Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I do have it all


Over the last year or so I’ve read a lot about why women chose to stay home with their kids. There was first the article that explained the increasingly competitive world of being a ‘good mother’ forced women to stay home and set back the feminist cause. Then there was the coverage of the mommy wars around attachment parenting. Recently there was the backlash, in one case deserved the other not deserved, around Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg. Then last night I read a review of a new article called The Retro Wife in the New York Magazine. As a current stay at home mom I find myself getting increasingly frustrated because none of these voices represent me or acknowledges that I made a choice.

I know there are many women who don’t have a choice around whether or not they work. Some wouldn’t earn an income that covers the cost of childcare so if they did want to work it isn’t financially possible and others can’t afford to live on one income or don’t have a partner with an income so don’t have the option to stay home. In Seattle our life was built around two full time incomes so I never considered staying home a realistic option, we had a mortgage, car payments, a lifestyle we were comfortable in and the thought of eliminating a large portion of our income just didn’t seem realistic. I had career ambitions, I wanted to do my job well, I worked hard, and I wanted a good review and all of the rewards that come with it. But I didn’t get my personal satisfaction through work instead I found that in our family and I always wished I could stay home.

That was one of the big motivators when we decided to pursue international opportunities, it would be the chance to start over and set up our life around one income and I would have the option to stay home. It was really scary to quit my job but I was excited to stay home with the kids. I don’t regret for a minute that decision. I’m not making organic snacks everyday but I am able to fully participate in each stage they go through. Being home to hear Patrick’s school recap, watching Kellen’s football practices, not worrying about missing any of Ella’s firsts, it has been an amazing experience and I recognize that I am lucky to have this chance. Staying home does mean that I need to make much more of an effort to keep engaged in things outside of young children. I’ve taken classes, golf lessons, made a point to socialize with the new friends we’ve made because you can get a little nutty when the majority of your conversations take place with people under 5 years old. There have been points when I’ve debated when the right time to go back to work will be, at one point a few months ago where I started networking again and made sure my resume was updated, but unless it is a great role I don’t think I’m ready to go back today. I fully plan that I will work at some point but right now this is working for us.

Does this mean I am a more dedicated mother then someone who chooses to work? Of course not, there are a lot of things I miss about working and I understand the desire and drive to work. It doesn’t mean that there is any less dedication to their kids. Does this mean that I am setting womankind back a generation? No, this is the part that really frustrates me. Not working in an office doesn’t mean that I have become the little woman who lives to serve my husband. Yes I am the one who is home so I do the bulk of the cooking and cleaning, it only makes sense, waiting for Jamie to get home after 6:30 and then start dinner is just silly. I’m not staying home to sit on the couch I’m home to be with the kids and part of that wants the house to be the kind of place I want them to grow up in. That includes being clean and having home cooked meals. I’m not competing for the most pinterest shots of amazingly crafty things I’ve made or the organic, everything free, elaborate meals I make each night.

The challenge with the articles that go flying around is that they are just as patronizing as a man saying the woman’s place is in the home because they don’t seem to recognize that we have any choice. First it was the argument that the pressure to be a perfect mother doesn’t allow women to work and have children. Then it is the pressure to be an extreme parent so if you chose to work then you are choosing to not fully parent your kids. Then I read a review of the Retro Wife article. The article itself is the most fair of them all because it profiles women who represent a trend in professional women choosing to stay home, although the aspects of the moms they chose to highlight were a bit concerning like the husband who now has much trendier clothes because his wife can now shop for him. The review though criticizes the article for not trying to dig deeper and solve the problems with our current work culture that doesn’t allow these women continue to work. You can cue the criticism of Marissa Mayer here. What I don’t think anyone seems to understand is that for many of us staying home isn’t a problem we are trying to overcome.

Yes there are women whose job doesn’t allow them the flexibility they want or need in order to feel they are fully balancing work and children. But many of us chose to stay home full time not because we failed at having it all but because right now having it all means staying home. There will be a time in my life where the focus will be more on career but today it isn’t and that’s ok with me and I have to imagine that I’m not the only stay at home mom that feels that way. I’m not trying to argue that the workplace is perfect and I do believe greater flexibility for both men and women would help in making that difficult balance more possible. I also believe that I am the one who needs to teach my kids about gender equality and they will learn a lot of that by watching how Jamie and I interact on a daily basis not by who is cooking dinner.

I feel extremely fortunate to have the choice to stay home right now. So I am a proud stay at home mom who is staying home because it is what I want and it works for the five of us. Not as a political statement.

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