Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stay At Home Mom

Back when I was in high school and I knew everything in the entire world I would look at my mother with pity for being a stay at home mom (SAHM).  My parents raised me and my sister to believe we could do absolutely anything we wanted to.  They were so clear about our endless opportunities that it was a long time before I understood that women weren’t so lucky historically or that many weren’t even lucky concurrently.  I wondered why my mom would stay at home when she could have done something constructive with her time.  She went to college and she taught before I was born.  I knew she was intelligent and had a lot to offer. 

When I remember how I felt back then I feel an enormous amount of shame.  I was such a little shit.   How could I not see that she worked as hard as my father?  Or that we were fortunate to have her undivided attention?  I’m not saying our upbringing or our mother was perfect, there were problems just like there are in every family, but we had it pretty damn good. 

My mother fought for me when it was time to choose a college.  Dad didn’t understand why I wanted to go to Sarah Lawrence.  SLC really puts the liberal in liberal arts and I think that is part of what freaked him out.  But my mom, who at the end of the day is more conservative than my dad, knew it was exactly what I wanted and she helped me convince him it was the right place for me.

I’m proud to be a Sarah Lawrence graduate.  It’s a school where you are taught to think for yourself, where grades and standardized tests aren’t important when it comes to measuring what you have learned but communicating through writing is.  Different was celebrated and everyone was accepted.  It was pretentious as hell, but if I’m honest so am I.  While I was at college I, and I'd hazard a guess that most of my female classmates didn't aspire to be a SAHM.  So what happened?

For the three years we lived in Providence I supported us financially so Z could go to grad school and then have a year as a studio artist.  When I accidently got pregnant we suddenly had a lot of decisions to make.  I told Z I wasn’t comfortable being the bread winner as well as a first time mom.  With my history of mental illness I was worried about my increased chances of developing post partum depression.  If I became unable to both mother and provide for us I had no idea what would happen.  Z really stepped up and I am still amazed he was able to secure a great job in the midst of the financial crisis.  Unfortunately it necessitated a move that required me to quit my job, but that was the trade off. 

At first I thought I’d look for a job in Syracuse when T was a couple of months old because things are financially tight with just one of us working.  We have historically traded off financial responsibility in the relationship.  After freelancing for years I had a job I loved when we lived in NYC that paid nothing near a living wage and Z carried the financial burden.  It was my turn in Providence, and we are back to Z’s turn now.  Money is tight in our household with only one income, but to my surprise I don’t want to go back to work.  I love being with T all day.  Z sees that and he is happy for me.  The responsible choice would be for me to get a job, but Z and I have never been good at making responsible choices and we are willing to limp along financially for the time being. 

Yet I continue to feel embarrassed to be a SAHM.  This weekend a woman who doesn’t have kids heard me say I stayed at home with T.  “So what do you DO all day?” she asked (emphasis hers).  My mind went blank and I said, “Um, you know.  We hang out.”  I felt like such an idiot.   I am sure that she wasn’t trying to be unkind.  I think she really wanted to know.  Before I had a kid and became one I wasn’t sure what SAHMs did myself.  The reality is the minutia of raising a child isn’t interesting or easy to explain.  There aren’t a lot of short term quantifiable accomplishments in career mothering.

I am happy.  T is happy.  Z is happy.  The uncomfortable truth is I’m ashamed to be a stay at home mom. I’m a huge snob who thinks I’m somehow better than this job even though I want to be doing it.  There are women who would give anything to stay at home with their children yet can’t and I have the nerve to be ashamed to have this luxury?   Clearly I need to get over myself, apologize yet again to my mom, and enjoy the choices I’ve made.  

 This is why overalls rock.


  1. So. Right after I first read this last night, we were watching the very end of the first episode of Life - you know, the BBC series that we have narrated by David Attenborough and you're stuck with Oprah Winfrey - I know you watched it because you made reference to Z commenting on it once. Anyway, first episode title is "Challenges of Life". Here's what David Attenborough said through my TV right after I read this post (cue footage of a baby orangutan brachiating through the trees):

    "In the end, overcoming Life's challenges, whether finding enough to eat or outwitting your predators, is only significant if Life's final challenge can be met.

    From a tiny frog dedicating weeks to her few cherished tadpoles, to an orangutan who spends eight years bringing up her baby, individual animals strive to reach this one ultimate goal: to pass on their genes and ensure the survival of the next generation.

    Ultimately, in nature, THAT IS WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT" (emphasis mine)

    Karen, please do not be ashamed of reaching the pinnacle of (not just human but all of Life's) existence. Get a little perspective - liberal arts is not what all organisms are striving for; what you're providing for Tommy is.

    This message brought to you by myself and the BBC.

  2. Karen - some of my favorite times as a mom have been when I was off work with my newborns. Somehow, I would get an amazing amount of stuff done. And I got a real pride out of actually having dinner cooked (or nearly done) most nights, and for not feeling completely rushed in every aspect of my life. I love working, but I also love being at home with my kids. While for now I am fully employed, that could change at any point in time. Like Dave said - raising your kids, and leaving your legacy, is what life is all about.

  3. you don't need to "get over yerself" nor do you need to be ashamed. and i say that as a full-time-shift-workin'-mama who would give a lot to be able to stay at home with the munchkin.
    but i don't resent you.
    jealous? totally. a little bitter towards the whole, ya know - *money* thing? oh, completely. but, lady! if you can rock it, rock it, and rock it hard. big sloppy kisses from a WOHM (work-outta-home-mama?)