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Teach Our Daughters Well: A SAHM Discusses Careers

We were driving to a friend’s house when the ChickieNob suggested that we move to the beach much in the same tone she uses to suggest that we have pizza for dinner or watch the Muppet Show before bed. Low-impact decisions. I explained about house sales and finding a new school and new doctors and new friends in this new location, and finally, she agreed that maybe it wasn’t very realistic. Especially because Josh’s job was back here in the city, three hours away.

A few moments later, she came to a new idea: Daddy could get a different job. He could work in a restaurant (when I pointed out that he doesn’t even cook at home, she assured me that “we could teach him” as if she is a mini Cat Cora). There are a lot of restaurants at the beach, I agreed, if the man first took a few cooking classes. “What would I do?” I questioned.

“You’d just be a mum!” she laughed, as if the idea of me working was as bizarre as eating sand. Her dad could easily become a chef with a few instructional lessons, but her graduate-school-educated mother was best at cooking, cleaning, and building Lego towers.

Um…by the way, I do work. As in, I have a job. Right now.

Though I’m aware that I downplay my work both to the twins and to my peers. I label myself a SAHM. On one hand, it’s more honest. I work mainly between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., after the twins are asleep. I have more in common schedulewise with SAHMs and am available to volunteer at their school or shuttle them around to activities. At the end of the day, almost every SAHM I know does some work, whether it’s running a small baby gift business on etsy or doing some freelance web design for a couple of dollars a month.

But I think I’m also squeamish about having the twins perceive that I’m not there for them 100%. I loved knowing that my mother could be at school to pick me up if I felt sick. I liked that she would volunteer to chaperone field trips or work on the PTA. It’s guilt that pulls two ways–I feel like I’m not contributing enough to my family because I’m not meeting my earning potential and I’d feel guilty if I went off and worked full time (hell, I feel guilty for the two afternoons a week they go to grandma and grandpa’s house so I can churn out a few articles and they are with their grandparents, having fun. By the way, thank you, Grandma and Grandpa!). I fear I may have done too good a job not only tucking my job timewise into the darkened nooks of their life, but tucking the very existence of my job into those same unconscious nooks.

I have no desire to work full-time. Our original plan was that I would continue to work and Josh would stay home with the kids, but once we started fertility treatments, that idea changed. One night, as I held a needle over my stomach, about to give myself an injection, I looked up at him and said, “by the way, you realize that this means that I’m going to be the stay-at-home?” I was not going to go through needle-sticks and have him get the daytime shnuzzles. He generously acquiesced without argument, and the rest is history–treatments worked, we had the twins, and I got to stay at home.

In all other facets of life, I have to behave within a workplace frame. No matter how much I love a job, there are expectations that I also despise. Loved lesson planning and teaching; hated grading and meetings with parents. Loved dishwashing the coffee cups; hated filling out the paperwork. Parenting has been the first thing I’ve done where I am 100% my own boss. Yes, I need to do certain things for a short period of time–for instance, as much as I don’t love wiping asses, it’s a finite task, unlike grading which was there year after year after year. The kids and I get to set the day, explore what we want to explore, read what we want to read. If I could get paid to be a parent, it’s the one job I could do where I wouldn’t also have half my mind focused on the point when I could retire.

A long time ago, when my sister’s first child was little, she told me that she was concerned that her daughter associated her with household tasks and her father with outside the home tasks, even though they both worked. More often than not, it was my sister who was cooking and cleaning and generally keeping house in addition to full-time employment. Her daughter mimicked her, following after her with a mini-Swifter or a pot from her kitchen set. We talked about the dangerous message we send to our daughters when they don’t see us in a multitude of positions.

How can we teach our daughters that having a career is important if they don’t perceive that we have a career?

My mother didn’t return to work until all of her children were in school full-time, which occurred when I was in 6th grade. She taught three mornings a week and was home around before 1 p.m., long before it was time for any of us to come home from school. She was damned good at what she did and people came to her for advice all the time. Even without seeing her work during my formative years, it was somehow instilled in me that it was not only a good idea to go to college, but that graduate school could come next and a career should probably follow. The message didn’t just come from teachers who constantly asked us in five-part essay form to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up, but from my parents as well.

And that’s what I did–college, graduate school, teaching career ranging from middle school to the college level. I made finding a societal space of my own a priority just as much as I worked hard to find a partner and build a family. Somehow I absorbed the entire message, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to pass it along to my daughter. I didn’t want it to be a case of “do as I say, not as I do” and seriously, I have a job! I’ve just wiped invisible cream all over it.

