Recently, during a conversation with my little sister about going to college, parenting and future plans she started to say, “I definitely don’t want to be just a…” and then she caught herself and stopped. She realized that what she was about to say implied that what I choose to do with my life is not very valuable. I teased her about what she was trying to say and she quickly recovered and explained that she just meant being a stay at home mom isn’t for her. Because I know my sister, I know what she meant personally and I also understand that what I do isn’t for everybody. But neither is being a nurse or a teacher or a soldier and yet the value of those careers are never met with “just being”.
My siblings and I grew up with a very driven mother. Because of our family circumstances, my mom had to have a career but she also loved her job and took pride in her work outside of our home. Until I was 11, my mom not only worked, but also went to college. Until I was 15, my mom had a second job on top of her career as a teacher. Even after she finally stopped waiting tables on the side, she continued to coach multiple seasons of sports and ran a sports program for low income, inner city youth during her summers off. She was never not working and for as long as I can remember, I’ve defined her by her work ethic. Growing up with a mother like this makes it easy to understand why my sister doesn’t see much value in staying home with the kids and taking care of the cooking and laundry. But the irony in my sister’s valuation of being a stay at home mom is that the backbone of our family, the reason my mom was able to become everything she has become, was her own mother who stayed home to be her support. My grandma was the one, for several years, who picked me up from the bus stop and made me dinner. She was the one I’d call if I got sick at school and she was the one who was able to be at my choir concert or spelling bee if my mom couldn’t make it. My mom never had to worry about her kids being cared for because she knew we were in the best hands possible – the hands of a woman who loved us and cared for us like only a mother could.
My grandma’s own mother passed away when she was just 17 years old and being the oldest of four meant that she was in charge of reprising her mother’s role. She married young and became a mother herself when she was 20. She spent her years staying home and caring for her daughters, “being their biggest cheerleader” as my mom always says and then eventually continued on with that same mothering role for her grandchildren. Unfortunately for my family and for my own kids who never got the chance to meet her, she only lived to be 57 years old. But when she passed away what she had left with us was a legacy of family. Throughout her life, nothing had been more important to her than taking care of all of us. She never went to college, or even graduated high school. She never had a socially important career or high paying job but when she died, no one cared. The only thing that mattered was how devoted she had been to us and how much of an impact her support had made on our lives. For most of her life she had been just a stay at home mom but it ended up being the most important career she could have ever had.
For me, being a stay at home wasn’t something I had planned. I’ve talked before about how my three years in college never felt thrilling and how I was never driven to one particular field. But something clicked for me when I became a mom and I’ve never felt like I should be anything else since. It bothers me to my core when people make negative, most often passive aggressive, comments about staying home with the kids. I’ve heard everything from, “What do you do all day?” to “It must be so nice not having to work.” and even once had someone tell me that my part time barista job at Starbucks, “will give you so much self worth.” as if contributing $500 a month to our finances was so much more important than cooking my family’s dinner and being home to tuck my kids in every night. Could you imagine if I had said, “quitting your job and spending more time with your kids will give you so much self worth.”
I’m not trying to say that you can’t be a good parent if you work and I’m definitely not saying that women shouldn’t work. I just think there is a major issue with the value that our culture places on family and I’m tired of people feeling that women like me have little importance. Of course I hope that one day my children grow up to appreciate what having a stay at home mom has done for them the way that I appreciate what my grandma did for our family. But most importantly, I hope that they are never shamed to believe that my devotion to them lessened my value.