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.
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.
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?