Stay-at-Home Mom With Rebuttals and Regrets

Lisa writes: After pondering for 17 years my decision to be a stay-at-home mom, I put my thoughts on paper.  At no point did it occur to me that I would not work outside our home or that one decade or even nearly two would pass before I returned to the workplace.  But days turned into months, months into years and suddenly nursery school applications became college applications and I would be hard pressed to say where the time went.

I was asked if this post was hard to write.  It was hard to face, but easy to write.

HuffPost Parents put up “I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom” and the Today show and Fox and Friends asked me to come speak about it.  The thrilling part was the hundreds, now thousands, of comments that have been generated by readers reflecting on their own experiences.

Today SHow, Stay-at-Home Mom, Regrets staying at home

Since posting my confession, women, and a few men, have told us how much it has meant to them to hear these thoughts laid out publicly. Then, and this has to be the very best part of the internet, they have shared their stories and their lives with us.

We have heard from women on maternity leave and women nearing retirement. Some have been mothers reflecting, as I have done, but many have been young moms with infants and toddlers who have the question of returning to work still swirling in their minds. Below we share their voices.

Readers wrote articulate, thoughtful rebuttal posts, and we have gathered them here or they can be found above under the tab “Discussion: Stay-at-Home Mom.

Lest this look like a love fest, a few comments were venomous, as readers suggested I should not have had kids.  A few were a bit touchy, suggesting I just needed to grow up.  And many vehemently disagreed with me, with one particularly astute writer (mom of five, physician, and thought leader) offering up what she felt were more important family issues that should focused upon.  I have tried to reflect their voices as well.

Rather than describing what some incredibly articulate women have said, I offer up their heartfelt insights…

Sharon Greenthal: Here’s the thing I finally have figured out – the regret I would have had if I had NOT stayed home would have been far greater than the regret I’ve experienced by being a stay at home mom.

Melissa Auger: Feminism is not about working 50 hours a week, it’s about having a choice to do what you want. So whether that is working full-time, or staying at home with your kids, it’s about deciding what’s best for you and your family at the time-without being judged for it.

Nancy: You have 9 reasons for regretting you stayed at home but I bet there are hundreds of reasons you’re happy you did!

jfmckenna: Is there an example of anyone on her deathbed wishing she had spent more time at the office?
Dazed not Confused: There is now.

Lora: Lisa I saw you on Fox News this morning and you said everything I am feeling. When I wanted to go back to work part-time when my daughter entered high school my ex said supportively “What would you do?”. I am still looking for myself 5 years later and my divorce during the recession added to my dilemma of now trying to support myself at 50 with no specialize work skills.

SDpianomom: We are considering selling our home and leaving California just so I can be a stay-at-home mom. I’m losing precious time with my 4 kids, time that can never be replaced. My mom didn’t start working until I was 14 and she has had a very rewarding 25-year career. Careers can be put on hold or replaced; children can’t.

Ginger Kay: Do you feel that way about others who choose to stay at home with their children? Or are you only this hard on yourself? [author note: I am speaking only, and I mean only, for myself]

Woodsjt: Lisa, I don’t know you. And I do want to respect that there is a real person at the other end of my comment and that you have real and valid feelings to consider, but this post makes me so mad I am seeing red! This post comes across as incredibly selfish. You’re outdated? You did too much volunteer work? You didn’t use your degree like you originally intended? Your (intact) marriage took on clichéd roles that worked for your family, but still caused you shame? First world problems, my friend.

Drakkos: Ah, all that wasted time spent on your offspring and contribution to the human race, when you could have been out chasing worthless money!

