M is for the many things she gave me

Before we were married I told my husband that when we had children, I wanted to stay home with them. It never really occurred to me that I would do otherwise. I like to think that I was not particularly brainwashed into this decision by my Mormon upbringing. I don’t know. As a youth, I rebelled pretty strongly against the cultural, sometimes pseudo-doctrinal message that women belonged in the home. From a young age, I assumed that I would have a career. I didn’t want to have kids, probably because my mother had five children for whom she was the full-time caregiver, and I saw firsthand how difficult it was for her. I didn’t assume that I could do it better. I assumed it would probably kill me.

Interestingly, I never considered the possibility that I could have both a career and children, probably because I was too focused on how much children would cramp my style, but also probably because I had no role model. When my mother divorced her first husband, she was pregnant with my older sister and had no choice about working. She had to work to support herself and her daughter. But when she married my dad, she said she felt like she’d missed too much of my sister’s early years and she didn’t want to miss any more. She didn’t work outside the home again until all of us were in school. So I had no idea how to be a mother without also being a full-time caregiver. Most of my friends’ mothers were also full-time caregivers, and to be perfectly honest, I felt kind of sorry for my friends whose mothers did work. This might have been because, in all the cases I can remember, their parents were also divorced. But I like to think that even as I was disdaining my mother’s lifestyle as personally untenable for me, I must have, on some level, appreciated her sacrifice, because when the magical day arrived that I finally did desire children, I couldn’t imagine giving the job less than she had.

So about a week before giving birth to my first child, I quit my job—the best, most promising job I’d ever had—so I could be a full-time caregiver. I did it happily because frankly, at the time I was finding the annoying parts of my job super-annoying. (I even thought, at the time, that these annoyances were a gift from God, so I wouldn’t be sad about giving it up to be home with the baby.) That was 1998, and aside from a handful of freelance gigs during the first sixteen months, I have not had a paying job since. I can’t say that I regret my choice, exactly. In retrospect, I think it was probably the only choice I could have lived with. Given my family’s particular needs and my own personal limitations, I don’t know how I could have handled having a job on top of everything else. Someone else probably could have done it, but not me.

So I don’t sit around wishing I’d made a different choice than the one I made eighteen-plus years ago. I frequently wish that the circumstances of my life had been different, that my course had gone a different way. I love all of my kids. I’m grateful for the experience of being their mother. (Usually. At least 51 percent of the time, I’m sure.) But sometimes I wish I could watch the Sliding Doors version of my life and see how things would have turned out if I’d gone to graduate school in Fresno instead of staying in Los Angeles and meeting my husband. (Yes, I had big dreams back in the day. Fresno Dreams.) And if my daughters ever ask me for advice, and probably even if they don’t, I will encourage them to continue working after they have kids, even if they can afford to quit.

It’s not that my life as a full-time caregiver has been bad. Well, no, I won’t lie to you. Some of it has been absolutely horrible. But I’ve been unduly fortunate in many ways. For one thing, even when my husband was still in school and money was tight, we managed to pay for all the necessities without going further into debt. For another thing, over the years my husband and I have managed to build a pretty strong marriage. This has made for a pretty good life.

Obviously, both of those things took some effort in addition to luck. Few things used to annoy me more than people saying, “You’re so lucky that you can afford to stay home.” Not because I didn’t appreciate my own luck, but because I felt that other people didn’t appreciate the sacrifices that went along with the luck. And I’m not referring exclusively or even primarily to financial sacrifices. I’m talking about the personal, intangible sacrifices. I sacrificed future professional opportunities. I sacrificed security. I sacrificed independence. Even more than adult interaction, I missed doing something I was actually good at. Parenting, while occasionally rewarding, has mostly made me feel like a failure. I feel like that is by design, so I don’t want to complain too hard about it. But ideally, a meaningful life includes doing more than the things you do poorly.

Many mothers told me that if they didn’t work outside the home, they would “go crazy.” To them I wanted to say, “Yes. I know exactly what you mean. By the way, do I look sane to you?” I didn’t begrudge these women their choices or think that it made them bad mothers. (I would have had to feel like a much better mother myself to make that judgment.) I just didn’t like the implication that I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. I was not. I was doing what I thought I needed to do, for a lot of complicated reasons, and I wasn’t always sure I was right.

During one of my many therapy sessions with one of the many therapists I saw during my young-child-rearing years, I was told, “Some women are cut out to be full-time mothers. Others are part-timers. You might be a part-timer.” I didn’t like hearing that either. For one thing, I couldn’t afford to be a part-timer. At the time, my husband was still in graduate school, and I was several years out of the workforce; any job I could have gotten would not have paid for alternative childcare. For another thing, I didn’t want to believe full-time caregiving was something one could both desire to do and be temperamentally unsuited for. For thousands of years, mothers have been caring for their young. Did the cavewomen go insane? I would rather have heard that I just wasn’t doing it right (and then, of course, be told the right way to do it). I wanted the problem to be fixable. I didn’t want the problem to be me.

Then again, there was also the fact that I had spent the last several years killing myself trying to be a good mother. If I didn’t have any outside distractions, I didn’t have any excuses for not doing a good job at the Most Important Job There Is. I would never get those years back, and I felt like changing course would be admitting that I’d invested a hell of a lot in a mistake.

In retrospect, I don’t think I’ve done a horrible job at The Most Important Job. I could have done better. Or rather, I should have done better. I don’t know if I could have. I wanted to. I still want to. I’m not inclined to say I’d do anything differently if I had to do it all again. Mainly because I’d rather die than do it all again. But also because it is what it is. There’s no point Monday-morning-quarterbacking now. And I want to be clear about one thing: I don’t blame Mormonism for my choices. I didn’t become a full-time caregiver for religious reasons. I was following the model I’d been given. My mother was far from perfect, but she was always there. I appreciated that. I only wanted to do for my kids what she did for me and my siblings. I didn’t know how else to do it. And, as I mentioned earlier, given the circumstances, I’m not sure there was a better way for me to do it.

That said, I hope for something different for my daughters. It’s true that marriage requires sacrifices from both parties and that ideally husbands and wives are interdependent, yada yada. But I’m not so sure it’s a great idea for one partner to be completely dependent financially on the other. It’s awesome if it all works out, as it has in my marriage—i.e. my husband hasn’t died or left me for a less insane woman. I have no desire to divorce my husband (I’m sure that comes as a relief to Brother J), but there is something chilling in the realization that I would probably not be able to support myself, let alone four children, without him. It’s like I’ve been on a flying trapeze all this time and all of a sudden I look down and think, “Whoa—there’s no net!” It’s not a thing you can un-see. I guess this is why we’re not supposed to look down. But I have, and I will never recommend to my girls that they fly without a net themselves.

The other thing is difficult to put into words without seeming to cast aspersions on my husband or my marriage. My marriage is fine. (My husband is even finer, if you know what I mean.) (I don’t know what I mean.) But I’ve struggled with the idea that ours is an equal partnership and that his power doesn’t vastly outweigh mine because he makes all the money. I can almost hear you all saying, “Sounds like a personal problem.” Yes, it’s a personal problem. That doesn’t make it an imaginary problem. Obviously, there is more to me than housekeeping and child-chauffeuring and whatnot, just as there’s more to my husband than his paycheck. (I mean, I hope so, for both our sakes.) You can’t put a dollar value on everything. And the world has screwed-up priorities, money isn’t everything, blah blah de blah.

But the fact is, I’m a pretty crap homemaker. Maybe some of that is due to the fact that I’m not getting paid for this, so what’s the point? Ha ha. But seriously, most of this job isn’t in my skill set. I don’t delude myself that my husband is living his dream. His dream is to be a high school band teacher. (Or write a heavy metal opera. I don’t know, I lose track of all his dreams.) But he is getting paid to do something he’s good at, and he’s making a tangible contribution to our family, in addition to the intangible, irreplaceable contribution he makes as a husband and father. I don’t feel like I have to earn a paycheck that is equivalent to his in order for my contribution to have value, but I would feel more confident in its value if more of it were tangible.

