I’m compelled to offer my reaction to this, “Grown and Flown: Why I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom,” by Lisa Endlich Heffernan. I offer this to SAHMs out there who might feel swayed by their own regrets and lose their balance.
We all do exactly what we want, need, and are able to do. My family has the benefit of being able to do all three. As I’ve written before, I am lucky to be able to be at home with our children. I made a privileged choice. More important, I made an informed choice.
But I, unlike Ms. Endlich Heffernan, had the benefit of starting my tenure at home in 2005, and not (roughly) 1993. I not only had more information about SAHM-hood at my disposal, but I had a job that required skills that could be used at home. (I had visions of part-time telecommuting the minute I saw a positive pregnancy test in 2004.)
So, I have not remorse, but affirmations and expectations.
I let down [nobody] who went before me. If the SAHM lets down the women’s movement by not “dreaming big,” then the woman who accepts 77 cents an hour for the same work a man does for a dollar lets it down, too. After all, shouldn’t that working woman demand a raise, loudly and regularly? (Pay inequity apparently grows, for college-educated women, in correlation with the very prospect of motherhood, not because of a person’s actual SAHM status.) The women’s movement is far from over. Nobody is letting anybody down.
I use my driver’s license [as much as] my degrees. I learned to drive in high school, and I drive defensively and with authority. I earned (and paid for) my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, both of which taught me to do my research, think critically, and write and speak quickly and effectively. With this training and education, our children have better educational and economic prospects than they otherwise might have enjoyed. And I am a better parent than I would otherwise have been. I parent like I drive; I parent like I think.
My kids think I [do everything]. They see me work at home–writing, taking care of the home, and of them, and of their dad. They see me at their school, working with their teachers and their principals. They brag about me. They know damn well that I work. It helps too, that I tell them so. (They know their dad works, too. Because he tells them so.)
My world [expanded]. I worked with people exactly like me, all with the same organizational goal, all with comparable (if not more) education and experience. I worked with men and women. They were lovely. At home, in the suburbs, I have made some of my best friends, who are nothing like me. Who grew up differently than me. Who think differently than me. Who teach me humility.
I got [inspired] by a mountain of volunteer work. I spent two years on our PTA board. In the past six months I helped changed the way the PTA presents itself to parents. I had an impact on the PTA culture. I was offered a job at the school because of it. We may not stay here for much longer, but volunteering, and seeing that my donated time reflected well on me and my abilities, gives me great confidence that I will land on my feet, professionally, wherever we go.
I worried [as I have always worried]. I have the time available to know our children on a granular level, but I do not have the inclination to ‘helicopter.’ I want them to be happy, safe, eat healthfully, sleep regularly, and be nice to themselves, to each other, and others. And clean up. They better flippin’ clean up after themselves. Other than that, they’re on their own.
I [dove head first] into a traditional marriage. My parents had a traditional marriage. So did my husband’s parents. Unlike our respective parents, my husband and I have the same amount of education, and now, the same amount of work experience. His happens to command a far higher salary than mine could, even if I had stayed in the work force full-time. I take care of him. I do. I make sure he takes coffee, breakfast and lunch with him to work. I do the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the grocery shopping, the bills, and most of the day-to-day child rearing. And I know about his job. I ask about it. He tells me. He knows I am his equal. Anybody who sees the two of us standing next to each other would know we are equals. He knows we’re lucky I’m home. (Picking up the dry-cleaning does not need to be a political act.)
I [fear becoming] outdated. I read. A lot. I read things I never used to. I keep up with current events and technology. Because it matters. I need to know about things before my children do. Every parent does.
I [changed] my sights and [gained] confidence [from new sources]. I could have continued to work full-time. I would have done it just fine. I know that about myself. But when presented with the option of not needing to, I made what most economists would say is an irrational choice: unpaid work (parenting) over paid work. Go figure. I remain engaged with the outside world. I continue to gain confidence as a writer. I watch our children grow and I continue to gain confidence as a parent. (They are happy, nice, healthy, safe, eat and sleep well, and clean up most of the time.)
I am a rock star in the blinding lights of my own mind.
I regret nothing.
Though I wish Ms. Endlich Heffernan’s piece had been titled, “Why I Regret the Way I Stayed at Home.”