“Am I just a mummy now?” I finally asked. “Or do I have a job.”

“You have a job,” she said, somewhat sullenly.

Good; I left something poking out of the shadows.

“What do I do?” I questioned.

“You’re a writer. People pay you to write things and talk about things.”

Which pretty much sums it up. I write articles, I write books, I go out and talk about the topics of said articles and read from said books.

So it has sunk in that a job exists and now I replace my old fears with new ones: what message am I sending by hiding my job, will my daughter embrace the idea of finding her own career, and how can I celebrate work while not missing out on time with them?

Another pause ensued and we were almost to her friend’s house when she chirped, “but luckily, you can do your job from the beach. You can write anywhere. So it looks like we’re moving!”

Break out the flip flops and sunscreen, the only thing holding us back now are those cooking lessons for Josh.

If you are currently parenting, do you have a career outside the home, and if so, how are you conveying that it’s okay to choose to stay home? Or, if you work in the home or not have a job, how are you conveying that it is an equally valid choice to choose a full-time career? How do we teach the other possibility from what our daughters see us do?  And if you are not yet parenting, how do you envision your work/home balance in the future? Apologies that these questions assume living children and doesn’t take into account the fact that so many in our community are without their children right now.

Cross-posted with BlogHer


1 a { 03.27.10 at 11:14 pm }

I work full time. I don’t think I really convey that it’s OK to stay at home. However, since my daughter is only 3, it has only come up in terms of her wanting me to stay home and play with her all day some days. Also, working is kind of a pre-requisite for life in our families – although there are many SAHM’s on both sides. So, my intention is to teach my daughter to get all of her skills learned, and to figure out what she wants to do, and then set herself up for success before she has a baby and decides what the right thing for her will be. That way, she will always have options.

Also, I am extremely lucky in my career – I have a very flexible schedule, so I can leave at a moment’s notice if my girl gets sick. I’ve always been a time hoarder, so I have plenty of vacation and sick days saved up, if I am needed to volunteer for something occasionally. In addition, I think daycare has been an important part of my daughter’s socialization – she has had to learn to deal with other people without having me to hide behind (and she still does that whenever possible). I don’t think that would have been possible with just playgroups or playdates or a couple hours of pre-school a week. (Note: not justifying a choice – just saying that my girl would be terribly shy if I didn’t push her out of her comfort zone to fly solo.)

My daughter is pretty strong minded, so regardless of what I teach her, she has probably already decided her entire future (as far as I can tell, it will entail 2 babies, one brown dog, one black dog, and possibly a white dog). I hope that I can teach her that she has as many choices as she can imagine.

2 Kristen { 03.27.10 at 11:40 pm }

My daughter is only three, but my husband and I decided that I would not go back to work even after our children were in college. Unless we need the money for college. We also plan to instill in our daughter that she will benefit from college and having a career. Just because being a SAHM is right for me does not mean that it will be right for my daughter or her family situation. We want her to know and understand that college is a need, but when it comes to her family they will have to make the best decisions for their family just like we did.

3 S.I.F. { 03.28.10 at 4:44 am }

I pretty much want your life. I am working so hard on my writing right now, because the goal is that I will be able to stay at home once my baby is here; even though there is no husband in the picture. I have always wanted to write for a living, but I was never so driven to do it until I started planning for baby. Now I am writing 2 books, doing freelance, and trying to nurture any writing opportunities I may have; all while also having a full time job in government contracting (that I sincerely hope to be able to leave by the time baby arrives!)

I recognize that I will have to hire help so that I can still get some writing done during the day, but I want nothing more than to be able to arrange my schedule around my child’s life. I doubt I’ll hide it, but I will want them to know that I am always present too. I hadn’t honestly thought about these questions until just now, so thank you for giving me something to think about!

4 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 03.28.10 at 6:51 am }

I used to have two almost-full-time jobs. I no longer work full-time outside the home — in my mind I’m still mostly on maternity leave, even though I’m not going back to the job I had to quit in order to gestate and have the babies. My other job can be done almost entirely from home, and I’ll start a second part-time position in a few weeks.

My husband works from home entirely, except when he travels for business. The net effect is that both of us are home almost all the time, but both of us are working pretty much every moment that we’re not with the babies. Therefore, our children will grow up seeing “work” as going upstairs to sit at a computer or talk on the phone.

