Bravo to Jenna Thompson for speaking out in today’s Forum on behalf of stay-at-home mothers. Thompson wrote to defend a recent editorial (November 17) written by the Rev. Rolf Preus challenging the idea of funneling taxpayer dollars into daycares. I read that initial editorial and figured it would garner angry reactions, though I’ve missed a few days of editorial reading and didn’t catch all of them. Thompson wrote more to defend stay-at-home mothers than anything else and made some excellent, heartfelt points.
I’ve been down the long, hard road of discerning whether staying home with my babies was, first, even an option, and second, a sound long-term decision. I have faced the criticism of some who knew my decision to stay home meant sacrifices that seemed questionable from the outside. But as Thompson pointed out, even among those of us mothers who have the “luxury” of staying home, many work for pay in some form or another. There have been few lapses in my life in which I have not earned at least some income that would help put food on the table. But even those who do not earn an income provide in countless other ways that are just as noble.
Few enter into this decision lightly. Even in families where staying home seems a no-brainer, a mother lays down her life for her children in sidestepping other opportunities. But those of us who have done so know the rewards, though they are often invisible or delayed. In the end, each family must make this decision based on their unique circumstances, and nobody from the outside, not even extended family, can truly know what’s best for the core unit. We’re also permitted to change courses along the way if necessary. Some begin their lives as working parents then move in another direction as more children are added. Conversely, some start out at home then later take on additional work as their children grow. Some never have the opportunity to stay home. Others have always had the opportunity but don’t take it. Some husbands insist their wives stay home with the kids. Some husbands insist their wives work. Wives have differing opinions, too. It can get mighty complicated.
I was a few months away from delivering my first child when I had a conversation with my sister, who had been staying home with her firstborn. “You’re lucky you get to stay home,” I said. “I’ll never be able to do that.” Her challenge was immediate and pointed. “Have you honestly thought about changes you might make so you can stay home?” Her question prompted me to consider something I’d never thought possible until then. Eventually, we reordered our lives to make my staying home plausible, which, in turn, removed many stresses, including breastfeeding-at-work confliction and worrying about sick children and how that might impact work. Yes, it added financial stress, but we did our best to overcome that, too.
One thing I would never do at this time in my life is condemn another mother for her choice regarding work. How can I truly know the circumstances that led to that decision? For those who desire to be with their kids and are on the edge of making it work, I say, go for it. You will never regret it. If the decision comes down to owning a boat or staying home, the decision seems very simple to me. You can’t take a boat with you when you leave this earth, but you can bring your satisfying feelings of having been there for your children.
I also need to add that, emotionally, staying home isn’t necessarily the easy choice. Staying home, while a wonderful option, can be emotionally taxing at times. There’s a lot more to staying home than hanging out and watching soap operas.
I’m not here to argue that those who do not stay home aren’t there for their children. Again, we all do our best and have varying circumstances that require our consideration. We need to go easy on ourselves whether we work at home or out of home while raising kids; it’s hard stuff. And we need to encourage one another. There should be resources for those with fewer choices, but I also agree with Preus that church communities and family can come together to help multiply the choices. Government can help but it cannot solve every issue we face in its totality. We need to summon our own inner resources to find ways of making our world work in addition to what government can offer.
But like Thompson, I’m not writing on this topic so much to travel down that road as to encourage parents who stay home, as well as those who do not. In the end, many aspects need to be figured into the equation, not just financial but emotional, physical, spiritual and other. Though finances are important, we are more than just financial beings with financial needs.
We are so fortunate to live in a country and at a time where and when options exist for us mothers – and fathers. Even those with fewer options still have options. In times past, and even today in other countries, those same options are lacking. Instead of stepping into the boxing ring to argue which mothers are better equipped to be good mothers, we need to pat one another on the back for doing our best.
Bottom line: The old question of who makes the best mom is a tired one. The vast majority of us are doing the best we can for our children. We need to be comrades in this difficult but supremely rewarding venture, not adversaries.