And there’s one more thing. God willing, my children will eventually leave home and have their own lives. As the full-time caregiver for very young children, I used to look forward to the day when my children were all in school and I had more time to pursue my professional interests. As it happens, the amount of time that all the children are in school is not nearly as much as I thought it would be. But aside from that, the fact is that after so many years of putting off my professional interests, I find that I’m not even sure what those are anymore. I still feel guilty taking time to write when the house is a mess (which it pretty much always is), but I feel even guiltier taking time to write when I can’t manage to produce anything. (At this point I’m not even talking about getting paid, just about finishing something.) I’ve had to face the painful prospect that I’m not actually meant to write for a living, and as my previous job was in a dying industry (i.e. newspapers), and I’m almost 20 years out of it anyway, I feel like maybe I need to start over in a different field, go back to school, whatever. But I have no idea what else to do. I’ve been doing nothing but mothering and housekeeping (poorly) for so long, I don’t even know how to begin doing something else.

I don’t blame my predicament on motherhood or destructive cultural messages or anything like that. I’m responsible for my own choices. Frankly, it was just easier, when I was in the trenches, to let everything else fall by the wayside. That was why I did it. I wish I’d done something different, though. I wish I’d put as much pressure on myself to do non-home-related work as I put on myself to take care of kids and do the laundry and whatnot. I wish I’d worked harder at achieving something beyond survival during that relatively short period of time when my kids were young, so that I wouldn’t lose the habit of work, which I’m going to need for the rest of my life.

I know a lot of you are ready to protest, “But your family is your greatest achievement!” I’ll tell you the same thing I plan to tell my daughters: Children aren’t achievements. They’re human beings. So are women. So are mothers. Children must be cared for, and money must be made. I’m not so arrogant as to prescribe how other families should order their lives; I wouldn’t know the first thing about other people’s lives. But I’d like to hear some different stories besides “I gave up my career so I could raise my kids and it was the best decision I ever made.” Not because I don’t believe giving up a career for the sake of your family is ever the right decision, but because I know there are other stories out there. There’s my story, for example. But I’m sure there are happier ones out there, too.

Comments

  1. ” almost 20 years out of it anyway, I feel like maybe I need to start over in a different field, go back to school, whatever. But I have no idea what else to do. I’ve been doing nothing but mothering and housekeeping (poorly) for so long, I don’t even know how to begin doing something else.”

    This. I don’t really regret staying home. For my family and our situation and my health it was the only choice that left me sane. I physically could not have done both. I always prided myself that I got my degree. I never realized how worthless it would be twenty years later. How I could only get the same jobs my freshly out of high school kids could get. My degree seems to mean very little. So I can take a job I would hate for money we dont really need whose paycheck would be so small as to not make a drop in the bucket or I can go back to school except with two in college and two more soon to follow I cant afford that when I cant make any money. It is frustrating. I dont regret the decisions I made as I did what was best for both me and my family and I wouldnt change them. But while I recognized many of the sacrifices that I was making I didnt not realize how big this one would be. And I am mourning it right now. Even if I wouldnt change it. I still mourn what I have lost.

  2. “I like to think that I was not particularly brainwashed into this decision by my Mormon upbringing. ”

    Good thing there’s not a chance that the current cultural we live in that’s far more hegemonic than Mormonism wouldn’t ever “brainwash” someone enough to write a post that’s teaming with apologies and might-have-beens at every instance being a “full-time Mom” comes up.

    Your original dedication to motherhood is praiseworthy. Fullstop. Your rhetorical self-flagellation brought on by the false consciousness of modernist feminism is unfortunate.

    “I’ll tell you the same thing I plan to tell my daughters: Children aren’t achievements.”

    They are much more than “human beings”.
    Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? Behold this is my work and my glory…

    Bringing Gods into morality so Lord can raise them to immorality and eternal life is not just his glory, but also ours. That’s more important than any other earthly job or calling. Those who eschew full-time work to do this need not parse their words before the altars of modernity.

  3. Agree with Marie and Rebecca. A couple of PhD acceptances arrived the same week as the positive pregnancy test for my first (19 years ago). A different mom/family might have juggled the two challenges simultaneously–it happens, in marvelous (and perhaps more executive function-blessed) families, all the time–but I didn’t see that juggling working out in our situation, so I tabled a doctorate and stayed home. I don’t regret it, by which I mean I don’t regret the vast majority of it. But Marie brings up an important point. Folks who blithely toss around the idea “hey gals, you can have it all/follow your dreams *in sequence* or *in seasons*” should consider how funding requests for midlife education/reinvention tend to arrive simultaneously with, and thus take a backseat to, funding demands for the children’s initial education. The pain from this financial and educational logjam can be difficult to mourn/express, especially during our 3-hour block. (Come sit by me in RS, Marie. You’re not alone.) Sneaking into YW to advise any future stay-at-home moms to sock some $ away all along for future education (even if they have no idea what that would look like yet) has crossed my mind. Men, any volunteers to sneak into YM for the same purpose?

  4. Really, TIST? I will assume you’re kidding, since you think the Lord wants to raise us to immorality, apparently eternally.

    Rebecca, thank you for telling it like it is for so many of us. You have exactly voiced my experience. No regrets. Certainly some mourning.

  5. Yup. Large portions of this, make that most of it, definitely describes me! I also don’t regret it. But yes, mourning, and wondering what that other life might have been.

  6. Thank you for writing this post. I love how you describe the sometimes conflicting feelings you’ve had in your process. I think it describes many people accurately–these are hard choices.

  7. I got my Associates degree before I had kids, but most of the people I talked to who worked as journalists or editors told me to wait to finish my degree until I was going to be ready to use it. It’s the best advice I ever got. I’m now 2 classes away from finishing my journalism degree, and without the delay, I wouldn’t have the recent internship and branding that came from doing my course work with an eye to creating a Twitter following that will go with me wherever I end up working.

    I have worked in a variety of industries over the years when the family needed it and when I needed to support myself and my kids while going through divorce. My Associate’s degree and life experience allowed me to be in positions where I was managing both people and processes. Some of the stories I have covered I was uniquely qualified to cover because I have worked in the industry and understood how to find sources that my classmates never would have guessed to look for. All 4 of my kids all know that I support them making whatever choices are best for them. My son has no idea what he wants to do when he grows up, but my teenage daughters are split. One wants to teach university mathematics because she loves math and figures it is a career that will allow her to have flexibility as a mother, the other one wants to go to a pet grooming program so she csn work a flexible schedule until her kids are all in school, and then go to school when she figures out what she wants to do. My youngest daughter tells everyone she wants to be an FBI agent, if the CIA won’t take her.

    I’m really grateful for each of my children, but the idea that I should live my life only for them is not something that I think would be emotionally healthy for them or me.

  8. I have managed to raise kids and have a career (that I can do part-time at home too). I don’t actually like my job at this point (20 years in), but I am grateful for it. My mother worked full time (in the 80s). I always thought I’d stay home with the kids, but giving up my own income has always scared me in exactly the way the op described. My husband and I have a wonderful relationship We’ve never been even close to separating, but the thought of having no way to support myself/kids is one of my biggest fears. Independence as a value is important to me.

    The trade off though, is that I spent my kids baby years depressed trying to keep up with all my commitments and now I have very little time for the things in life that bring me joy. Also our house is generally a total disaster. I’m a terrible ‘homemaker’ as well. ~Grin.

  9. “there is something chilling in the realization that I would probably not be able to support myself, let alone four children, without him. It’s like I’ve been on a flying trapeze all this time and all of a sudden I look down and think, “Whoa—there’s no net!” It’s not a thing you can un-see.”

