In the six years of being a stay at home mother, I have never regretted my decision. I believe I speak for most of us stay at home parents when I say that the decision doesn’t come without sacrifices and a positioning that leaves you vulnerable as the unemployed parent. For me, I remember coming to the decision to leave a successful career path in order to prioritize what I still believe to be the most important. I didn’t want someone else raising my children anymore than I wanted to miss moments I knew I could never get back. When their father and I made the unanimous decision for me to be the stay at home parent, I expected it would be a difficult adjustment, but I was excited for the challenge.
The transition was not only a challenge, but it transformed my identity in more ways than I could have known to expect. It wasn’t just that raising a child was hard; it was that nothing was familiar to me anymore. When you leave a career to become a stay at home parent, you leave the very things the other spouse gets to resume:
Uninterrupted bathroom and lunch breaks;
The retreat to their own offices; and
Even the peaceful and solitude rides to and from work;
For me, our decision for me to be at home was without the security of a marriage, retirement system and financial security. I knew I was putting myself in a vulnerable position. Many people told me I was committing career suicide and that it was a risky position without being married, but my children were always worth the risk.
Within six years, we had three children and it wasn’t until after my daughter was born that I entertained the idea of returning to work part-time. I refused to take any opportunity that would take me away from sustaining the permanency, predictability, safety and care I had worked hard to build and provide for the entire family. The pay was obsolete and the late night retreat to my bed in order to grade papers wasn’t easy to juggle, but I did it for my children.
Many say that being a stay a home parent is a privilege and while I agree it can be, I also argue it is a choice. It’s one that many of us make that puts us in a peculiarly vulnerable and risky position. We trust that while being a full-time parent may not have the county, state or federal recognition of a legitimate full-time job that seeks to provide the very securities our partners receive that our circles honor the job for what it is.
There are a few (okay, a lot) of things I have learned that you just don’t say to a stay at home parent. Here are a few:
* You’re lucky.
Yes we are lucky. But luck is defined at the “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” We made the decision to be at home. It was a choice. For those who assume our choices didn’t come without the consequential considerations everyone has to consider is a dangerous assumption that minimizes the honor of what we do. If we say it’s hard, it’s because it is. It doesn’t mean we don’t feel blessed, it only makes us human.
*You’re lucky to have a partner.
We might be and I will humbly kneel down before the millions of single-mothers out there who are nothing short of maternal miracles. However having a partner doesn’t minimize the countless hours we put in that are often singularly experienced. While my partner may be able to provide a half hour shower in the mornings so I can brush my teeth at least four out of the seven days in a week, doesn’t mean that our roles are balanced. While my partner returns home and plays with our children so that I can tend to dinner, bills, laundry, developmental follow-up, appointments and regular maintenance, doesn’t mean I’m sitting there in a lavender bubble bath.
* You got a break.
I remember when someone reminded me of an overnight I took. It was the first overnight I took by myself in four years since not only becoming a mother, but a stay at home parent full-time. The implication was as if I was somehow lucky or that it should “fulfill” all the ways in which stay at home parents need daily breaks. I was stunned by it really. We are the ones raising people.
Most of the times, my “breaks” aren’t without being attached to a job that I can’t just “punch out of.” Workouts, breaks to a local coffee shop to prepare for work or their father’s return home from work is not without doing everything I wasn’t able to accomplish in the day. It’s the most daunting responsibility out there and it warrants breaks. We’ve earned the right to take time for ourselves so that we can return to our timeless jobs being replenished from what the job can easily drain us of. It doesn’t mean that when our partners have to step in, that we have ever stepped out. Then when we give ourselves permission to take those breaks, don’t dishonor us by acting as if we’re somehow lucky, undeserving or that we owe our partners our limbs for supporting it.
*It’s not a risk.
It isn’t? What no one talks nearly enough about is the risk parents take to leave a career and leave years of their lives in order to put their kids first. This is not to minimize what the working parent puts in and sacrifices but for those of us who know that was their primary choice; our sacrifices will never be the same. I will be in my 40’s competing with the professionals I left behind. I won’t have the security their father has. Being at home and making the choice to be the primary caretaker of our children is an absolute risk. Doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy one, but to minimize it dishonors the integrity behind what we do.
Whether people understand what we do or not, I am reminded that our kids know. For me, it’s the moments when:
~I can say I was there to ensure their entry into the world was a healthy and peaceful one.
~The late nights I breastfed them and went months without sleep.
~Every doctor appointment I showed up for and every invitation to lie on my chest when they were sick.
~Every library group, music group, playgroup and errand I schlepped each one around with to ensure their developmental needs were met.
~The evaluations, the preschool admissions, the parent-helper moments and conferences I sat in alone.
~The bins of clothes I recycled, sorted and sold to make way for anew to ensure they had what they needed.
~The parties, occasions and holidays I worked tirelessly for to ensure they were not only memorable, but captured for years to come.
~The times they’re sick and insist on “Mommy.”
~The breakfast, packed lunches, dinners and weekend meal planning to make sure they not only ate well, but healthy.
~It’s the investment in social networks, attempted efforts to strengthen familial relationships and their bond with one another that I know I helped to cultivate.
~It’s the “first moments” of their first word, tooth, crawl, step and their first bike.
~It’s all of the ways I went without so that they had whatever they needed and wanted.
~It’s the scraping pennies on a fixed budget to make vacations happen, special moments possible and to pay the bills on time each month.
Some moments can’t be described and what I have learned in six years and three children later is that my bond as their mother is an extraordinary one that can’t be minimized. Even if no one else knows our sacrifice and sees the honor in it, they do. Trust that your children do.
I may not have a penny to my name and any financial security to call my own, but I’ll tell you what I do have.
They were the risk I took and I would do it all over again to be their mom. My choice may have been a risky one in the end, but it continues to be worth every tiresome, thankless, sacrificial, challenging and memorable moment. Even if no one else acknowledges or honors what we do, remember your children will. There will come a day when they will remember those sacred moments reserved for them. Should they become parents themselves one day, I trust that there will come a time when they will think about the choice their mother made for each and every one of them.
So the next time you see or speak to a stay at home parent, don’t tell them “They’re lucky, fortunate to have a partner or that it’s not a risk.” Tell them what we all want to hear:
*We honor you and the sacrifice you make on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis, but most importantly,
*We see you.
The best gift you can give to us is free. Let us know we’re not invisible. The most painful realization is when you’re surrounded by people who benefited and had a front-row seat to the sacrifices you made who don’t honor your role. Let us know that the sacrifices, risks, compromises and thankless days are noticed during times we feel alone. Most importantly, let us know you recognize what we gave up for the most important job there is in the world.
In Love & Truth,