My Personal Journey Towards Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom

by Kathleen Quiring on February 8, 2012

I’ve always kind of expected I would be a stay-at-home mom.

First, because my mom stayed home when we were young, so it just seemed natural that I would do the same.

And second, because I’ve 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 I’d be good at it. I’d 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 I’d 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 “Will I ever be happy?”

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 (I’m 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.

Ugh.

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.  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 wasn’t pregnant I took a job at a small publishing house, just so I couldn’t spend any more of my days curled up on the kitchen floor, bawling my eyes out because I didn’t 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 company’s 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:  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:

“Working 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,” 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 I’ve ever done, from working in the fields as an adolescent to working as a publishing assistant as an adult. I’m slow. I’m terribly inefficient. I’m 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, I’d 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 didn’t help. It doesn’t boost morale to know that you’ve got a master’s degree and you’re earning as much per hour as your friends working in the greenhouse or the packing shed.

Coontz goes on to say that “Women 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.” (269)

Again, this hasn’t 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. I’ve 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.  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 Coontz’ 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 don’t earn an income: I blog. I don’t feel like “just” 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 couldn’t really afford to go back to work. Childcare and fuel costs wouldn’t make it worth my time to return to a minimum-wage job. There’s no one in a 40-mile radius from our house who would want me except as  a minion.

* * *

Goodness. Since I’ve been so long-winded with this I will stop here and wrap it up tomorrow, when I’ll 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?

 

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Final Thoughts on Being a Stay-at-Home Mom — Project M
February 13, 2012 at 10:21 am

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mandee Jo February 8, 2012 at 12:29 pm

“I just wanted to be at home” This is exactly how I feel. I have a job that I enjoy and am very skilled at but it doesn’t make me feel as fulfilled as the days when I get to stay home with my little girl. You are very blessed to have the support of your community as well. I am really enjoying your recent posts on being a mother.

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2 Kathleen Quiring February 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm

It’s comforting to hear I’m not the only one. Thanks, Mandee Jo!

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3 Susie Redekop February 8, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I’m reading Stephanie Coontzs’ book right now for a 2nd year Women’s Studies class called “Love, Honour, and Obey” and I enjoyed reading your opinion. Most of the women’s studies courses I’ve taken are intensely focused on directing young women towards having full-time, large income careers and waiting with love, marriage, and children as long as possible. There are the maternal feminists who generally see motherhood as liberating but we don’t hear about them very often. Your view on motherhood is refreshing but it might be because I am also Mennonite!

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4 Kathleen Quiring February 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Hi Susie! Yes, I get similar vibes from Coontz in Marriage A History — women are best off if they secure high-paying, high-status jobs. I looked into maternal feminists, and I couldn’t even find much in a simple Google search. Have you read about New Feminism? I’m very interested in that perspective.

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5 Maria February 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm

In my experience, all I’ve ever wanted was to stay at home. I have some administrative and customer service skills that were developed while in the work force, but I feel like my place really is at home. I enjoy talking to my 3 year old and 1 1/2 year old. I enjoy maintaining the cleanliness of my home. I enjoy cooking meals that my family loves (or hates at times). I enjoy every facet of being at home. Some days when I lose my cool (like today) or I get frustrated, then I wonder if being out and working would solve that, but then I reflect back. I remember when I worked at any job, I would work for one year (tops) and then I would start to dread every day waking up to go to work. And switching, to what I thought was a more fulfilling job, never solved that either.
What is most difficult for me being at home is the financial aspect. It takes great sacrifice, in this day and age, to keep up with bills on a single income. Part of it is because of mistakes we’ve made, but let’s face it, its hard. I understand why women work and I don’t blame them. Thankfully for us, God has allowed me the opportunity to have an outlet – music. Not only do I get to play piano, but I get to teach it. And that has seriously benefited our family. And I get to stay at home to teach too. Thanks for sharing; looking forward to more.
And

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6 Kathleen Quiring February 10, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Yes — having an artistic outlet changes a lot, doesn’t it?

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7 VinA February 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

I can relate with you on so many levels Kathleen! There are days I just want to stay home and actually feel bad for my husband that he has to be away all day. I really wish he didn’t need to.
I’ve also been an underearner as long as I can remember. Teaching overseas was the only way I made pretty good money.

There are days though that I yearn to do My Thing. There is an egalitarian part of me that wants to earn some of our income so daddy can play domestic too. There’s a drive in me that wants to make a living from my gifts authentically and consciously and I’m only learning lately how to do that, but it’s so foreign to me it’s so weird to apply in real life.

Gosh there are just so many other things I can relate to here but I’ll stop there. Thanks for sharing Kathleen, I think I want to get that book..

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8 Kathleen Quiring February 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Vina: yes, a part of my wants to bring in an income, too. I’m probably doing all right at the moment simply because I’m still bringing it maternity leave income (Thank you, Canada!), but when that dries up, I’ll probably start feeling the need to earn some money. It’s hard to keep valuing your own work when there’s no money attached to it. Sad, but true — for me, at least.

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9 Samantha February 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Hey Kathleen,
Thanks for your posts about this topic. I am 25, married, and hoping to start our in the near-ish future. At the current moment my husband is in graduate school and I am working in retail for minimum wage (blerg). I feel a lot of pressure from family to get my graduate degree, but I want to stay home with our kids. The debt from that degree could also complicate the whole staying-home thing.
The point being, I often feel confused about things. Should I be trying to develop professionally right now? In what area?
I also feel that most of my skills aren’t lucrative. I imagine that I would be at home partly because I desire to and partly because of the cost of working outside the home.
So again, thanks for these posts. It’s affirming and encouraging as I wrestle with my questions and desires.

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10 Kathleen Quiring February 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Thanks, Samantha. It’s a tough thing to wrestle with. In a way, we women have more to deal with, deciding how to balance education, work, and raising kids.

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