    This is so true. I am also almost 20 years post-degree with no work experience because of being a full-time mother. (Had I stayed in my field, I would be making at least as much as my husband.) Last year we allowed his term life insurance to lapse while we looked for a better plan. I realized later that that was probably the subconscious reason I spent the summer with a stack of textbooks, studying for a certification test that would show I still have the necessary knowledge to get back into my field if I need to. I felt a real urgency not only to pass the test, but to find some way to get the work hours necessary to become fully certified. Once we renewed his policy, the urgency faded, but I am still watching the calendar and my opportunities for finishing up the certification.

    For me, working would have been more suited to my talents and personality. However, my eye of faith shows me that the personal growth I have gone through in staying home raising children is what I needed, even if is isn’t what I have always wanted. My education has directly blessed my family in so many ways, that I would strongly recommend anyone to get all the education they can, whether they ever intend to work outside the home or not. In the meantime, I have learned to deal with the uncertainty of the future by realizing we have only made it this far with the help of God. Whatever the future holds, I will have to trust that God will continue to provide for us day by day.

  10. wideopenspaces says:

    I understand the complicated feelings that can arise from making the decision to stay at home full time. I think Rebecca does a nice job laying it all out there. It makes me thankful though that I didn’t make the same choice. I continued in medical school after having my first kiddo, and I’ll go back to work very part time in a couple of months, after having the second. I don’t mourn the loss of anything. I stayed home with my first for a full year, and while I’m an excellent housekeeper, cook, etc, it was boring to me. Now if I’d had a better social support system with lots of mommy groups and things, perhaps it would have been doable in the long term. I don’t know. But I’m thankful to now have a career that I love, the ability to make plenty of money working part time, and the flexibility to spend lots of time with my kids and husband. I wish that we had a better system in place in this country so that more women had better options for combining work with having a family life without having to make these either/or choices.

  11. “But I’d like to hear some different stories besides “I gave up my career so I could raise my kids and it was the best decision I ever made.”

    For what it’s worth from my perspective stemming from a converse life: for nearly a decade now I have invested an incredible amount of my life into a career often seen as glamorous, am just now realizing that much of this effort is coming to naught for a variety of reasons, and I will soon be transitioning into a less glamorous, pay-the-bills line of work. I suspect my situation is typical for a lot of artists, humanities academics, writers, and others who get into a field without fully appreciating the market forces working against succeeding in such lines of work.

    But amidst the rubble of this collapse my kids are still there, and I’m more grateful now more than ever that I didn’t put them off. The words of the father character in “Tree of Life” after his business failed kept coming back to me: “You are the only thing I have, and you are the only thing I want to have.”

    “But sometimes I wish I could watch the Sliding Doors version of my life and see how things would have turned out if I’d gone to graduate school in Fresno instead of staying in Los Angeles and meeting my husband. (Yes, I had big dreams back in the day. Fresno Dreams.)”

    I can definitely relate to this on the flip side of things, and I think many other people could too; for every SAHM who wonders what she could have accomplished in the marketplace, there’s a “Death of a Salesman” situation where a failed or broken careerist wonders whether things would have been better with a white picket fence.

    None of this is meant as an attack or counter to what was said in the OP, just another storyline that I think is as common as the housewife one delineated above. Grass is greener speculation is very common and may be warranted in some cases.

  12. I agree with so much of this post. Before I married, I thought I would have a career, but as soon as we married (at the ripe old age of 21), a flip switched. I think I just assumed I would follow my mother’s path and stay home. My husband and I didn’t even really discuss it, I didn’t really analyze it, I just did it. I finished law school with a baby and passed the bar so I could feel ‘done’ with that process, but I didn’t work. I also wouldn’t say I regret staying home. After ten years, I feel like I have done a good job treasuring this time.

    BUT. I have come to realize a few things. Staying home is more of a gift to me than to my children. Yes, I think I helped them grow and develop during these early years, but mostly they won’t remember it. But I will always remember rocking my babies, snuggling a sick child, and greeting them with an after school snack. It is a gift I am very thankful for.

    BUT. Being a mother is a relationship, NOT a job. I clean and cook and schedule and clean and cook and schedule because I am here, NOT because I am a mother.

    About a year ago I read a book called, “Dare, Dream, Do” that I highly recommend. It inspired me to find my own dream again. I just started back to school to chase that dream. I have found that my husband is an amazing support and it has been wonderful for our kids. They get more time with dad, they see mom working towards goals, and I feel much more happy and fulfilled. It is a win for everyone.

    My advice for all my kids, girls included, is to keep one foot in the workforce at all times, where possible. You never know where life will take you and you won’t always have years to get ready to work. I don’t want my girls to get the message that I think I did–that women should be highly educated, but then drop it all. When you drop everything, the pieces don’t always come back together when you need them.

  13. I am, unfortunately, in the midst of two child-centered crises (or semi-crises) this morning, but I want to thank everyone so far for their thoughtful comments. This is exactly what I want to hear: other people’s stories.

  14. TIST – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself, “Is this my own life, are these my own thoughts and feelings that I’m experiencing, or is it just the false consciousness of modernist feminism?” It can be so hard to tell the difference. Fortunately, there are complete strangers who can explain it to me.

  15. Beautifully written, Rebecca. I’m a mother with a lucrative career, but have lots of performance anxiety about both my professional and family relationships regardless of whether I’m doing one or the other or both together. I had no positive role models growing up of professional working mothers and constantly worry whether I’m failing at both my work and family responsibilities. In any event, the whole point of me commenting here is to say that please find the time to write more – you are incredibly talented. I hope you understand and appreciate that no matter what else is going on in your life. Your writing is excellent in so many important ways. Please write more.

  16. Here is a different story, my own. I have never really shared it before, since in the Mormon community I was always such an outlier that it felt awkward and possibly judgmental, and in the “world” my story is so banal as to be not worth mentioning. I always knew that I did not want to stay home with children full time. As a young Mormon, I took this to mean that I did not want children at all. Growing up, I always thought that I would not get married because of that. My mother (5 children, stay-at-home, Utah raised, Mormon-born), bless her heart, always told me that I was being ridiculous not to plan on marriage and children, because it was possible to have it all–other women did it, so I could too. In other words, my mother managed to see that I was not an outlier at all. My father, whose own mother worked as a nurse when he was growing up, did too. But it wasn’t until I went to law school–far from the Intermountain West–that I understood that they were right. At my law school, I was very much in the norm, and for the first time in my life, I felt comfortable enough to date seriously and ultimately, get married. I worked a lot in the early years of my marriage, and then less when I had my children. This required some career sacrifices, some of which I regret but most of which I do not. I had a full and happy life. And I was content in knowing that I was not putting myself in a position where I would feel that had spent too little time with my children when they were young. I knew that I had sacrificed for them, and that felt right. But I had not sacrificed so much as to be, or feel like, a martyr. My husband did not have, or at least did not take, that same luxury, and I think he does regret that. That said, caregiving for young children is SO HARD. It was the hardest stage of my life. My choices all seemed wrong, I felt like I had no support from any side, and I felt more alone during those years than I ever had before. Many times, I felt like a failure at work and at home. That time passed, my children are older now, and I have returned to working full time at a rather intense job that I enjoy a lot. Life is busy and rewarding for me now, but looking back I am not sure how I had the singular vision not to just throw in the towel during those hard years. But I am so glad I didn’t. I could not have the career I have now without those years. Somehow I knew that, and I held on despite the challenges. I like to think I was channeling the spirit of my Mormon pioneer foremothers. They worked hard, survived, and ultimately thrived, so I knew I could too.

