A little while ago I started a firestorm when I wrote about planning my daughter’s future–and how we should consider a career choice that would make deciding to be a stay at home mom easier–if that was the preference.
It made me think back to my own decision to stay at home with my kids, which was definitely NOT something I thought I would be doing. And then I read this article called “Why I’m at Home” by an educated woman whose journey sounds identical to mine. Heather Koerner writes,
I’m sure it started in my own day care experience. After attending a group day care for much of my childhood, I took different jobs during my college breaks as a child care worker and nanny. Though most of my co-workers were nice, sweet ladies who tried to make the day pleasant for kids, I still began to see that there was something unique and special about a parent’s love that a child care worker could never duplicate. Even with my one-on-one time as a nanny, I saw that, as much as I cared about my job, it was still that — a job.
But what about me, I would wonder. I’m a well-adjusted, productive member of society and I came through day care just fine. What’s the problem?
I thought about that — hard. Then the answer came to me in three little words: in spite of. Day care had not made my childhood happy. My childhood was happy in spite of my time in day care. It was my parents’ individual attention each night and on weekends that helped me to thrive. It wasn’t that the days were always bad, but that my parents’ love was always best.
I started to ask myself the hard questions: Who is going to raise my child someday? Will the nights and weekends be enough?
Her whole article is really worth reading, but I thought I’d take her example and tell you all my journey.
My earliest memories are of lying on a cot in a day care, with a teacher rubbing my back.
I loved that teacher. I was scared of everyone else (even the other kids), but that teacher (I believe she was an immigrant from Romania who didn’t speak much English) loved me and I loved her. She was the only good thing about day care. I remember crying until she would hold my hand. I remember hiding in corners. I remember being forced to eat cheese (I HATE cheese).
I was in day care because my father had left us and my mother had to work. She had looked into becoming a foster parent to see if that could give us enough money so she could stay home, and it didn’t. So she hated to leave me behind, and she marched off to work.
I grew up with a single, professional mother who worked hard to provide. The rest of my relatives (most of whom are women; we don’t do boys in my family) also are very well educated, most with at least a Master’s degree. My aunt had worked part time as a doctor, with a nanny the other half of the time. My role models were not stay at home moms.
So I always assumed I would be a professor.
I would work part-time, write amazing research papers, and still have summers off and time with the kids.
I pursued higher education, and did well. I earned scholarships. I kept wracking up degrees (I have three). We married in our fourth year of university, because we knew there was no point in waiting to marry; we both would be in school for years. And I was earning enough money in graduate scholarships and research positions that we didn’t really need to wait.
My husband was from a blue collar family. His mom had stayed home, and that was all he knew. I always felt sorry for her that she didn’t have more opportunities (I thought of her as a “stay at home mom” then, as a category, not really as the mom I know now). I was enlightened. I could take on the world, and the kids would fit right in!
Keith wasn’t so sure, but he held back his reservations because how can you argue against a woman working? That would be sexist.
And so it was that I started applying for Ph.D. positions in Toronto, where Keith would be doing his residency in pediatrics. I won another scholarship. I was on the right track.
Then one day I had to deliver a presentation to my Master’s class about a certain sociologist. I couldn’t understand a word this guy was talking about. It was all so vague, and airy fairy, and convuluted, but I had to present it, so I did the best I could.
At the end of the presentation everyone applauded. I got 100%. The professor said that was the best he’d ever seen; that I just made Baudrillard come to life and explained him so well.
AND I STILL HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT.
Excuse the term, but there is no other adequate substitute: I had BS’ed my way through. And everyone thought it was great.
It became clear to me that the professor didn’t know what this guy was talking about, either (even though the professor was a specialist in this particular guy). And I thought to myself: do I really want to spend my life in academia, pretending the whole time?
Five minutes after that presentation I called Keith and said, “let’s get pregnant instead.”
And so ended my academic career–and began my decision to be a stay at home mom.