I am not SAHM material, I’m just not. I don’t care for many of the necessary household tasks (and am so thrilled to be able to delegate them to the nanny). On days when I care for the babies all day and can’t do any work, I miss it — and I also feel guilty about what’s not getting done.

The babies will have a SAHM model in their aunt, who plans to stay at home if they can swing it financially. Their uncle is frankly disappointed, because that’s not what he thought he was signing up for. DH says that he’d feel the same way, that he signed up for a woman with ambition and earning potential, and that we have made too many sacrifices for the sake of my career to throw it all away. I don’t know that our babies will hear a very positive message about SAHMs, at least from us. If our daughter decided not to work at all, I think both DH and I would be disappointed. Strangely, if our son decided to be a SAHF I’d be fine with it.

5 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 03.28.10 at 6:56 am }

Forgot to address the first part of the post: You loved having a SAHM when you were a kid. I found it to be just too much, and I was relieved when my mom got a job during school hours when I was a tween. As an only child, it was a lot of pressure to have an adult’s whole life focused on my care.

6 queenie { 03.28.10 at 8:39 am }

This is honestly something I’ve never broken down this way. For me, the focus is on teaching our daughter to have a LIFE she loves, as opposed to career/SAHM. My mother always worked outside the home, but she just had jobs-not a career. It was always clear to me that she worked because we needed the money, and not because she loved what she was doing. Similarly, she made life choices because she had to, not because she wanted to. Such a way of living does not necessarily make for a happy life. And if you are not happy, nothing else really matters, does it? The lesson that I took from my own mother was to follow a path that would make me satisfied, proud, and happy. For me, that involves a career right now. Who knows what choices I’ll make in the years to come (if the job I want doesn’t pan out, I’m toying with starting a home-based business, mostly because I’d really like to be my own boss for a while).

7 tash { 03.28.10 at 8:44 am }

I’m really torn here. My mother was SAHM until my brother was about 5-6, but she wasn’t happy about it. And then she went back to work when my dad’s pay got chopped and she wasn’t particularly happy then, either. So the message I always got was: DON’T BE ME. Don’t get a degree that won’t help you (English in her case), don’t stay home, but don’t get a crappy job. Maybe I didn’t know what a good solution was because I got a crappy degree (History, times 2 up the scale from hers) and here I am, home, writing, but not really getting paid much for it unless my husband’s firm needs some work on the side. I guess I want Bella to know she needs to do what she needs to do, what makes her happy. I was happy to stay home with her, that was my choice when it finally rolled around. Then I wasn’t, because it wasn’t supposed to be like that. And I really have to watch my mouth around her because I don’t want to get too “life kicked mom in the ass!” which can start to sound pathetic and like I’m making excuses. Which I am sometimes.

I do want to find something outside the home that uses my degree. I remind her constantly of things mommy does that she likes, and does well and so does my husband (who is in a similar conundrum, because his job is largely done at home, on a computer, and on the phone. We think she thinks his job is “talking on the phone to Uncle C”): Running, cooking, writing, and yes, history. And I try and get her involved in these things and supportive of these things as much as possible.

8 Anjali { 03.28.10 at 9:35 am }

I fear I may have done too good a job not only tucking my job timewise into the darkened nooks of their life, but tucking the very existence of my job into those same unconscious nooks.

I’ve started to “come out of the closet” with my writing to my children. If they’re busy playing, I’m at my laptop. I think doing all of my writing when they were asleep worked well when they were very young, but now I really want them to see that there’s value to what I do (even if this value isn’t paid). So I guess what I’m trying to teach them, is, that there is value in work, and that work takes many forms, and can be in many places.

9 JENNIFER { 03.28.10 at 9:44 am }

I’m very torn up about this right now. I work, part time. Would I rather be home with my two boys? Yes. And when I’m home with them I rather be working. With my ex husband he wanted me to stay home, so I did… and when he left our son and I, he left me with nothing. So I had to go back to work and start all over. Now my current husband wants me to stay home and deep down inside i of course have that fear built up from my previous marriage.

10 Clare { 03.28.10 at 10:18 am }

For me this is THE feminist discussion. I have to say I don’t like it when people say ‘are you going to stop work?” or “are you going back to work?” when it comes to childcare. I feel like yelling ‘when did i stop work!’ Taking care of children and infants is a full time job – it’s not leisure time , it’s work. If you weren’t doing it you’d been paying someone else too – so why is it not considered work? This is my problem with the whole discussion. The distinction made between being at home and going out to work – are SAHM on vacation then? I think we have to shift the discussion to paid and unpaid work. When I give up my PAID job to have my baby and be a SAHM I will still be working. If someone ask me when will I go back to work – I will be sure to let them know that I never stopped working. I just don’t get paid for it.