  17. It’s interesting how role models and family dynamics can shape the choices we make. My mom worked full time at a low paying job until I was in middle school. There were five of us kids and a dad who didn’t help out with anything in the domestic sphere. My mom was stressed, often angry, likely depressed, and now I better understand why. Growing up in that situation made me sensitive to the reality that I may have to be a working mother someday, but that I didn’t want it to be stressful. For that reason I pursued a high paying career with lots of part-time potential. I also pursued a husband who did not see homemaking, child rearing, and cooking as an exclusively female pursuit. I have children and work part-time and I’m so glad I did it this way. Had I grown up in a more traditional household, I would have probably chosen an easy major in college and never worked once I had kids.

    Also, Rebecca you said:
    “Parenting, while occasionally rewarding, has mostly made me feel like a failure. I feel like that is by design, so I don’t want to complain too hard about it.”
    Why don’t we hear more of this? I don’t doubt that some mothers would disagree, but this rings very true for me, to the point that I’m wondering if we’re done having kids simply because, well, I’m not sure I can handle more and still maintain the health/sanity I need to keep the current family going. It’s been coming to this realization on my own that has been difficult, I feel like since no one talks about this it must mean I’m doing it all wrong.

  18. I am just starting back to work full time after reducing to 20 hours per week for five years while my kids were little. I am so glad for my career, which was well established by the time I had kids at 33 and 35. I make (relatively to most) a lot of money doing interesting work and that feels really good. I’m established enough that I can work from home and reduce my schedule slightly when I need to for my kids. I treasure the days and afternoons and evenings I do have with my kids, and of course there are days of course when work is boring or horrible or when I’m worried about something with my kids when I wonder if I would have been better off at home full time. There are days and weeks that seem nearly impossible to juggle. I can never be the room mom or PTA president (fine by me).

    What I am trying to say, is no situation is perfect, but compared to my stay-at-home mom friends i do feel like I am much more fulfilled and happy. Most of them have husbands with very high pressure jobs where they either have to work for long hours or travel during the work week so their families can survive on one income. I really like the financial security of two incomes. I like having my kids dad around more because he doesn’t have the pressure to provide for our whole family.

    At this point, I cannot see that my children are suffering at all by spending a few hours each afternoon with a nanny or at activities instead of with me or their dad. I like being a mom and I also like working. And I am a pretty darn good mom.

    My only regret is that I worried too much in my 20s about not getting married and not having kids.

  19. Diana Windley says:

    I’ve worked professionally, full-time,outside the home for 22 years and I’ve been a mom for 15 of those years. I had major guilt for about 5 years…mostly because I felt judged. Then I stopped worrying about what others may think of me. I have no regrets.
    Women can work full-time AND be a great mom and overall great human being. Don’t pay heed to the rhetoric that you can’t do both…that is Satan working against you.
    Listen to the Spirit for personal revelation for what is right for you.

  20. Lauren Arrington says:

    I read this wondering if there is another “me” out there somewhere that wrote this. I have never identified with a piece of writing more than I have with this. Replace your husband’s dream of being a band teacher with writing up car auctions for bringatrailer.com, and everything else is pretty much word for word what I would write if I could have a minute to myself to do so. My youngest just started Kindergarten, and since the day he was born I have been dreaming about all of the amazing things I would have time to do once he started school. Now I’m finding that I don’t have nearly as much time, and not nearly as much energy, and certainly not the will, to do any of those things. My husband is hoping that I’ll be able to get a job with benefits so that he can quit his job and go back to writing about cars, (he tried doing both for a while, thinking he was at the end of his job at his current company, but they had other ideas, and offers, he couldn’t refuse) but after 15 years of being out of the work force, I just don’t know what I would even be qualified to do. My husband and I both have dreams, but for some reason he keeps thinking it’s time for him to stop working and live out his dream, while I go back to work and do what? Put my dreams on the back burner until I’m 65? Throw a special needs child into the mix, and I think getting a job ever again would be the death of me. The hardest part of my day is the 2 hours before and 5 hours after school, so it’s not like having the kids in school has taken this huge load off of me. Being a stay at home Mom really is the hardest job imaginable, and not many people appreciate what we mothers give up to do it.

  21. “Most of them have husbands with very high pressure jobs where they either have to work for long hours or travel during the work week so their families can survive on one income. I really like the financial security of two incomes. I like having my kids dad around more because he doesn’t have the pressure to provide for our whole family.” This is a very important point. I’ve almost always been in a dual earning marriage, which means that there’s more support from both spouses to keep the family running. The church’s video a couple years ago left me scratching my head and wondering where were all the men. https://wheatandtares.org/2014/09/22/15169/15169/

    This is where they were – traveling, away from their families, in high pressured jobs that are increasingly required of single-income families. I saw this a lot in Singapore. The trailing spouse (usually the wife) was usually the single parent. The working spouse was the drudge, working very long hours and traveling for business. Often the trailing spouse would leave the country with the kids just to have a social support network back in the states, and the working spouse would literally just work and work, all alone, and send money.

  22. Love this piece, thank you. I’m husband to a wonderful stay at home mom and father of two daughters (one in college, one in high school) and have tried to help them understand they can and should do anything they want. I’m also a local leader of the church trying to share this message and the most resistance I get (albeit passive resistance) is the YW leaders only talking about motherhood.

    On a personal note I also wonder what I would be if I had understood all the possibilities beyond those presented to me by truly good parents, but who simply weren’t aware of a bigger world than rural Mormonism. I don’t think I regret my choices but perhaps it’s yearning for something more.

    You touch on the corollary to the pseudo doctrine that women belong in the home: that men must earn enough money, often in a white collar job, to enable a stay at home mom and raise seed unto the Lord.

  23. TIST – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself, “Is this my own life, are these my own thoughts and feelings that I’m experiencing, or is it just the false consciousness of modernist feminism?” It can be so hard to tell the difference. Fortunately, there are complete strangers who can explain it to me.

    TIST, I believe Rebecca just killed you and put your body in her crawlspace.

  24. First of all, Rebecca J, you are a talented writer and thinker. If the most you ever write is a post at BCC on occasion you provide a benefit to readers. But I hope, for your sake and for the sake of potential readers, that you find the time and energy and will to write more in whatever capacity suits you.
    I got married and assumed I would start having kids right away and would stay home with them. But biology didn’t care about my plan and ten years later I don’t have any children. BUT, I have learned that being a SAHM would be brutal on my mental health. I went back and got an advanced degree and work in a field where I could make decent money working PT. I want children but I am so glad that I didn’t have them when I wanted them. I just was going to follow all the models I saw around me which was to stay at home and have lots of children. Unfortunately, most of the women who I am closest to (particularly my mom) are miserable in this role. It doesn’t suit them and they resented it. I really wish there were more alternative narratives for women to hear and see so they wouldn’t feel that staying home was a decision of righteousness.

  25. Rebecca, you asked us to share our own stories. I’m not a SAHM and haven’t ever been. Partly that was because I’m a little older than my husband and was nearly done with my schooling when we got married. I was working, getting promotions, earning more, while he was finishing up his degree but working in a night job. By the time he finished and got a job, I was earning more than he was, and it didn’t make sense for us to live on his lower salary, if that would have even been possible (doubtful–we were living in Rose Park until we had kids and started caring that the neighbors were cooking meth). When kids came along, it just never made financial sense for me to quit.

    But I don’t know that I could have been a SAHM. I just had always worked, from age 16. I think working and earning money was just something deeply ingrained in me. I once asked one of my kids whether he thought I should have stayed at home, and he said “What for? What would you do there?” Kids don’t see it the same way parents do, and it is a relationship, not a job. There are tasks and responsibilities in the home, but whether you work or not, you are the parent. Whatever you do is normal to them, and rest assured, you’re never doing it as well as they think they will.

