My coworkers looked at me like I was crazy when I announced that I would be leaving the high school to stay at home with my son. I’d been teaching there for six years, I’d made a lot of friends, and the graduating seniors even voted me one of their “Most Inspirational Teachers” at the end of 2004. I enjoyed teaching, and I was good at it. But, Paul was scheduled to arrive in April of 2005, and I knew that home would be the only place for me. Frankly, I was surprised that many of my fellow teachers didn’t say they wished they’d done the same. But, nothing of the sort came out of anyone’s mouth. Instead, I overheard a teacher (whom I assumed was a good friend) chatting about me with another teacher. ”She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s going to hate it.” How could anyone hate it? I hadn’t even officially met Paul yet, and I knew that it would take an army of men with guns to drag me away from him. When I finally saw Paul for the first time, after I’d examined his perfect toes and fingers and body and face, I realized that it would take even more than an army.
So how could she say that? She had children of her own. Two cute little boys. She doesn’t love her boys less than I love Paul, but somehow she’s managed to flip the mother switch in her brain. Somehow, she and millions of other women have been trained to think that it’s OK, maybe even preferable, to send their kids off to “school” (they frown on the term “daycare”) to be taken care of by other women for a few years. Living the life of a stay-at-home mom isn’t always clean or easy, but feeling Paul’s fingers in my own, on that first day and every day thereafter, strengthened my resolve to keep my own mother switch in the “on” position.
In the years since Paul’s birth, I’ve never actually attempted to defend my position on making the choice to stay-at-home, though I’ve been tempted. ”Aren’t you worried about his socialization?” one friend asked. It was nearly impossible not to respond with caustic sarcasm. Ever heard of play dates? Mommy and me classes? Going to the park? Perhaps we ought to begin calling ourselves “full-time mothers” instead of stay-at-home moms. Then, people might understand that we don’t actually just sit around at home with our children, allowing our souls and interests and desires to stagnate and rot. There’s an entire world of us out here! We’re exposing them to nature, to museums, to friends, to cooking, to their grandparents, to falling down and getting hurt (with mommy there to wash away the tears), to learning how to cope with frustration in a manner that fits our own principles, to life. And, sometimes, on the occasional afternoon, we do it in the form of a play date during which the hostess mercifully decides to bust out a lovely bottle of white wine. We go back to her house a lot. Those kids in day care get exposed to some of these things too, I suppose, though their mothers aren’t always there to witness it or to shape the experience.
On second thought, if we did begin calling ourselves “full-time moms,” someone would get upset because this would infer that working mothers are actually part-time mothers. Just imagine what the morning news programs would say about that. Hm. Scores of women would be up in arms! They’d condemn us for wasting our advanced degrees on diaper duty, for setting bad examples for our daughters.
Yes, many will suggest that a stay-at-home mom is doing her children a disservice if she chooses to temporarily put her career goals on the back burner. This argument doesn’t hold water for a few reasons. First, since when did job advancement become the stuff that dreams are made of? My dreams have far more to do with a healthy marriage and a happy child than a promotion. Second, your young child doesn’t give a hoot about your dreams. It’s not because they don’t care; they just don’t get it. At this point, the closest they’ll come to dreaming is anticipating the appearance of your face at the edge of the crib. By the time your child reaches preschool age, they might begin to understand. But, they’ll probably still be confusing their hopes for yours. Paul, at age four, still can’t fathom how I could pass up a new Geo Trax set on my birthday.
As they move toward kindergarten, their school schedule and budding independence will give you a little more room to focus on yourself. Will you go back to school or back to work? Will you take on a new volunteer position? Write the book that you’ve been thinking about? Take a photography class at the local community college? The choice will be yours. Until then, you can use your time to expose your child to your passions and interests. Bake cookies, paint together, let him make a scrapbook page, or take him on a bird watching adventure. And, when your child truly is old enough to understand, he’ll realize that you found a way to give all of yourself to your family and follow your dreams. Hopefully, he will one day want to give the same gift to his children.
Some will charge that keeping a child at home is tantamount to extinguishing her potential for independence. Imagine a mother handing off her terrified, screaming baby to a kind stranger. Is this truly a prelude to independence? No. It’s fear. Mothers who send their kids to daycare are not teaching independence; they are teaching their children to depend on someone else. Certainly, a child must eventually learn to trust others. Every child deserves to know that she is loved by people outside the home. Grandparents, teachers, friends, neighbors! All of these people can become valued fixtures in your child’s life. But, learning to turn from mother to count on others is not the trailhead to independence. The path to independence begins with confidence, and confidence begins with consistency. Only a stay-at-home mother can offer this consistency through her constant presence and one-on-one care.
William D. Tammeus said, “You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around - and why his parents will always wave back.” The confident child knows that her mother will always be standing there, ready to wave hello and goodbye every single time. With each day, the confident child will venture just a little bit farther knowing full well that her mother will remain the hub to which she can return. Every single time. Can we say the same about the rotating group of women offering care to your child and others?
Full-time mothers, let’s just let those working mothers state their claims. They know what they’re missing.
I just hope they don’t one day decide they should have made a different choice. We full-time moms can go back to school or back to work when the time is right. Will they be able to turn back time?
There’s a small possibility that you will one day be asked to defend your choice. If you are, in fact, faced with a question about why on earth you chose to be a stay-at-home mom, simply explain that you just got lucky, even if it’s not entirely true. After all, you know as well as I that being a full-time mom is more about making a choice than getting lucky.
I am just a little miffed that our culture seems to celebrate working mothers and to pity stay-at-home moms, as if the role we stay-at-home moms play is the same thing as indentured servitude. Maybe we could start a new campaign that champions the fathers who work to support the wives who have chosen to stay at home. I’m sure those dads would like a shiny new grill as much as the next guy, but they understand that giving their children a mother is more important. What would the morning news programs do with that one?