and for once and for all and give them some respect so they don’t feel like they need to go back to work?  Everyone is always saying that they respect the mom who stays home, but then why do women often feel marginalized when they stay home?  I know I often struggle with the question of “What do you do?” and my mother, who also stayed home with us, struggled with the same question.  I feel that saying I am staying home with my son is not enough, so I need to point out that I am a kick ass cook, or I do a lot of gardening or I have a six day a week Ashtanga practice, just something that makes me be taken as a “serious person.” If I step back though, this is all ridiculous.  We are contributing to society, it is just quite a while before the kid grows up and becomes that decent human being we are so desperately trying to make them.  Repeat to self while breathing deeply when terrible twos tantrum occurs:  “I love him dearly and I do not want to chunk him out a window.”

Additionally, in the meantime, we are doing the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, paying the bills, scheduling the appointments and all those little things that life requires someone to do.  On top of all of this we are making our houses into homes: filling them with lots and lots of good energy so that our families have a place of refuge from the crazy world outside our doors.

I am asked, by people trying to make conversation I suspect, that if now that Walter is 2, am I going back to work soon?  When I tell that I am not, then the follow up question, is, “Well when?”  I used to reply that perhaps when he and our non-existent second child are in school then I will probably teach more yoga classes or start that bakery business I have always wanted to do.  This seemed like a safe answer and the conversation would plod along to another topic.  Lately, I have gotten bolder, and I tell people that I have no intention of ever going back to work.  I admit that I enjoy seeing how people react to this.  My grandfather used to like to ridiculous things to people just to see how they would react and I seemed to have inherited this from him.  It doesn’t play out on the standard script of “talking to SAH mom,” so often people are often left speechless.  One man even started to argue with me about it and point out that I was missing out on making money by staying home.  However, it is the true answer.  I like being around my son.  I am a good cook and I like having the opportunity to really build my cooking skills while making tasty, nutritious foods for my family (well, Walter is on a diet of PB&J, hot dogs, carrots, and perhaps an apple or two but I digress…).  I like puttering around the garden and working getting things to grow.  I like working on our house to make it look nice by finding just that thing that goes in that corner to make the corner look awesome!

I am sure that as life goes, my perspectives will change. I will need to adapt my life and schedule to those new demands.  However, what really strikes home with me is that we all need to stop being so judgmental about other people’s choices.  A good friend once said to me that the whole point of the women’s movement was so that each woman could make an individual choice for herself and her family.  That means that each of us needs to be free to make those choices and to change our mind as our circumstances change without having the face the judgment and criticism of everyone else. Women are smart people, let’s assume that they make good choices.

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