Choosing To Stay Home With Your Children, Instead Of Working Outside The Home
Loss of respect
It's sad, but true: our society does not value the contributions of SAH parents much. My professional associates thought I'd retired in luxury, free to watch soaps and eat bon-bons all day while making no more than an occasional check on the sleeping bundle who'd been my ticket out of corporate America.
Little did they know how arduous and energy-sapping the schedule could be: keeping up a house lived in all day, keeping filled a tummy that growled all day, keeping clean a little body that crept and crawled and explored all day, keeping happy a tiny spirit who needed me all day. (No doubt my sister had a good laugh. Who could blame her?) Yet, when asked for my work number after writing a check at the market, I couldn't fail to notice the telltale march of an erroneous perception crossing the clerk's face when I told her of my current career choice.
Loss of connections
Worse yet, I had no one with whom to commiserate. My closest friends were at work all day, and my problems seemed...irrelevant to them. I missed most the coffee break banter, the constant good-natured ribbing, the after-hours social gatherings. My colleagues and I were a team, working toward a common goal. In my new job, there were only me and this boss I barely knew. And there were no coffee breaks, no personal time, no paid vacations.
Loss of "me" time
Most distressing was that I could never finish anything-neither my lunch, nor my books, nor my letters, nor my phone calls, nor the simplest of chores-without some request from The Boss. This was no democracy; my daughter was a dictator! A nursing session, a diaper change, a book, a snack, a rescue from some dangerous place all punctuated and divided my day into tiny increments of time.
The attitude shift
The shift was gradual, and time was a crucial element. There was the one long afternoon I spent rocking my daughter and thinking. With my daughter's sweet breath on my neck, I realized my baby cared little about who I thought I was.
The "power balance" hadn't gone out of whack. With time, I saw that it had changed only in my mind. I still did the bills, alerted my husband to things going well or awry, still had an equal (or greater) voice in the decisions, still made the deposits.
Financial security? Yes, it was and is occasionally threatened. So I called former coworkers, dropping a hint wherever I could that I was able to work on a freelance basis, and by some miracle, landed the occasional assignment. The additional income doesn't bring us anywhere near my former salary, but it allows us a few extras while still allowing me to put family first.
Besides, my daughter and the siblings who followed have helped me redefine my idea of wealth. As my babies grow, they open my eyes to the simple and free joys of a walk in the park, a good board book made silly with my own creativity, a game of patty-cake filled with mispronunciations, the delight of unexpected humor in the face of mishaps. On the day she smiled up at me and whispered, "I wahv ooooo"-words I had taught her, words that I was there to teach her-I realized no paycheck could shine with more value or bring me more happiness. The Bosses continuously teach me what a very rich woman I am.
Dealing with the issues
My self-worth is just that. I can't change others' perceptions of SAH parents. I could (and have) only changed my own, and this is the one that counts for my family. If I cultivate a positive self-image and approach this career as I would any other--confident and informed in my decisions -- then I deserve, and will strive to take, satisfaction in a job well done, or at the very least, well attempted. If I treat my children with the respect they earn simply by having been born, then perhaps I will someday enjoy theirs. And that is all the respect I need.
My children continue to expand my connections as they expand theirs. They demonstrate the value of an open, friendly attitude by example and have given me the gift of so many new friendships: their friends' parents, our neighbors, their teachers, the countless people to which children so easily and cheerfully reach out. And I would have never "met" so many wonderful people online if I hadn't sought the refuge of a parents' mailing list.
I still wrestle with the "time for me" issue. But after many evenings of collapsing into the arms of a husband barely in the door from work, I simply decided to surrender. I gave up, gave in, and gave way. Why? Because I suddenly seemed to be folding up and putting away an awful lot of outgrown clothes. I began to realize my baby wouldn't be with me but for a few precious years; soon, I'd have to share her with peers and teachers at school, and I'd be standing on a corner bereft and tearful, waving goodbye to a school bus I'd never thought would really come.
I can, if I choose, go back to a more lucrative career someday. I can go back to uninterrupted meals, my reading, my writing, my phone calls, my chores-but I can never go back to the baby in my arms. Her hair would never smell that way again, she'd never gurgle that milky toothless smile at my breast, she'd never take her first steps again. Everything else can wait, but my baby's childhood would slip away like sand through an hourglass.
And it has. Now in the third grade, she still needs me in ever-changing ways. I still can't get through a task uninterrupted: I have two more bosses now, and a fourth on the way. And I have never felt more fulfilled, more wealthy, more blessed than I do now. It took awhile, but my ever-patient mentors finally got through to me: this parenthood thing isn't about me. It's all about them, about helping them grow into a responsible, contributing adults, capable of giving and receiving love and happiness. Able to put their own interests aside for a greater good. What job could be more important than that?