I think this is also important for young girls to realize – being a SAHM is work. It’s just not paid and not recognized, but that’s part of the feminist struggle to get things like childcare and housework recognized and valued. I never understood why these things are only valued when we pay someone else to do it. Thanks for talking about this in your post, it’s so important.

11 Pie { 03.28.10 at 11:02 am }

While I’m not a mom yet, I plan to be a SAHM. I was raised by a SAHM, and DH was not. We both think it is important to have one parent be home, for many of the reasons you mention. But, I don’t think having been raised by a SAHM deterred me from reaching goals – heck, I have a doctorate! I think as long as you raise kids to know that the world is vast and they can explore and achieve, they don’t need to see mom doing it herself to be able to have those goals. And that if they too choose to be SAH – be it moms or dads – that is an admirable career choice too. I think the key is choice – the child can choose many, if not any, career paths. That is what to instill.

12 Heather { 03.28.10 at 11:09 am }

Such a difficult concept…especially since sometimes I think, as adults, we worry over things that are far too abstract for children to truly “get!”
I work occasional weekends. I’m a nurse. I have the ability to do this. Do I like it? sometimes. DO I usually dread leaving the house at 6 AM knowing I won’t be home before the kids are in bed? Always.
Am I doing what I can to change this? Yes.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of WAHM jobs for nurses…or if they are, they haven’t knocked down my door! 😉

I’m teaching my kids that you can do whatever you want. The difference in my world is the special needs aspect—my 10 year old now understands that sometimes life does not give you choices. That is a bitter pill to swallow some days.

13 Jennifer { 03.28.10 at 11:54 am }

I’m a prospective adoptive parent waiting to become a parent. Like, Clare, I believe that this issue is one of the definitive issues for women (and men!) today.

Never thought that I’d want to be a SAHM, but now that we’re in the midst of planning for impending parenthood, I’m realizing that I don’t want to try to “have it all” and, in fact, I just don’t have the energy to try to have it all. I WANT my focus to be on my child. And I am lucky that I’m currently in a position to do just that…my husband makes a decent living and we should be OK on just his salary. I’m lucky that I have the CHOICE to be a SAHM. SO many women don’t. As such, knowing that I have this incredible opportunity to spend several years at home raising our child I am going to take it. Whether or not I’ll choose to do some kind of work – writing most likely – before my child is in school…I think that may happen organically. But I want our child to know that staying home and raising children is work – it’s incredibly important work – different than work outside of the home, but just as important. And as she gets older and is in school, I will return to the world of work outside the home and model that for our child as well.

14 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 03.28.10 at 1:37 pm }

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately as I am about to finally fulfill my long-time desire to be a SAHM. I have no daughters to consider directly impacting, but I will have sons who will need to know that mamas don’t always stay home.

Personally, for me, my mother was not a SAHM, at all. She worked long, crazy hours, doing many jobs that she didn’t always like. And I always felt abandoned. My dad was a teacher, and so he was the one to drive me to school and pick me up from after-school care (he taught Jr. High, so they needed someone to watch me for an hour or two each day) and in the summers. And I HATED it. I mean, I loved my dad, but even the 1-2 hrs a day I was in day care were horrible. I just felt like I was always the one getting the short stick (not knowing, of course, how soul-sucking it can be to work some jobs), that my parents felt like there were a billion things that were more important than caring for or spending time with their children. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but that was what my young brain came up with when I wondered why my parents were never the ones helping out at school or why I had to sit at some day care for hours waiting for them to pick me up after work.

And then, I spent a summer working at a daycare. And that was the proverbial nail in the coffin. I know there are plenty of quality child care situations out there, but after my experience working there, I knew I would do whatever I could to be able to stay at home with my children.

Soooo. I guess I don’t know how to teach that a career is important, since my own situation is so exactly the opposite of that. I have had to really “battle” with many of my more career-happy friends and my own mother about how it’s not just a default choice– I really have no interest in trying to work and raise my children concurrently. It just feels (for me) like I would do a half-assed job at both.

