When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I knew if we could swing it financially, I wanted to leave my teaching career to stay home with her and I’ve never once regretted that decision. Even on the worst of days when we all end up in tears and time seems to go backwards, even when I’m covered in spit up and I’m running on three hours of sleep, I have zero regrets.
Sure, it was hard leaving my professional career position as a kindergarten teacher and saying goodbye to all of my teaching friends, but I knew in my heart that staying home with my daughter was the right decision for our family. But even though I don’t regret it, there are times when I feel just the slightest inkling of self-doubt and, dare I say, shame, when a new acquaintance or a stranger making small talk inevitably asks,
“So, what do you do?”
It’s been three years, and I’m still not sure how to answer this question. I could give the long, drawn-out version: “I’m a chef, counselor, educator, coach, stylist, accountant, and personal shopper, what do you do?” Or I could give the shorter, more to-the-point answer: “I’m a stay-at-home-mom.” I’m not really one for small talk, so I usually stick to the shorter version, but I’ve noticed that most people aren’t super impressed by this or particularly interested in hearing about dirty diapers and the stresses of choosing the right preschool. (I don’t blame them.)
It’s usually met with an “oh, that’s nice” or “good for you!” and it’s at this point in the conversation that I always blurt out, “but I used to be a teacher!”
What I’m really saying is, “please don’t judge me for not having a ‘real’ job! I went to college. I had a professional career. I’m up-to-date on current events. I’m smart and interesting, I promise!” I know that telling people that I used to be a teacher is my way of saying that I know what it’s like to “go to work.” I may not have ever been a part of the corporate world, but I too used to make important decisions and lead meetings and head committees. Colleagues respected me and came to me for advice. I taught children how to read and write. Telling people I used to be a teacher is really my way of saying that even though most of my days are now spent kissing boo-boos, cleaning spills, and reading Dr. Seuss, I’m capable of doing more. I hate that I feel the need to say this. Why do I care so much about proving to people that I’m more than “just a mom?” It’s because in our society, success is often measured by income and, unfortunately, my job doesn’t pay very well.
I’ve realized these past few years that stay-at-home-moms tend to get a bad rap.
The world seems to view us as a bunch of yoga-pant-wearing, latte-drinking women who love to decorate and spend their husband’s money. Surely we’re not capable of making important decisions, discussing politics, or having opinions regarding global issues. Some actual responses I’ve received from people upon hearing that I stay home with my girls include: “Oh, fun! I wish I could color all day!” and “but do you work?” and my personal favorite, “I’m sorry.”
Hey random guy sitting next to me on the airport shuttle, pity me for the five pounds of baby weight I have yet to lose. Pity me for my ruined designer bag that someone (Okay, it was Rory.) decided to take a Sharpie to, but please do not pity me for making the choice to stay home with my children. Because that’s exactly what it was: a choice. Sure, there are days when my brain feels as if it’s turned to mush and I haven’t spoken to an adult in over eight hours, but it’s still a choice I would make all over again.
I’m a stay-at-home mom, but it’s only one part of what makes me – it doesn’t define who I am.
It doesn’t define who any of us are, or what we know or what we’re capable of. My neighbor and good friend has her MBA, but decided to put her career on hold to stay home with her three boys. Another friend graduated from an ivy league college and left a high position at a well-paying job after her second son was born, and the summer before Rory was born I worked at Starbucks with a former physician who chose to leave her position at a hospital in order to spend more time with her children.
I realize my insecurities are my own and obviously not everyone makes such assumptions about stay-at-home parents, but this stereotype does exist and I have experienced it first-hand. I’m sure my working mom friends would argue that the opposite is true – that they’ve experienced judgement for working instead of staying home with their children. My point is, don’t make assumptions about someone’s intelligence or background or abilities based on what they do or don’t do for a living.
My current gig may not pay much, but I’m still doing important work and contributing to society.
Like any mother, I would love for my daughters to grow up to be rocket scientists or neurosurgeons or even teachers, but if they are lucky enough to have children of their own one day, and even luckier to have the opportunity to stay home with them, I will feel just as proud if they choose to be stay-at-home-moms like I did. But unlike me, I hope that when someone asks them what they do for a living, they will simply say, “I stay home with my children,” without feeling the need to say anything more.