“Regrets of a stay-at-home mom”

Maybe I’m a week late to discuss this article. Maybe you all read it last week on Salon and discussed it while I was off frolicking in the Pennsylvania snow with the boy. But, perhaps, you were not aware of the article titled: “Regrets of a stay-at-home-mom.” If you haven’t read it, please do because we need to talk about it.

When I was brave enough to open my Tweetdeck on Sunday afternoon after nearly a week out of Twitterdom, I found my brother’s note to me about this essay. He said: “Thought you might find this interesting.” He didn’t say: “Thought this might ruin your day,” or “Thought this might make you ask every question you’ve ever asked about your so-called profession.” I guess “interesting” can encompass all of those reactions. Either way, reading this article made me feel ill.

In it, Katy Read describes her long decision to give up a career in journalism 14 years ago in order to raise her two sons. She describes the moments of bliss when she strove to memorize every feature in their little boy faces as she pushed them on the swing in the middle of the day. She describes her joy at having the time to savor their childhood and offer them her undivided attention as opposed to the first year of her son’s life when she continued to work and felt as though she was failing at everything.

And then she describes how she regrets it. She is now divorced and unemployed and unable to find work due to her fourteen years away from the work force. And she’s incredibly anxious about her inability to care for her sons.

Since making my decision to stay home with August, I’ve struggled with a cultural debate in my head. The debate is this: I am educated and I should be able to provide for myself, despite my being married to a kind and generous man who appreciates my staying home with our child. Never once has my husband referred to the money he earns as belonging to him. Never once have I felt as if I were given an allowance. But at the same time, little voices tell me that the unthinkable could happen. And I could be left to care for my kids on my own.

Whenever those little voices arrive, I sit next to my man on the couch and say: “Don’t ever change into a horrible meany and leave me alone. Because I won’t survive.” He usually says something sweet about how much he likes me and how crazy I am and then pinky swears me that it won’t happen.  Then I say, “Seriously, what if I could never get a job because I’ve stopped working?” That’s when he reminds me that I’ve never had a lucrative job in my life. When I was on staff with Young Life, we lived off my husband’s salary and mine filled in the little gaps. Before that, I was a struggling MFA graduate trying to write poems while I worked part time as administrator at a construction company. That’s not to say I couldn’t get a job if I needed to. I would love to teach high school English. I would love to finish the seminary training I began while on staff with Young Life and go into ministry within a church. I would love to write books and actually get paid for it. (PS I do not want to teach creative writing to graduate students.)

But now that I’m thinking about it, none of those things are lucrative. That’s not who I am. I’ll never be gifted at money-making. And maybe that’s my answer to Ms. Read’s anti-SAHM lament.

Actually, I think I have a more important answer to her sad SAHM tale. I am married. We share money and children and a home because we trust each other and believe in our relationship and our commitment to God’s work in our relationship. I cannot make my life and parenting decisions based on fear. I can’t. No matter how disastrous marriages are around us. No matter how often couples whom we respect divorce. No matter.

The reality is that marriage is a sacrifice. Chris has a few friends from work who are living the bachelor dream, making money and wearing the beautiful shoes that I would never allow Chris to buy. Both of us could have completely different lives if we were single. But we aren’t. We chose marriage. And marriage is sacrifice and trust. I can read Ms. Read’s essay and let my mind embark on a “what if” marathon. But her warning that I should protect myself also means that I should live in fear. That’s not healthy. Healthy marriage is sacrifice and partnership. Chris sacrifices his dream of looking like the pages of the Sartorialist. I sacrifice my (usually false) idea of female success. We both sacrifice our independence. And in that, we find ourselves eating burritos on the couch on Friday night and giggling about whatever stupid thing we watch on TV. And in trusting each other we find authenticity. It’s worth the risk. It’s brave.

Besides, I can rest in the fact that these years of non-working are not ruining my career. That’s the good thing about being an artsy-fartsy/ministry/non-profit type.

Did any of you read the article? Did it make you feel crazy as well? Do you think I’ve got it completely wrong?


