Stay Home With Your Babies

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The “working woman” culture has been toxic to motherhood.

I can already feel the rage emanating from some mothers. Hear me out.

My mother is a Baby Boomer. She came from a culture in which mothers staying home with children was the norm (which it is in most parts of the world, by the way) and mothers going to work while their children went to babysitters seemed very out of place. Her generation fought that notion. They wanted the right to be seen as equal partners in financially providing for their families. They wanted the right to go make a career and conquer their chosen professions without being saddled with supposedly archaic notions of motherhood.

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We’re all beneficiaries of that time. I don’t know if I’d be doing this job if it weren’t for that sharp departure from traditional motherhood roles. I’m a liar if I say I don’t appreciate the luxury of deciding how and when my family grows, and how my career fits into that.

But humans are funny creatures. We are self-correcting, but without the anchor of tradition and faith (two constants in human development) we are doomed to overcorrect, and we have done just that. The movement to offer acceptance to the notion of homosexuality has overcorrected to the bizarre place we now find ourselves where we are being forced to pretend boys can be girls and vice versa. The movement for racial equality has overcorrected to a new type of segregation as embodied in critical race theory. The movement to “believe all women” has overcorrected to mean, almost universally (save Johnny Depp, who’s charm seems to elevate him above it all) “never believe a man.”

Now we find ourselves in a place where the simple request of women to be able to work outside the home has morphed into a culture of shame surrounding women who prefer to stay in the home. When our politicians talk about supporting women, they only ever frame it as how we can help more women enter and stay in the workforce. They don’t ever ask how we might make it easier for women to stay home and raise their families. We seemed to have abandoned that notion altogether.

I recently spoke with a neighbor, a young stay-at-home mother of four, who lamented to me that she was feeling a bit useless as a provider. She was anxious to get back to earning some type of income. She missed feeling like she was an important contributor to the household. It broke my heart. Her generation has had the misfortune to be steeped in this ever-expanding idea that the only real contribution to a productive society is a professional career of some kind. We tell our girls throughout their entire schooling years that they can be whatever they want – scientists, doctors, engineers, terrible Vice Presidents. Nary a person in authority in their lives even whispers to them they can be mothers, who stay home and raise their own children.

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We have created a false sense of value for women like my beautiful neighbor. She was only able to see her value in terms of the dollars she brings home, because no one around her has been offering her praise and encouragement for all the sacrifices she’s making to stay home with her family. Everything in our culture…every single thing…is geared towards messaging how we support the working mother, and the single mother, which are naturally often the same thing. Single mothers are brave and hard-working and courageous (and they most certainly are, with a few exceptions). Married mothers hardly exist in the public conversation. When we do, we are the subject of derision. We’re accused of flaunting our privilege. No one ever credits a married mother with courage. How are we to internalize that?

Of course, I explained to my friend that she’s looking at it through a dirty filter. Her husband cannot take the kids to doctor appointments and sports and playdates. He can’t spend all day nurturing them, going to school events, and putting bandages on scrapes. His priority is, of course, his family. What she does at home allows him to feel safe and confident to go to work and earn so that she can keep doing what she does for his children. Some parents may feel fine with leaving their children in a daycare all day. Her husband does not. How could her contribution be any greater as a wife and a mother? She sacrifices everything to be sure their children are almost always in the presence of at least one person who cares the most in the world for them.

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What about dads? Can’t they stay home? Sure! One of my closest friends is a stay-at-home dad and a pretty damn good one at that; but even he would tell you that he is the exception, not the norm. Still, the idea is the same. He and his wife found value in making sure their children would not have to spend the majority of their youth in the arms of someone else.

I don’t write this to shame any woman who doesn’t do the stay-at-home thing. My own mother did not have that opportunity, many women around me don’t. Some choose that, many are forced into the workforce by betrayal or abuse. Whatever your reasons, they are yours. No one loves your children more than you do. If you feel you made the right choice, you won’t feel offended by my opining. You’ll understand my point.

And my point is this – ladies, if you can, stay home with your children. Motherhood is the greatest vocation and I am so sorry we have allowed this increasingly chaotic world to devalue the unequivocal benefits of domesticity. You are not a failure if you don’t have a career outside your home. You are, in fact, courageous for doing this incredibly exhausting work all day, every day. I’m sorry no one ever tells you that these days.

Making this part of your life about your family is not a life sentence. My son turned 20 this week, and I can tell you that, from my point of view right now, our time together in our home went by in the blink of an eye. You will never, ever, ever, get back those early days and years with your children. Those little moments that you miss while you’re at an office all day…there are no do-overs. Also, children start school rather quickly, and then you have a lot more freedom to pursue personal interests if that’s your jam. Don’t sacrifice the most precious moments of motherhood for an ideal that is really just an overcorrection of what began as a good premise.

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Your children will thank you. They will never say, “I wish my mom was home less.” Never.

Recently, as my career has begun to accelerate now that my children are older, my son told me that he always appreciated knowing that I would be at home waiting for him when he returned from school. It was a feeling of safety that he couldn’t quite verbalize as a child.

Did we often wish we had more things? More vacations? More luxuries? A bigger home? Yes. We’re red-blooded American capitalists, after all!

Do we ever regret sacrificing those things for the opportunity to raise our children in the safety of our home for all those years?

Never. You won’t either. If you can, stay home with your babies. If you can’t, help us all work towards a world where more women can, and not be shamed as failures for wanting to do so.

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