I wanted to have a degree for my children, for them to have a mother that was a college graduate. When I became a mother, I found out that’s not even something they needed from me. Their immediate needs were for me to be there for them. I dropped out completely when our baby boy arrived. I had managed my courses online until, in the ninth month, hormones took my whits about me, having spent more time researching cloth diaper services than the ideology of Women’s Studies. All collegiate answers on What to Be dissolving in a cup half full of what I became instead.

Around the office my husband fields inquiries about what his wife does. A question that comes back around after he answers “Stays at home.” It’s a clumsy explanation that serves nobody who has to answer to it well. Terminology so asinine it can’t satisfy the inquiring mind of a four year old on the weekday mornings I have to tell him “Daddy is at work,” warranting no sense of value, marred by his limited perception that Daddy should be home instead. I begrudgingly become the counterculture, listening to President Obama attribute the wage gap to my family choices; everyday American politics no longer easily filling holes in playground chit chat with working moms. Yet nothing on this side of fence is more revealing in the grapple on pay than the unconscionable salary that my man is offered to try and support a family on his own. Assuming salaries. Companies in every town embracing the new and improved American households of two working parents, leaving real people to pick up the slack.

We thrift for the things in the house we need, we haven’t budged on eating organic at home, and thanks to my discerning eye we manage, by all accounts, to look pretty good. I can’t say that I don’t worry that someday sooner than I’d prefer, my son will ask me why we don’t have some of what other families have. That’s a problem living in this country. He may begin to ask why his father and I share a car. Why things don’t come easily as it seems they should. And these are all good lessons to tackle, but at the desk by lamplight, the sun-soaked curiosity of a boy is gone, and it’s just you, bedding down this month’s earnings, wondering the same goddamned thing.

I passed a car on my way to pick up diapers the other day. It was a spanking new Mercedes with the custom license plate HRDWRK. He wanted me to know that he earned that car, or that I could have something just as nice if only I would work harder. I wonder if what he does with his job or money is important work. The work we need to do to feel like the important, irreplaceable thing. I’m not what any child who goes to school is taught to want to be. I wasn’t taught it myself. But when I ask myself what do I want to be, what do I want to do? The questions and answers are more human now than they were back then when I was dreaming. I think we all want for the same thing. I want to be better, I want to do better. I want for my children to be better, I want for them to do better. They used to say that children were the future. Now they say the future is female. So I’m staying at home, creating my own family of privilege, trying to fill the gaps that I see.

21 Responses

  • Oh my gosh. I needed to read this today. It sums up the way things have been for me the past 4 years as well. I saw my family in your words. Were not rich or well off and sometimes I think about going back to work once the kids are in school but in reality I do not see myself going back to “work” ever. I’d much rather stay home and raise my kids, doing all that I can to make sure they turn out alright.

  • Xindy, I’m so glad that you are able to stay with your children. It makes me happy that there are people growing up receiving this kind of intimate, special care. It’s such a very important job that many parents for a myriad of reasons are not able to to do. Keep it flowing, beautiful, even when the well’s dry! xx

  • I thought this was a wonderful commentary on the state of things! You are not alone in your thoughts on this subject. Thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed reading your essay.

    • I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. It’s several years of connecting the dots on these issues, so I’m glad I could wrap it up in a way that makes sense, quite frankly… and yes, it would seem I am not alone in these thoughts (and also, in remarkably good company). xx

  • Loved reading this. Just left my job this past week to stay at home, and this was so good to read… I’m going to bookmark it to re-read during these next couple weeks when I question whether I did the right thing. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Leah, I have written a piece called ‘Self Preservation’ you may connect with during the really, really tough times. Maybe not, but maybe it will serve to pull you through. If there’s one thing I could tell myself in the beginnings of parenthood, it would be to have self confidence about staying at home… don’t beat yourself up to find it’s a worthy job like I did. Don’t question yourself like so many others will want to question what you’re doing- your children will never question it. Your children will be so happy that you’re there. Listen to yourself and your child about what’s best for your family. I’ve truly found that The Ma Books is a place where you can keep your self-esteem about this whole parenthood thing, in check. You are making a great sacrifice, that you can see, many here deeply respect. 🙂

  • Thank you for this! It is so easy to forget that our everyday job as a ‘staying at home mom ‘ is as much as everyone else. And … It is not a privilege as many people think. You really have to watch your budget and give up some things in order to get things going. It’s all worth it though! And thrifting is the best!!