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10 Responses to “Regrets of a stay-at-home mom”

  1. Melanie

    You got it completely RIGHT. The article was not about the perils of being a SAHM. It was a sad tale about a marriage that disbanded, leaving the poor lady broke and at the end of her rope.

    It’s sad, and I understand her thinking. But I, like you, will not steer my life based on the expectation that my marriage will crumble. Can you imagine what would happen to my marriage then? “Morning, honey, I’ve decided I must go back to work, because you’re such a shallow jerk that one day you’ll leave me for a 19-year-old.” Trust? Out the window.

    My husband would be horrified, and I think rightly so.

    (Actually, it so happens that I work now and my hubby is a SAHD. Only because it was the best decision for my family.)

  2. Sam

    I love - LOVE - this response. While I think her experience is absolutely her own, and it is something that all stay-at-home moms should consider. Like you, I hope our marriage has more going for it than the average world one, because we did make our vows not just to each other but to God. And I absolutely know (and we talk about it often) how much I want our marriage to work, to thrive. I know how much joy we find in our son and in our life together. As well, I have a lot of trust in the man I married. Maybe I’m stupid to have that trust, but he’s never shown me that my trust is misplaced. I know the man I married, and if we did have the sad outcome of divorce, I know he would work three jobs if necessary to provide for his child.

    Like you, I refuse to live in fear. I fully expect to work outside the home one day - maybe not a full fledged career, though I would love to teach again. Maybe if I had my doubts about our marriage’s future, I would enter the work force sooner than later. But I really don’t.

    This kinda veers off into the expectations of a Christian marriage - which I have never been one to focus on “our Christian marriage” if you know what I mean, but I notice that I often have completely different parameters than my friends who do not have a marriage based in their spiritual beliefs.

  3. speakingwinds

    The only thing I do know is that whether moms stay at home or have a career outside their home & family, many of them wrestle with their decisions. And there are plenty of arguments for both sides, and plenty of sacrifices. But in the end, one has to make the decision and then LIVE in that decision in peace. While reflection is good to learn and grow from, it is not always wise to look back once one’s hand has been put to the plow because it can lead to discontent & bitterness if things cannot be changed.

  4. Andrea Mitchell

    Wow. This is kind of crazy to me. I mean, I think she’s bitter because her marriage didn’t work out and her life didn’t turn out as planned and so now, knowing how her story is playing out, she would’ve done things differently. In a way we all do that- make mistakes, think back to what we would’ve done differently so we didn’t end up in the same place, etc. However I think most of us then come to the place where we go “yeah, but I did the best I could at the time with what I knew to be true in my life at that point and so it is what it is.” Unfortunately this woman is looking back at the decision she made to stay home with her kids, a good, beautiful decision in my opinion, and then because something disastrous happened TO HER she’s trying to apply it universally. Oh, and market her catastrophic attitude that ‘beware! this could happen to you at any time!’ oy. Well, so could a lot of things but if we can’t spend our lives living because of and out of love, authentic relationships, trust, grace, forgiveness… I don’t know, that’s not a life I would enjoy.
    thanks for the thought provokers Micha!

  5. caq

    I am a single, working, non-mother, and I am still poor.
    Teenagers don’t really need high-end products they can’t afford themselves (okay that is just my opinion! I grew up without cable, had a job my whole teenagehood and onward, went to an expensive school I will be paying off forever, and chose to a grad school that was pretty much paid for)-but it’s strange to me that her indulging that would be mandatory (if that’s what happened).
    Also, there’s this thing called child support. Maybe the father can’t pay; I haven’t read past the first page because it creeped me out. But you can sue for child support, garnish wages, etc. Also, schools take into account your parent’s (or parents’) income when they’re determining your financial aid. Also, school loans can go on forever-in manageable incremements.
    In the current economy, very few people have protected jobs/really secure wealth. So it’s not that weird that she is working several part-time jobs (especially in journalism, which is tanking). No health insurance is scary.
    I am teaching and writing (college and med students; poetry, a novel; a strange but really interesting photodocumentary project); occasionally I look at my friends-ALL of whom are at least engaged, if not married with children, and wonder if I would be happier doing these work things that I love while even just agreeing to live with my boyfriend. I have no idea, and can’t until I maybe choose to either do or do not. So I’m guessing many career-oriented and/or single women probably feel the same way: as if they might have made the wrong choices (or not made the right ones).
    Also, I’m so tired from working that my perfect idea of a Friday night is eating burritos on a couch. Well, and pretty much every night that seems like a perfect thing to do.
    She mostly sounds really, really tired.

