Recently while visiting with my youngest son, Adam, he inquired if I regretted being a stay-at-home mom. I always knew I wanted children. It was how I saw myself, though I had no true inkling of the demands and challenges of parenthood. Often in the early years as a mother of three very active boys, I would be reminded of my mother-in-law and how she managed eight children and would ask her about her experiences of wrangling such a brood.
Pat was a stay-at-home mom in the 50s and 60s when keeping a “perfect house with perfect children” was the expected norm. It was a difficult goal with a large family. But then, “the times they were a-changing”, and cultural expectations relaxed. In retrospect while my mother-in-law was working to supplement their family income, she acknowledged that she wouldn’t have been totally happy being at home. She required something more than just taking care of the children and the house, something for herself. She worked part time while the kids were young, moving into full time employment when they were older before she returned to school to pursue a degree in fine arts.
My path was similar to hers. I was home with the boys, only taking a part-time job in a flower shop when Adam, my youngest, was in kindergarten. Part time work and a busy family life kept me satisfied for many years. As the kids got older, I realized I wanted something more than part-time work as a florist. I went back to school when Adam was in high school, pursuing a paralegal degree. I obtained my degree and secured my first job in the legal field the year Adam went off to college. And despite the demanding hours and stress, I loved it.
Having watched way too much Father Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver as a child, I entered into parenthood with rose-colored glasses. While I survived the daily domestic drudgery and isolation of early parenting, I never did vacuum the house in heels and pearls like June Cleaver. I didn’t serve Martha Stewart gourmet meals, but nobody went hungry. And while I our house wouldn’t have passed the white glove test, no one died from dust or unvacuumed carpets.
One concern I did have about being a stay-at-home mom was whether my sons would grow up with a cliched view of marriage from being raised in a fairly traditional home. Luckily, Mr. Smith is a rare man and set a brilliant example for his sons. All our boys know how to cook, change a diaper and clean a toilet.
There’s nothing like snuggling a baby, but I thought parenting became more interesting and fun as the boys grew older and their personalities and interests emerged. You could see glimpses of the person they would mature into. My life became infinitely better when they became more independent and were all able to buckle themselves up in the car and go to the bathroom all on their own.
Unfortunately, even a middle-class life like our family had, now often requires two full-time incomes. The U.S. remains the only country in the developed world that does not require employers to offer paid leave for new mothers. Our Canadian neighbors grant new mothers one year of paid maternity leave. New mothers in Finland are entitled to up to three years’ worth of paid leave!
So I’m thinking instead of “mommy wars” between stay-at-home moms and working moms, it would be amazing if that energy would go into forcing the U.S. to step up and invest in maternity leave and child care. There is so much evidence that it would foster a more productive, healthy and creative workforce it just seems like a no brainer.
So, Adam, my answer is that any regrets I might have are far outweighed by the rewards. And I’m grateful. Grateful to the women who came before me and broke the societal molds, making it possible for me to have a choice. Grateful to have been in a situation that allowed me a choice not available to everyone. And grateful to have come out the other side of parenting with three amazing sons.
C’est la vie.