  26. I’m 41 years old, female and was raised LDS, for context. I was such an anxious child and when I thought my only option was motherhood/homemaker my anxious kid self freaked out because of the lack of safety net you describe. I recalled the images Dorothea Lange captured of the Depression-era migrant families and I never wanted that to be me, a mother looking for work with hungry children in tow. I begged my parents to explain to me how children were made because I needed to know so that I could prevent it. They kept putting off the “talk” saying they would tell me when I got older. But I persisted in asking and on one occasion they told me not to worry, it’s in God’s hands. That made me more anxious because what I interpreted that to mean was that it was out of my control. They finally relented and Mom and I went to the public library and we picked out age appropriate books on the birds n’ bees and went home to read and discuss. The wave of relief that washed over me when I realized it was up to me can’t be underestimated. I resolved then and there, at 8 years old, to never marry or have children and I never looked back or reconsidered the choice I made at 8. I did some college and I’ve been working in the computer industry for the last 20 years. I’m in a very happy and committed relationship with someone I love but we’re not married and don’t have children. I wonder sometimes how much my anxiety informed my lack of desire or fear of having a family where I wasn’t the breadwinner. As a child, I never considered that a woman could have a career and a family. It seemed like you had to choose one or the other and I chose the one that made me feel the safest and in control. I might be pathologically risk averse. Side note, I never had a testimony of the church and Mom gave me permission to stop attending once I turned 18 and I haven’t been back to church since except for family events like blessings, baptisms and funerals. I don’t know if this story belongs here, since I chose not to have a family and children. But maybe it does belong here for the possible reasons why I chose not to, and there are many.

  27. Cat Bark, your story absolutely belongs here. Anybody who says otherwise will get both barrels from me.

    APM, high five.

    RebeccaJ, I got up this morning and was excited to see you posted, I enjoy reading everything you write, especially about the motherhood-life-church intersection. You definitely have marketable skills. I was gonna post a diatribe directed at TIST, but you handled that much, much better.

    I should tell my story as requested, but it’s pretty ugly these days. I don’t have sparkling rhetoric flowing freely from my fingertips that does justice to the lump in my throat and the thing that had my heart in its grip this morning as I read. My brain is more or less permanently fogged anyway, dealing with the mental fallout that is a very common risk for SAHMs.

    I’m not so lucky as the OP, I *can* pinpoint the brainwashing that contributed to this situation, and a big part of it came from church sources, especially Relief Society. With the clarity of hindsight, I can say that for me, what I received there as a young mother, mingled in with the gospel, was codependency training. What I really needed (ah, hindsight) was mentoring in building and developing habits and connections that I could use to make a life for myself when the finite need for child care ended. And encouragement that it was possible to push through the difficulties. And perhaps, just maybe a little help and sacrifice from the people around me.

    I can attest to the power differential that occurs when only one partner in a marriage makes the money. I am working through problems that I would walk away from in a heartbeat if I had the power to do so. I would not have nearly the magnitude of problems to struggle with if I wasn’t infantilized in the relationship by being the one who lost touch with all career skills. So many women in the church appear to be lucky in their marriages to good men who don’t appear to take advantage. Don’t believe it, girls. Get a career going and keep it running because you will need it for a thousand critical reasons.

  28. Aussie Mormon says:

    Lisa (8:05am): I was assuming TIST meant mortality and immortality rather than morality and immorality.

  29. MDearest, thank you

    p.s. I love this site and the contributions of it’s writers and those commenting. Even as a non-believing/non-practicing Mormon, I find so much to sustain me here. Thank You!

  30. Scenario 1: Dad is a surgeon. He takes call, works long hours. In his spare time he’s Stake President. Mom does everything home, household, kids.

    Scenario 2: Dad works 4 days, Mom works 2 days/week. Each works in fulfilling careers. The family gets 3 day weekends together. Dad feels less pressure to be the only breadwinner, Mom feels supported in household duties with Dad around so much.

    Why is it that only Scenario 1 is deemed acceptable by our church manuals, conference talks, etc? Because I’m living Scenario 2, it feels pretty great, and I can honestly say we’re putting “family first” the best we can.

  31. Here’s my story, if anyone is still interested in reading yet another path between working/being a SAHM. I had my degree in physics, but worked as a computer programmer when I met my husband. We married and proceeded to have 6 kids, but I kept working as a programmer for the next 12 years, since we needed my income to put my husband through podiatry school, and then to pay back student loans as he started his practice. Being a programmer worked well — I was able to work part time, most of the time from home, and manage our crazy household at the same time (and yes, my house was always messy and crazy and I felt like I was always telling my kids, “not right now, let me finish writing this code.” and I was always feeling stressed because I was not being a great computer programmer, and not a great mother)

    Then I after the birth of child #6, I quit working outside the home, and stayed home full time for the next 8 years because we have paid off our loans. Although life was crazy with those 6 kids, most of the time it felt so much LESS crazy than when I was trying to work AND take care of the kids, that I was able to enjoy it most of the time. I really enjoyed those 8 years as a SAHM.

    When my youngest started kindergarten, I started to get bored at home (housework is not my strength as well), but I really never loved being a programmer. So I went back and got a teaching certificate, and starting teaching high school physics. And I’ve now been teaching for 15 years and I LOVE it! I love connecting with my students, and seeing their eyes light up as they understand a new physics concept. My schedule worked well with all my kids being in school, as I would do grading as I sat around the table helping my kids with their homework, and I had summers off. My husband sometimes is envious of me, because I was able to reinvent myself and my career in my 40s, and do what I really wanted to do, while he is doing the same thing that he has been doing for the past 30 years, which is fine but he doesn’t love it.

    I would say that with the support of my husband I never felt like I was doing anything unusual, and I didn’t feel judged by the members of our LDS community. I feel very fortunate that it all worked out so well for me and for our family. I know that my path is different than most, but it never felt like I had to sacrifice more than I wanted to have both a family and a career that I wanted.

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    Cat Bark, of course you are welcome here! Thanks for participating.

  33. I’ve loved hearing everyone’s stories. Thanks for sharing, and thanks, Rebecca, for another fantastic post.

  34. Hi, I’m Sarah and I think I am living your other life. I don’t know which of us missed the subway, but in your other life you work full time and have two boys. You went to school for a specific career and you love it, but you still feel like you are not a good enough parent (which makes you feel super guilty because you hardly see your kids during the work week). The house is always messy. Always. When you are at work you think about everything you are not getting done at home, and at home you think about work. You daydream about staying home where somehow you are a better cook and housekeeper and your kids always listen. So…perhaps it doesn’t matter. There isn’t a correct choice, even for one person. The grass is not greener. It just always needs mowed.

  35. I can really relate to your OP, Rebecca. I actually finished my master’s degree before staying home to raise what would eventually be five children. The twist to my story is that one of my children had special needs. And his needs had to come first. I always assumed that I would shortly continue the PhD I always wanted. But that was impossible to imagine with the situation at hand. In some ways, our family life has been years of putting out all the small fires. I am not an amazing homemaker. I am not the world’s greatest mother. I had to put away my studies– something I was good at–in order to tend to the the constant emergency of our family. And the burden of that process fell harder on me than my husband. True, he had to take work he didn’t always love and try to provide us with financial and medical stability in order to survive. But he could do that in ways and places that developed and enhanced his talents. In many ways, I had to leave my talents behind and engage in a work for which I felt ill-suited. When a woman in Relief Society comments that “motherhood is so worth it,” I always wonder if it was just her ONLY option. I worked before having kids and then spent some serious time in school. I could see the options on my horizon. Like you, I always wonder about my “other” life through the sliding doors.

  36. I can’t help but notice how many of us pointed out (including me) that our houses are messy. Can we somehow just let go of the idea of a showcase house being somehow important and symbolic of our worth as women? If yes, how exactly do we (I) do that…?