Cheryl: Wow! Powerful. I think you said exactly how I felt staying home (as well as being a trailing wife). Staying home was never on my radar ever in my life so when I became the primary caregiver, everything about who I was challenged. Women who stay home for the good of their kids development are looked at so differently than the person they used to be. Now I find myself hustling that much harder now that I am building a new career. When I look at how amazing my kids are, I do not have regrets; when I look at my career and passions I have only regrets.  [Emphasis mine]

Kleyen: I am saddened by your regret to stay home and raise your children. As a stay at home mom with both a Bachelor’s & Master’s degree, I worked 8 years before choosing to stay home to raise my 3 children. I too read the Feminine Mystique and was schooled by the women of the 70′s. However, as I look back over my 20′s and 30′s, I realize the feminine movement did all women a disservice. On the one hand, women are more educated and able to obtain greater paying jobs. But for those who prioritized families first over a career, we have been hurt as perfectly expressed in your op piece. …The feminist movement failed me, and others like me, because it made my choice to stay at home a conflict, a statement against women’s rights, when in reality, it is MY choice. My education is used in countless ways every day. I will have it when I choose to go back to the workforce. I feel I’m a shining example to my children…I can have it all, a home, a family, a job I love…just not all at the same time.

SCAtty: As a divorce lawyer, I can tell you this author is correct that the decision to stay home for the length of your children’s schooling can be a huge mistake. Courts in my area are moving away from large alimony awards. Women who are abandoned later in life are NOT automatically taken care of financially. It is super risky for young women not to make some effort to stay in the game. My own mother stayed home (I’m 40) and she warned me that I did not know what life had in store and I had better be able to support myself. Have I missed stuff? Yes. And I completely admire and recognize the choice (or no choice) to stay home. There are drawbacks to each path.

Stephanie Barnes Edwards: Shame on you for not teaching your boys that you WERE working. You invested in something eternal – your boys’ souls – yet all you can see are the temporary things you sacrificed. There are plenty of at-home job opportunities for mothers who want to keep their foot in the working world. Blaming this on your status as a SAHM is offensive. I feel sorry for you.

Itellifran: Doing laundry is not investing in souls

JTHC75: Alright, I’ll be gentle because I think you still have a lot of growing up to do.
“I let down those who went before me.” No, you didn’t. Their sacrifices gave you *choices.* And you made your choices and those choices didn’t lead to perfect happiness. Welcome to life. But damn, what an oppressive burden that is, to think that you must “dream big” to satisfy the expectations of a bunch of faceless foremothers.
Also, I really do think this is a case of the grass being greener. You’re upset about leaving your glamorous and fulfilling career as a securities trader? Huh? What am I missing here?
Finally, get used to the idea of your kids thinking you do nothing. Welcome to humanity. They won’t get it until they’re adults. But then again, if you don’t respect what you do, why should they?

Kathy: You are never obsolete as a mom. The job changes. At almost 60, my mom is still an important part of my life.

Wheredoigofromhere: This post speaks to me in a way I never imagined anything or anyone could. My three children are wonderful, productive, well-adjusted young people and I am filled with boundless love and tremendous pride. Concurrently, I find myself consumed by the virtually all of the points which Lisa articulates. And the loss of confidence looms largest.

Alexis:  Stop. Reading. My. Mind.

Beth: This is a really interesting perspective. I just had my second child and have taken an extended period of time off of working. Then I will be faced with the decision to resign or go back to work. Right now I have no idea what I want to do.

Katy: Thank you for this honest perspective. It really made me think, and, to be honest, gave me a little encouragement as I continue to work part-time while my 6yo constantly begs me to be a helping parent in her classroom (I work while she’s in school).

Barbara Shallue: Lisa, sitting here in my empty nest, desperately trying to find a lucrative job/career at 54 to get us out of debt, I find myself drifting back to that moment when I said “I quit” and walked out the door of my high-paying job, too, and wondering ‘what if…’

Helene Cohen Bludman: I stayed home until my youngest was in middle school and then went back full-time. Yes, I was professionally happy, but wracked with guilt with every school play or softball game missed, and every time my kids had to wait at school to be picked up. Rushing from work to school to home and then cooking dinner and dealing with homework, etc. did not make for a relaxed and happy family. And it was exhausting.

Lisa: I could have written this word-for-word myself. I’ve lived an almost identical parallel existence! I too don’t regret the time I spent with my kids, but wish I would have understood the reality I was setting for myself 23 years ago.

