I just finished reading Lisa Endlich Heffernan’s Huffington Post article entitled, Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom, (link below) in which she discusses her “misgivings” about her twenty years as a stay at home mom. And the truth is many of my friends have told me emphatically that Heffernan has given voice to how they feel. It saddens me that so many of my friends regret their life choices. I would argue that, although currently many of us have reached a transition point, for most of us staying home was the highest and best use of our resources at the time.
In her article Heffernan says,
“Now, on the downslope of parenting, I have misgivings about my decision to stay home. While I don’t know any parent who regrets time spent with their kids, especially kids who have moved on to their own lives — and I include myself among them — in hindsight, my decision seems flawed. Although I am fully aware that being a SAHM was certainly a luxury, staring at an empty nest and very diminished prospects of employment, I have real remorse.”
Heffernan states that being a SAHM was “certainly a luxury” but given the countless woman who are forced to work just to put food on the table and who would give anything to be home with their children, I find that statement to be jarringly glib. We need to be extraordinarily mindful of the gift of choice, a gift that not all women are privileged to enjoy.
Heffernan’s assertion that her decision to stay home for twenty years was “flawed” is also a little too flippant for me. It’s not like Heffernan ordered the hamburger and fries and then decided she really should have had the salad. This is the kind of decision you make every day, every month and every year during which you are home with your children. And, what shall we say to mothers who worked outside the home while their children were young and now say they wish they had spent more time at home with their kids? You can never get that time with your children back, they say. Somehow, the grass is always greener.
Over the course of twenty years, Heffernan contends, “I stayed home with my kids because I wanted to be with them….I did not stay home because I believed they needed me or that the nanny I had hired could not do a great job.”
If we’re not with our kids because they need us, why are we with them? Although I was trained as a lawyer, I stayed home with my children because whatever mediocrity I offered the law paled in comparison to the excellence I offered my children, not because I was an outstanding mother but because I was THEIR mother. Even on my worst day, no nanny, no au pair and no babysitter no matter how highly trained or paid could give them what I could…the imperfect parenting of a mother who loves them perfectly.
Heffernan lays out nine specific reasons for her remorse:
I let down those who went before me.
I used my driver’s license far more than my degrees.
My kids think I did nothing.
My world narrowed.
I got sucked into a mountain of volunteer work.
I worried more.
I slipped into a more traditional marriage.
I became outdated.
I lowered my sights and lost confidence.
As for me:
The feminists who preceded me gave me choices and I thank them for that but I’m under no illusion that my personal choices are meaningful to anyone but me and my immediate family. My driver’s license and my lawyer’s license are both just pieces of paper and driving my son to a social action project seems far more valuable than reviewing another lease. I don’t care what my kids think I do, because I know what I do and I know they would be worse off if I didn’t do it. I’m the adult and in the end, it is my failure if I have not taught them to respect me. Yes, my world is narrow but does working in a white shoe law firm or a high-end financial firm make it any less so?
As for the volunteer work, if it’s not meaningful to you, don’t do it and find some that is meaningful. And while it’s true that when the volunteer work is over, it’s over, there is always more to be done. Does being home mean you worry more about your kids? It can but I know working moms who are extreme hoverers and SAHM moms who are not; less correlation here than you might think.
Slipping into a more traditional marriage would have happened anyway. The statistics are clear that even full time working mothers do the lion’s share of the childcare and housework. The only difference is that you would have eventually become Ozzie and Harriet anyway but Harriet would be working and working Harriet would be furious at Ozzie for not pulling his weight at home.
We become outdated and our aspirations for ourselves slip. I think that even when you stay in the workplace eventually you lean on those young men you raised to change the channel on the TV. We are all on a journey toward obsolescence and sorry, but obsolescence delayed is not obsolescence denied.
I think, for all our purposes we need to reframe the conversation, not to dwell on our regrets but on how we can make child rearing easier for all of us: how to make woman feel less isolated after they have babies, how to afford women who need to work better options for childcare, how to make part-time work more feasible, how to allow women to on-ramp back to work after a lengthy absence, if they so desire and how to be more supportive of each other’s decisions. What is right for one is not right for all.
There are no do-overs for any of us but I feel fortunate to have been able to stay home and do this very challenging job of raising well-adjusted young people. If making a nest for my children meant clipping my own wings then so be it. If I am blessed with thirty more years there may yet be a second act for me. And, if I’m not, this is where I wanted to be but more importantly, this is where my children needed me to be. These twenty years were my gift to them and to me.