  37. Appreciate the posts here. I just started my career last year after finishing a master’s degree and now I’m four months pregnant with our first. I am planning to work and be a mom, and go part time when I can. I hope I can do it. My friend said it really well – she is the breadwinner for her family (her husband works freelance construction, and she’s an engineer) and she is pregnant with her third. She told me she feels really guilty she couldn’t drive her daughter to her dance lessons every week – but then again if she didn’t work they couldn’t afford dance lessons. Either way you have to give something up, and I think we should talk about what that means more often. It really is about the person and the situation, not some theoretically ideal family model.

  38. I started graduate school pursuing a master’s in music a week after I got married. We also started trying to have children right away. Being a mother was always my dream, as was getting an advanced degree. It took us seven years to have our first child. My grad program was during that first 3 years when the reality that we weren’t going to have children easily began to set in. I suffered alot from the “grass is greener on the other side” mentality, and while I adored grad school, I spent a lot of that time wishing to just be a mom. After I got my master’s, I thought maybe children would come soon and I turned down a lot of career-related opportunities thinking that pregnancy was right around the corner. I really regret that. However, I try not to judge myself too much. I was dealing with clinical depression at the time and my judgment was affected. Once I had children I was just so thrilled to finally be a parent that again, I turned down chances to do things professionally, feeling that I needed to be home for my family. In retrospect, none of the opportunities that I let go would have made a big dent in my family time–they were very minor commitments, really, but they would have potentially opened up doors to much greater opportunities down the road. Now I am 14 years into parenthood and often have such conflicting feelings about motherhood and career. I’ve been a SAHM the entire time and have done very very minor things related to my field of music…a bit of teaching here and there, mainly… and I’ve watched my skills slip away more and more each year. Losing this identity has been very difficult to accept, even as I acknowledge that my own choices–both good and not-so-good–have brought me to this point. About six years ago I began homeschooling my children, and I absolutely love it. I am passionate about homeschooling and find that it taps into an area of creativity that I have greatly enjoyed developing. It feeds some of my intellectual needs as well. And, truth be told, it makes me feeling like I am doing something challenging and unique with my life and not *just* washing dishes and folding laundry. However, the reality is that my love of homeschooling and my desire for deepening my skills as a musician and developing career opportunities in my field don’t work so well together. Homeschooling is so time-consuming that I have little energy left over for anything else. I feel torn at times about this conflict between these two loves. As a SAHM, and particularly a homeschooling mom, I often feel isolated and lonely, and I’m with my kids 24-7, so there are times of burn out. There are plenty of times when I wonder what my life would have been like had I taken hold of some of the other opportunities that were presented to me through the years. I look at some of the other women I went to grad school with and see what they have done and feel embarrassed, inferior, and envious… but then I wouldn’t be homeschooling, and I’m truly glad I found that path. Sigh. There are no easy answers. I think that conflicted feelings are normal and just try to ride them out and be OK with not having everything resolved. With that said, I don’t know exactly how I feel about Church teachings on this subject. I do know that my religious beliefs have certainly informed my choices–both to commit to full time motherhood and also to get as much education as possible. I do look back on my time in school (I attended BYU) and realize that in my program of study, there was nothing–NOTHING–ever discussed with my by *any* professor relating to what I would do with this music degree after graduation, and I do think that’s a problem.

  39. Feeling Anonymous says:

    A couple of years ago I finally abandoned a degree program in the humanities that I loved but that was never going to lead to a lucrative career, or possibly any career at all. For most of our marriage my husband worked 60-70-hour weeks. While I was trying to finish my degree I had small children at home, one with special needs, and little to no childcare. I was constantly exhausted and stressed and my husband was not particularly supportive. I can’t entirely blame him–I was never going to make much money on the path I was pursuing. But he had also long since abandoned religion and was increasingly, obsessively consumed by money, status, and success. I felt strongly that I wanted to be home with my children, and in any case it became apparent to me that there was no point in working outside the home because no amount of money would ever be enough for him. (I say this not to suggest that anyone who abandons the church or religion will inevitably fall into moral bankruptcy, just that he did.) A lot of ugly things happened, and in the end we divorced.

    I’m now in my mid-40s trying to start my life over almost from scratch. Strangely, I have no regrets either about marrying my ex or about my divorce. My marriage was a good choice that finally ceased to be a good choice. I’m very glad I had my children, and I’m glad I stayed home with them when they were little even though it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Motherhood is harrowing.

    I do have a lot of regrets over my ludicrous dead-end career path and abandoned degree. I grieve the missed opportunities and lost chances. Growing up in a deeply patriarchal family and church, I never knew that I could take myself and my own desires and powers in the world seriously. I learned explicitly that career women were selfish and that ambition in women was a sin. I never knew I could be a person in the world. I still struggle with shame whenever I dare to something as unfeminine as speaking up or taking up public space for myself and my desires.

    I didn’t know midlife was going to be so hard. I didn’t know so many thing s I had blithely counted on were going to collapse. Every year in the damned Primary program my kids sing, “My life is a gift, my life has a plan.” If that’s actually true I really wish God would let me in on it.

  40. Feeling Anonymous says:

    On second thought, that last line sounded more ungrateful and bitter than I wanted it to. I want to acknowledge the abundant grace of God in my life, which has sometimes been all that has sustained me during this past year, which has been the most difficult year of my life. At the same time it’s hard. It’s hard making mistakes with lifelong impact partly as a result of doing and being what my religion, family, and culture told me to do and be. And it’s hard having no idea how to go forward from here.

  41. I really appreciated your comments, Lisa and Feeling Anonymous. So much raw truth and vulnerability in your words. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  42. I really love the comments on this thread. And I have so much sympathy for the double and triple binds we find ourselves in as women, especially as LDS women. I am lucky. I watched my own mom, who wanted to stay at home, work long hours at a demanding job she didn’t really love to make ends meet. I promised myself that my life wouldn’t be like that. But I have also been very lucky. My young women’s president was an attorney, and one of my YW leaders was a doctor, so a big-C career was something I always knew I could have. I have a supportive husband. We waited until I was done with school and had tenure to start a family. Our family is small. My job (community college prof) is very compatible with spending time with our daughter. I’ll be on sabbatical next semester when our second (and last!) child is born. We want only (ha!) two children. I love my career. I like my colleagues. I am happy most days to go to work, and I can do so much of my job from home. I make a very good living. None of these things were given, and it all could have gone so differently. Some days I feel like I have it all. Other days I miss my daughter so much while I’m at school that it looks as though I have a toothache. Some days I’m thrilled to leave the house for a department meeting; others I curse the stacks of papers I have to grade in addition to all the other things I need to do to make life run.

    To what ReTx says about messy houses: Yep. We need to let that go. For years I hired somebody to clean up my house. A clean house means what exactly if I can pay somebody to come and do a better job than I ever could at a task that gives me exactly zero satisfaction? What does having a clean house prove? I don’t get it. If you like to clean, good for you! I like to read and comment on blogs. But neither of those things ought to tell us anything about our inherent worth or worthiness as parents/spouses/whatever. And the house is the responsibility of EVERYbody who lives there. Nobody gets out of housework because they’re also bringing in a paycheck (ask just about every working-for-pay woman ever). Being the stay-at-home parent (and I am the stay-at-home-work-from-home parent most days) is a relentless slog; the idea that this parent should be responsible for both childcare and housekeeping is just silly and completely unrealistic.

    I’ve lived in neighborhoods where people could afford to hire a lot of help. Do you know what would happen if the neighbors advertised for a full-time nanny-housekeeper-cook who also did a lot of driving and then held him or her to the standards we expect of ourselves for each job? They’d find nobody. Because nobody can do all those jobs competently let alone perfectly or work that many hours legally. Those are SEPARATE jobs. Why on earth do we allow people to tell us (women) that WE can and should do all those things? It’s just nuts.

