I was given an opportunity, in a roundabout sort of way, to participate in a Sunstone Symposium panel about Stay-at-Home-Mothers. While I chose not to participate, I’ve been thinking ever since about what I would say, if given a chance, about my decision to be a Stay-Home Mom (SAHM). So, lucky you, I will treat you readers to my thoughts.
I have a close acquaintance who, after being raised very LDS, has left the church. She once tried to describe to me how awkward it is for her to hang around us still-active people. “I can’t shake the feeling of disapproval from you,” she said. “Not because of anything you do or say, but because of what I know about how you think and what you believe. I know that by the very nature of what you so obviously still believe, you think that I have ‘fallen away’ and am making a bad decision.” “Ah, yes,” I responded, “but you forget that it goes both ways. When you are with me, I always know that by the nature of the choice you’ve made, you consider me to be deluded and less advanced than you, because I haven’t yet progressed beyond my upbringing.” She hadn’t thought of that before.
I feel the same way when I talk about my decision to be an SAHM with other women who did not make the same choice. I am afraid of offending; I am afraid of being thought shallow; I am potentially offended, and so are they. Nevertheless, here we go.
When I really analyze how I made this decision, I realize that I didn’t really make this decision in isolation. I made it as a logical progression from another, bigger decision, and that was the decision to marry at all.
I was a rather boy-crazy teenager and I went away to BYU hoping to catch a man as quick as I could. I got engaged rather young and only escaped marrying that (very wrong) guy by the skin of my teeth and after making a fool of myself. By the time I had become mature enough to make a good choice of whom to marry, I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry at all. I loved my independent life. I loved my education; I could imagine myself continuing in academia forever after, probably as the beloved high-school English teacher and favorite aunt who travelled a lot and had very interesting book groups, etc. It sounded pretty good to me.
But I still knew that the church taught that the greatest happiness was to be achieved in a family, raising children. And people I trusted believed that, too. People told me that marriage and family were good things, and brought great joy. It was kind of like jumping off of a diving board for the first time—I couldn’t know what it was like until I did it, but people who had done it said that it was worthwhile. Mine was the choice, then, to believe them—or not.
Once I made the decision to commit to the family lifestyle, the choice to stay home with my kids was very easy. Logically, it made no sense to me to invite children into my home and then pay others to raise them. What was the point? If I was going to have children, they would be mine—influenced by me more than anyone else.
One thing that helped was that I did not enjoy my work at all. It was easy to quit when my first baby was born. I had great fantasies of the joyous time my children and I would have together at home. But I hadn’t counted on post-partum depression, which blindsided me. I was stuck in a basement apartment with no car in the dark winter. My child was colicky and wouldn’t stop crying, ever. My mother was dead and I felt like I had no help. Each day my husband left to go to school, and I was filled with envy, remembering so clearly and romantically how much I had loved school. Why did he get to go pursue his dreams just because he was male and I was stuck at home with this maddening screaming and boredom because I was female?Again, I wouldn’t have considered passing him off to a child-care center. My fantasies involved my HUSBAND staying home instead of me. Perhaps I would have considered letting my mother or mother-in-law babysit while I worked a few hours each day “for sanity” had they been available. But nor more than that, if at all. At this point, though, I needed extra help in remaining firm in my commitment to stay at home, and this firmness came from one thing: I believe in a prophet. I had been taught that I should stay home if I could, and that was enough.
Sometimes I followed the prophet because I believed that doing so eventually leads to the most joy. Other times I did it simply out of a sense of duty. Either way, I did it out of testimony that following the prophet was what was best for me. It was excruciatingly hard a lot of the time.
Which is why I flinch and seethe when I hear women say, “You stay home with your kids? I wish I could do that, but I just can’t. I would go CRAZY.” Or, its corollary, “I’m a better mother because I work.” I flinch because the emotion behind these statements is very familiar to me. When I can get away for an outing, I come home so refreshed and happy to be with my kids. I really understand why women think they are better mothers when they work. (Although I wonder if their children would agree.)
But I’m also offended because behind this statement seems to be an implication sometimes that I am somehow less intellectual, more shallow or simplistic (easily entertained?) than the sophisticated woman who needs her work to feel satisfied. It ignores the possibility that I might also prefer the company of adults and enjoy the challenge of a profession to the challenge of filling the long afternoons with children.
It would be better if being home with my kids were my passion—it really would. And I’m so envious of the women who feel this way (and I don’t look down on them at all, though I often feel they look down on me for not feeling similarly). But it’s not. But I do it anyway because I believe I should.
I grant that there’s a little bit (too much) of a martyr thing going on here, but I don’t think it’s a small thing that I have sacrificed for this. But, as with the true definition of sacrifice, I can’t deny that it has brought its rewards. I would hate having to hear about my child’s first steps or first lost tooth from a care provider. I like being primary in my children’s lives. And though it was very hard, often boring, rarely satisfying in a day-to-day kind of way while my kids were very small, it’s much more enjoyable now, both because they are older and more interesting to me, and because I am getting full-night’s sleeps and many opportunities to be without them, either physically or even just mentally while we’re in the same room.
I believe that my kids are much better off because of the decision I made. I believe that I am better off because of it as well. If someone asked me my advice for them, I would say, “Do it, but make sure that you have a supportive husband who will see to it that you get a little time to yourself every day, and a big chunk of time to yourself at least once a week. Then dive in. Things get much better the older they get.”