And in addition, I can’t say that I’ve found a career field that actually gets me going, so it’s really hard to think about inspiring the next generation to be excited about their future options as a career woman (or husband-to-career-woman, I guess) when I think the idea of working to be as attractive as stabbing myself in the eye with toothpicks over and over again.

So, maybe my boys will grow up the opposite of me, wondering why their smothering-helicopter-mama couldn’t find something better to do than to hole herself up inside the house, over-mothering them. Maybe they’ll seek out wives who insist on having a wonderful, fulfilling career outside the home. Who knows? All I do know is that I want to provide them what I didn’t have, which is the knowledge that their parents will do anything to support them, to help them feel loved and cared for and never abandoned. Even if that means that I don’t work for the time being.

I do anticipate, though, that once things calm down a bit, I’d like to do a bit more article writing to bring in some extra cash (because dear LORD, if we’re this broke now, what on EARTH will we do once there’re two babies here…). I can’t say whether or not I’ll use that “employment” as an example for the boys that moms can be both moms and career women…

15 Beautiful Mess { 03.28.10 at 3:54 pm }

I worked for awhile when I was pregnant with Nae but had to quit due to pregnancy related problems. When she was two, I went back to work and Dirty watched her for a few months until she was old enough to come to the daycare with me. She went to work with me for years and I really loved it. I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds. I got to take her to the park on my lunch break, but there were also boundaries of “mommy’s job”. I did the same thing with Zilla but started when he was 6 months old. I ended up being a SAHM when he was less then two because I wanted to be at home and spend time enjoying the kids.

Now that I’m in school and Dirty is doing the house and childcare the kids are able to see the difference. He may not do things the way WI do, but he still does them. They get to see that it is OK to have daddy be at home and mommy be gone at “work”.

16 Bea { 03.28.10 at 7:34 pm }

First of all – we should be just as concerned about what we are teaching our sons (sorry if every single commenter above me just made the same point). The actions of our daughters will be shaped by the expectations of their peers and partners, as much as our own teachings and examples.

I don’t feel guilty about my two half-days of work. PB is with Dad or Grandma, and it’s possible he likes that better than spending more time with me (although I try to console myself that it’s mostly down to the novelty value). I find that my mood is generally better with a little bit of a break, and that our interactions are therefore more agreeable when we are together.

So that’s now. I do think about this question in the longer term, though. My plan (at the risk of sounding as if I know what I’m talking about) is to take up any slack PB gives me as time goes by and use it to build outside pursuits, and then, I guess, talk about them enough to make him realise they exist, and perhaps also talk about other people’s choices so he realises those options, too.

I also like one couple’s solution that they would take turns building their career – the husband had his turn for about ten years, then they basically switched roles and it was the wife’s turn. (This involved a period of training or retraining at the start of each person’s turn, and there was a bit of part time work for the “stay at home” partner during their “time off”, according to where the kids were at. The kids were born about halfway through the husband’s turn, as he finished uni and entered the workforce – ah, to be able to plan children like that. During his training the wife was working at a semi-skilled job. She got her professional qualifications at the start of her “turn” – the youngest was entering prep by the time she started – and by that time the husband could be more flexible because he had five years professional experience under his belt. Neat, huh?)

To be honest, I’m not wholly concerned, as I was raised by a SAHM and I vividly remember having a huuuuuge argument in the playground at kindergarten which eventuated in the involvement of both kindy teachers because the group of kids I was playing “doctors and nurses and ambulance men” with would only let boys be doctors (although girls could be ambulance men…) I remember being taken totally off-guard by the idea that my role in life might be limited by my sex, whereas the other kids all took it as more or less a given. I know it wasn’t what my mother modelled, because she was the cleaning, baking, my-husband-puts-the-petrol-in-my-car type, whilst my Dad went out to work at the office, so it must have been what she said, rather than what she did. Or the books she read, or… you know? I’m going to have to ask her, because it did seem to work.


17 Bea { 03.28.10 at 8:04 pm }

Also, I guess I do fundamentally believe that we are all on the same project. At the moment, I am mostly taking care of the housekeeping part of the project, whilst Mr Bea takes care of the going-to-the-office part of the project, but our roles are ultimately fluid and overlapping, and there is give and take according to the situation at hand.

