The question comes in several forms, usually precipitated by a nervous smile or inquiring raised brow. It goes something like this: "So, how do you like staying home?"
It always takes me aback for a second, for a number of reasons. Although I know what the asker means, it's the implications that make me wonder. The idea that I have sacrificed something, or that I secretly hate it and long to be elsewhere.
"I wanted to ask you when we were completely alone and not in front of anyone so you could tell the truth," whispered one inquisitive soul, as if there was a conspiracy.
Well, I'll tell you the truth. In my mind, being a full time homemaker was, is, and always will be the gold standard of careers. I can't believe I was naive enough to think that everyone else believed this, too. I know an army of women who never in their lives held a job outside the home. Some of these women even spent the first few childless years of their marriage at home full time. It's not like I'm breaking any new ground. But it's a fair question because I did work outside the home before little Mister arrived on the scene.
Here is what I tell those whom ask. It is absolutely the hardest job I ever had, and there are moments just about every day where I long for the luxury of legally mandated bathroom breaks and thirty minute lunches. It is a 24 hour boot camp that uses every skill I have ever acquired, and seems to highlight the ones I never perfected. It is also the most rewarding job ever, and an absolute privilege to invest one hundred percent of my time and energy into my family. It is the best investment I will ever make. I am also painfully aware that not every mother can afford to stay home with her family; the changing economic-based societal choices of the past 30 years have priced some families out of this option. Yet, I wish that every mother who wanted to stay home could do just that. No one will hand you a gold paperweight after twenty years for your service, but I do believe the reward to be immeasurable for all around. In other words, I love being home.
The reactions are varied. Grandmothers are the most sympathetic, often expressing wishes that their own daughters would stay home, could stay at home. As I told one grandmother, "It is the only way I can do this."
No, she said, it is the only way to do this.
Some mothers tell me how they tried to stay at home but just were not good at it. They were "bad" stay at home mothers. These ladies are usually of an outgoing personality type that I could never be in a million years, exuding boundless energy, and so a part of me can imagine that they struggled with the high demand and sometimes confining world of full 24-hour childcare.
Finally, but more rarely, I get the ladies who are flat out baffled that staying at home with one's family is even an option. "You mean, you don't have to work?" Of course, what she means is that it's her experience that not everyone has to work in a job outside of their home and pay for child care. It's this reaction that I find the hardest to comprehend, and yet I know it is the reality for many families. But this question was asked to me recently by a neighbor who lives in a custom built luxury home, and whose husband works in the oil industry. I have been a guest in her home and know that times are not tough for her family by any standard. She and her husband have one child. Still, the idea of not having to work is, for her, unbelievable. I'd ask her why she thinks she has to work, but I have a feeling that I already know the answer.
Perhaps I'll do a follow up post on the economics of staying home. It's a subject worthy of a little discussion, one I've been thinking about, but don't have a lot of experience in as of yet. It's not a discussion I can have right this very minute anyway, because my family needs me. Yes, it feels good to say that.