We did get pregnant, and we moved to Toronto. I was so sick when pregnant with Rebecca. Have you ever just prayed to throw up? I prayed that prayer straight for nine months and I never did. With Katie I could throw up like clockwork, every morning at 8:30, and felt so much better. It is way worse to not throw up than to throw up.
But in the meantime, even though I had decided to have kids and I had decided not to pursue a Ph.D., I hadn’t really decided anything else. My future was still open.
And in Toronto, I had a job working with a consultant company doing their graphic design and databases. It paid fairly well, but it was a half hour subway ride away.
After doing this for three months (during which I had become indispensable), I sat on the subway one morning, praying not to puke before I got off (at which point I would begin the prayer again that I would indeed puke), and I asked myself, “why am I doing this? Why am I going on a subway an hour a day when I feel horrible?” We didn’t really need the money. And I felt lousy.
So I quit. And was promptly hired to work from home by the same company, which I did for the next five years, off an on, just on little projects.
Then Rebecca was born, and I started going out to parks with her, and playing with her, and having a grand old time. And I realized, I don’t want to go to work. I want to stay right where I am.
Deciding to be a stay at home mom was a gradual process.
It wasn’t something I ever thought I’d do. I was following the path I was told I should follow: I was getting an education, I was working, I was making something of myself. And even though it was silly, I never questioned it until a breaking point came, and then I realized, “I don’t have to do this. No one is making me do this except for me.”
So we decided not to buy a car. We didn’t buy a house. We shopped at thrift stores and didn’t go out to eat very much. We saved as much as we could, and then we moved to a cheaper city, where Keith’s family was, as soon as we could get out of Toronto. His classmates were buying homes and cars and everything expensive, and we were living in a small apartment. But we had a great time, and the lack of money didn’t really bother us at all.
I would occasionally chat with his female colleagues about the problems they were having with their nannies, who didn’t like to stay after 6, and who didn’t like to do housework. Why couldn’t these women mop the floors and care for the kids and get dinner ready? Was that too much to ask?
And I would listen and wonder what planet they were on, because I didn’t have time to do most of that, either. I spent a lot of the time out with my kids, because the apartment was small. She was asking the nanny to stop playing with the kids and clean the house all day. And then I just stopped listening.
I’m like Heather, who wrote that first article.
I’m okay in spite of the day care, not because of it.
But I don’t want my kids to grow up and be okay in spite of anything. I want to give them the best, and the best is me. They need their mom.
I know some women will make different choices, but I guess my question is this: are they really your choices?
I never really understood that deciding to stay at home with your kids was a valid choice.
I never even really made it; I drifted into it, little by little. It was only in retrospect that I am passionate about it. I did what I was supposed to do, and didn’t think twice about it. Is that really a choice?
When women sign up for a postgraduate degree, are they making a true choice for themselves, or are they doing what is expected of them? When they go back to work after the baby comes, is it a true choice, or have they never really thought that maybe there is an alternative?
It sounds silly, but I never saw the alternative. I always thought I’d get a Ph.D. because that’s what you’re supposed to do. So I’d encourage young women everywhere: MAKE A CHOICE. A real choice. Recognize that you could honestly do either: you could have a career, or you could stay at home. They both are legitimate. (I know some Christians argue the career isn’t, but just let that go for a minute for the sake of argument).
They are not both presented as legitimate in our education system or in many of our families. Instead, it’s assumed that women will work, will make a ton of money, will make a name for themselves. And thus, staying at home isn’t really a choice.
But it is. It is your life. What do you want to do with it? Or more importantly, what is God calling you to do with it? Wrestle it out. I’m not going to tell you what to do, because I believe God can do that when you go to Him.
All I’m going to say is that you have permission to make a choice.
You do not HAVE to pursue a career. You do not HAVE to pursue a ton of education. You can choose, either way, to go the way that God wants you to go.
Are you open to leaving it in His hands, and maybe bucking the tide? I hope you are. It was so freeing once I said, I can make my own path in my life. And I’m so glad I did.