First, because my mom stayed home when we were young, so it just seemed natural that I would do the same.
And second, because Iâve always been aware — at least on a subconscious level — that I have absolutely no lucrative skills whatsoever. My talents lie in portraiture and the stringing of words together on paper . . . not exactly talents that have employers chasing me down.
There was a brief period of time during grad school when I seriously considered becoming a university professor. I knew Iâd be good at it. Iâd gotten a chance to teach first-year composition for two semesters, and the student evaluations suggested I had a knack for it.
But I also knew Iâd be miserable for the rest of my life if I did that.
I woke up every morning of my academic life overwhelmed with crushing anxiety and ennui. To tell you the truth, I woke up that way nearly every day of my life prior as well, as long as I had gone either to school or work. I just assumed it was because I was a miserable person. The question that plagued me throughout most of my adolescence and young adulthood was âWill I ever be happy?â
I am half sick of shadows, I posted on my cubicle wall where students came in to go over their papers with me.
Becoming a professor would mean six more years of graduate school (Iâm a very slow worker). It would mean moving to a big city (horrors!) away from my family; it would mean having to continue waking up at God-forsaken hours to commute under bleak skies to decrepit offices and dreary libraries.
I just wanted to be at home.
I wanted to get up when my body told me it was ready, not when an alarm clock told me I had to get up. I wanted to be able to rise after the sun had come up, as nature intended. I wanted to be able to take my mornings slowly, to let my weak eyes and stomach adjust to wakefulness after the rawness and vulnerability of night.
I wanted to paint. I wanted to write.Â I wanted to cook and bake and tidy and sweep and weed the garden. I wanted to cuddle with babies and read them little board books and have them fall asleep at my breast.
I wanted the outside world and all its bustle to just leave me alone, particularly in those sensitive mornings when my brain was still vibrating and tender.
I knew I had to choose between success and happiness.
Ben and I were already trying to get pregnant before I graduated. In the meantime, I started working from home as a research assistant for a professor in another department. A year later when I still wasnât pregnant I took a job at a small publishing house, just so I couldnât spend any more of my days curled up on the kitchen floor, bawling my eyes out because I didnât have a baby.
Working there was the worst experience of my life. I was positively dreadful at my job, and my boss let me know it. I was the skid mark on the companyâs underpants. I have never felt so useless, talentless, and insipid.
Lydia finally rescued me after about a year of this. Finally, I could stay where I belonged: at home.
* * *
In Marriage:Â A History, which I discussed in my last post, Stephanie Coontz talks a lot about the changing roles of women through history, both at home and in the workplace. She seems to assume, throughout, that work=freedom for women. And for many, this does seem to be the case:
âWorking wives consistently tell interviewers they like the respect, self-esteem, and friendships they get from a job, even though they find it stressful to arrange acceptable childcare and negotiate household chores with their husbands,â she says (p. 269).
The idea of getting respect, self-esteem, and friendships from work is totally foreign to me.
Besides teaching at the university, I have sucked at every single job Iâve ever done, from working in the fields as an adolescent to working as a publishing assistant as an adult. Iâm slow. Iâm terribly inefficient. Iâm clumsy, forgetful, easily confused, and I possess no social graces. My bosses were always either threatening to fire me or at least insinuating that I was a strain on the company by being on their payroll.
And as for making friends? Not really my thing. Given the choice, Iâd eat my lunch in the car alone to avoid making conversation around the lunchroom table.
The fact that I was barely making over minimum wage didnât help. It doesnât boost morale to know that youâve got a masterâs degree and youâre earning as much per hour as your friends working in the greenhouse or the packing shed.
Coontz goes on to say that âWomen consistently say they get more respect when they are employed, not only from society but from their own husbands. Women who earn incomes have much more decision-making power in their marriages than those who are full-time housewives.â (269)
Again, this hasnât been my experience.
My Mennonite community affirms my choice to stay home. In fact, most of the women my age aspire to be stay-at-home moms, if only they can afford it. Moms who have to return to work for economic reasons are pitied. Iâve even heard women say they feel sorry for men, who have to work at jobs their entire lives while we get to stay home and play with babies. (Of course, the alternative for most of us is unskilled labour, so staying home is almost always preferable).
My husband is also very supportive of me staying home. Â He routinely tells me how much better I make our lives by staying at home. And because of my education, he thinks of me as the Smart One in the relationship, and defers to me on all kinds of issues.
In my last post, I highlighted Coontzâ observation that stay-at-home moms are concentrated in the poorest and richest rungs of the population. Interestingly, the factors at play in both of these communities are at work in my life.
Like wealthier stay-at-home moms Coontz describes, I have the resources (i.e. higher education) to develop skills that help me earn respect even though I donât earn an income: I blog. I donât feel like âjustâ a mom because I have other facets to my identity. And my well-honed research skills give me the confidence that I could learn how to do just about anything.
But like the poorer women Coontz describes, I couldnât really afford to go back to work. Childcare and fuel costs wouldnât make it worth my time to return to a minimum-wage job. Thereâs no one in a 40-mile radius from our house who would want me except asÂ a minion.
* * *
Goodness. Since Iâve been so long-winded with this I will stop here and wrap it up tomorrow, when Iâll reflect on the reasons being a stay-at-home mom has been totally right for me. If you’ve made it this far: thanks for listening!
What has been behind your story, either towards staying home or returning to work?