  43. If BCC awards a trophy for OP of the year, this should win hands down. I feel like Rebecca J looked inside my head and heart and laid bare my innermost thoughts and feelings. I’m astonished by the others who share similar feelings of inadequacy, regret, guilt, etc. I thought I was the only one in my ward, stake, the Church, who chose to be a SAHM, but didn’t find it to be the glorious, self-fulfilling “calling” it’s portrayed as in Mormon culture. I’m not sorry I stayed home with our 6 children. I wouldn’t trade the 14 years I cared for 7 grandchildren so my son & wife and daughter & husband could buy homes near us, and the children could go to better schools. I’ve spent years losing myself in the service of others. That’s supposed to be a good thing, but I don’t know who I am anymore. A friend blithely tells me that now I have time to do the things I like to do. If only I could remember what those things are…

  44. I am a stay at home mom of six which is five too many. I hate it. I am completely isolated. I have no money of my own so I can’t make my own decisions or buy anything I may need or want without a nasty fight which I lose. I hate that the church is teaching my daughter to put motherhood first. I don’t want her to end up like me. Under a man’s thumb. I have asked my husband many times if I could get a job and he says no. Had I not quit school to support his education I could be earning a good salary now. Also I have to be at his beck and call to support his business. I want something of my own.

  45. I have so appreciated this post and these comments. Sometimes I go to church and look at all those bright shining families and hear all those bright shining ideals that diverge so radically from my reality, and I feel that I just don’t belong on this perfect proscribed road to sainthood. Thank you for your stories.

  46. What a complicated situation, withheld. Severe burnout means you need support and comfort and help and lots of hugs ((hugs)) and breaks and chocolate more than advice, but are there some incremental steps you could take so you feel like you’re making progress?

    If you need to work toward being employable and you have not been able to finish a degree, would any of the low-cost certificate or degree options available through Pathways (BYU-I online learning) work for your family and are any of the degrees applicable to your interests? https://pathway.lds.org/ (The site is kind of hard to navigate; I had to google “BYU Pathways majors” to find a list of programs, and “BYU Pathways costs” to find the cost for someone proficient in English.)

    It sounds like negotiating funds could be a problem, but could you initially propose something like one of these degrees to your husband as a way to be more helpful with his business, or to be prepared for the future (if he’s into things like preparedness) and then take things from there?

    This is all just brainstorming, not knowing any of the specifics of your situation, since you really need more expert advice than I can give with the five or ten brain cells I have left from child-bearing and raising. Best wishes! I hope things ease up for you.

  47. withheld: Maybe you’re just having a rotten day, but maybe not. Bishops never recommend divorce, but I’m not a bishop. Honestly, if your husband is as controlling as you describe, and if your sacrifices are what you’ve detailed, I’d suggest talking to a marriage counselor as a first step toward considering divorce. I’m not being glib, just laying it out. He will have to support you & the kids and probably need joint custody. Right now, though, he’s not even close to providing the kind of support you need, and if that’s the case, why not reduce his support to just financial if that’s the only kind he’s willing and able to provide.

  48. Kristine A says:

    This is so damn beautiful. Rebecca sometimes you’re a lifeline that keeps me coming back to BCC.

  49. Feeling Anonymous says:

    To withheld, as someone who just went through a divorce after twenty years of marriage–for whatever it’s worth, divorce isn’t the end of the world. I deeply absorbed the YW and family messages that temple marriages were forever and divorce was unthinkable. One of the things I regret is that divorce wasn’t an option for me, and that set me up for powerlessness. I thought it was my religious duty to stay and put up with increasingly erratic behavior until things got so bad I finally realized it had to end.

    Only you can know and decide whether divorce is the right choice for you (and that’s where marriage and/or individual counseling can be helpful to help you sort that out). But it should definitely be an option. If divorce isn’t an option, then you aren’t a full person and you can’t have the self-respect to say no. For way too many years I felt powerless in my marriage because I didn’t think divorce was an option, and I was desperate to hang onto something that frankly wasn’t worth hanging onto.

    Also, I love Rebecca J.

  50. I haven’t participated much in this discussion because I can’t really add anything to all the great comments people have made. I appreciate all of your stories and insights. I think Sarah has it right: “The grass is not greener. It just always needs mowed.” I think we as women and as Mormons worry a lot about what is the “right” decision to make in a given situation; even if we recognize that there’s no one right decision for everyone, we aren’t as ready to believe that there’s no one “right” decision for ourselves, individually. As I’ve gotten older (and tired of making decisions, probably), I’ve realized that sometimes there is no “right” or “wrong” choice, only the choices we can live with. That’s how we manage to live without regrets, but not without some sadness for what might have been.

    withheld – My heart goes out to you. I had a visceral reaction to your comment; even though I don’t know the details of your situation, the isolation and the frustration and hopelessness are so familiar. As Angela said, maybe you’re having a bad day, but even if that’s so, the feelings are real, and enough of those bad days can kill your spirit. I wish I had something more helpful to say, but Amy T, Angela, and Feeling Anonymous have all given better advice than I could probably think of. I hope you seek out someone to talk to. Easier said than done–I know–but you aren’t meant to bear this burden alone.

  51. File this comment under “unsolicited advice” or “mansplaining” or whatever. If you don’t have a lot of marketable skills because you’ve stayed home while your husband has gone to work, and you’re worried about the “no net” issue expressed the OP due to his death, consider getting some life insurance on your husband. It’s not a panacea, and it won’t help in the case of divorce, but it will really help if he dies. Starting over with nothing and starting over with a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank (or more) are two very different things. And for most relatively healthy adults, it’s not that expensive.

    We did this the year my first child was born and my wife left the workforce. My only complaint is that for a good long while–and maybe even now–I was worth more to my wife dead than alive. I lived in some fear that one day she was going to grow disenchanted with me, do some life-insurance math, and then an unfortunate “accident” would happen to me. So far, so good, I guess.

  52. Wonderful post. I have been a SAHM for over 15 years and feel a lot of these things. I am grateful I stayed home during my kids’ earliest years, and have had a special needs situation with one of them that made it necessary for me continue being at home. I have an advanced degree that has been gathering dust and I never really planned a career when I was in school anyway. I am grateful I’ve been able (had the privilege) to stay home. But I wonder what could have been if my young women leaders and my parents and my church school professors had talked to me more about practical career advice. I think it’s not too late for me to find out what I want to do with my life, but I will encourage my daughter and any young women I teach or work with to consider trying to have a career and children at the same time, if they want.

  53. I want this discussion to go on and on and on. Please, more stories! This is also one of the warmest and least argumentative BCC posts ever. Everyone sharing. No one criticizing. (Except TIST, and Rebecca’s response to TIST was about the best response ever.) When I can figure out my own story, maybe I will post it.