I guess maybe that is ultimately the idea my mother was able to convey, that worked so well. That the family, as a whole, had certain aims to achieve, and that once upon a time those aims were served by her going to the office, but that at this point they had decided to divide the workload differently amongst the family members. So in your case, it’s not like Dad goes to work and mum writes and keeps house, but that the family is employed in following a grand plan which is to make a positive contribution. Sometimes one person’s role in all these grand dreams is to wash dishes or do homework, and sometimes it’s writing essays or putting in hours at an office, but ultimately you are all a team working towards the same project, regardless of gender, according to the skills available to each member of the team, whilst trying to be fair about the less pleasant tasks.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s how she did it.


18 Alexicographer { 03.28.10 at 8:58 pm }

So glad you wrote about this.

Both my parents worked when I was growing up; my mom 3/4 time and my dad (as we later learned) basically going to his office but not doing any work or making any money. Oh well. He was present but not involved as a parent (or a provider), but I always knew my mother always, always, always had my back. Still do, actually.

As for us, our situation’s a little quirky, and we’re going to need to make various decisions about this in the foreseeable (not immediate) future. My DH has just retired from his job, has a pension (reasonably secure, not large) and health insurance and will be happy if (as seems plausible, though not obvious) he never again works for $$$ in his life. Meanwhile I’ve just bumped my hours up to 40 from 35, in part to make up for his reduced income, but am fortunate to have a somewhat flexible job (though it’s basically 8-5, when it’s not being flexible, and flexibility only goes so far). It’s also a 1/2 hour commute (each way, if I drive, or 2 hours each way by public transport), which irks me, but we live near a great elementary and middle school in a great school district and are not moving.

We’ve also just worked out that we’re going to be a one-kid family, and while I’m not happy about that, there’s a universe in which it has advantages, mostly involving being able to travel, and much of that, visiting family. But my work interferes with that (though it also provides $$$ valuable to it). My “immediate” extended family (siblings and first cousins) live in the U.S. (as we do) and, at the moment, 4 different countries in Europe, so traveling to see them is a commitment. And I have 2 adult stepkids; were they to bless us with grandchildren, I’d love to be able to help out (if wanted) with childcare for them. Which is ironic as I’m delighted NOT to be a SAHM and really wouldn’t excel at it, but am envisioning something like what my mom’s provided for me, which is 2 day/week, or something short-term, say 6 months.

And in terms of thinking about setting a model for DS, I’ve always understood “success,” or at least “stability” in the US to involve working for a large organization that provides access to group health insurance. We’ve got that now through DH’s retirement, so it’s a non-issue for us personally and it’s possible that the reform (which I am thrilled passed, but anxious if it does enough) will change the need for access to group policies anyway (we live in a state without a high-risk pool and have family members who have been completely unable to buy individual policies — not priced out of the market, but told that they would not be sold a policy at any price — so this isn’t an abstract fear), and that it will be possible to have decent access to health care even without a corporate job … but for now I remain leery/anxious about letting DS grow up to believe such a thing, unless we live abroad long enough that he can claim citizenship in a European nation (unlikely).

Ugh. So much to juggle — and as others have commented, I (too) am one of the (very) lucky ones when it comes to the many options available.

19 loribeth { 03.28.10 at 9:22 pm }

This is basically the same answer I posted on the Blog Her version of this post. : ) Although I don’t have children, I’d hoped to be able to stay at home with them when they were small when I did. I gradually realized that, living where we do (= expensive), that would likely be impossible — although I did have some hazy ideas about possibly working part-time (which I still think is ideal, if you can swing it financially and with your employer). We commute 2-3 hours a day — I am exhausted when I get home at the best of times — & when I try to imagine adding children to the picture…. I am in awe of those who do. I’ve thought about working from home, at least part of the time, but I think it would be very hard to do more than one or two days per week. While I find I can be quite productive on the odd days that I do work from home, I think I would miss the social aspect of the office — and the discipline. ; ) There are enough distractions in the office every day, let alone at home, where there’s no boss in sight.

I always thought of my mom as a SAHM (as most moms were, in those days). And she was, when we were little. I always think of her as being there for us when we got home from school. But the truth is, from the time I was in about Grade 2 (& my sister in Grade 1) onwards (until she retired just a few years ago), she was almost always working. Mostly part-time, and she had to quit her job every time we moved (because of my father’s job), but she worked. She was a clerk at the Eatons catalogue outlet, a dentist’s office manager, admissions officer at the small local hospital, a Welcome Wagon lady. and she helped run an office that ran Meals on Wheels programs and a handyman service for local senior citizens.

