Motherhood isn’t an easy proposition, and nor is pursuing the career of your dreams. What choice do you make, when the options are going out to work or staying at home to be a full-time mom, asks Kim Norwood-Young.
In the months leading up to the birth of my first child, I made the toughest decision of my life — whether to be a working or stay-at-home mom. I was 28 years old and had been offered my dream job, the one that would put me on the path to fulfilling all of my career goals of money, prestige and fulfillment. I was also about to give birth to the miracle child that I never thought I would be able to have.
Choosing between these futures, the one with a career, independence and intellectual stimulation or being a full-time mother, tortured me. I was wracked with indecision and uncertainty until, finally, I made the choice that would forever affect my mothering and how people see me.
Nine years and two kids later, and I still need to explain and justify the validity and wisdom of that choice to other people.
When you choose to stay home with your kids long-term, few will believe it can possibly be the informed and considered choice of a smart, self-aware, enlightened woman. Blame it on Trump, the Mommy Wars, or the dawning of the age of Aquarius.
How can a woman with the option of Having It All, choose to be ‘just’ a mom? Perhaps her career wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Maybe she’s just spoilt and likes being ‘looked after’ and ‘kept’. All things that people have said to me. In fact, I face similar judgements daily, along with the almost constant comments about my personal life.
“Don’t they go to school now? Surely you have time to do something.” I prefer to say in bed drinking tea. Or lying face down on the floor.
“You can’t do nothing forever.” Wanna bet?
“But surely you want to help your husband financially and stop being a burden?” Nope. I love not having any money of my own. I especially love that my feet resemble rhino horns because I don’t spend cash on pedicures, now that all of my financial decisions are coloured by the fact that I’m reliant on someone else for money.
“I really admire you, but I could never do it. My mind is too active.” I’m so lucky that my mind runs like molasses through an hourglass.
“But don’t you get bored doing nothing?” Well, I do lie on the couch while my kids turn themselves into model citizens, drive themselves around, cook and feed the family, take care of all family admin on my behalf, and my home magically manages itself. It’s all deeply entertaining.
Unfortunately, I’m too polite to have given those responses.
Worst of all, no one stops to think about what you’ve sacrificed to be doing what you’re doing, such as knowing that you and your kids are entirely financially dependent on another person, and the bizarre power dynamic that introduces into your relationship. Or knowing that you’ve effectively nailed the lid on that bright career you foresaw, because no-one wants to hire a mid-level 40-year-old who managed to miss the birth of social media while she was birthing babies.
I was raised by a strong and driven working mother who set the perfect example of having it all. But even as a child I saw how hard it was and what it cost her — the sacrifices she had to make to be there for her family as well as fully commit to her career, the exhaustion and the sublimation of her needs, and the fact that she couldn’t give as much she would have liked to either facet of her life.
So if I had to do it all again, I would make the same choice. I have always known that I want to be the type of mother that attends and helps out at school events, is an active member of the PTA and provides only homemade goodies for the cake sale. I have also always known what type of professional I want to be, and that doesn’t include sacrificing my ability to perform because of family commitments.
I found that I could not merge the two into one, sane woman. It is really hard to be both of those people, and not all of us want to take the more difficult path. That isn’t shameful. It’s driving to the office instead of cycling — there are those who can do it, and those who can’t figure out how to get to the office without smelling like a dead rat. The main thing is that we all deserve to make the choice without censure or prejudice. Being a stay-at-home parent is hard enough as it is. There are no performance reviews to let you know you’re on the right track, no pay, and no thanks.
The thankless part applies to all parenting. But if staying at home is your choice, be prepared for the fact that apart from no thanks, you’re unlikely to get any recognition either. To be honest, it can get a little hectic; the years of not being seen.
But then — if you’re lucky, and having a good day — you remember that these tiny little people recognise and see you. Not with their eyes, but with their hearts. Their hearts know, and always will. And then you cry a little, but it’s okay because it’s a happy type of crying and unrelated to the fact that your last bottle of wine is finished and you haven’t had time to go to the shops to get more.
• Kim Norwood-Young is a stay-at-home mother of two, with friends who really are very nice and supportive. She doesn’t have time to blog anymore, but her children are very polite.
• This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.