Yesterday I was driving in the car with my son, who was feeling particularly chatty since his sister wasn’t there to fill the air with her persistent little voice. He was telling me that he wished his dad didn't have to go to work and his sister didn't have to go to school and he didn't have to go to school.
Me too, buddy. Well, at least sometimes. When he didn't say anything about me, I asked "But how would mommy have time to write?" And then back to him, “What about your friends? And your teachers? Wouldn’t you miss them?”
When I was home with my daughter, we got out of the house almost every day. I thought it was me. I thought actually staying at home drove me crazy. I thought people who spent most days at home with their kids were crazy.
One parent tried to explain to me that it was his kids that were crazy—anytime he went anywhere with them. They were just easier at home. I didn’t get it.
When my daughter was fussy at home, all I had to do to change the mood was to leave the house. My son, on the other hand, loves to be at home. Being out with him is almost always hard. So, all of a sudden, being at home seems like the answer to every problem.
For me, the best part of being a mom at home with kids is being able to make that choice. To go when we want to go and stay when we want to stay. That’s the thing that makes it worth the work. It’s a good choice for me because I feel lucky when I can give them what they need--whether that’s more or less of the world.
I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mom. I had a very specific, retrospectively mockable plan. I thought I would go to college, graduate and travel the world for a few years. I’d see what needed to be seen, and then return home to settle down and have babies. I figured I’d be about 25. I wanted to be a young mom, but not quite as young as my mom, who was 21 when I was born. I never thought I would get married because my parents weren't. I’d be in love, like they were, but marriage wasn’t a part of that vision.
And I assumed I’d work when I had kids. In the 80s, it seemed like a throwback to do anything else. No one was staying home with kids anymore, or so it seemed.
Except: my very own mother was a stay-at-home mom. But I never thought of her that way. It may sound crazy, but it didn’t occur to me that I was raised by a stay-at-home mom until I was pregnant with my first baby.
My mom was always busy. I didn’t know that she wasn’t paid for the volunteer work she did, or the work she did with my dad in his business. And it never struck me as odd that she always had us in tow. That’s just how it was.
My kids don’t know that I don’t get paid for the volunteer work I do. Or most of the writing I do. Obviously, they know that I’m around during the day and their daddy isn’t. But I don’t know how clear it is to them that I’ve made this choice to “not work.” This “not working” that looks different for every woman.
I remember my mom officially going back to work, seeing her in a suit for the first time. I remember her having an interview and not getting a job, and then getting a job. Mostly what her job meant was a sudden inflexibility. She was there for a year or two. And she left for a reason that a lot of women will understand—to be a caregiver. My sister, then 14, was sick in the hospital for months and my mom wanted to be there with her every day. Jobs don’t work like that. At least not most of them.
It was 1993, the year President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. That law was a giant leap forward, but like many workers, my mom wouldn’t have benefitted from it anyway, working for a small nonprofit. Still more work to do on that front!
Ultimately, she chose to devote her time to working with my dad, something she’d always done to some extent, and formalized her role in the business they still run together. They work incredibly hard, but they make their own flexibility. Like when my grandmother was dying and my mom again took time to be a caregiver first and foremost.
After donning my own suit and getting a job of my own, I lasted about a year. It was hard for my family, especially my son, having only known a world with a parent at home. My daughter would be in aftercare every day if she could, but my son cried every morning and every night. I was lucky to be able to choose to step back again, to give that flexibility back to them, at least for another year, at least until my son is in kindergarten.
When my siblings and I were little, when my mom was at home with us, she used to grant us occasional “mental health days.” When we were feeling overwhelmed with school or with the world, she would let us stay home. Give us a day to recharge. Like a sick day for your brain.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need occasional “mental health days.” If they’re lucky, people have the kind of job where they can take the occasional fake sick day. That’s the best we can do.
More people don’t have that kind of luxury. Except it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. A necessity that many people don’t know.
I’m grateful that my kids do. Especially my stay-at-home kid.