Decisions is a series dedicated to the choices we make in our lives and the factors that led us to our given resolutions. We welcome guest posts to this series to hear about how you’ve tackled a life decision. Email your story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In today’s post, I’ll talk about why I chose stay home after the birth of my daughter even though I had a good job.
No commuting. No projects. No conference calls. No traveling to a different city every week for months. Just thinking about home. Taking care of my daughter, planning meals, organizing the house, gardening. It was so romantic and yet… so guilty-feeling.
I had taken care of myself from the first day I set off to college. I’ve lived in two foreign countries. When I decided to come home, I came back single, with no job, no apartment, a couple thousand dollars in the bank, and in the middle of the financial crisis. But I survived. I set goals and kept looking, going, moving. I accepted help when it was offered from a couple of amazing friends. I managed to meet a brilliant guy, build a life with him, and make progress in my professional life. So when I began contemplating “staying home” after my daughter was born, it felt like a cop out for all the work I’d done. Like I wouldn’t be living up to my potential.
All these unanswerable questions swarmed into my mind:
Was I somehow limiting other women by choosing to stay home and not staying in the workplace?
Was it a waste to get a master’s degree if I was going to change diapers all day?
Would I be a good example for my daughter?
Would I get bored and go crazy?
Fast forward to 39 weeks pregnant: My water broke. After 25 hours of labor, I had a tiny human in my arms. She depended on me for everything. If I thought I was going to be working less or cheating by staying home, that was completely dismissed in the first few weeks with her. This job was a challenging, new project. Not only did I have to take care of my home but do it around the schedule of a chubby-cheeked tyrant. Then after getting all of that done, I had to find time to take care of myself. I battled through the hormone haze in the beginning, fought the exhaustion of being a new parent, and remembered to enjoy it all.
I don’t feel guilty anymore.
I stumbled across an article, “Being a stay-at-home parent is a luxury…for your spouse,” that puts the phrasing “gets to stay home” under scrutiny.
Well, of course, it would be a luxury to the spouse who works out of the home to have a partner who stays at home with the children. Someone who is always there to take care of the inevitable days of sickness, arrange the doctor’s appointments, make sure the cupboards are stocked, and heck, to ensure that no one steals the FedEx package off of the porch. And then — goodness! — to have someone to save you the worry of sending your kids into the world, someone to always be there to kiss a scraped knee and take care of the potty training and maybe even have a hot meal waiting for you when you come home?
It’s nice to come home to a clean house, sleeping baby, and a hot meal. If one of you can stay home to provide that, then most of the time you are both winning. The person going to work everyday has to think mostly about work. Even if they contribute 50% to child rearing and the house, they still get to leave it.
I was (and am) contributing to our family, even if there’s no monetary value on it. I was finding challenges in the everyday. Most of all, however, it came down to my daughter. I knew that there was no one else that could take better care of her than me. I wanted to be there for her.
If I needed more convincing, Amy Westervelt put it perfectly in her blog post, “Having it all kind of sucks.”
This whole “having it all” business has been grossly misinterpreted by our society at large. The purpose of all that bra burning back in the ’60s was to give women choices.
You wanna have sex without getting pregnant? Cool, hit that.
You’re pregnant but in no position to raise a baby (or were sexually assaulted and impregnated, or are pregnant with a severely ill or deformed baby, or any number of other scenarios)? No problem, you can choose not to have that baby.
You want to go to work? Do it!
You want to stay at home and raise kids? Great.
You want to do a little bit of both? Groovy.
You want to be stylish and wear makeup? Or frumpy and never wash? Hey, you do you.
Doing all of it at the same time was never the idea.
I’m not sure where this urge to push myself comes from. I need to be an all-star mom, crush it at work (note: I’ve been watching too much “New Girl”), and have a home straight from the pages of a design magazine. I’ve come to learn that a messy living room, a part-time job, and (mostly) having my sanity is totally fine for me.
Like the snowflakes that we all are, our parenting choices are unique and varied. Staying home was right for me but isn’t for others. Just don’t feel guilty, whatever you do.
Related reading: How Society Pays When Women’s Work is Unpaid via the New York Times
Have you made peace with your decision to work (or not) after kids? We’d love to hear what you chose for yourself and how you felt about it.