Johanna: How was I so blind sided? A decade later and I am not able to get any work in my field. Even unpaid internships are only offered to recent graduates. I have become obsolete and it feels incredibly lonely. I realize I was present at every decision up to this point. I own the choices. I can’t blame anyone else but myself. I thought I was doing the right thing. …I took care of my kids. I was putting out the every day fires and did not have the time or the energy to even think about next week. What gets me the most is that I did not have the vision or the understanding of what I was really doing. You slowly lose your identity little by little. It is so gradual you don’t even realize it.

Tanya: I left my well-paying job earlier this month to stay home with my kids. While the plan is that I will only stay home for a couple of years until my preschooler starts Kindergarten, who knows what will happen. I am sure I will wonder at some point if I made the right choice, I think as moms we feel guilty about the choices we make either way.

Stacy: Staying at home with your children is a luxury and one I feel fortunate enough to share with you.  My mother was a working woman and always told me it was quality time over quantity time. Unfortunately she died when I was 12. I will never get back that “quantity time” that I still crave.

Nina: It’s very interesting to hear from someone with older children state this especially since you usually hear the debate among new mothers who still haven’t experienced the results that far ahead.

Carpool Goddess: And even with all the child referring, chauffeuring, home organizing, volunteering, etc…on more than one occasion was told by my ambitious adolescent offspring that I wasn’t doing anything with my life in terms of my education and talents. Ouch.

Carol McLeod: You said, “My world narrowed.”  Au contraire, Lisa Endlich Heffernan, my world expanded and exploded!  Who knew that a grin on the face of a baby would be more beatific than Victoria Falls or the Grand Canyon?!  Who knew that the giggle of a two-year old would hold more rich substance than the London Symphony Orchestra?!

Marci RIch: What I did do while my son was young was return to school. I had summers at home with him and a fairly flexible schedule during the academic term. I suppose I had the best of both worlds in that respect; I was doing something that would–and did–pay off well in the ensuing years. But I cannot imagine what it would be like to have started out with a fabulous career only to leave it in midstream…

Kathy Schneider: All of my thoughts, exactly. What, now?

+ Lisa Endlich Heffernan

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  1. Honestly, I am shocked and disappointed by the negative comments. I forwarded the post to my two daughters who called Lisa “courageous” and “honest”. She should be commended for her candor and her willingness to share her experiences with others.

  2. Thank you for starting this honest discussion and for sharing the insights and experiences of those who have engaged in this debate. I think we all benefit from hearing the many viewpoints as we each reflect on our own choices and chart our own unique course.

  3. Last night my 18 year old son was flipping channels between Family Guy and Wife Swap. I said to him “What would you think if we did Wife Stop?” his response “Mom, I don’t think we would be allowed on the show, there is nothing to change in our family.” Of course I have moments that I ask myself “what if” but then I have moments like this that gently removes my doubt.
    Lisa did a wonderful job expressing the many feelings of a stay at home mom and I commend her for opening the door on the subject. I
    Life With The Top Down recently posted..Peanut 2016My Profile

  4. Jen Pinarski says:

    Lisa, thanks so much for both this and your earlier post. I’m a SAHM who now is re-entering the workforce after my husband was laid off. I wrote my own response to your HuffPo post over at Today’s Parent, echoing everything you said. Of course, I got many of the responses, but people totally misinterpreted what I was trying to say. Indeed, being a SAHM has its rewards and benefits, but it’s the most financially risky choice anyone can ever make. Future SAHMs need to recognize the risk.

  5. Lisa: The thing I keep thinking about is if your post had been titled, “Why I regret being a working mom,” I think it would have generated far less controversy. Feminism is about honoring all women’s choices ~ and recognizing that we are all fulfilled in different ways. I have much more to give to my children when I am fulfilled at work, and I think I, too, would come to regret it if I chose to stay home full time. I so appreciated your honesty and bravery in what you wrote. And that we are having a serious discussion about this. Hopefully we’ll call a truce in the Mommy Wars soon.
    Sarah | LeftBrainBuddha recently posted..Mindful Parenting: It’s Not About “Liking” ItMy Profile

  6. I think it takes a lot of courage to say/write what most people keep to themselves. Whether people agree with you or not really isn’t the issue. You started an amazing conversation. Thanks!