  • I absolutely love this. Thanks for putting it out there – I needed it. My mom went “back to work” when I was 6 months old and has always regretted not having that time at home with me. Now, with my two small children, I’ve chose to stay home (for at least the first few years, or however long we can manage), and I haven’t once regretted having time with them. Time. That’s all anyone ever wants. Time to be in the present and enjoy your life and the people in it. And we have to sacrifice a lot of things since we life on my husband’s modest salary, but it’s all so worth it.

    • Time is a big one. I am reminded to be grateful of the time I have with our children when my husband comes home and has missed us all so much. So cool that you were able to see the value of staying at home through your mother’s eyes… your children are surrounded by two very loving mothers in their family. <3

  • I read the first two paragraphs and almost cried. Just last night I was up thinking about mothering and how much I love and desire to stay home with my daughter and be there for her….and I kept thinking: why isn’t that enough? Why can’t that be enough? I am trying to complete my degree online right now and it’s just so hard, doesn’t interest me anymore and I want to quit and be *all* there for my daughter. But in this society, it seems you always need to be doing something — anything — in addition to mothering in order to be deemed worthy. I also feel like my daughter might not be proud of me once she grows up and learns that I’m “just” a stay at home mom. It terrifies me for some reason.

    At the same, I feel like what I do is so, so important and it’s exactly what I want to be doing.

    I’m rambling. Anyway, thank so, so much for this. I needed this. I was starting to believe I must be the only person who experiences this.

    • Sabrina, it’s scrappy work… work that bruises the ego in all the right ways- it keeps us tender, it keeps us feeling, and human. And the best example anyone can grow up seeing in this experience of being human, is to see someone trying. Falling, getting up, and trying again. It’s actually something I learn from my children every single day. If staying at home is where your heart is, be brave. Finish your degree if you need to, and then be in. It feels so damn good after years of struggling with those same thoughts that you’ve expressed, to finally just be all in. And you know what? No kid in loving home is going to end up thinking, “I wish my mom had spent more time at work.” xx

  • Ina, thank you so, so much for your kind words & advice. Really, I needed this so much. I seriously wish I could give you a hug right now.

    So much love to you & your family.

    • Hug received. Best of luck to you and yours. Your daughter is very fortunate to have someone caring so deeply about her. Thank you for all of the hard work *you* are doing!

  • So appreciative of this piece- how beautifully written, and relatable it is. I especially love the last sentence. Thank you!

  • Thanks for this! Really what I needed to hear. I’ve been at home with my boys since my first was born nearly five years ago. But I have beat myself up along the way, feeling that there’s more for me, or more I should be doing. When will I do my MA? When will I earn the big cash? But whenever I think about not being there for the children, I actually feel like there is no other choice for me. I want to be there for them. Nothing is more important for me at this time in my life. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like a job that society respects, or even understands. It is devalued and demoralised at times, because it is unpaid I guess. But I think all of the Mothers reading and relating to this, will know deep down that it’s a priceless occupation! Many thanks and love xx

    • When I think about my job in society, and what society *really* is in need of, I can never say it better than Hermann Hesse: “My goal is this: always to put myself in the place in which I am best able to serve, wherever my gifts and qualities find the best soil to grow, the widest field of action. There is no other goal.”
      Catriona, thank you for your hard work in raising humans! I mean that. Just so happens at this moment in history, we find ourselves rounding out the rough edges of a harsh society; filling the circle; occupying the Human Gap. That your children feel connected to their humanity, is priceless. It’s kind of amazing that the work you do at home impacts generations… even if it’s only the generations of your own family unit. “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”- Mother Teresa xxoo


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