  54. Given the call for more stories, I’ll flesh out my earlier remarks. I’m the eldest of 7 children, with 11 years between me and the youngest. YW lessons on being a mother all seemed to emphasise and romanticise the sacrifice required to be a mother – one particularly egregious lesson I recall included an apparently true story about a pregnant woman who knew that having this child was going to kill her, and had written a diary for the child to read later on. There were lots of large families (by British standards) in my stake, and we’d get presentations from one of the sisters in the stake who was involved with the organisation Life. Sisters would be invited to our YW lessons to tell us about the blessings of being a SAHM, and how they were blessed to be able to have that new kitchen even though they themselves didn’t go out to work. All through YW I insisted I didn’t like or want children, which was incredibly shocking to all the other girls in YW at the time. I felt I had already changed more than enough nappies for one lifetime, and was the one who’d ask all those difficult questions about contraception at youth firesides. I was never aware (which isn’t to say they didn’t exist but they weren’t brought to our attention) of any role models in church of women who managed both a professional career and bringing up a family. My mother took a part-time job out of necessity (which was very much how she saw it) when the youngest was in school. I went on to university getting a BEng and PhD, and married my husband. I was very hesitant about having children, because I knew I wasn’t very good at juggling competing demands, and I sensed at some level that if I was going to do this thing at least for the first few years I would have to put my full effort and concentration into it. We were married 3 years before having our first child. I took maternity leave, but because I didn’t deal too well with the whole birth and post-partum thing, finished up not returning to work. Looking back I can see my employer valued me, didn’t want to lose me, and I could had probably have negotiated part-time working with an element of working from home had my head been in the right place, but it wasn’t. 2 ½ years later we had our second and last child. I don’t regret being at home with my children, although I don’t enjoy either household management, cooking or mess. I loved the stories we shared, taking them out, talking with them, puzzling them out, designing and making costumes for them… I had thought that once the youngest was in school I could take another look at what I might like to do, but our eldest was diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, and every time I thought perhaps now would be the time, some crisis would erupt in school which would take months of management and working with school on my part, applications for funding for additional support in school etc. Barely was that over when I had to start researching and identifying the appropriate secondary school for their needs. Then still working with school, further crises. Lots of firefighting as well as trying to pre-empt problems, so that this highly intelligent child could reach their potential. This autumn they started at university away from home, it’s taken a lot to get them there, and continues to take a fair amount of support, as advisor on the phone among other things, and I’m beginning to hope I might be able to breathe easier, though we aren’t out of the woods yet. For the last year or so I resumed music lessons I had enjoyed so much as a teen, as something for myself, as well as something I can do with our youngest. Throughout my husband has worked hard to provide for us in his own professional career, though he was able to prioritise time with family as well, so perhaps hasn’t had the promotions he might have had otherwise. We were very fortunate to get on the housing ladder before prices here more than tripled, which has been a huge help, and have maintained separate bank accounts, with me being allocated half his salary. We split household budget items equally between the two of us, and have autonomy for our discretionary spending. We live modestly. Yet, PhD notwithstanding, followed by only 3 ½ years in full-time employment, after 19 years out of the labour market I’d pretty much have to start from scratch were it necessary for me to go out and earn money!

  55. Echoing the thanks for these stories, and the call for more! I would have loved to read these when my children were small and I couldn’t figure out why doing the right(eous) thing hurt so badly. Thank you all for sharing.

  56. I’ll share my mom’s story, since it has made a huge difference (really, it has defined) my life. My mom’s parents got her to go to BYU so she could meet an educated man – she was ready to become a secretary out of high school. She got a degree with little to no practical value and never planned on using it, though she always told me she was glad she got it. Throughout my childhood she was a STAHM who worked here and there – painting houses, substitute teaching, throwing packages at FedEx when my dad changed jobs and we lost health insurance. Then when I was a teenager my dad got cancer and couldn’t work (he is a pilot, and could not fly during treatments). My mom went back to school, became a nurse, and worked in the office that treated my dad. She’s run that office for the last 11 years.

    She was an excellent mom before she became a nurse. But watching her go back to school and become someone new was one of the greatest things she ever did for our family – and me specifically, as the only daughter. I worked a lot harder in school and made more concrete goals. And I got to see the benefits and struggles of both a STAHM and a working mom.

    As a side note: life insurance is a good idea but a crappy safety net. It doesn’t cover a whole bunch of things that can turn your life upside down.

  57. “I was doing what I thought I needed to do, for a lot of complicated reasons, and I wasn’t always sure I was right.”

    I feel like this quote right here is the reason for all of the “SAHM v working outside the home mom” fights. I think most people on both sides of the fence feel this way.

    For my story: Growing up I 100% always planned on having a career. My mom has 4 higher ed degrees and a successful career. She was literally the only adult woman I knew in my ward who had a career. She was and still is my role model and inspiration. I graduated from college 1 month before my first child was born and I was working in a job I hated that was unrelated to my degree. I applied for a few other jobs, but at 8 months pregnant I was extremely unsuccessful. The thought of putting my child in daycare to spend 8 hours a day at a job I hated was not appealing so I decided to try out the SAHM thing. It was hard and sweet and miserable and wonderful. After 18 months I realized that it just wasn’t for me. I was depressed, we never left the house. I went back to work in my chosen field and started feeling better right away. I had my second and continued working full time. I later quit my job to pursue graduate school full time and I have never been happier and more stressed out. In a couple of years I will be making more money than my husband who has been in his career for pretty much our entire marriage. I love that. He loves not having the pressure of being solely responsible for the financial well-being of our family.

    But to go back to the quote from the beginning of my post – during the time I was a stay at home mom I felt like I had to pretend I loved every second of it to justify my choice to people who thought I was brainwashed and selling out my own potential. I felt like I was never allowed to admit that I was unhappy or it would prove people right that I had made the wrong choice. When I went back to work I felt like I had to pretend that it wasn’t hard and that I wasn’t stressed out and that there weren’t any times I ever questioned if I was making the right choice. If I admitted this it would prove right all of those people who thought working mothers were unrighteous and denying their only god given purpose in life.

    I love love love this comment section. There is so little judgment and so much real experience. I’ve never seen a discussion on women’s choices go so well. I’m so impressed by Rebecca and the BCC readership!

  58. I’m chiming back again because I realized I forgot to thank Rebecca for an awesome and thoughtful post that was so honest and so bravely vulnerable, one that generated this amazing conversation, which, I suspect, could become (with some expansion, elaboration, editing, etc.) the kind of anthology I would want to own and have my daughters read.

    I wanted to add too that on thinking about my first post, what I forgot to add is that when I became a mom, I had left the classroom and was my climbing my way up the administrative ladder, the dean and chief administrative officer of one of our satellite campus. It was hard, long hours away from home, but I loved the job. It almost certainly would have led to promotions and advancement up the administrative chain, and I was only thirty-two; the sky was the limit. I gave it up to go back to faculty life (which I also love) when my daughter was born. Even as a faculty member before I became a mother, I used to be an important voice on major campus committees, in high-profile roles. Not so much now. Sometimes I really feel bad about that.

    For now I feel confident I made the right decision, but when the girls are in university themselves, and I’m a fifty-something faculty member, I wonder if I’ll feel any sadness over what might have been.

  59. Thrownaway says:

    Beautifully said. Just how I would have described my own life if I could write as you do! I was particularly moved by this part-
    “Parenting, while occasionally rewarding, has mostly made me feel like a failure. I feel like that is by design, so I don’t want to complain too hard about it. “

  60. FWIW
    I am one of four sisters ranging in age from 38-60. We are all currently married. We range from full-time to part-time employment, to not employed. We range from 0 kids (by choice) to 3. We watched our innovative, think-outside-the-box mom raise 6. And we talk about all of that.
    What I think all four of us have learned:
    Doing something because you feel like you have to or because you think you are supposed to will not feel intrinsically satisfying, no matter what it is.
    Doing something because you continue to freely choose to do it, doesn’t make it easier, but it does make it easier to enjoy the good parts of it.
    Doing something a certain way because you think that there is one best way to do it or one best set of standards, will leave you feeling constrained and like a failure or annoyingly proud, depending on the outcome and how you respond to the outcome.
    Doing something because you love it will be more fun. and it may or may not be the best choice.
    Measuring your performance by standards that you find stressful or that depend on how well those you are working with perform at a certain level will make you miserable or angry.
    Not having a job you love or that fills your dreams or satisfies a longing is a first world problem.
    The amount of personal creativity you involve in your work, no matter what that work is, seriously affects your level of satisfaction.
    Every path is a mixed bag and involves not being able to do some things, having to choose between good things and making sacrifices. And every path also involves being able to do other things, changes the array of possible good choices from which you must choose, and involves gaining new skills.

    And finally, though we all are in very different fields on very different paths, for each of us the most rewarding things that have come out of the work we have done, at home or out of it, are in the realm of personal relationships and being able to help someone who needs help.

  61. I’m way late to the party here, but I needed to chime in: Me too. Me, too, Sister J. All the love.

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