  7. That’s the good, the bad and the ugly about what we do as bloggers. We open ourselves up to criticism from the entire world. And often they get to remain anonymous as they rip authors to shreds. General human kindness, empathizing & decorum have been lost on a portion of the earth’s population. Not that it matters, but I think you were awesome!

  8. Writing about something controversial is going to attract myriad opinions, and sometimes people can get self-righteous and even indignant. I applaud you for sticking your neck out and taking a stance in such an eloquent way. Keep going!
    Sheryl recently posted..Saying Goodbye to All ThatMy Profile

  9. Michelle Miller-Adams says:

    One of the factors not mentioned in the many responses here (mostly thoughtful, some less so) is how one feels about one’s job. I wonder if you would have pulled out of the workforce entirely if you had LOVED your work at the time you had your kids. (I am pretty certain you did not…) The women I know who kept that “toe in the water” are those who were passionate about their professions and couldn’t see living without them. (I am not talking here about all the women who need to work, either because they are primary breadwinners, single moms, or in households where two incomes are needed. I am talking about the women who had the choice.)

  10. Thanks for including my response in your post. Congrats on the Today show appearance and for starting a discussion that needs to be had. We need to be honest with ourselves about the choices we make, not just say what we think we should or what we think society needs to hear. Being a mom, whether you stay-at-home and work for your family/home or work outside the home for an employer, is tough and I wish people on both sides would cut each other a break and not judge the choices someone else makes. For many years, I didn’t feel I had a choice but happy with my decision for now. I applaud you for undertaking an important conversation.
    Tanya @ Mom’s Small Victories recently posted..Summer Reading List: Giveaways won, Where do I Start and What’s on Your List?My Profile

  11. Though I feel differently than you I thought your post was exceptionally well-thought-out and came from your heart. There’s nothing better than engaging people in conversation – if only everyone could be open-minded and consider the other side.
    Sharon Greenthal recently posted..Was a TSA Agent Slut-Shaming This 15 Year Old Girl?My Profile

    • Love it when it is a real dialogue and loved your post, that is why I put it right up top. I really can see both sides of this, or I would not have been able to stay home all of these years.

  12. I love the dialogue you’ve started. I commend you for your honesty too- many of us have felt that way in secret. As for the venom, people are so judgmental. They are afraid to imagine that different mothering and personalities aren’t valid, because it then calls into question their own personal conflict about the sacrifice to stay home.
    Just my two cents.
    Julie DeNeen recently posted..Day Two | GlitterMy Profile

    • Those two cents mean a lot coming from you, Julie. I think it is only fair to show all sides of the discussion, although some if it was not really G rated!

  13. I have a toddler, and I work from time to time as a drama teacher.teaching artist. I miss him when I leave, and I also love the work that i do. I am figuring out the balance, and that is no one’s choice but mine and my husband’s. I applaud you for being honest. Your honesty may not look like mine or anyone else’s. But it is YOURS.
    Lynne Childress recently posted..Don’t move the furniture, or frugally loving your petMy Profile

  14. judy says:

    I have always been a working mom. My youngest is off to college in two months and I am facing the empty nest like so many readers of this blog. I am glad I have a career and financial stability. But there is part of me that wishes I had spent less time at the office and more time with the kids, particularly when they were really young. They both turned out great, independent and able to take care of themselves. But still, if I could do it over, I’d strive for more balance. As someone once said: “Nobody reaches the end of their life wishing they had spent more time at the office.”

  15. Lisa, I appreciate your story. When anyone comes to me with the same issue, I highly suggest working at home. You must find the right opportunity though.

    The following opportunity has always worked for me… a stay at home and work at home person.


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