On “Career Day” at school, where we had to dress up as what we wanted to become, my first-grade classroom was full of future doctors and businesspeople and police. And then there was me. I was wearing my regular clothes, with the notable exception of an apron and an armload of Cabbage Patch Kids. Because all I wanted to do, my only hope in the world, was to grow up and take care of a home and babies.
When you’re in first grade, this doesn’t matter so much. People think it’s cute, and anyway, everybody knows that kids change their minds a dozen times about their desired future profession; one day they wanna be an actor, the next a marine biologist. As I got older, though, my ambition never wavered. I hated my high school home economics class, where we were taught to bake and sew and balance a checkbook, but I would spend the entire hour daydreaming about doing those things for real someday, in my own house.
But I learned throughout the years that if this is your dream, you can’t share it. Or you can, but be prepared because nobody seems to be proud of a stay-at-home mom.
If I had wanted to be a physicist or a lawyer, I’d have been applauded and supported. Instead, when I would tell someone what I really wanted to do, I’d be met with a slight widening of the eyes, an almost-imperceptible brow raise, and a forced smile — and that’s if they were being polite. Sometimes they’d tell me I’d be “squandering my potential” because I was “too smart.” It was “a waste” and “not very ambitious” and “Oh, Sweetheart, please set your sights higher than that.” The one destiny I truly wanted in my heart was, apparently, worthy of scornful commentary from nearly everybody who asked.
It made me feel like shit.
So I listened to the naysayers and went to college — an all-female school known for its strong feminist traditions. There in the honors dorm where I scored a coveted spot, I was surrounded by go-getters, girls who couldn’t wait to hold public offices, and win Nobel prizes. I loved the empowering message that women could be anything; I just hated that, in this context, “anything” didn’t include being a full-time mom; I may as well have told my professors I wanted to be a mob boss. I felt more keenly than ever that my lack of professional focus was a critical flaw. That there was something wrong with me for not wanting to be more. I majored in psychology, but spent my college years with the feeling that higher education wasn’t preparing me for anything at all.
It’s not that I didn’t grow up with any progressive, gainfully employed feminist role models; my grandmother held a master’s degree and owned a business, and I admired her for it, especially since she did it in an era when it was considered out of the norm. But it was my other grandmother I was most in awe of, the one who — outside of a short stint in a munitions factory during WWII — had never held a job outside the home. From literally dawn (sometimes before) until dusk, she was at it like a workhorse: cooking, growing and canning her own food, sewing, cleaning, hanging laundry on the clothesline in the fresh air. I rarely saw her sit down, and she must have been tired, but she pressed on like a champion, even when she was shiny with sweat underneath her broad-rimmed gardening hat. Every day, without fail, she moved purposefully through her house and her yard. She was almost superhuman in her ability to get stuff done, and her home was clean and warm and welcoming and bountiful, just like I wanted mine to be someday.
But between the time my grandma was a stay-at-home mom and the time I became one, there had been a cultural shift, and suddenly it wasn’t so desirable anymore. When people woke up to the fact that a woman’s place wasn’t necessarily in the home, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, leaving women who wanted to be in the home in its wake. Now the term “stay-at-home mom” conjures up images of someone who’s home because they’re too lazy or or too dumb to have a “real job.”
I’m in no way suggesting that any woman should be a subservient little wifey, and time her casserole to be done at the precise moment she finishes fetching her husband his newspaper and slippers. Freaking gag me.
This isn’t the 1950s, and we should be doing whatever we damn well want with our lives, whether that means raising babies or coding software or passionately lobbying for foreign policy reform. And we’re lucky to have that choice, to no longer be automatically relegated to a role we may or may not want solely based on our gender.
I’m just saying that women (or men) who have a proclivity toward all things domestic shouldn’t be made to feel inadequate because of it. The cultural shift in attitude toward homemaking is fantastic for women, but it has cast those of us who do choose to stay home in an unfavorable light. I can hear the arguments now: People like you are what hold women back. But that’s wrong.
I work hard, and so do all SAHMs. Anyone who has ever done it knows that it’s no small task to keep a household running like a well-oiled machine. The responsibility that comes with keeping up a home and family is massive and challenging, and I refuse to feel guilty for my “lack of direction” anymore because I’m damn good at what I do.
It’s personally fulfilling to me to transform my home into a place of peace, refuge, and security for the people I love most. That’s a full-time job, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I may not be directly changing the world, but I’m enriching the lives of the most important people in my world (and who knows what they’ll go on to do?), which in turn makes my life more satisfying. “I’m a stay-at-home mom” doesn’t need to be hastily followed up with the quantifying statement, “but I’ll be getting a job as soon as all the kids are in school.”
Nurses don’t apologize because they’re not doctors. Architects don’t apologize because they can only design the buildings and not construct them. All professionals find their niche and fine-tune what they do until they master it. I have made a career of striving to be the best wife and mother I can possibly be, and I’m not apologizing for it ever again.