After I left for university & she & Dad moved again, she worked in schools in various aide positions. She even took night classes and & got an educational assistant’s certificate when she was in her 50s. I was & still am so proud of her. : )

20 Ceejay { 03.28.10 at 10:04 pm }

I’m not yet a mom, but your post definitely made me think about how my own mother raised me and the impact it had. My mom was definitely one of those who never even considered really working–as in an actual career–while we were young. She even homeschooled us through my 5th grade year, though that had more to do with the fact that we lived overseas than that she believed in homeschooling. When she did start working, it was out of financial necessity. So the message I got from her was clearly biased towards SAHM-ness–that raising kids was by far the most fulfilling career a mother could have.

But, that message was balanced by what I heard once I started going to public school in the US–that a smart, educated woman would never sacrifice her accomplishments to stay at home with her kids. So I feel like my perspective now is fairly balanced. I don’t think I would feel too guilty either way.

So I guess what I’m saying is don’t put too much pressure on yourself in terms of your daughter’s perspective on working moms. For better or worse, her perspective will be formed by more than just you :).

21 Manapan { 03.28.10 at 10:33 pm }

Great post, Mel!

My husband and I discuss this issue a lot. Before we had any trouble with family building, we thought it would be ideal to have a stay at home parent. (Bad things happened to me in daycare, and I didn’t want any child of mine there.) And given that I have the degree, work more hours, and make higher wages, that would be him.

Now we realize that that isn’t going to work, given all the money we’ve spent on post-loss care and continue to spend on Prometrium to keep me regular and doctor-mandated OPKs to see if I ovulate. Not to mention the money we might potentially have to spend… but I don’t want to think about that! I want to assume that there will be a child.

So we’re working now on getting our work schedules set up so there should always be one of us at home. He typically works 4-10 pm and I usually work 11pm-8am. Yeah, we’re still going to need daycare sometimes, but it should be better this way than with all-day-every-day daycare.

22 Justine { 03.28.10 at 11:19 pm }

I’m a full time WOHM, with a commute of about 45 minutes to an hour each way. I love my three year old fiercely, but I also don’t think I’m SAHM material. I wish I could write for a living, but I haven’t been brave enough to quit my job and try something else … I have a pretty well-established career.

I do, though, think that being a SAHM is one of the hardest jobs there is, and I plan to teach my son (and any other children that I might end up having, if that’s in the cards) that there are lots of choices, and that all of the choices are OK. I think one of the keys to doing this is having friends from both sides, whom we can offer up as role models. It’s unfortunately too rare, I think, that SAHMs are friends with WOHMs … our mommy friendships are defined early by our playgroups, it seems, and … well, I was kicked out of the SAHM playgroup because I couldn’t attend their weekday meetings.

The other day I was in a coffee shop and overheard two women talking. “I love my kids too much to work,” said one. “I know what you mean,” said the other, nodding sympathetically. What does that mean for me? That I *don’t* love my son enough?

We need to call a truce in the Mommy Wars, and forge friendships across the artificial divide (which is, after all, hardly a binary, to begin with). Not only is it the only way we’ll be able to raise our kids (it does take a village), but it’s the only way we’ll be able to show them that they need to make the choices that are right for them, and that all of the options require hard work, but come with unique rewards.

23 luna { 03.29.10 at 2:28 am }

I was a latch-key kid. my mom went back to school when I was in nursery school and built a career. her message to me was that I could have it all — a family, a career, happiness — and not to compromise for anything. well, guess what? she was WRONG.

we decided that I would be a SAHM mom for as long as we could handle it financially, at least a few years. I was thrilled. not only had I already had plenty of time to work by age 39, but after 7 years of trying to have a child, I wanted to enjoy every moment of motherhood, and most importantly, be there for our kid.

but that plan changed. before our baby was born and placed with us, my hub decided he wanted a chance at home too. so I took an extended leave and reluctantly agreed to go back PT after 7 mos so he could be home 2 days/week. now I work 2 days in the office and another 12 hrs at home, and he picked up saturdays, so we have just one day/week as a family.

for me, the life-work-family balance is the most challenging aspect of parenting. I WANT to be home with her now. every one told me I would be ready to go back. they were WRONG. but that’s just ME, and what’s right for me isn’t so for everyone.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s almost as if I feel like I have to justify how I could possibly return to work with a baby at home. of course this while I really just want to be at home. also, I have to be careful about not making my hub feel worse that I have to work to keep our finances up. it all kind of sucks, actually. but we’re making it work, for now.

anyway… I think/hope it’s possible to teach values that respect different options and honor individual choices. I don’t want to tell my daughter what’s right. I want her to have choices and to know that whatever works for her is enough. I want her to know that each of her parents is a unique individual. some day I hope she’ll see that, even though every decision we make is out of devotion to her.

