"And what do you do?"
It's an innocent question, neither nosy nor rude. One that pops up in the most casual of introductions all the time. And yet it can haunt some of us for hours afterward.
Why am I a stay-at-home mom?
I found myself mulling uneasily over this question after a conversation this summer exposed my own doubts and I got defensive. When I am uncertain, I tend to flounder and feel guilty. Should I want a career? Should I want to stay home?
When I was homeschooling, the justification was simple. I was already doing a "job". (In hindsight, it's apparent I wasn't aware I had other options.) I have no regrets about those early years of pottytraining and naptimes and going to the park and teaching my little bookworms to read. Still, now that they're older and in school all day, I've felt the need to rethink my reasons for not earning a paycheck.
My feminist values tell me that I need to be pulling my weight, that I should have the resources to support myself instead of being financially dependent on a relationship. I'm also afraid of perpetuating an outmoded patriarchal family model or unhealthy expectations of what a mom should look like.
However… not working does not automatically put me in the same category as Michelle Duggar. :) And I'm privileged to know other ardent feminists who are unemployed, by choice, for various personal reasons. And so, I ponder.
As for expectations, my children see me pursuing knowledge and new skills. They see me involved in the community. They see me actively promoting equal rights for women. They see that Chris and I have independent interests and relationships. They know women working in a variety of fields. And they know every family operates by its own rules.
Chris and I have shed patriarchy gradually and embraced gender equality together. While there has been some shading and blending as we've adapted to these values, he remains our household's breadwinner. And yet, we are a symbiotic team. We eat better food less expensively because I stay home and cook (our meals average $1.25/person!). He can focus on his career from eight to five and college classes on weekends because I can run the errands, take the cars for service, schedule appointments, shop, and sign the field trip forms. I can take classes, volunteer, exercise, help kids with homework, and cultivate supportive friendships because he brings in the income. And since he currently works at home, we get all kinds of extra moments during the day to connect as friends, freeing us to better focus on the kids when they are at home.
While extra income could ease some stresses, we are financially comfortable enough. If I worked part-time, my earnings would quickly diminish in higher food, fuel, and insurance bills. If I worked full-time, we would have more stress around daily school pick-ups and drop-offs. I would have much less time for the self-care that helps me manage my mental health. And instead of relaxed evenings together, we would have to pack all the laundry, shopping, organizing, and meal prep into that time slot.
To us, that time to just "be" after dinner and homework is worth more than we would gain if I went to work. It is a matter of what we value most this year. Our schedule and priorities are always evolving and we are open to change. But for now, we are savoring that closeness and flexibility.
On a personal level, overcoming years of emotional trauma and cult mind-control has been a long journey and there are still days when the demands of motherhood on top of that seem overwhelming. I'm grateful that I've had the option of concentrating on those aims without trying to hold a job at the same time.