I just finished reading Lisa Heffernan’s article entitled, Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom, in which she discusses her misgivings about her twenty years as a stay at home mom. And the truth is that many of my friends have told me emphatically that Heffernan has given voice to how they feel. It saddens me that so many of my contemporaries regret their life choices. I would argue that, although currently many of us have reached a point of transition, for most of us staying home was the highest and best use of our resources at the time, not to mention a gift to our families.
In her article Heffernan says,
“Now, on the down slope of parenting, I have misgivings about my decision to stay home. While I don’t know any parent who regrets time spent with their kids, especially kids who have moved on to their own lives — and I include myself among them — in hindsight, my decision seems flawed. Although I am fully aware that being a stay-at-home mom was certainly a luxury, staring at an empty nest and very diminished prospects of employment, I have real remorse.”
Heffernan goes on to say that being a SAHM was, “certainly a luxury.” Given the countless woman who are forced to work to put food on their table and who would give anything to be home with their children, I find that statement too easy. We need to be extraordinarily mindful of the gift of choice, a gift that not many women are privileged to enjoy.
Here are the nine specific reasons for Heffernan’s remorse and my responses:
I let down those who went before me.
The feminists who preceded me enabled me to have choices and for that they have my eternal thanks. But my personal choices, the ones that matter most to my immediate family need to be made with my family’s best interests in mind, without consideration for the debt I owe the trailblazing feminists who preceded me.
I used my driver’s license far more than my degrees.
My driver’s license and my lawyer’s license are pieces of paper whose value is defined by what I choose to do with them. Was my JD (law degree) thrown away money? Perhaps, but for two reasons I would argue no. The first reason is that education is a value onto itself and knowledge is never wasted. The second is that driving my sons to where they need to be seems far more valuable, at this moment in time, than reviewing another lease.
My kids think I did nothing.
There is so much my children don’t understand about the world yet and until they raise children of their own they may not understand the value of “presence” or the emptiness of “absence.” I’m the adult and this was my decision and they don’t need to understand it, although someday, I hope they will.
My world narrowed.
Yes, my world is narrow but working in a white shoe law firm or a high-end financial firm would not make it any less so.
I got sucked into a mountain of volunteer work.
As for the volunteer work, it is so meaningful to the institutions who desperately need volunteers. My children’s school could not function without lay leaders. Money is not what makes work worthwhile, although I understand it is a driving force.
I worried more.
Let’s face it, we all worry about our kids. There are working moms who are extreme hoverers and SAHM moms who are not; there is less correlation here than you might think.
I slipped into a more traditional marriage.
Slipping into a more traditional marriage would probably have happened anyway. The statistics are crystal clear that full-time working mothers do the lion’s share of the childcare and housework.
I became outdated and I lowered my sights and lost confidence.
Yes, we become outdated and our aspirations for ourselves slip. We are, all of us, being catapulted inexorably toward obsolescence and that happens whether we work or stay at home. Eventually we all lean on those young people we raised to teach us how to tee up that new Netflix series.
We should refocus this conversation on how we can make child rearing easier: how to make woman feel less isolated after they have babies, how to afford women who need to work better options for childcare, how to make part-time work more feasible, how to allow women to on-ramp back to work after a lengthy absence, and how to be more supportive of each other’s decisions.
If I am blessed with thirty more years, there may yet be a second act for me and maybe one day my children will watch me soar with pride, as I watched them. If not, it’s enough for me to know that whatever mediocrity I offered the law paled in comparison to the excellence I offered my children, not because I was an outstanding mother but because I was THEIR mother. Even on my worst day, no nanny, no au pair and no babysitter no matter how highly trained or paid could give them what I could…the imperfect parenting of a mother who loves them perfectly.