  6. Oh, have I ever heard these thoughts of “what if,” like thousands of choruses of them. But, like you, though I have CEO’d our companies since I married, from home with four little ones, and worked time to time, usually 10- 2, at night, in one of the stores we had, I am also not good at anything that you get paid a living wage to do. Alas, I have worked, I believe well, in ministry and teaching at private christian schools and of course, I write for the sheer love of it. A girl can dream and all about that first book, and maybe, just maybe a late in life career as a “real writer.” But I, too, have decided trusting God to keep on taking care of me and mine, as I do my very best to live fully as the self He has made, is all I can do. The rest is all about trust. Plain trust.

    Thanks for you heart and thoughts.

  7. Christina

    So it looks like I’m the only one that kindof agrees with the author. At the very least, I can appreciate the warning for new moms and women in the workplace.
    I left my secure job with a pay scale and benefits over 4 years ago because I wanted to be able to stay home when we started our family. I remember coming home and laughing with my husband about how people thought I was crazy because I didn’t have a backup plan. Clearly they didn’t understand because they weren’t Christians. I remember telling colleagues that I refused to base my career decisions around fears of divorce or my husband’s death (and inside I felt that the former was an impossibility). It never occurred to me that this was prideful. It also never occurred to me that my competent and networked husband with several years of positive experience in the financial industry would ever lose his job and not be able to pick up another one right away - especially one that could take care of what I felt was a modest sized mortgage. So I felt safe.
    Then my husband lost his job and was unable to find one for a while. When he did, I was still required to work full time and that’s where we are right now. Like the author, I have chosen a job that offers less pay but more flexibility so that I am able to spend more time with my children. I don’t think that all new mothers should pursue their careers but I do think they should know what they are sacrificing.
    More importantly, I think we all need to consider why we sacrifice. The truth is that being a believer does not make us exempt from death, job loss or even (gasp) divorce and that thinking can be very dangerous. At least it was for me.
    If I could do it all over again, I would still leave my career. I would still work from home making far less money with no benefits and no job security. But I like to think that I wouldn’t do it because I have faith in my husband’s competence in the work force, or his faithfulness to me or his good health. I would do it all over again because I have faith that it’s where God wants me to be.
    And Micha, that’s one of the many things that I like about your blog. You constantly assess your role as a sahm and seek God’s guidance in that choice.

  8. Wow. Such interesting comments! Thanks Christina for your honesty. You’re thoughts are really challenging…

    I’m grateful for the time all of you have taken to really consider this and think about it meaningfully. I love how many smart, thoughtful women read this blog. THANK YOU!

  9. Stephanie F.

    This is a very real topic for so many women, especially in this time of high male unemployment…I really agree with you Micha on this topic, but in real life I’ve kept my high-paying job for at least one day a week. I’m a RN and I currently work per-diem (3-4 days in a 4 week period of time), but if my husband lost his job I could spool up to part-time or even full time without too much difficulty. I work with so many women whose husband are unemployed.

    The other thing to think about too, aside from divorce is death - our spouses could die - and I think it certainly doesn’t hurt to think about that from time to time, especially those of us with children. However, I don’t think our entire decision making should revolve around our fear whether of divorce or death. Good thoughts all!

  10. I spent ten years as a stay-at-home mom. It took three kids, a serious illness (one of the kids, not me), and some serious redirection from God to convince me to stay home, but I’ve never regretted that hard decision, and look at it now as an incredible gift, to all of us, and the community we were part of.
    I respect moms who feel called to continue in work and can find a way to still give real time to their families. But I know - from every side of the equation - that time and attention from stay-at-home moms (and dads) are an invisible but essential factor in healthy school systems, children’s and youth ministries, even neighborhoods.
    And I know I wouldn’t trade that time with our kids for anything.

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