24 niobe { 03.29.10 at 10:35 am }

When I was a kid, I think I had the only mom who worked full time. *And* she had what I thought of as a Very Important Job. I was immensely proud of her and felt sorry for all the kids whose moms were “just” moms.

Now that I’m grown up, I respect those parents who are home full time and I can understand that being a SAHM/D is a choice that works well for some families. But it’s not a choice that I’d make for myself and it’s not a choice that I’d particularly encourage my children to make. (though if they did, of course, I’d support them in every way I could)

25 Anna { 03.29.10 at 11:41 am }

Thanks for this post and all of the comments, it’s very useful and timely for me.

I watched my friends face the battles of returning to work after having babies, working part-time whilst biting their lips when they got their old full-time workload or working full-time whilst facing the fact our ‘office day’ is an hour longer than the standard day of local daycare. I was busy with my IF battles and in vague hopeful discussions with my husband agreed on a plan where we both worked part-weeks to facilitate minimal use of daycare.

Now I am pregnant this plan has gone out of the window. My husband’s job is under threat, it’s highly likely he’ll be made redundant and that if this happened we’d need me back at work full-time as soon as possible and he could stay at home. This all makes sense economically, however I also instinctively feel as if I’m missing out on something rightfully mine. I realise the irony though, I want my husband to be an equally involved co-parent but also expect special treatment because I’m the mummy and feel outrageously jealous at the thought of him staying at home.

Fingers crossed the issue becomes less tangled imminently, a friend has offered to visit nurserys (daycare) with me soon as I need to petition them for my chosen days over a year in advance, currently I feel as if it would break my heart (though that might be my new flair for drama coming through).

26 Calliope { 03.29.10 at 12:25 pm }

My single Mother worked full time and went to law school and then worked even MORE full time. I always assumed I would be sort of the same. And even though I have no idea how I will achieve it- my goal is to be a SAHM until W goes to school and then get back in the career machine.

27 jodifur { 03.29.10 at 3:50 pm }

I work PT, and really, we have never really talked about what other families do. Now that Michael is in school 9-3 I think he thinks I work everyday that he is in school, while actually it is only 3 days a week. Sometimes he gets upset I can’t go to school events in the middle of the day, but he has never really questioned why other parents go. I guess I should talk to him about other choices moms make.

28 Jen@ after the alter { 03.30.10 at 10:32 pm }

I don’t think it’s bad to have children want to follow footsteps and want to work at home. My mom was a SAHM and I found the fact that she was home with me every day so wonderful that I myself will do anything in my power to do the same. I don’t think there is anything wrong with daughters dreaming of being SAHM’s. I think it’s a wonderful carreer. I think the main thing is to teach our children that they are free to be what THEY want to be…not what we hope them to be. And if we teach them that, then we cover the bases of them wanting to be like the women who work in the home…OR do something different and have an out of home carrer.

29 MsPrufrock { 03.31.10 at 6:11 pm }

I could talk about this until I pass out, or alternatively, make the other person (people) pass out from boredom and annoyance. I shall try and be brief.

Both of my parents worked full-time when my brother and I were growing up. Due to financial problems related to my Dad’s gambling and alcoholism and my Mom’s overspending habits, both of them also had second jobs for a large percentage of my childhood. Obviously my experience of having working parents does not extend to everyone (as the comments above would indicate), but I never felt neglected or wished my parents had different work schedules. Admittedly, most of my friends’ mothers worked outside the home, so that was the norm for me.

Before I had P I knew I would continue to work full-time after my maternity leave finished. In the 2 1/2 years since I went back to work, I haven’t thought about doing anything but working full-time. I love my kid more than cheese and Captain Jack Sparrow, but I do not have it in me to be a SAHM. Thank goodness some other commentors have echoed this sentiment; I don’t feel like such a horrible person now!

As far as passing on to P that it it’s ok to be a SAHM or working mum, she knows I work, and though we know a lot of women who stay at home, she has never queried working vs staying at home. My insistence above that I knew I wouldn’t want to be a SAHM was further enforced when I was on maternity leave for 14 months, so my appreciation for SAHMs is amplified a gazillion times based on my own experiences. Thus, I would ensure that P understood that she could possibly make that choice for herself one day and be proud of her decision regardless of which way it goes.

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