When I made the somewhat surprising choice to stay home with my firstborn -- I loved my career, after all, and the new budget barely worked on paper -- a loved one said to me (snarkily), "Well, that's a good use of your college education."
Ouch. Truth was, in those days I didn't care. Staying home with my baby -- and, later, babies -- just seemed to make the most sense for all of us. But now that my kids are school-age, it's getting harder to explain my reasons for not returning to my career.
Stay-at-home moms are a rarity in my area -- a depressed city in a depressed state smack in the middle of a recession. It feels downright indulgent in today's tough times, in fact, so I find myself apologizing or making excuses for my choice. And then I get annoyed for not putting a greater value on what I do.
A quick survey of my peers on Facebook and Twitter found that I'm not the only one. Fellow stay-at-home mom Michelle Smith of Monroe, Mich., said in an e-mail, "I feel guilty all the time for being a SAHM. I can't flat-out say I love it, because of the guilt." Michelle often feels like her choice isn't respected by some friends and family members. "I am a speech therapist, but I haven't worked since having my oldest over six years ago," she says. "One of my 'friends' saw an opening in the school system last year and almost seemed appalled that I wasn't interested. (I still have a 4-year-old at home, so of course I'm not.) That has strained our friendship even more -- which has added to my guilt."
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Like Michelle, I've never once felt like I'm not contributing to my family. My husband and kids show me appreciation every day for keeping their lives organized and things running smoothly (something working moms are usually responsible for, too, by the way). But I often feel like I'm not contributing to the world at large. Like my loved one noted when I first decided to stay home, I worry that I'm not living up to my full potential -- not just as a wife and mother, but as a modern-day woman.
My own mother often worked two jobs at a time when I was growing up to make ends meet, and today she's well-respected in our community for her work with kids and teens. She was part of the generation that made it possible for me to do anything I put my mind to, and -- though she is my biggest cheerleader -- what am I doing with that opportunity? What I'm doing is raising my kids, just like my friends who work part-time, full-time, in cubicles and from home in their pajamas are doing. I might be doing it with far too much angst, but -- as another Facebook friend pointed out to me -- there isn't a mother around who doesn't sometimes wonder just how green that grass on the other side of the fence is.
Whether you work inside or outside the home, do you ever wonder if you're making the right choice?
Photo by Rude Cactus via Flickr