An opinion piece on the Huffington Post, written by a woman who feels remorse over her decision to be a stay-at-home mom, is making the rounds on the Internet this week. Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom, by Lisa Endlich Heffernan, offers some interesting thoughts on why it might be important for stay-at-home moms to keep a “pilot light” burning for their career.
However, much of what Ms. Heffernan regrets are the inherent nature of the choices we make in life. Unlike in math class–and possibly in high finance, Ms. Heffernan’s professional background–there are no absolute answers or perfect choices in life. We make the choices we make, based on the information available to us at the time. If you’re fortunate enough to choose whether to work or be a SAHM, chances are good you’ll feel some guilt and remorse either way.
Ms. Heffernan calls her choice to be a SAHM an “expensive mistake,” but not everything about parenting boils down to a financial decision. Certainly some aspects of parenting do–for example, every day families choose between paying the electric bill or putting food on the table. Being a SAHM is not a financial possibility for many mothers. My friends who are single moms can’t even consider it.
But having children isn’t a financial choice. If it was, the human race would be much, much smaller. Kids are expensive, no matter how you look at it.
Some of Ms. Heffernan’s regrets center around feeling like she let down the women who went before her, allowing women to succeed in fields like high finance in the first place. But here’s the thing: I don’t think those women give a crap. They wanted to work. They worked. I can’t imagine that Gloria Steinem cares, really, if any one individual woman chooses work, stay at home, or work part-time. The point was to have that choice.
The other issues Ms. Heffernan laments all have to do with other choices she made: to get sucked into volunteer work, to allow her children to grow up thinking she “did nothing,” to allow her world to become less diverse. Living “in the suburbs among women of shockingly similar backgrounds, interests and aspirations” is a choice. Volunteer work is a choice, and it’s a valuable one. Libraries, hospitals, schools (both public and private), and tens of thousands of charitable organizations rely on volunteers. But it’s also a choice. Is it sometimes hard to say no? Of course. Are you capable of saying it? Of course.
“They saw me cooking, cleaning, driving, volunteering and even writing,” Ms. Heffernan writes of her children, “but they know what a ‘job’ looks like and they don’t think I had one.”
If children think that being a stay-at-home parent isn’t a job, it’s because they’ve been taught that. Although I work full-time from home now, for ten years my primary job was being a stay-at-home mom. That was my job, and my kids know that. They know that in my life I have been a secretary, a soldier, a human resources manager, and a writer. They also know that the most important job I have ever had is being their mom.
Ms. Heffernan is right that with a few exceptions, most mothers will find, at some point, that being a full-time, stay-at-home mom no longer fills the hours of their day. There is, as she puts it, “inevitable obsolescence.”
Well, yes. And then you move on. You do something else. You will always be their mother, but God willing they will not always need your full-time care. Ms. Heffernan is facing an empty nest, and is finding herself out-of-date with her career. She’s got good points about keeping a finger or toe in your field of choice so that the return to work will be an easier transition. But it’s not like you can never learn new skills.
I learned new software to do the job I have now. My stepmom got her college degree in her late 50s. If Ms. Heffernan was able to stay home for the better part of two decades caring for her two sons, I assume she can probably afford to take some computer classes. She can probably also afford to take a lower-grade position than she had when she left the work force.
Had Ms. Heffernan chosen to continue her career full-time, there’s no guarantee that wouldn’t have ended up with a completely different set of regrets–but regrets nonetheless. We make the best choices we can–for our families and ourselves–and then we live with them. When we find that circumstances change, in the words of the U.S. Marines, we “adapt, improvise, overcome.”
Ultimately, we have to accept our own choices, and the curveballs life throws at us. And then we either buck up or get lost in depression.
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